Four years ago, Sarah Beard didn’t know if she would live long enough to finish her novel. Having been diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer, she lost her hair and appetite from the effects of chemotherapy, but not her desire to finish writing the love story of Aria Kinsley and Thomas Ashby. Overcoming remarkable odds, she beat cancer and finished her debut novel, “Porcelain Keys,” which was released on February 11, 2014.
Beard recently took the time to field some questions in our Fiction Fest hot seat, for which we are eternally grateful.
“Porcelain Keys” is available in bookstores and from online retailers, so get your copy today!
Without further ado, let’s get to know Beard a little better.
When did you know you had it in you to become a published author?
I’ve wanted to write a novel ever since junior high, but I think the first time I realized I might actually succeed at it was when I was halfway through my first draft of “Porcelain Keys.” I loved the characters and story so much that I was sure others would love them too. But I was also extremely naive back then, and it took me a while to realize that my first draft didn’t exactly translate into the story inside my head. It took many rounds of revisions and years of honing my craft before I was finally able to read my manuscript and think, “Yes. This is the story I wanted to tell. This is the way I wanted the reader to experience it.”
How did “Porcelain Keys” come to life?
I started writing “Porcelain Keys” in the summer of 2007, and I’ll never forget the day I wrote the first scene. It was a hot summer afternoon, and I had just put down my toddler and baby for a nap. There were a million things to do—we’d recently moved, and the unpacking and cleaning seemed endless. But that afternoon in the quiet house, I was struck with this overwhelming feeling that I needed to sit down and write something. So even though I didn’t know what I would write, I sat down at my laptop at the kitchen table and just started writing.
Out came a scene of a teenage girl who was grieving over her boyfriend who’d gone missing. This particular scene didn’t even end up in my book, but it was the scene that sparked all the questions that led me to my story. I had to know who these people were, why this boy had left, and why he hadn’t returned as promised. For me, it was like an intriguing mystery that needed to be solved. And as I discovered the answers to these questions, I fell in love with the characters and knew that I had to tell their story.
From there, the writing of “Porcelain Keys” was a long, evolutionary process. I wanted to tell the story right, so I took the time to learn and develop my writing craft. So after countless revisions and lots of delays (including having my third baby, renovating a house, and fighting breast cancer), I finally had a finished, polished manuscript!
What’s the most joy writing has brought you?
For me, some of the greatest joys of writing come during the process of creation, when the perfect words, phrases, or metaphors just flow through me and onto the page. It always feels like Christmas morning, like the words are gifts from someone much wiser and talented than myself. There are moments when I feel a sort of partnership with God, because I know I am writing beyond my own ability. And there really is no feeling that compares.
Does music play a role in your writing process?
Yes, music is an invaluable source of inspiration in my writing process. In fact, there’s a playlist on my website of some of the songs that inspired scenes from “Porcelain Keys.” When I’m first imagining a scene, I always listen to music. It helps set the tone and gets me in touch with my characters’ emotions. But once I get the details of the scene in mind, I turn off the music and write in silence, because the music can be too distracting when I’m actually typing.
What do you like most about being a published author?
I love that so many people can get to know the characters that I have grown to love, and that they can experience the same emotions I did as I wrote down their story.
What guilty pleasure do you not get to indulge in often enough?
Movie theater popcorn. With butter. Or whatever that buttery stuff is they put on it. I love going to the movies, but since I have little kids, movie nights are rare events.
If readers would come away with only one thing after reading your book, what do you hope it would be?
I would hope they would come away with a greater conviction that it’s possible to take the trials of life and use them for good. To make lemonade out of lemons, if you will.
Who would you like to play the main characters in motion picture version of your book?
Chace Crawford would have made the perfect Thomas a few years ago, but I think he’s getting a little too old for the part, so we’d have to find a younger Chace Crawford lookalike. For Aria, Kaya Scodelario would be perfect with her long dark hair and big blue eyes.
What’s your current work in progress?
I’m working on another young adult romance right now. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s set on a California beach and involves chocolate, surfing, and supernatural elements. I also have detailed outlines for two more after that, both young adult romances.
What advice would you like to offer aspiring novelists?
My biggest piece of advice would be to learn the craft. You can write a million words and never become a good writer if you don’t take the time to learn how to write well. Take advantage of the many educational resources out there. Books on writing, writing conferences, online articles and blog posts are all inexpensive ways to learn about writing. Join a good critique group. Read a lot. Write a lot. Be patient and get comfortable, because it will be a long journey. In fact, once you decide to be a writer, the journey never really ends.