by Scott Hales (bio)
Last year, Cedar Fort published Lightning Tree, a coming-of-age historical novel about a teenage girl who is haunted by chilling memories from her past. Set in Provo shortly after the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the novel treads boldly through a era of Mormon history many of us know little about--and does so in a way that help us, as a people, begin to contemplate and come to terms with the parts of our past that hurt the most.
Recently, the author of Lightning Tree, Sarah Dunster, agreed to answer a few questions about this novel; her latest novel, Mile 21; and the challenges of creative writing. Here is what she had to say ...
Scott Hales: Let's say you’re in a room full of strangers and you're in the mood to brag. How do you introduce yourself?
Sarah Dunster: Thank you very much J Bragging is my favorite thing in the world to do …
Hmm. I think I'd probably start with stuff like, I have seven children, two are adopted from a foreign country, I've published poetry and fiction and I know how to make sushi, Ethiopian Injera and Dura Wat, and a mean veggie enchilada casserole. Oh. And I'm Young Women's president. Because if we're bragging, callings are the thing we should brag most about, right?
SH: You've written two novels, including Lightning Tree, which is one of the best Mormon historical novels I've read recently. What do you like about the novel form? How would you characterize the experience of writing a novel?
SD: Wow. Thank you for the compliment. I always feel a bit uneasy when people tell me they love my books, like … guys. Did you not *notice* the missing page break and the several misplaced commas? We're so critical of our own work.
But anyway. I think I'm just a natural novelist. I've written since I was a kid, and I never thought of writing anything but poetry and novels. I have tried to write short stories and I'm just not that great at it. I don't find my pace or characters until about 75 pages into my story. And then I have to go back and rewrite those 75 pages several times to get it to match where things started to flow. I'd have to write 75 pages of a story, do all those rewrites, then condense it down to the 10,000 or 5,000 or even 1,000 (thank you James Goldberg!) words. I figure I might as well write a novel if I'm going to go that far anyway. I love novels because I feel there is appropriate room for the intermingling of plot and character development. You really get to know characters in a novel. You can in a short story as well, but you don't spend as much time with them, and I'd argue that you are less loyal/caught up in their lives as a result.