As a former English teacher and YA library coordinator, Sarah Daltry has always had a passion for the written word. She is fascinated by the people in our lives and the manner in which they interact with one another. Through her writing, Daltry weaves tales of magic and beauty that explore the complex relationships that collectively form the intricate foundation of our daily existence.
Daltry’s first novel, Bitter Fruits, is a dark urban fantasy that questions why forbidden fruit is always the most tempting. In July of 2014, Daltry — along with co-author Pete Clark — explored the culture of video games in Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story, and in November, her latest work, Dust, will be released by Little Bird Publishing, with whom Daltry recently signed. She will also be releasing a new YA/NA series this winter, inspired by her original Flowering series and redeveloped outside of the romance genre.
Learn more about Daltry and her writing at www.sarahdaltry.com.
I suppose it was fairly typical. I’m a middle class girl from New England, whose parents always valued education and hard work. I think that shaped my desire to write and to improve. It certainly shaped my career goals and my lifelong learning. I’m also the kind of person who hates to give up on anything, because my parents taught me that you just work harder or keep going. Sometimes it’s to my detriment, but we’re New Englanders and you never shake Puritanism, I suppose.
Does writing come easy to you? If so, has it always?
Yes and no. The characters and the stories come easy, but I’m very sensitive. I take everything to heart and I am extremely critical of myself. Because of that, I have a somewhat easy time coming up with the ideas and putting down the rough draft, but it’s nearly impossible to be satisfied with the final product.
What initially drew you towards Young Adult fiction, and what do you find most interesting or exciting about the genre?
Ironically, this comes at a time when the world seems to be on a hate YA kick, but YA has always appealed to me. I’m older than most YA writers, I guess, so there was no “YA” when I was growing up — not really. We didn’t have sections in libraries or bookstores, although of course, there were writers like Judy Blume and RL Stine and Christopher Pike and so on who were writing for teens. I read everything, to be clear. I am just as likely to pick up a classic novel, a comic book, the new Stephen King or Dean Koontz, or a hot YA title. I guess what I like about YA fiction is that the books that meant the most to me growing up were not the ones where I escaped into another world, but the ones that made me feel normal. I think YA is doing that better than any other subsection of lit right now. Sure, it’s a massive generalization, but I just find that it’s more prevalent in YA to want to give readers not only a story, but almost a personal guarantee that someone out there “gets” them.
What was the inspiration behind the story of Dust?
You know, the novel has taken so many shapes in the three years I took to write it that I almost don’t know how it happened. I think I had recently finished the Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano and then Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor and I was just really enjoying being in these alternate worlds. But both series have so many of the same themes as contemporary YA and that intrigued me. I guess I was just thinking that growing up, regardless of where (fictional or real), when (the past, the present, or the future), and the circumstances, is a painful and reflective process. The story is about a princess who believes the world is one way, only to discover as its thrown into war, that nothing she believes is true. And it’s her journey towards figuring out who she is as a person as well, including the things about herself that scare her.
Well, my first novel is a nightmare (it’s not published), and I like to think I’ve gotten better. I am also growing more skilled at isolating whose opinions matter. You will never please everyone, and it’s hard to be told your writing is crap and you suck and should quit, but I love certain authors and have hated books they’ve written despite that. We live in a world that often struggles to disassociate an artist or producer from the product, so the criticism often becomes personal. That’s been a big process for me — overcoming that. I also think I’ve been able to narrow my writing more to what I feel comfortable writing and what I don’t.
Do you read reviews of your books?
No, not any more. Sometimes I see something positive when it’s sent to me, but for the most part, I feel like reviews don’t help an author. At least for me. Everyone is different, but reviews are confusing. One person points out a scene or character they love and you’re told, “this is the best book ever,” and then someone else points out that exact same aspect and tells you it’s the reason you’re an epic failure. We all have different interests and preferences, so a book can’t please everyone. The reviews get to a point where you start listening to every fault anyone has ever found with your writing — and I never seem to retain the praise, of course — and then you can’t keep writing effectively. The page stares back at you while you run through all the things people might say that will make the sentence you just thought of the worst sentence ever and it starts to screw up your mindset. At this point, I just want to be personally satisfied with what I write.
How much of yourself is there in your characters?
A ton, and yet they are entirely fictional. It’s such a tough question, because the characters are real people to me. Of course, a character like Katie in Backward Compatible is a sarcastic gamer who doesn’t have a lot of friends and doesn’t really get social rules, which is pretty much how I am. At the same time, I’m nothing like Katie and she is her own person. Alondra in Dust is defiant, which I am in spirit, but I am nowhere near as strong as her. Lily, Alana, and Jack from what was Flowering and will be something else all have serious emotional issues and many pull from my own experiences. Yet at the same time, they come from lives very different than my own. I think each character is like a child for a parent — they are a huge part of us, but they are not us. If that makes sense?
What separates good erotic writing from bad or mediocre erotic writing?
I think good erotica isn’t about the sex as much as it is about the experience. I love Anais Nin. She amazes me and I could read her stories any day. Yet some of her stories have little to no sex in them. They’re about anticipation, about control or loss of it, about the full sensual moment. I think good erotica is like any genre — you experience it through the words. Bad and mediocre erotica (and my old erotica was so, so bad) is porn. It’s for gratification and nothing more.
Okay, so I like to eat. Here’s my food analogy: Good erotica is the three course meal you have that you can still describe and picture weeks and months later. You savor it and you don’t rush towards dessert, because even the bread and salad are crucial to your enjoyment. Bad erotica is a Big Mac and fries. It satisfies your hunger, but only on the base level.
Your Flowering series is currently unavailable because it’s being rewritten and recreated. What prompted that decision on your part, and what can readers expect from the re-released version?
When I published the first book in the series, I hated it. I didn’t want to publish it, but I convinced myself that it was just me, that I was being hypercritical. I didn’t want to write romance and I wanted to tell a story about college and coming of age, but I’m also not ashamed of sex and I think women should embrace their sexuality and I talked myself into it. I kept feeling like it was fine to write erotic romance/YA/NA hybrids, because I like all these things and why can’t other people? And honestly? Sure, people hated it but plenty loved it. They wanted more of it, but as I started writing the series, I found myself bored with the romance and sex. I didn’t want to write those things. I wanted to focus on the issues these characters were dealing with and let them speak, but I had locked myself into this romance story. So I finished it. But for a year now, I have never been okay with it.
Over the summer, I completely shut off. I stopped talking to everyone and I became a hermit, but I still had story ideas. What I found myself thinking about, though, was that I had never done those characters justice. I had been so worried about fitting in and being liked and writing what people wanted that I didn’t think about what I wanted. Now, I don’t write to market. I don’t even know what the market is, because I am certainly not it. But I did think, well, maybe it’s just me. At the end of the day, though, I was talking to my friend who is a YA librarian and a teacher who read Backward Compatible and a young reader who liked Dust and I felt ashamed of my books. I didn’t want them to go pick up Forget Me Not, excited to read it because of all my nerdy social media posts and my other books and then come away wondering what just happened.
I’m not a romance girl. I don’t care about Valentine’s Day or hot men or Nicholas Sparks movies. I just don’t. My last Valentine’s Day involved my husband and I splitting a bag of Cheetos and playing Borderlands. So that made me say… I am writing the books I want to write and that I feel comfortable with. I reread Backward Compatible and I’m proud of it. I want to feel like that with these. At first I thought I would just revise the drafts, but I ended up deleting them completely and starting over. Readers who’ve read the books will see maybe the same settings and topics, and the characters have the same names, but it’s not at all the same story or books. And I’m loving where it’s going.
On your website, you’ve written about your struggles with depression. On a day-to-day basis, how does depression affect you and your life, and for you, what methods work best for overcoming this depression?
Honestly, it’s hard. I know no one wants to hear about depression and sad things and I try so hard to stay positive. I know I need to be social because it’s unhealthy to shut everyone out, but some days, I can’t force myself out of bed. Sometimes I just cry and want to sleep and I wish I was dead. I promised my husband I would make him cookies a few days ago — and I completely planned on it. Then, out of nowhere, it just hit me and I couldn’t even go downstairs.
My coping strategies vary and are not always the best, but the biggest consistency in my life has been books. It’s been an awful year because I have been reading slower and it bothers me that I can’t engage in the books the way I used to, because they used to be the best coping method. The thing is that when I used to feel suicidal or I felt like no one would ever be able to help, there would be a book that just completely made sense. And so I write, because I just want to pay it forward and I hope that maybe by not giving up and not giving in, I can give someone else the desire to try.
What was the most rewarding aspect of being a teacher?
Seeing a student grow as a person. High school can be a bit arbitrary, as far as where you belong and how you’re classified, and students often struggled with issues of confidence for one reason or another. It’s completely unrelated to curriculum and standardized tests and grades and lesson planning, but I went into teaching because I wanted to give students a place to feel comfortable being who they were — or at the very least, a place to discover who that would be. I had one student and, without giving away too many details, she really inspired me as a teacher. The politics and the reforms can be draining for educators, because there is a constant struggle between what works and what doesn’t, what looks good for data and what actually helps the kids. But this particular girl was someone I knew for all four years of her high school career. She started school like a lot of freshman — immature, yes, but also looking for a path. She had a learning disability, so that affected her confidence a lot. I knew about her academic troubles, as well as some personal issues in her life and at home, and we talked about clubs and places she could belong. She ended up pursuing activities that challenged her, that were terrifying to her especially with her disability, but because of those programs, she ended up growing into this extremely confident young woman. It really amazed me to see this girl grow like that and when I was facing burnout, which feels almost inevitable these days, students like her made me keep fighting. I know I eventually left it behind, but I hope that I was at least able to provide some kids a sounding board for becoming themselves without judgment.
Do you believe in fate, or do you feel that we are free to shape our own respective destinies?
Tough question. I think it’s a combination of both. I am a strong believer in free will and choice, but at the same time, I don’t think we can discount that luck and circumstances play a significant role in our lives. I do think we make our own destinies, but often they have to be forged from what fate has given us. If life is a game, I don’t think all people come into the first hand equally matched. It’s unfair to say that someone born into poverty has the same control over his or her destiny as someone born with access to resources, but I also believe we can’t just place blame on some abstract force for everything that happens, either. We make choices and they have consequences and it’s on us to live with them. But often they’re choices limited by what we start with in the beginning.
What’s the best video game you’ve played recently?
Either Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us or Gone Home. There are some great things coming, though! I cannot wait for Dragon Age: Inquisition!
What are you working on next?
Right now, it’s No Such Thing as Perfect, the first that was inspired by Flowering. I imagine I will end up self-publishing, because I can’t seem to find anyone who thinks there is a market for it, but you never know. And I’ve been working on a dystopian novel set in London, which may or may not be marketable again by the time I ever finish it! Excerpts are up on my site.