Based in the High Desert of California, Sara Marchant is the author of Fairlight Books’ novella The Driveway Has Two Sides. We have talked to Sara about who motivates her to write, what she has learned from her stories, and what is the island from The Driveway Has Two Sides based on.
How did you start writing?
My first short story was written in the second grade. It was about the hummingbirds who had a nest outside our living room window, but in the story they were having an argument over sharing household duties. I’ve always liked domestic drama, I guess.
You teach creative writing. Do you think this helps you in your own writing?
Teaching creative writing probably helps most with motivation. Every day I’m telling others what to read and discussing it with them, and then reading and critiquing their writing and I feel like I better walk the talk, you know? My students are super helpful with the viewpoints of other cultures and ages; especially ages! I learn new, and sometimes awful, vocabulary— and about the mindset of these people who have yet to live fully adult lives.
You have written short stories, essays and novellas. How do these genres compare for you as a writer and which one do you enjoy writing the most?
Writing essays and short stories and novellas are surprisingly different for me. The essays seem to come from an entirely other place than the short stories and the novellas. Honestly, I can’t say I enjoy writing the essays—I enjoy them once they are done. The essays are written in first person, my only writing that is in first person. Most of my short stories are either flash or turn into novellas—I’m not good at moderation, I guess! But which do I enjoy writing the most? I think the novellas are the most fun; I write them out loud and sometimes I laugh while doing it.
If you could describe The Driveway Has Two Sides in one word, what would it be?
I call it my ‘anti-romance,’ so I was surprised to see it marketed as a romance, but oddly flattered. Delilah is the least romantic protagonist I’ve ever written, she is all about the practicality of life. That’s why I love her.
What inspired you to write The Driveway Has Two Sides?
The Driveway Has Two Sides came to me as a mental picture of the driveway first. There was a driveway leading out into the beach dunes, and I knew it was an island, but that was all. Then one day I was made late to work by a guy blocking my driveway because he wanted to chat with a neighbor and I became enormously irritated and then I thought, ‘what if I had to SHARE a driveway with these schmucks?!’ Suddenly I am realizing that I am more Anton than Delilah.
Is the island from the novella fictional or based on a real place?
The island is probably based on my husband’s excessive viewing of the movie Jaws. The man watches it at least once a month. And then he wonders why I refuse to go to the beach.
The driving force of the novella seems to be the interaction between Delilah and the other characters. Was there one relationship/story arc that was easier/harder to write?
The novella is definitely character driven, yes. Ted’s storyline was the easiest to develop, for whatever reasons. I loved those scenes of them in the garden, being brought into a relationship by a shared love of what others would call a hobby but to them is their prime reason for living. As for Alan, I didn’t want him turning into the cliché of a middle-aged rich man cheating on his wife. The cliché may be true in real life, but reality isn’t going to fly in fiction, is it? Anton was the most fun to write. He appeared one day running on the beach, really cranky and stymied in his life’s ambitions, and what his crankiness brought out in Delilah was the most interesting aspect of their relationship, at least to me.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned through your writing?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that what people react to is usually never the thing you think they will. For a recent short story that was published on JewishFiction.net, I borrowed scenes from my aunt’s life when her husband was suffering from dementia. I wondered what she’d think about that, whether she’d be angry or disinterested or what. But she didn’t care at all about that! She didn’t like that I’d made the entire family Jewish. Turns out, for years my red-headed aunt had been telling people she was Irish! My mom kept yelling into the telephone, ‘It’s fiction! Fiction! And you’re not Irish!’ The most surprising thing I’ve learned through my writing is that my aunt is Irish and not Jewish. Who knew?
What has been the hardest part of The Driveway Has Two Sides to write?
The hardest part to write was the backstory, sneaking it in so as not to be an info-dump of epic proportions. And I think I could have done better because when a friend needed readers for an event based on Domestic Violence Awareness month, she was surprised when I asked if I could read from the novella. She’d been a beta reader for me but hadn’t noticed the undercurrent of violence and control. I wanted it to be subtle, because patriarchy is insidious that way, but I didn’t want it to be unnoticeable! But I am going to read at the event, so maybe that subtly will create a line of discussion.
Why did you choose The Driveway Has Two Sides as the title of your story?
The original title was The Driveway but my other reader, my best friend Charles, didn’t like it. He asked, ‘what about it? So it’s a driveway, so what?’ The ‘what’ is that it is a shared driveway, which is the impetus driving the action, so The Driveway Has Two Sides. And I like that it makes me think of The Postman Always Rings Twice every time I hear it.
What do you hope people take away from reading your book?
Gosh, I’ve never actually thought of what people take away from reading it. I just wanted to entertain people for a while. We need that right now, escape from the post apocalyptic dystopian novel we’re all living in. Hopefully, my story provides that. Also, if you cheat on your wife and buy your girlfriend a beach house, your wife will find out and she’ll be very very angry so don’t do it—there’s a takeaway for you.
What do you think makes a good novella?
Personally, I want a story that seizes my interest from the opening and doesn’t let go for the hour or two that it takes me to read the whole thing in one sitting. But what grabs my attention, and what grabs another’s will be completely different as I know from assigning stories to my students. But, as a caution, if you tell me you ‘couldn’t get into’ the work of James Baldwin, you will be dead to me forever after!
What does writing mean to you?
That is a question that I have no idea how to answer. How do people not write? Who are these people? Just the thought of them makes me so sad.
What inspires your writing?
Other writing inspires my writing, sometimes in a good way—anything by Hilary Mantel, Penelope Fitzgerald or Laurie Colwin. Sometimes it inspires in a bad way—as in how-did-this-get-published? I will not name names of the negatively inspiring. My essays are usually inspired by a feeling of powerlessness. My one power is the ability to tell you in writing what it feels like to be me, a Jewish woman of color, living through these times—so I do.
Do you have a writing schedule?
My writing schedule doesn’t look like a schedule. Because I am a married, full time caregiver to an elderly parent, have two teaching jobs, one of which requires a commute of an hour each way, and am an editor at the magazine Writers Resist, I don’t force myself to commit to any scheduled hours of writing each day or each week. I write when my students write in class. I write after everyone else has gone to bed at night. I write on the weekends when everyone else is napping, or when they are watching Jaws (again). During the summer, when I’m not teaching in a classroom, I write for about four hours every morning and it feels like the most blissful luxury I will ever have—because it is.
Where do you tend to write?
I tend to write my first drafts at the kitchen table, or in bed on my lap desk, or at an uncomfortable table in my uncomfortable classroom at the college where I teach; occasionally I write in the boat where my husband is fishing or sitting on a rock surrounded by dogs and nature when we pause during a hike, and I write my first drafts by hand. Second drafts, revisions and re-writes are written using my laptop at my desk in my horrifically messy office (the rest of my house is spotless because my mother raised all her children to be demon housekeepers, but my office is chaos) with the window open to my front garden and the view to Cahuilla Mountain which the Native population says is sacred, and I believe them.
What’s your favourite book and who is your favourite author?
Telling my favorite author is like telling who your favorite child might be—everyone has one, but no one wants to admit it. The book I go back to time and again though, for inspiration and for beauty, is Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott. That book is pretty much perfect.
Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to writing? Something you notice yourself doing or something you pick up in other’s writing?
I am incredibly picky about paragraphs having one theme, and one theme only. Long paragraphs which cause the eye to go down and down and down the page with no reward of a break for dialogue or change of idea make me want to scream. What peeves me about my own writing is using the same adjective over and over and I don’t realize it. Ugh, it bothers me so much.
Do you have writer’s habit that helps you ‘get in the zone’?
My writing habit that helps me get in the zone is to read the pages previously written. This can be a problem if I get bogged down in rewriting, so I try not to do that. I also take a lot of notes before I start to write a draft, but not an outline! No outlines, ever! Just notes about characters, scenes, where the story is heading, that type of thing. And if I get stuck I take a walk with my dogs. I tell them the problem I am having and although they offer zero advice, they are very good listeners and always make sure I know I have their full support.
Do you feel like you writing style has changed over the years you’ve been writing?
I don’t think my writing style has changed, but I do think I have a different tone for my fiction and nonfiction. They are so different that sometimes I worry I have multiple personalities or something like that. Added to this worry, my favorite sections or scenes of my writing are the parts that I have no recollection writing. I’ll be re-reading in preparation to start writing and think ‘man, that’s great! Who wrote that?’ It will be in my handwriting and I’ll have no memory of writing it. By now you’re probably wondering if I am actually sane…
What’s a piece of advice you can give to aspiring authors?
The best piece of advice I can give to aspiring writers is to read as much as possible. Notice I said READ, not write. If you are a writer, you’re already writing and nothing is going to stop you. But a good writer reads first. And persist! Maybe no one supports your writing, maybe you don’t have time or space to write, maybe you have mouths to feed and dishes to wash. You’ll find a way to write if you have words that need to be written. Keep going no matter what. Just persist.
For more information about Sara, please, visit her website.