Please join me in welcoming S.F. Rhoads to The Spinning Pen! Sandra was born in Queens and raised in Texas where she earned an MA in her seventeenth-century crush, John Milton. This talented author also has experience in acting, directing, and script writing!
SP: Hi Sandra! How did you start writing YA fiction specifically, and what made you decide to pursue that professionally? (Also, I’m dying to know who your other literary crushes are!)
Sandra: I love talking about story, process, and creativity but what I love most is to encourage others to see their talents/art as valuable and important gifts to the world, so thanks for having me as a guest!
A little about me: I’ve always been a storyteller and writer, although it wasn’t necessarily on paper. Mainly I’d create fantasy worlds in my daydreams while I was on the playground or doing chores.
I started writing stories in middle school. Privately at first, but then I started composing short, episodic stories in spiral notebooks for different friends where they were each the protagonist. I’ve been writing ever since.
I love stories with action and mystery where characters are searching for their place in the world and find this a common thread in the young adult genre. I believe in writing stories I want to read, stories about misfits who ask where do I fit in? What’s my purpose? Does what I do matter? Those are questions I wrestle with myself, and I find that most of my stories revolve around the themes of identity and community. It’s a question I think we never outgrow.
My other literary crushes would definitely be the Late Romantics poets: Keats, Shelley, and Byron!
SP: Your debut YA novel, MORTAL SIGHT, the first book in The Colliding Line duology, came out April 2020 by Enclave Publishing. And in 2021, we celebrated the release of REALMS OF LIGHT. Please add on Goodreads! It is a 2022 Realm Award Finalist and a 2022 ACFW Carol Award Finalist! Here’s the blurb:
From the Ashes, Spring Will Rise
On the run from the brutal Sage and his army of Legions and Cormorants, seventeen-year-old Cera Marlowe knows the only place strong enough to protect her is the Alliance Council Estate.
Her introduction to the Estate is far from welcoming. Cera’s dueling powers of light and darkness make her a threat to the Alliance’s sacred powers.
Her ability to decipher hidden messages in classical artwork buys her temporary shelter, but the clock is ticking as she’s faced with a daunting choice that could cost her everything—including those she loves.
SP: How does it feel to be a finalist for two awards this year? What do you think made your book standout?
Sandra: It’s totally crazy! I never thought it would receive the recognition. I knew the story was unlike anything in the market and wasn’t sure how it would be received. Especially since once agent had a hard time grasping the concept ad told me to dump Milton.
Obviously I didn’t because, like I said, I write stories I want read. My thought was that if no one liked the story, at least I would enjoy it. To have MORTAL SIGHT win the Carol and the Christy last year was overwhelmingly unexpected to say the least.
I think what sets the story apart was Milton’s role. The poem fit so seamlessly into the story. And for REALMS OF LIGHT, even more so. I geeked out weaving Byron and Machiavelli in there, making them characters as well.
SP: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Sandra: I think COVID has affected so many, myself included. My writing process looks radically different now. I used to have several hours to write alone, but now someone is always home, and I don’t have the same structure / space as before. Finding a new process when creating the backstory and mythology of a new series is super hard.
Also, social media can be difficult on the creative process. Constantly seeing the successes of others can make it hard not to get discouraged at times about my own work and how slow I am to create my next project.
I think the greatest challenge is writing without holding onto what other’s expect of you. Writing for the pure love of storytelling when you’ve released two books is hard. People don’t talk about that struggle very much—about the pressures of writing the next story once published—but it’s real.
SP: How would you encourage other creatives? What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
Sandra: Keep going. Persevere and when you want to give up, remember that what you do matters. Our art changes the world—it speaks a language to a deeper part of our soul, one that breathes hope into a world desperate for good. Don’t give up because the journey is hard. Be kind to yourself and keep going. It’s worth it.
The best writing advice I ever received was from Agent / Editor Susan Brower. She told me to finish the story. Just finish it. Crappy draft, sloppy, misspelled words, plot holes and all. Finish the draft because then you’ll have something to work with.
SP: Can we be expecting any more books from you in the near future?
Sandra: I am working on a new series and a stand-alone, but I am still in first draft and world building so it will take a while for them to take shape. But hopefully not too long!
SP: And lastly, do you have a favorite quote from your book? What does it mean to you?
“You don’t change anything by avoiding it. You stand in the face of that terrifying reality and then find a way to overcome.” – Cera Marlowe, REALMS OF LIGHT
Sandra: This pivotal quote is one I remind myself of daily. The need to face my fears, overcome my doubts and the painful, uncertain obstacles in front of me. Am I terrified? Totally. I know it takes a lot of falling and getting up again, but I remind myself that getting to the other side by finding “a way to overcome” is always worth it.
Is Sandra a…
Plotter/pantster? I’m totally a plotster. I generally know where the story is going when I start, but as I start writing, it takes an unexpected turn and I follow the lead.
Last book you read? WHEN by Victoria Laurie. Soo good!
Current dream vacation spot? New Zealand… I would love to go to the beach and ski in the same day. Or I would want to go to Hawaii and be a lava-walker.
Which dinosaur would you rescue from a volcanic explosion on Jurassic Park if you could only pick one? I’d save one that wouldn’t eat me. Probably the Stegosaurs. They’re slow movers and I don’t feel like they’d have a fair chance. Plus, they have those cool mohawk scales that make them the punk-rockers of the Jurassic period.
Would you rather be a professional: Paleontologist? Archaeologist? Explorer? Botanist? OR? Oooh. That’s tough. I majored in archeology for a while, and I also helped unearth a wooly mammoth fossil, but I would probably go for Explorer since there are so many places in the world I haven’t seen.
Favorite childhood book? My favorite childhood book? Where the Red Fern Grows. I cried for days. That book made me realize the power of storytelling and was what planted the seed to be a writer (pun intended). But my true favorite is Days with Frog and Toad because they’re friends going on amphibian life adventures together—what could be better!