Q&A with YA Author Sasha Dawn

Author Sasha Dawn stops by the blog to talk about writing thrillers, home improvement projects, and Harrison Ford.

1. First, tell us a little about yourself. 

I live in northern Illinois, where I’ve lived my entire life, and where most of my works take place. I have an amazing husband and two teenage daughters, who (along with their friends) help me pinpoint relevant teen issues. I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor, and I’ve suffered from insomnia since I was fourteen years old. I rarely sleep.

2. Your first book, Oblivion, features Callie, who thinks she might have killed her father. In Splinter, Sami realizes that she doesn’t know her father as well as she thinks she does—he may have abducted her mother. How did you decide to write YA thrillers?

I love thrillers, as a general rule. My high school English teacher introduced me to Mary Higgins Clark, and I was hooked from Where Are the Children? But more than that, my teen years were spent looking over my shoulder. I don’t think I felt safe through most of my childhood, first because there was a rash of kidnappings in the 80s, and we were home alone. My mother taught us about kidnappings, and prepared us as if it was simply a rite of passage we’d have to endure one day. So I grew up terrified.

Later in my teen years, I was in a tumultuous family situation, and while I wasn’t quiet about my plight, my cries for help were chalked up to teen angst and attitude. If anyone had listened and investigated, he would have discovered a world similar to those I create in my books. I survived because I saved myself. I channel this survival instinct when I write my protagonists. And I think teenagers are incredible people who face great challenges and aspire to prevail.

3. What’s crucial for writing a suspenseful story? Do you ever scare yourself while writing?

Research is essential. Unfortunately, crazy, unbelievable things happen in this world all the time. It’s important to understand the elements of these situations and to depict them fairly and honestly. Every suspense needs a protagonist with some vulnerabilities, lots of twists and turns, and unreliable relationships.

Do I scare myself? Absolutely! Sometimes I wonder how I conjure such gruesome events. If a horrific creature like Palmer Prescott [from Oblivion] lives in my brain (and he’s still there, by the way), what does that say about me?

4. What are your plans for your next book?

Editor/word magician Alix Reid and I are already working on my next release. We met at a café about a year ago, and I introduced her to Chatham Claiborne. Main character Joshua (named after my husband) narrates the tale of the mysterious Chatham Claiborne, who turns Joshua’s life upside down. The rough draft is almost complete, and I think we’re aiming to publish it in 2018.

5. How do you plot out your stories? What’s your writing process?

I experience strange dreams. I’m often awakened at night in the midst of a nightmare, which I promptly record. Some dreams are recurring. Some dreams I can’t stop thinking about as the day goes on. By lunch, there might be distinct settings involved, which I also take note of…places like the tunnel between Schmidt’s place and Sami’s house in Splinter. Or the Vagabond Café and Holy Promise, in Oblivion.  Sometimes character names reveal themselves to me in unexpected ways. A few years ago, I was teaching college English, when I suddenly wrote on the board: Chatham Claiborne. I didn’t know who she was then, but I knew she was important.

I know the beginning, end, pinch points, and climaxes of each book before I write. But I’m not a detailed planner. I write whenever I can—a few sentences here, a few pages there. I’m most productive between the hours of 2 and 7 in the morning, when the world is eerily quiet.

I don’t listen to music while I write, but I generally hear it in my head. I consider what type of music might be in the soundtrack, if books came with soundtracks. I think Samantha Lang in Splinter would listen to a lot of late-80s glam rock . . . and Billy Joel.

6. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Sasha and her daughters

When I’m not writing, I enjoy home improvement projects (I love power tools; Home Depot is my favorite store). Like my daughters, I dabble in ballet, tap, and jazz dance. We’re in the midst of putting a dance studio in the basement, and this project serves both hobbies at once. I love baking, probably because I’m addicted to cookies, and I absolutely love being a mom.

7. Name some of your favorite TV shows, books, and movies.

I don’t watch much television, but I’ve been known to binge watch The Walking DeadBanshee, and Justified. I watch Friends on DVD, and Gilmore Girls has a special place in my heart, as I just recently watched the entire series on DVD with my daughters. I still haven’t seen the recent episodes, so no one tell me what happens!

I reread the classics a lot, my favorite being To Kill a Mockingbird, but I also love any Stephen King, Jessica Warman, and Barbara Delinsky. And Jessie Ann Foley’s Carnival at Bray had me at hello.

Indiana Jones

Maybe it’s a Harrison Ford thing, but Indiana Jones has an amazing life—I never tire of watching it —and Han Solo has to be the most interesting character in the entire history of cinema. Other movies that I watch over and over again include The ‘Burbs, The Age of Adeline, and Midnight in Paris.

8. If you weren’t a writer, you’d be a . . .

In addition to being a writer, and a college English instructor, I’m a kitchen design specialist. I take a blank slate, and fill it with beautiful items in a functional and efficient way. I’ve been designing since I was about fifteen years old. I learned the business with my mother, who went back to school (go, Mom!) when I was eight years old. I love the challenge of specification of materials and motifs with the homeowners’ tastes, and I love to make things beautiful.

But if I weren’t any of those things, I think I’d be criminologist or a detective.

Thanks, Sasha!

Sasha’s latest thriller, Splinter, will be out on March 1, 2017.