Author Spotlight: Sarah Tolcser talks Song of the Current
Today I get to welcome author Sarah Tolcser to the blog! Her debut novel, Song of the Current, was released on June 6th and it's been getting great buzz. In a starred review from the School Library Journal, it was said: "This enticingly written tale will take readers on an adventure and leave them craving more. For fans of titles such as Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere or Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch. Highly recommended for all YA collections."
So, in a nutshell . . . this book sounds like tons of heart-pounding fun!
Hi, Sarah, and congrats on your debut! Can you tell us a little bit about Song of the Current and the inspiration behind it?
SONG OF THE CURRENT is a young adult fantasy that takes place in a world where the gods sometimes speak to certain chosen people. Caro is a river smuggler’s daughter who expects to be chosen by the river god, but she’s seventeen and it hasn’t happened yet. Her life gets complicated when she embarks on a cat and mouse chase with pirates who are interested in her mysterious cargo, and she’s forced to team up with a spoiled privileged noble boy along the way. I wanted to tell a classic adventure story full of mythology that reminded me of the sailing stories and songs I loved when I was a kid and a teen.
Kirkus gave Song of the Current a starred review, saying: “Caro's description of her boat home, the Cormorant, will make even readers unfamiliar with sailing feel as though they belong on the water with her." What is your research process like? Do you have any tips when it comes to balancing researching time versus writing time?
I go through different phases when it comes to research. Sometimes I’ll do it for a whole week, falling down internet rabbit holes that I don’t emerge from for hours. But sometimes I’ll also be busy drafting and just leave a placeholder with a note to look a fact up later. For this book I already knew how to sail and the basic parts of the boat, so most of my research involved the Age of Sail and historical wooden ships. Oh, and cannons and flintlock guns! A good tip for research is to keep everything in perspective. Have you been reading for 4 hours about something that’s going to be one throwaway line in the book? Then maybe it’s time to stop.
Who was your favorite character to write? And which character gave you the most trouble?
Caro, the main character, was my favorite. I wanted to write an action girl who wasn’t afraid to get dirty. She lives and works on her father’s boat, and it was important for me that she felt like a character with the right skills to go on her adventure. In fantasy we get a lot of characters looking for a way out of their ordinary life. I wrote the opposite—a girl whose fate is pulling her away from her planned future, and who becomes increasingly stubborn and annoyed about it. The love interest in the book gave me the most trouble because he starts out pretty spoiled and awful. It was tricky to balance—I wanted to show his journey as he comes back from some big mistakes and realizes some truths about the world, but I also couldn’t make him irredeemably offensive. It’s been interesting checking out reviews because some readers love him and some still feel he wasn’t worthy of Caro.
Song of the Current has a sequel slated for publication in 2018. What was your experience writing Book 2? Do you have any advice on how to tackle writing a follow-up ?
So I didn’t have any of the awful issues a lot of debut authors seem to have with their follow up book. I didn’t descend into months of writers block and despair, worrying that the first book was a fluke. However, I did have trouble with the shorter deadlines while working a full time day job. I ended up throwing out 45,000 words and rewriting, so it took longer than I thought. My advice (especially if you have a deadline) is to let go of perfection. 1-2 years of work went into writing and polishing Book 1 before agents and editors even saw it, but on a publishing schedule you don’t have time. Your agent/editor expects that, and they’re there to help!
What was the biggest hurdle you faced on the road to publication? Querying? Finding an agent? Revising?
I got an agent quickly and sold my book quickly. However, I wrote five books before that and never queried any of them because I just sensed they weren’t right. Most of those books didn’t fit well into a defined genre/age category. Now, I’m not saying, “Stop writing the book of your heart and sell out!” But you do have to do research and know that, for instance, a weird cross-genre book with a 19 year old main character is going to be an incredibly hard sell for your debut (I wrote TWO of those!). So my advice is to take your genre research seriously and see the patterns of what’s working in the market before you embark on projects.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
For me this used to be revision, but over the past couple of years that has flipped to become my favorite. So I’m going to say getting the book finished from beginning to end. I don’t write in chronological order on my first draft, but I do on the second draft. That’s when I sit down and bash all the little parts of the book into a structure and arc that works, and it’s absolutely the hardest step.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’m much happier when I don’t read YA fantasy when writing YA fantasy, so I’m shamefully behind in reading the big new books that have come out in 2016-17. Right now I’m on a historical mystery kick. I’m almost done with the Phryne Fisher books, and I read all of Elizabeth Peters’ books in one big binge, and now I’m starting Maisie Dobbs. I can’t wait to catch up on some YA this summer.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
I love everything about it! I save screenshots of the dumbest things, which I keep in a folder. Someone saying something nice about my cover! People talking about my characters on Twitter! My book being #1 in its incredibly specific category on Amazon!
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Don’t feel like you have to take ALL the writing advice out there. This one summer I got obsessed with outlining and beat sheets and color coded charts. I spent so much time organizing my writing and reading about productivity hacks that I barely wrote. That’s how I learned that not everything is for you. Feel free to try stuff, but if you find yourself spending more time worrying about your special productivity system than being productive, you should dump it.
Big thanks go out to Sarah for taking the time to give such thoughtful answers to these questions. In particular, I find myself gravitating toward her tips on doing your genre research, letting go of perfection, and the very important reminder that writing advice isn't gospel. Be flexible. Try a new approach. And choose the advice that works for you. Be sure to add Sarah's adventurous book to your Goodreads list, or order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
If you related to any of Sarah's interview, or if you just want to tell her how much you loved reading (or can't wait to read!) Song of the Current, please hop on over to Twitter to tweet her directly at @SarahTolcser. And for more information, be sure to check out her author website at sarahtolscer.com.