You've said that Just Listen was inspired by a photograph of three sisters in a private school yearbook. Can you tell us more about that?
I was waiting to do a speaking engagement, flipping through a yearbook, when I saw a picture of these three beautiful girls, obviously sisters, and my first thought was how their lives must be so perfect. My next was how ridiculous it was to assume something like that, because nobody's life is perfect. But it just goes to show how easily we draw conclusions, and that got me thinking about what goes on beneath the surface, and how all families have secrets. The story kind of took off from there.
How was your own high school experience? Did you belong to any clubs, academic societies, or sports teams? Was there a quote under your yearbook photo?
I was not much of a joiner, to be honest. I had a tight group of girlfriends, who got me through everything, and while I was an average student, I did love English class, especially when we were allowed to write whatever we wanted. On the whole, I think I spent a lot of high school just trying to stay under the radar: I don't think I was all that memorable. As for my yearbook quote, it was Pink Floyd, and kind of sums up my experience: "The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say." As it turns out, I did.
That Summer, the first novel you sold, wasn't intended to be a YA book. Now, ten years later, you've sold seven full-length YA novels! Are there any other genres you'd like to try, or will you continue to write YA novels?
I love YA, and it's been a really good fit for me. But at some point, I would like to try something else: a collection of short stories, or writing about something other than high school. A lot has happened to me since I was eighteen. As long as I keep having fresh ideas that interest me, though---and that I hope will interest readers---I think I'll always keep writing for teens, even if I do other stuff as well.
What are your favorite books of all time? Favorite authors?
Oh, this is such a hard question! If I had to pick, I'd say my favorite book is A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving. Owen is such an incredible character, and it's a novel that's just stuck with me, that I find myself thinking about often. (Owen Armstrong, in my new book Just Listen, was named after Irving's Owen, as well as Lance Armstrong, another man I adore.) I also love Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, and Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist. Anything by Anne Tyler, for that matter. She's just incredible. I also really love Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon, which I just read recently and jumped right to the top of my list. I could go on and on, as I have a lot of favorites. I really just love to read, period, whether it be books or magazines or the back of the cereal box. It's the one thing I can always count on to calm me down, take me away and inspire me, all at once. You can't say that about much else.
Thanks to Sarah Dessen, Courtney Wood, Penguin Putnam, and Flamingnet for making this interview happen.
My post entitled Author Spotlight: Sarah Dessen contains my reviews of all of Sarah's novels. Additional posts related to Sarah Dessen's works include:
Interview: Sarah Dessen
Roundtable: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Roundtable: Sarah Dessen Novels
Playlist: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
They Tried to Ban This Book Today, or, There's a Sticker on the Cover of This Book: Reacting to the Challenge of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen