Q & A with Sarah Zettel – 2019

This year’s A Rally of Writers will have something for everyone, no matter what you write. Sarah Zettel is writing both fantasy and suspense. She will be joining us to talk about both. Here is a teaser of what she has to say.

How did you settle in on writing Fantasy? Who inspires you in writing fantasy?

I wrote fantasy because it’s what I grew up on. My father was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy. I learned to read out of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia were a major feature of my childhood, and The Tombs of Autuan by Ursula K. LeGuin was the book that made me want to be a writer.

What about suspense? Which did you write first? Which do you love most?

Along with a steady diet of fantasy and science fiction, I always loved mysteries, both traditional and contemporary (and a touch of horror on the side). I was fascinated by the Twilight Zone and the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, and was always a fan of writers like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King who blur the line. So while I started out writing fantasy, I always had a love of suspenseful and mystery and was delighted to try my hand at it as soon as I got the chance.

Do you plot or do you go by the seat of your pants when you tell the story?

A bit of both.  When writing suspense, I really need some kind of scaffolding. Plot structure and pacing is so important to both suspense and mystery that I usually do what I call “a fast draft,” just outlining scenes, sometimes with just scraps of dialogue, or shorthand notes, to get a feel for how the story is going to play out. This gives me something to build the larger structure around and maintain a solid cohesion between the set up and the ending. Fantasy is a bit looser.  Because I’m building the entire world, I’m doing a bit more discovery as I write. So, generally, the rough draft is put together in longer segments, and the structure is added later.

How do you know when you are on the right track with your stories?

When the words keep showing up.That sounds simplistic, but it’s true. If the words and the ideas have stalled, something’s wrong.

What do you do when you hit the wall with a story to get back on track?

Usually, when I hit the wall, it means I haven’t thought something through completely. So, what I will do is go back and look at the scene where I got stuck and make sure I’m seeing it from the point of view of all the characters: Do I know what everybody wants and what is driving them?  Do I know what everybody was doing before they entered the scene? Do I know what they will do afterwards?  Usually, I’ll find something I hadn’t considered, and that will open up new windows and doors into the plot. And if all that doesn’t work, a long walk is frequently helpful.

What one tip would you give a fiction writer?

The oldest one: Read. Read everything. Read stuff you love and stuff you hate, fiction and non-fiction, new stuff and old stuff. Get recommendations from a wide range of acquaintances and read those. Be intentional in seeking out diversity in your favorite genre and outside it. Reading will do you more good as a writer than anything else, except writing.

Andrea King Collier
Freelance Journalist and Author
Portfolio: andreacollier.contently.com
For A Rally of Writers 2019