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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Story Secrets: FIXING DELILAH by Sarah Ockler + giveaway!

Listen up, Story Secrets readers:
Today's guest Sarah Ockler is generously giving away one copy of FIXING DELILAH
with this interview, but you have TODAY ONLY to enter to win.
I'm announcing the winner tomorrow at the
very special final Story Secrets interview with Courtney Summers!!!

And now, without further ado, I introduce you to the lovely, talented Sarah Ockler, author of TWENTY BOY SUMMER and her latest, FIXING DELILAH, and who I was lucky enough to meet at the 2010 Teen Author Carnival...
Welcome, Sarah!
At its core, FIXING DELILAH is about the complex, tumultuous relationships between mothers and daughters, and what happens when long-buried family secrets are forced into the light. Add in the death of an estranged grandmother, an unexpected romance with the adorable boy next door, a tarot-card reading aunt, new friendships, a whole summer of estate sale duty, and an economy-sized mayonnaise jar full of cremated St. Bernard, and you get an idea where this story's going. :-)

Holly Cupala: Tell us how the idea for FIXING DELILAH came about!

Sarah Ockler: When I first began writing for young adults, I thought a lot about myself as a teen, reflecting on all of the ups and downs Mom and I endured and trying to decide how much of that to incorporate into my novels. Around the time I was exploring some of the mother-daughter themes on paper, I lost my aunts Marcy and Sharon to cancer. We were all so close, but as we looked through old photos for their memorial services, I saw glimpses of people I never actually knew -- my aunts as teenagers and even as little girls. I realized then that as close as I thought my family was, as much as I thought we all knew about one another, there was so much unsaid and unasked, so many stories untold.

I'd never get the chance to talk to my aunt Marcy about that trip she took to Colorado as a teen. I'd never know what made my aunt Sharon laugh so much in that birthday picture. They were gone, and we all take our secrets and memories with us when we die. It was so hard to accept, so I did the next best thing -- I started writing about it.

When I officially began work on Fixing Delilah some time later, I had a bunch of disconnected threads in my head: bits and pieces of inspiration from the women in my family, young and old. A troubled, sixteen-year-old Delilah, feeling extremely distanced from her mother.
Secrets. An old yellow house on the lake. Sisters and aunts who'd kept things hidden out of love, shame, and fear. A mother who loved her daughter but was too focused on her work to see her slipping away.

They were all so rich and alive in my mind, but I just couldn't seem to get them together on the page. One night, totally overwhelmed with doubt that I'd ever get this story right, certain my publisher would rip up my contract and call me a fraud, I flipped on the radio in search of a distraction. A song I’d never heard poured from the speakers: Brandi Carlile’s "The Story." I didn’t know if she was singing about a romantic relationship, about family, or about something else entirely, but it touched me. Inspired me. That night, I heard Delilah and her family in those lyrics, and their story finally made sense. I knew what I had to say.

Even though I was inspired to write Delilah's story in part by the women in my family, I didn't expect the story would bring me back to my own childhood so often and so intensely. I don't fictionalize my life in my YA novels, so the story of FIXING DELILAH is not based on real events. But by the time I finished the manuscript, there was so much of my family on the page. Not in the same way that Delilah's family appears, but bits of stories and memories cobbled together with imagined characters and places and relationships stirred into this big, thick soup. It really made me think about my own family relationships, all the love, all the pain, all the history.

Holly: What is your biggest inspiration?

Sarah: I'm one of those people who finds inspiration everywhere I look -- the woods, the mountains, babies laughing, reading other wonderful YA books -- so this is a tough question! But the hands down number one inspiring force in my life is my husband, Alex. Not only is he super patient with all of my writerly neuroses (of which there are many, trust me), but he knows exactly when to challenge me on my self-indulgent bull and exactly when I just need a silent hug. Every time I want to quit, or I doubt myself, or I just start freaking out for no reason, he reminds me of everything I love about writing, and that no matter what, I can't give up, even if I really wanted to (which of course I never do). If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be a published author because I wouldn't have ever believed that I could do it.

The coolest thing about it is that I always find away to include Alex in my work, so it's like a project from both of our hearts. For FIXING DELILAH, there's a song called "Sigh" that Patrick sings to Delilah in the coffee shop. Alex wrote the music and lyrics for the song. Now I just have to convince him to record it so I can put it online for everyone! :-)

Holly: How long did it take you to write, and did you have to go through a lot of drafts? How did the story evolve as you revised?

Sarah: I wrote FIXING DELILAH in just under two years (including revision). Although I got feedback from my agent and editor on certain chapters and the overall concept, I probably only went through one complete start-to-finish rewrite after I got the complete editorial notes from my editor. This sounds kind of crazy, I know, but I have a hard time with first drafts. By hard time, I mean, I agonize over every word and sentence like it's childbirth or something (with just as much crying and sleep deprivation). I'm still trying to get comfortable with the whole "let yourself write garbage" thing -- I edit on the sentence level, as the words go on the page. It means that by the time the draft is complete, it's pretty polished, but it's not a very efficient way to work. And I usually end up cutting about 15,000-20,000 words in revision.

In terms of the evolution of the story itself, FIXING DELILAH initially focused more about a troubled teen in need of fixing, but the more I explored Delilah's family all of the secrets and layers of family history, and the more I thought about my own family, the more I realized this story was about an entire family of women struggling under the weight of generations of secrets and love and turmoil, not just about one girl going down the wrong path. The family was always part of the story, but they moved more to the forefront as the story grew -- especially after I had that mid-nervous-breakdown-epiphany during the Brandi Carlile song!
Holly: I’m all about digging deeper to find truth – how have your life experiences helped you get to the heart of your story?

All about digging deeper, huh? Then you'll love Delilah. She's so focused on digging things up, she forgets that some things might be better left buried! But on to your question... though Delilah's story doesn't parallel my personal history exactly, it does draw from some of the feelings and emotional ups and downs I experienced with my mom.

To get to the truth of Delilah's story, I had to take myself back to some difficult places from my own teen years. Like a lot of girls, I had such a challenging relationship with my mom back then. One minute I truly admired her, the next I was packing my bags, certain I'd rather take my chances on the street than live with her another day. I always loved her, but just as Delilah feels about her own mom, I didn't always like her. It wasn't until I was much older and out of the house that I started to view her as a real person rather than *just* my mother. She had a whole life before me, filled with secrets and hopes and disappointments, human just like me, but I didn't see that back then. It was hard for me to go back and explore that territory, to really remember and examine the mistakes and hurt on both sides. There were times during the writing that I wanted to side totally with Delilah, because siding against her -- exposing her flaws as a character -- that would mean I'd have to accept my own flaws as a daughter, then and now. But I wanted the story to resonate authentically with readers -- both teen girls and their mothers -- and to do that, I had to dig for the tough, honest, raw stuff. It wasn't easy, but it was extremely rewarding.

Holly: What do you most hope your readers will take away?

Sarah: I hope that readers -- moms and daughters alike -- close the last page of Fixing Delilah with an understanding that no matter how close we are to someone, no matter how much we love each other, we don't always *know* each other. Inside each of us is an entire world -- our past experiences, our dreams and hopes, heartache, fears, secrets, goals, love. What we see in another person is often just the surface. Like Delilah says as she begins to uncover some of the painful truths about her family, "I wonder how much we don't see. How much of our lives we witness and accept as truth when the rest of the iceberg -- the heaviest, bulkiest part -- is buried and invisible." I hope that readers appreciate and remember that, especially when it comes to difficult family relationships in their own lives.

Holly: Any secrets you might be willing to share?

Ah, thanks to the advent of Twitter and blogs, I doubt I have any secrets left! But I did put a lot of personal family history into the story of the Hannafords -- particularly the weird stuff that you just can't make up. That part where Delilah's grandmother requests that she be cremated together with her St. Bernard? That was totally my grandma. She loved that dog so much, she couldn't bare to be parted from him even in death. The two got sick at the same time -- I guess they just had that special connection. So when she died, we actually had to have to dog put to sleep as well. We were able to follow part of her wishes -- she wanted them to be cremated together, but apparently there's a health code preventing that. So just like in the story of Fixing Delilah, our funeral director secretly agreed to mix the ashes. Now, my grandmother's headstone contains a secret note about the dog that only family and friends can decipher. :-) Oh, grandma also totally had that sweater made out of dog hair. A few other family treasures that made it into the story: the box of tears, the Stephen King novels, the china dolls, and the expensive blue delft cow that none of us is ever allowed to touch. Moooo!

Holly: What’s up next for you?

I'm currently working on a new young adult contemporary called ICING. I'm not ready to share too much just yet (see, you saw that coming after my "under the hood" comments, right? ;-)), but I will say that it's set in the dead of winter for a change, and it features such yummy things as cupcakes, ice skates, and very cute hockey boys. And thanks to the cupcakes, I'm really looking forward to promoting this one. That's right, I'm not afraid to gain 20 pounds for the sake of my work! It's all research, right? ;-)
Thank you for sharing your secrets, Sarah! Read an excerpt of FIXING DELILAH here.
Readers, you have until midnight tonight to leave a meaningful comment about Sarah, FIXING DELILAH, family, or secrets. Winner announced tomorrow!


  1. I loved Fixing Delilah! Like Delilah, I don't think I would havee been statisfied with half-truths and non-answers, and would probably keep digging, like she did.

    Can I just say that I was so moved by Twenty Boy Summer that I emailed Sarah to let her know, and she was kind enough to reply! I know, that's not really such a big deal, but at the time I was a spankin' new librarian and relatively new to reading YA, and TBS was (and still is) one of the BEST books I've ever read, so getting a reply from the author was really meaningful to me. I STILL get all giddy with authors and books. :)

  2. I love the idea of this novel--the intricacies of family relationships are a topic that I don't think are explored enough in books. And Sarah Ockler is such a sensitive writer.

  3. I've heard so many things about this book, but its always nice when the author explains it herself because its so much more meaningful.
    And I love she based it on her whole family because not only hers passes through that, but ll families do. There's always secrets and it shard for someone to realize the people she most trusted had failed her.
    Can't wait to read her book, its something I know I can relate to!

  4. I think it's awesome how family dynamics are big part of this book and that so much of Sarah's family ended up on the pages of the story... I can totally see that happening to me if I tried to write. All that I would want to say seems so bound up in that...

    jlelliott08 AT gmail DOT com

  5. I'm a teen right now and I have the same relationship with my mom as you did. I'm best friends with her one moment and wanting to become emancipated the next. Hopefully our relationship will get better once we BOTH mature a little more.


  6. Because of this interview, I'm even more interested in reading Fixing Delilah. My mom and I are close. We spend the nights talking about everything under the sun and laughing at funny stories about our days. But yes, I have to agree that to a certain extent, I don't completely know her.


  7. I really enjoyed Sarah's other book Twenty Boy Summer. I think all families have those secrets that are to remain in the family or from certain members of the family. Families can be a great form of support and protection when problems arise.
    Thanks for the giveaway.


  8. I think I need this book as boy do I know about tumultuous relationships between mothers and daughters.
    Luckily my relationship with my own teenager daughter is calmer - at least so far!!


  9. I think this sounds like a really lovely book... I really enjoyed 'Twenty Boy Summer', so I can't wait to read this one. Also, the next book sounds awesome as well. I mean, hockey boys? Come on! Super awesome. =)


  10. What a great interview! I loved reading about what inspired Delilah's story--the whole thing just sounds so moving! I'm very close with my mother, so I'm really interested in reading this story!

    Sarah's next book sounds amazing--I love cupcakes! (And all baked goods, really. :p) I think the punny title is adorable, too.

  11. I also really enjoyed Twenty Boy Summer and am looking forward to read Fixing Delilah. I can't wait to read about the family relationships because at times the women in my family all bunt heads. I would love to see how evreyone in the book deals with that.

  12. I am a mother of two daughters so I would love to read this story of mother/daughter relationships.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  13. This is for both Holly and Sarah, one because you love Secrets, the other, because you appreciate lost family stories.

    Our biggest family secret comes in the form of a picture taken close to the turn of the century. Back then digital was barely a dream, let alone any where close to reality, so black and whites were what they were and most of them were too dark to accuaratly see the subject. My grandmother took one such photograph to a restoration house hoping they could digitally retouch the one photo of my grandfather's mother we have. Irene died in childbirth when my grandfather was four, and he couldn't remember what she looked like.

    My grandmother picked up the photo the day of his birthday, and hastily framed it and wrapped it up. When he unwrapped his final present we were all stunned to discover that Irene and I are identical in every possible way. From eye color, skin tone, hair texture to body type, I am her doppleganger and we never would have known.

    Hope that bit of family lore wins Delilah, I am dying to read this book.


  14. Thanks for the giveaway!
    i havent read Fixing Delilah yet, but im looking forward to. Wow i cant believe that her grandmothers ashes are mixed with her dog's ashes. Thats...sorta sweet :)

    jessica b

  15. I absolutely LOVED Sarah Ockler's first book Twenty Boy Summer, so I am absolutely ecstatic to read this one! It looks oh so good! :]


  16. My mom said that giving birth to me and my brother (we shared a womb) was excruciating, so wow wow wow!
    If it means anything, Twenty Boy Summer I LOVE!!

    Love, Hannah
    xoxosweeet at yahoo dot com

  17. Whoops, I was so caught up in my excitement, I forgot to mention (up above) what I originally came here for: to wish you a HAPPY HOLIDAY!!!! (to both Holly and Sarah and anyone else who happens to read my comment!)

    Love, Hannah

  18. As a teenage girl, we always find a way to fit in and feel like we belong in the world. The book FIXING DELILAH seems really interesting and I so want to read it. Since I'm the only girl out of 3 siblings it was always hard to understand things like the way to act. If you heard that saying that girls are "daddy's little girl" and guys are "mommy's baby boy" it is so true for my family. Me and my mom hardly get a long we always butt heads. She is more of the bossy figure as for my dad is more of the cool calm collective guy. But I like when my mom is there to talk me through boy situations because my dad is so unfair when it comes to what boys and girls rules and restrictions are. Okay enough with my chatting, but I think this is a meaningful comment :)

    -Khyla A

  19. Thank you, Holly, and thanks everyone for your comments! I hope you enjoy Fixing Delilah, and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and happy new year!

    Sarah Ockler