SARA DAHMEN 2017 Fiction Book of the Year


"The characters are so well-developed, they become your friends or your enemies. The storyline is good enough to want to read as fast as you can but yet not miss a word." - Goodreads Reviewer

What inspired you to become an author? What inspired you to write your award-winning novel?


Sometimes I still feel odd saying “I’m a novelist” when people ask me what I do. It feels surreal. I’m pretty sure I’m pretending. I can’t believe I write all the time (OK, when I get time away from the kids) for part of my daily job. It’s a passion and there’s no choice. I must write. As for inspiration for Widow 1881, that came as all my book ideas do: out of the blue, generally while grocery shopping, and without an actual plot. I simply know I have a character. And then suddenly she’s on a train, and I don’t know why or where she’s going and it all unfolds in a matter of days. It’s an amazing and exhausting process.


Tell us about your publishing journey! Why did you choose to traditionally or self-publish? Did you try and/or succeed in finding an agent? Etc…

Widow 1881 has a unique story. It was self-published under another name 3 years ago and was quite different than it is now. Then it started to get notice and was picked up by an agent and publisher (small press). After a year of working with the editing team and changing the book over 50%, it has been published as a debut novel, and is now part of a series of six books instead of a stand-alone novel. All in all, it was a bit convoluted.


What was the inspiration for your characters? Were they based on people you know or acquaintances?

The characters in Widow 1881 are combinations of personality pieces of people I have met or know. They are also completely themselves. Most of the main characters in the book go through a deep psychological analysis. And while there are references to true historical figures in the book, the people populating Flats Junction are characters onto themselves. Some are caricatures of western stereotypes for a bit of comic relief. Some are meant to be enigmatic. And they all feel very alive…to me, that is!


What is your day-to-day routine like as a writer?

Truthfully, I have to divide my time so carefully it’s like splitting hairs! You don’t want to see my daily to-do list! Mornings are spent on homestead chores and children, as well as in the metalshop—either mine or where I apprentice under a master smith—to build copper cookware. The afternoons are spent on managing my businesses. And writing happens in the evenings or late at night. It’s almost 1am as I write this, for instance.


How do you stay motivated and inspired to write?

The story burns, man. I have to write it! Actually, some days, especially when I’m working on my non-fiction, then it’s a grind. But it’s the job. Some days it’s fun and others not so much. I read a lot when I’m not writing, which keeps me motivated – either because I know I can write better than what I’m reading or I’m inspired to do better than I am by reading something superior.


Is there a “how to” writing book you recommend?

Is it bad if I say no? I’d say talk to other authors, join a writing group, have your work critiqued, get a solid editor who will be tough on you, and go to conferences. I’m a huge supporter of hands-on learning.


What were the top three learning experiences or surprises you encountered throughout the publishing/writing process?

The amount of work that goes into promotion is tiring! The constant need to market was a surprise. Frankly, a real editing experience was amazing. It was a slash to the gut, but so so so very worth it. I’m thrilled with the final rendition of Widow 1881. And not just because of the illustrations and other fun pieces, but because my editor(s) were amazingly helpful and I couldn’t have done it without them.


What types of authors have influenced your work?

Ken Follett, Antonia Fraser, Anita Diamant, Geraldine Brooks, Margaret George. Also Pearl S. Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH stuck with me for some reason, though I read that forever ago. As a child, I devoured C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Jean Craighead George, and Helen Dore Boylston.


What advice would you give to young writers?

Let your work come naturally. Don’t force it. And recognize it is an organic, ever evolving thing. You’ll always have your Voice, but it will change as you learn, mature, experience, and grow. And that is a fantastic thing. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t be afraid to try anything!