A few months ago, FYA tweeted about a sweepstakes for book club leaders promoting Sara Zarr's new book, How to Save a Life. Now, strictly speaking, I am not our book club's leader (hi Megan no h!) and in fact only show up 60% of the time, rarely having read more than half the book. But at the time, I was recovering from a monster case of Sweethearts-induced TEABS, and in my excitement for all things Sara Zarr, filled out the application for the FYA DC Book Club. Seeing as the only thing I've ever won is $4 on a lottery ticket, I promptly forgot all about the contest until January, when I received an email from a nice lady at Little, Brown asking for the address where she could mail 20 copies of How to Save a Life and some dates that would be good for setting up a Skype date with Sara Zarr. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It comes as no surprise that this was the best book club ever! I am no longer content participate in normal book club meetings and demand Skype drop-ins from the author of every book we read (looking at you, McCafferty). Although I guess there's not much point now that I've already met the world's coolest YA author, because it can only go downhill from here. Seriously y'all. Prepare your shiniest, most blinged-out platinum BFF charm because SARA ZARR IS THE BEST.
As self-appointed fake book club leader, I hosted the Special Edition book club meeting in my living room in the only way I know how: with way too much food. People brought over coffee, fruit, and cheese straws, but I also spent all morning cooking:
• Waffles (heart-shaped! for Sweethearts!)
• Lemon curd, clotted cream and scones (heart-shaped! for Sweethearts!)
• Croissants (heart-stopping! for Sweethearts!)
• Roasted garlic hummus and veggies (uh... in honor of all that healthy food they make Mandy eat in How to Save a Life!)
• Brownies (ok you got me. These were just all the things I wanted to cook. I made up the themes later.)
Keep in mind that there were only about a dozen people at this book club. I had to harass everyone to keep eating the food, but we cleaned up pretty solidly. Unfortunately, I only took a picture after we'd eaten everything, because we're really bad at remembering to take pictures here at FYA DC:
But of course, what kind of FYA book club meeting would this be without alcohol? I served my signature YA drink, the Momo B. Cocktail, in very special glasses, because if there's one thing I overdo more than cooking, it's crafting.
It's hard to read, but it says "FYA" in the stars of the DC Flag.
Everyone got a champagne flute hand-etched with our very own FYA DC logo! (that's right, we have a logo. Does your book club have a logo? Didn't think so.) Or as Megan accidentally called them yesterday, FYA Campaign Flutes. I really like the idea that we've got some kind of FYA campaign going on, like a campaign to encourage drinking while reading, or possibly a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. And whatever our campaign is for, it somehow involves flutes.
FYA campaign posters.
But, uh, I guess you didn't come here to read about the FYA Campaign or self-congratulatory essays concerning my menu planning. No! You want to hear about how awesome Sara Zarr is! Well, after a comedy of errors that resulted in us having to talk to Sara on Skype while Sara simultaneously talked to us on GChat, we finally got to find out. We speculated ahead of time as to whether she was expecting a group of teenagers rather than a room full of grown-ass women sipping cocktails at 2 in the afternoon. But no, before she could even see us, she asked, "Are you all drinking right now?" YOU KNOW US SO WELL, SARA.
The conversation mostly revolved around her newest book, How to Save a Life. (Which, if you haven't read this book yet, what are you doing? Look at your life! Look at your choices! Go out to a bookstore or a library immediately and find a copy. I don't care if you're at work right now. May I suggest Kindle Cloud Reader? You can read it right in your web browser.) Apparently, the book started as a writing prompt, where someone had to try and talk a fifty year old out of adopting a baby. Jill and her mom were born, and Mandy followed suit. The book was never an issue book; teen pregnancy was just the catalyst that brought all these characters together.
Sara also said that while this was her least autobiographical novel yet, there are of course some elements of her own reality in there. For instance, Mandy's totally insane, stalkery letters to the older man she met on the train? Sara may have sent some similarly inappropriate letters to men during her youth. And while Pancake Universe and Margins may be fictional knockoffs of IHOP and Borders, Casa Bonita is a real Denver landmark, a Mexican restaurant featuring caves, cliff divers, and an inverse relationship between entertainment value and quality of food. It sounds totally magical. Apparently the first time she went, Sara got to sit right next to the cliffs--prime real-estate for the show. Then as she and her friends were leaving the restaurant, a homeless man asked for change. They offered him their leftovers instead, to which he replied, "Casa Bonita? No thanks."
We also discussed different publishing channels, as one of our book club members just finished writing her first novel. Sara's advice for first-time authors: try the traditional publishing route first, even if you get rejected a kajillion times. Besides superior editing, the advantage to traditional publishing vs self-publishing is that you don't have to worry about selling your books--that's the publisher's job. Unless you have a very specific market you're trying to reach, it can be difficult to get your name out there with self-publishing. It's in the publisher's best interest to promote your books, by say, having a sweepstakes where book clubs win a chance to talk with the author about her awesome book, which they will then recommend to all their friends.
Sara stayed on the line with us for almost an hour and a half because she is so cool and fun. Did you know that she responds to all of her fan mail? That's impressive. She loves Downton Abbey and thinks the FYA LadyNerd posts on the subject were awesome. She doesn't drink cocktails much anymore, but when she does, she loves gin martinis. Even though she is amazingly talented, she has a hard time reading some other authors' books because she is so jealous of how good they are (John Green). I can't remember what else we talked about, but basically, she is funny and charming and everything wonderful that you would imagine her to be.
But what of the question on everyone's mind? Sara, what happened to Cameron Quick?
Y'all. CAMERON QUICK IS A REAL PERSON.
Well sort of. He is based on her childhood sweetheart, a boy named Mark who really did give her a ring in her lunchbox. Their paths crossed again as adults and they reconnected. They're all grown up now, living their separate lives (Sara's happily married, and Mark's a father now--a great Dad, obvi, because CAMERON QUICK!), but he told Sara that when he was 15 and struggling in LA, she was one of the only positive memories from his childhood that kept him going. The entire room issued a collective sigh. "How could you not write a book about that?" Sara asked. How indeed. WE'RE SO GLAD YOU DID.
So thanks, Sara, for taking the time to talk to us, even if you couldn't share our snacks from a different time zone. Next time, you'll just have to come in person. I'll save you a campaign flute.
FYA DC with our new virtual BFF, Sara Zarr's floating head.