An Interview with Sarah Nicole Lemon

Sarah Nicole Lemon is the author of the young adult novels DONE DIRT CHEAP and VALLEY GIRLS. After an unconventional girlhood, she now lives outside of Washington D.C. with her three children and snuggly Pit Bull, Maggie.

What inspires you to write?

 A moment that always stands out to me is this–

At fourteen, I worked for a farmer, helping him butcher our valley’s wild game. One of my tasks was to salt the hides. We’d peel the hide off a fresh deer and he’d hand it to me to take out back. The hides were heavy and warm and soft, nearly always as big as me at that age and I’d carry it over my shoulder out into the snow behind the garage, draping it, hair down, over the pile of other salted hides. I was on my knees one afternoon, adjusting the hide on the pile as the sun slipped over the crest of the mountain, bathing everything in that deep gold against the midnight blue of winter. I took a big scoop of salt from the five-gallon bucket and spread it out with my bare hands—working the salt into the soft underside of the skin. The salt stung my hands. The sun made the snow sparkle like diamonds. And even as the hide warmed my fingers, the cold bit at my cheeks and throat. There was something in that moment, even at fourteen, that I knew would stay with me forever. Something, even now, I’m always writing towards.

Have you always known you wanted to be a writer? What inspired your debut novel Done Dirt Cheap?

 I didn’t always want to be a writer—I wanted to eat and have a warm winter coat—so I had planned on being a lawyer. Thankfully, I got kind of sidetracked from that. I was pregnant and on bed-rest with my first baby when I opened Word and decided I was going to make use of this “downtime” and write a book. I think I wrote, like, one sentence that day before going back to bed, but it was a beginning.

Done Dirt Cheap was me trying to find the intersection of something I knew about and something the industry wanted to pay for, quite honestly. Motorcycle club culture was a thing I was comfortable writing, and, thanks to Sons of Anarchy, it was something the industry was interested in.

Describe the route to your first novel being published.

Oh man, that’s like describing how to grow fruit from a seed. First there’s the seed you have to somehow not kill, the sapling, the first year of clipping the blossoms (which breaks your heart because it’s been so long and it’s almost fruit!), the second year of maybe some fruit but most likely some kind of pest that makes all your hopes seem futile, and then finally, finally, if you’ve managed to keep it alive, a mature tree with ripe, sweet fruit. And don’t forget after the first harvest, you’re bound to have harvestless years. Nothing is guaranteed.

So that’s how I did it. I went out one morning with a seed and some hope and I somehow managed not to kill both.

How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 Most of my drafts are done in under a month. It’s not because I’m that prolific, it’s because I’m always trying to outwrite my fear. The fear of not being able to finish this time. Or the fear of being a bad writer. I write it at a blister so that I have a book. Once it’s a book—a bad book—I feel okay letting myself take a while to make it into a good book. DONE DIRT CHEAP was written in a month, but edited for about ten months before it went out on submission. VALLEY GIRLS was a little different—I wrote half of it under contract, which was about 8 weeks, and I only did edits with my editor. The manuscript I’m working on now, I wrote in three weeks.

Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s a typical writing day for you?

My typical day has changed drastically throughout my writing process. But right now it’s changing into this: I get up at 5am, clock-in at a truss fabrication plant at 6am, work outside all day building roof trusses (the triangles that make up your roof) while thinking about what I’m going to write, clock out 2:30pm to get my kids from school, spend the afternoon catching up on administrative tasks, homework and housework, and after bedtime, I write everything I’ve thought all day, pass out, and do it all over again.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book Valley Girls?

A misfit teenager claws her way into the heart of Yosemite’s rock-climbing culture, finding herself capable of reaching new heights in the process.

Finally, do you have any advice for writers hoping to get their books published?

Never mind the frost, the rot, the pests, the drought, the hail, the bare blossoms, the dropped fruit—because they are part of every author’s career. All you need to keep alive is the seed and your hope.


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