2K18 Member Spotlight: Sarah Nicole Smetana
Sarah Nicole Smetana
BOOK TITLE: The Midnights
RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2018
About THE MIDNIGHTS
This voice-driven coming-of-age YA novel is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Playlist for the Dead.
Susannah Hayes has never been in the spotlight, but she dreams of following her father, a former rock star, onto the stage. As senior year begins, she’s more interested in composing impressive chord progressions than college essays, certain that if she writes the perfect song, her father might finally look up from the past long enough to see her.
But when he dies unexpectedly, her dreams—and her reality—shatter.
While Susannah struggles with grief, her mother uproots them to a new city. There, Susannah realizes she can reinvent herself however she wants: a confident singer-songwriter, member of a hip band, embraced by an effortlessly cool best friend. But Susannah is not the only one keeping secrets, and soon, harsh revelations threaten to unravel her life once again.
Set against the scintillating landscape of Southern California, The Midnights is an evocative coming-of-age debut about loss, creativity, and finding your voice while you’re still finding yourself.
Sarah Nicole Smetana grew up in Orange, California, where she wrote songs, played in a few bands, and successfully pilfered all of her parents’ best vinyl records. She received her BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and her MFA in Fiction from The New School. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their three-legged cat.
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR BOOK?
When I was a teenager, music meant more to me than anything else. I spent my weekends going to shows, playing shows, scouring the corners of the early internet for new bands, and digging through discount record bins at thrift stores. Music was how I defined myself, how I experienced the world. So I knew, before I wrote a word of this book, that I wanted to explore that feeling and tap into that passion. In addition, I was inspired by Southern California in general. The setting of THE MIDNIGHTS is inextricably linked to the characters and the story, and in many ways, this book is my ode to California. Growing up, all I wanted was to leave Orange County, to see the world, to live in big cities far away. But now that I’m gone, all I can seem to do is keep writing about the place I will still—always—call home.
BEST ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
I think it’s far too easy for writers to beat ourselves up over the hours not spent writing. Sometimes, this can even result in resentment—toward our jobs, our friends or family, toward all the things keeping us from the work. In fact, it wasn’t until I got into grad school that one of my instructors (a very accomplished writer herself) finally said to me that all those hours and days and months you spent just thinking about your story count, and matter, and are an important part of the process. Of course, if you never sit down and write the damn thing, then it’s all pointless. But that time you spend just mulling over ideas is absolutely worthwhile and necessary. And sometimes, stepping away from the work is actually what helps clarify it.
So if you can’t write every day, or if you only have an hour, don’t stress or feel like you’re falling behind. Publishing is not a race. As long as you continue working through it—in your head, on the page—it will continue germinating, and eventually, it will bloom.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FURRY WRITING SIDEKICK.
Cisco the three-legged wondercat is one of my all-time favorite creatures. Apparently she got hit by a car before we adopted her (the name Cisco came from the adoption place, too), so we've only ever known her with three legs. When she walks, she looks like a slinky. She has ten different meows, and twice as many nicknames. She the wackiest, weirdest, most awful and adorable cat I've ever known. I can hardly remember what my life was like before she came into our home.
WHAT DOES FEARLESS MEAN TO YOU?
If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think anyone is ever truly fearless. Our fears make us who we are, determine how we act and react, how we feel, how we love. Fears make us human. And so I feel that the idea of fearlessness, as we inherently understand it, is more akin to bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice. We are fearless when we are scared, but we act anyway. When we put ourselves in danger, despite understanding the risks. We are fearless when we stand up for ourselves, and for others.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AS A TEEN?
As a teen, I was a little bit of everything. I had so many interests, and I think I enjoyed trying to be as "unboxable" as possible. I was super nerdy, in all AP and honors classes, and had a 4.5 GPA. I was athletic, on the varsity tennis team all four years. I was weird and EMO and hung out with musicians and played in bands and wore thrift store clothes and teased my hair like Robert Smith from the Cure. I was an overachiever, and worked on the school newspaper (music editor my senior year). I was an artist who spent my free periods in the photo lab.
I was also a huge user of the early internet. I had a computer in my room before any of my friends, and was one of the first people I knew who carried a digital camera around with me everywhere (they were so bulky back then). However, somehow almost none of those pictures remain. Or at least I can't find them. What I did find, though, were a bunch of random pics of me in different music situations. Singing, playing guitar, playing bass (I don't even play bass), playing tambourine, and playing with my dad.
WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a huge scaredy cat! A short list of my fears includes: bugs (specifically flying bugs), sudden loud noises, hurting people’s feelings unintentionally (see also: general confrontation), failure, having no money, pickles (or: asking for no pickles and then having my burger or sandwich or whatever taste like pickles regardless), any sort of big change, all things that produce pain, not having enough time to do all the things I want to do (like: traveling the world, writing more books, adopting tons and tons of animals, finding a place to live that allows said animals…), and, similarly, death. Sorry to go all morbid there at the end, but death tends to infiltrate all my fiction, so really, this isn’t too surprising!
HOW DO YOU APPROACH FEAR IN THE WRITING PROCESS?
For me, this question is twofold: fear for me as a writer, and fear for my character. As far as my protagonist is concerned, really nailing down her underlying fear is integral to fully understanding and executing her character arc. Her fears are always inextricably linked to her wants, and the friction between these two forces is often what drives the narrative.
Similarly, fear is constantly present for me as a writer. There’s the fear of failure, of never selling another book, of never even finishing another book, of not being good enough. But there’s another, far more important facet to fear as a writer: those scenes/moments/feelings I’m afraid to write. This is never something I’m aware of initially, but rather something that becomes clear over time and multiple drafts. Eventually, I’ll start to realize that certain—usually super important!—scenes just aren’t working, and it’s because I, as a writer, am holding back. This could be because I’m afraid of hurting my character, or because I’m afraid of revealing something about myself through the story, or just because I don’t actually know how to write what needs to be written. Regardless, overcoming that fear, and unleashing that ugliness often hiding underneath, is always necessary. And as soon as I get through it, the book comes together, a thousand times stronger than it ever was before.