Rising Phoenix Fiction Winner: Interview with Sarah Chayer

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sarah: I’m currently a senior just about to graduate with a B.A. in communication with an emphasis in journalism. I would love to be an author, publishing fiction novels, but also publishing articles for either magazines or internet sites. It’s really hard for me to pick just one favorite piece from this current issue, because I like a lot of them for different reasons, but I did really love A Clown Has Found Me because of its amazing symbolism and intensity.

Image Credit: Sarah Chayer

Q: When did you start writing? Did someone or something influence you to try?

Sarah: I realized my passion for writing when I was in fourth grade. I remember very vividly the exact moment I realized I had any writing talent. For a class assignment, we had to write a story about the start of spring, and I started off my story with the chirp of a robin waking the protagonist. My teacher just made such a big deal about it, going on about what a great literary skill I used. Since then, I started writing on my own time.
A favorite story I like sharing is that when I was in sixth grade, my language arts teacher used to assign us to write 3 pages in a journal every week for the first part of the semester, and then had us start setting our own goals of how many pages we wanted to write. One week as she was going around the class room asking students how many pages they would write, I counted up how many pages I had already written for that week. My peers were spitting out numbers around 5, and then when I was called on, I very timidly said, “56” and my face went beet red.

Q: Who or what peaked your interest into submitting to Sheepshead Review? Have you submitted to Sheepshead before? If yes, how did you deal with getting a rejection and what made you try again?

Sarah: I’ve wanted to submit to the journal before, but every semester, by the time I heard submissions were being accepted, the deadline was too close and I didn’t have enough time. Since I took the class this semester, I knew exactly when I could start submitting my work.
Since I was on the fiction staff, I was only able to submit one fiction piece, and The Breaking Breath was originally rejected for the journal but later approved to be sent to the judge for the Rising Phoenix Award. I was bummed when it was rejected at first, but I was able to take the constructive criticism the fiction staff had, and I was prepared to make changes and resubmit it next semester. I definitely did a little happy dance when I found out we were sending it to the judge, and I practically did a cartwheel down the hall when I got the email saying my piece won. Definitely was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Q: How did you come up with The Breaking Breath; essentially what inspired you? The Breaking Breath is surprisingly short; was it intentional or did this idea stem from a bigger story? Did you run into any obstacles or challenges while writing this piece?

Sarah: I originally wrote The Breaking Breath my freshman year here at UWGB for a creative writing class I was taking. The assignment was to write a character sketch based on a picture that we found, so I went on the internet to find a cool editorial photo and found a photograph of a woman in a white dress floating in the water. I loved the photo, so I took it and wanted to build the woman’s character, and explain why she was in the water. A lot of her character is based on an old friend of mine, who went through a lot of same emotional turmoil as the protagonist.
The assignment was meant to be short, being just a character sketch, but even after editing it again and again after the class, I liked the length. Usually when I write, even essays for classes, I can go on for pages. It was nice to condense and work and give it a smaller limit. It made for a unique piece in my personal collection of fiction stories.

Q: Do you normally write fiction? What do you find easier to write?

Sarah: Typically I write fiction, but I do still enjoy writing nonfiction pieces, poetry, and even lyrics. I don’t find any one genre to be easier than the others, but I just enjoy using my imagination with fiction. It’s a world where anything and everything can happen.

What is your writing technique? Do you start with an idea and go from there, or do you map out the story first and then write it?

Sarah: My writing technique is ever changing. It is never the same. For short pieces such as this one, I just touch my pencil to my page and just write. The story flows right through me with such ease, and progresses as it needs to that I don’t need to plan it out. But with my novels, I put so much thought into them. I’m working on a series currently that I am mapping out. I have timelines, calendars, story arcs, plot lines, even character profiles that are filled with basic and complex information about the people in my story. I’m quite the perfectionist, so with something like a novel (or especially a series of four novels!) I’m very particular about getting every aspect exactly as I want it.

Q: What is the best advice you have received about writing? Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published in Sheepshead?

Sarah: One of the greatest things I was ever taught about writing that I still hold close today is “show it, don’t say it.” No one really enjoys reading a story and being told what the character is feeling; they would rather see it, feel it. Images and descriptions are definitely one of the most important things for me when it comes to writing.
For people looking to get published in the Sheepshead Review, I would just say stick with it. Even if you are rejected for the first time, take what feedback you may receive, make some changes and try again. Tenacity will pay off in the end.

Editors note: While the Sheepshead Review cannot always give feedback, friends and peers are a great source of test readers to tell you what went wrong. Make use of this resource, and don’t forget to offer your own help. That good will comes in handy later.

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