Fiction Fest: Q&A with ‘Mile 21’ author, Sarah Dunster

Dunster photo
Photo: EMI Image Photography

The Deseret News called Sarah Dunster’s “Mile 21” “…a complex novel that poignantly depicts the emotions of dealing with the death of a spouse.”

This assessment made us want to get a look at the author behind the novel, which is why Dunster is the guest in today’s episode of Fiction Fest.

You can get your copy of “Mile 21” in bookstores and from online retailers, but in the meantime, take a few minutes to get to know Dunster.

With which of all your writing projects are you most satisfied?

I think I get more satisfied with each project. Or at least, I feel like I get better with each project. So I guess that means, I’m most satisfied with the one I just finished.

What’s the most joy writing has brought you?

I love creating a new world, creating people, creating emotion in others. I love being able to bring themes I am passionate about into peoples’ hearts through the medium of story. I love the escapism of putting myself into a different world. And I love doing research.

How did the story for “Mile 21” come to life?

It started with a feeling that I needed to write something to help others understand what someone who has endured tragedy is going through. They might not always act responsible or nice or put-together. It’s because they are struggling. I also love the Mormon-college culture, and found life as a student hilarious and full of adventure. I loved being able to portray that. And I love romance. Good romance. I really wanted to portray real people, falling in love, and have the reader enjoy that.

What is your current work in progress?

A historical fiction manuscript. It’s a sequel to my first, “Lightning Tree,” but it sort of stands on its own. It was incredibly difficult to write, but I think it turned out the way I wanted to. Right now I’ve got it in the hands of Beta Readers. I hope to submit it pretty soon.

What is your writing routine like?

When I’m writing a first draft, I do 1,100 words each week-day. It takes me, usually, between 1 and 2 hours. If I’m editing, I do a chapter a day. If I’m researching, I have to give myself a time limit because I could go all day without realizing it. I love putting together puzzle pieces of information and learning new things in the process of gathering background for a story.

What’s the last book you read?Mile 21_2x3

I am currently reading “Field Notes on Language and Kinship” by Tyler Chadwick, who is a brilliant LDS poet and overall great person. I’ve really been enjoying it.

Which author(s) have had the most influence on your writing style?

So many. And I’m embarrassed to admit to some of them. But I love the classics–Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen. I love some comtemporary writers too. One of my favorites is Elizabeth Peters, who also writes under the pseudonym of Barbara Michaels. She writes such funny, intelligent, strong women characters.

Is there a particular genre you’d like to tackle, but haven’t yet?

Fantasy. And I can’t say I haven’t tackled it… just haven’t published it yet. I definitely plan to!

When and how did you know your writing was good enough to submit to a publisher?

I’ve been submitting for a long time. At the point that my first novel was accepted by Cedar Fort, I’d already written and submitted three other LDS novels, which were rejected by all the LDS publishers. “Lightning Tree” became publishable because I submitted it to a (now defunct) independent LDS publisher where Tristi Pinkston was acquisitions editor, and she rejected it but gave me some very important feedback. I took it and applied it, and rewrote the book. And then it was accepted by Cedar Fort (and being considered by Covenant as well, but I decided in the end to go with Cedar Fort.)

What advice would you like to offer to aspiring novelists?

Write every day. It’s the only way to improve your craft. Keep writing even when you’re rejected, and don’t think your stuff isn’t good. Sometimes it’s all about the audience that the publisher or periodical is looking for. Half of being a novelist is finding the right audience. But remember, in the end, that you’re not writing to be published (though that’s an important goal), you are writing because you are a writer. Nobody can tell you otherwise. Keep writing, and you writing will improve; eventually you will improve to the point where you find the audience you’re looking for.