Today, I welcome fellow NineStar Press author Sara Codair to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about their writing process, tips for writing nonbinary characters, and how mental health factors into their writing and their debut novel Power Surge.
Sara Codair is the author over fifty stories and a few poems. They love exploring “what-ifs?” in the fiction they read and write. Their debut novel, Power Surge, which features a non-binary main character, was published by NineStar Press on Oct. 1, 2018. They partially owe their success to their faithful feline writing partner, Goose the Meowditor-In-Chief, who likes to “edit” their work by deleting entire pages. If Sara isn’t writing, they’re probably commenting on student papers, in the lake, on a boat, or hiking a mountain with their spouse and dog.
Find Sara online
1. What is your writing origin story?
As a child, I was perpetually making up stories, but I seldom sat still long enough to write them down. My first attempt to actually write a story with real words happened in first grade. The teacher required students to journal. We were supposed to write about things that actually happened. I wrote about my best friend’s brother putting on a cape, climbing to the top of another neighbor's garage, jumping off, and flying. I don’t remember exactly what my teacher said, but she made me re-do the assignment.
I never stopped making up stories. Mostly, those stories were fan fiction. After watching an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, I would run and dance around the house, mentally acting out a new episode where a super version of myself showed up and turned out to be the real hero.
Overtime, the characters took on a life of their own so that they weren’t me but original creations. My head felt crowded. I started writing. I wrote a lot at the end of high school and through undergrad, but never really finished anything.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, barely coping with undiagnosed anxiety and bipolar disorder, that I found myself writing every single night, no matter what, until I had a 200,000+ word monster of a completed draft.
Since then, I’ve completed five novels and published one.
2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
Fear, nature, my favorite stories, questions, concepts and problems I grapple with, and random word generators spur the ideas for most of my stories.
However, sometimes I think it is my anxiety, or my fear of what it does to me, that keeps me writing and seeking inspiration. If there is not a fictional narrative about fictional characters running through my mind, then there is a more realistic one about all the horrible things that could happen to me and people I care about. When I’m driving, if I’m not plotting out the next chapter of my book, I’m thinking about all the ways I could get in an accident and die or accidentally kill someone else. If I don’t have a story in my head when I am trying to sleep, I’m thinking about all the ways the house could burn down and replaying the most insignificant conversations over and over in my head, making them seem more awkward and hurtful each time.
Writing is my passion, but my therapist and I agree it is also my most successful tool for combatting my anxiety.
3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
Of all the questions you asked, this is the one I struggled the most with. I apologize if my answer seems rough or jarring in some places.
When I hear and discuss representation, the idea of good representation and bad representation come up a lot. Even though I’ve labeled representation as “good,” I really don’t like looking at it as good and bad.
To me, representation is about accuracy and truth. But sometimes, the truth isn’t “good.” Truth can be dark and ugly, and rather see the ugly truth than false positivity. I think this is especially true for representation of mental illness.
Positive is a term better applied to representation of things identities and ethnicities. There are plenty of positive truths about being non-binary, but something like depression or anxiety? I feel like I would be doing harm if I tried to sanitize and make it positive, even if my intentions were good.
The world is a big, diverse place. All its inhabitants deserve to be represented in fiction, which to me, no matter how fantastical or far fetched, should still seek to explore or expose some kind of truth. The challenge to this is that what is true for one person might not be true for another.
4. Power Surge has a nonbinary main character. What was your favorite part of writing Erin and did you incorporate any of your own experiences into writing them?
Erin is a character a long time in the making. When I first wrote Erin, I had never heard the term non-binary and had no idea how to really describe myself aside from saying that there were absolutely no labels that would ever fit me.
Over ten years of stops and starts with the story I’d eventually call Power Surge, Erin evolved with me. They came out as non-binary when I did. They started using they/them instead of she/her when I did.
Erin isn’t me, but there is a lot of me in Erin. They are my flaws. They are things I fear most about myself. They cross lines I've Never crossed. But they also have strength and bravery and selflessness I’ve never quite achieved.
Writing Erin has helped me develop a better understanding of who I am and who I am not.
5. How does mental health feature in your writing?
More than half my characters have mental health issues similar to mine. It is a way to better understand my own mental health and fill gaps I see in representation.
Writing and doing research for Power Surge and another novel (which is currently shelved) helped me understand my own mental health and was actually one of the things that prompted me to seek a diagnosis and treatment
Each time I incorporate mental health into my writing, I do my best to portray it honestly. I hope my readers gain the same insight from it than I did. I tend to be optimistic about treatment (usually talk therapy and medication) since it has helped me a lot, but I don’t shy away from showing how much of a struggle it can be.
6. What is your writing process?
My process is an inefficient mess, but it works.
I try to plan a little, but usually, the things I plan don’t stick once I start writing.
Mostly I just dump my ideas out during the first draft. As the characters develop, they take on a life of their own and I try to listen to them. I let the story go in whatever direction it wants.
The few times I tried to change this and stick to a more planned plot, I ended up with flat, boring characters.
Once I get a complete draft, I let it rest for a few weeks. I print it and write all over it. Then I type up my changes, and send the draft off to get feedback. I repeat this as many times as I need to.
When I am happy with the content, I download the draft to my kindle and read it on that. I make the font big so I can only see a few sentences at a time. This forces me to actually focus on what is in front of me and is one of the most effective editing strategies I’ve tried.
People like to tell me to read aloud, but because of sensory and attention issues, that does not work for me like it does for other people.
7. What is your best piece of writing advice?
Write what you want to write. Be selfish with your first drafts. Keep it real and true no matter how fantastical it may be. And when you revise? Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially when those risks involving cutting things and replacing them with new ones.
8. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?
Characters are subjective. Some people might hate characters I love. I need to accept that and not try to make my characters be people they aren’t because of it.
9. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
With Power Surge?
Forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you have to like or be friends with people who hurt you, but carrying around a deep, strong hatred for them can turn toxic.
Medication is needed for many mental health problems and not having access to it has consequences. It can result in physical harm. It can fuck up relationships.
Non-binary gender identities are real. And you can be non-binary and be with someone who is the opposite of your birth assigned gender and still be queer.
10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
I’m getting the sequel to Power Surge ready to send to my editor and as it gets closer to the date I said I’d finish it by, I am getting more and more nervous.
There is a 1940’s novella I’ve been writing random scenes from.
There is a novel about an urban community college for magicians that has been sitting unfinished for years
I want to write a middle grade novel inspired by a childhood spend in Antique stores.
I need to tackle the third and final book of the Evanstar Chronicles.
I have a very rainbow space opera that needs lots and lots of revising.
The list goes on. I’m not sure what order these things will happen it. Right now, I just to finish revising this sequel.
Erin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.
While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend's bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.
Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that's going to have to wait until after they help save the world.
BUY A COPY HERE: