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5 Q's with Sarah Jio, Author of The Violets of March
headshot for Sarah Jio

When I interviewed Seattle-based magazine writer Sarah Jio back in 2007, she was working on her first novel. Now The Violets of March is in book stores, her second novel, The Bungalow, will be out from Penguin (Plume) in April 2012, and she's hard at work on a third one. Sarah is also mother to three boys and the health and fitness blogger for Glamour magazine. Here are her insights on writing, motherhood, and more.
Urban Muse: What were your inspirations for The Violets of March?
I grew up near Bainbridge Island, Washington, where my book is set, and I spent many happy hours there as a child. I’ve always felt the island had a special quality, so when I sat down to write the book, this was the natural place for me. I’m also a huge fan of 1940s music and movies, so partially setting the novel in this decade was also fun for me to do (seriously, I grew up knowing more about Cary Grant movies than Tom Cruise movies!). But, ultimately, the inspiration for Violets came from a very special song I heard years ago on a jazz station in Seattle (KPLU 88.5 FM, in fact!). The song, The Waters of March by the late Susannah McCorkle, absolutely haunted me. I was determined to imagine a story that would suit the song, and voila, Violets was born. (The early title for the novel was actually “The Waters of March,” in fact!)

book cover for The Violets of March

UM: You just delivered a baby amidst all the excitement of publishing your debut novel. Any tips on juggling motherhood with freelance writing?
With a newborn, a 4 year old and a 2 year old (all boys) it’s a little wild in this house! Basically, my philosophy on juggling my writing career and kids boils down to this: I can either cross my arms in defeat and say “THIS IS TOO HARD, I’LL NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE. WHY EVEN TRY?!” or I can just use the time I have—even little bits of time—and make progress on my goals. I’ve chosen the latter, which means squeezing in little bits of writing time when the kids nap, or while they watch Elmo in the mornings, or when they’re snoozing at night (which means forgoing evening TV, which takes discipline). Fortunately, I love what I do—both being a mom and being a writer. It’s hard sometimes, but I am determined to to make both work together.

UM: How is writing a novel alike or different from writing nonfiction articles?
Oh my goodness, it’s totally freeing! After 11+ years of writing magazine articles where every fact is scrutinized, I felt like I got to goof off when I started writing novels. I love that I get to sit at my desk and make stuff up. It’s so fun!

UM: Now that you've been through the process, what tips would you offer to first-time authors?
My best advice to writers interested in writing and selling a novel is to only start a story that absolutely, 100 percent captivates you. This novel idea of yours must haunt you day and night. It must pull you back to your desk when you’re tired, just so that you can punch out another chapter before bed or work or the kids soccer game. I’m an idea person and I really enjoy coming up with ideas for new novels. But I never start down a new road if the story I’ve thought up doesn’t excite me enough. Here’s the logic: You’re going to be spending an awful lot of time with these characters, so you better love them. And, readers can absolutely tell when your heart isn’t into it. So choose your story carefully, believe in it and you will have luck selling it. When you’re passionate about something, it’s contagious—to agents, editors and to readers!

UM: What's the most common fear or mistake you've noticed from new writers and how can readers avoid them?
It sounds silly, but I hear from a lot of people who want to be writers, who talk about writing books, who dream about the whole idea of being published, but they never follow through with the actual business of sitting down at their desks and writing. Whoever said that the hardest part of a writer’s job is writing was so right. I think what sets the published aside from the unpublished is discipline and drive. Like any big goal, writing takes commitment and practice. And, you have to exercise the muscle. I blog for daily (5-7 posts a day), and while my topics (health and fitness) don’t relate to my novels, the job has an amazing ability to keep me creative and flex my writing muscles. Any writing you can do will help you be more successful at your writing dreams, whether its fiction or magazines.

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5 Q's with Sarah Jio, Author of The Violets of March + writers on writing