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Interview with Sarah Branson

Award-winning author Sarah Branson was a midwife for close to thirty years, helping families welcome their little ones into their arms in the hospital, at a birth center, and at home. Now she writes tales of action, adventure, revenge, and romance featuring airborne pirates. Her stories are set against the backdrop of an Earth changed by fires, floods, and pandemics but are firmly rooted in the strength and resiliency of the human spirit.

Sarah first started conjuring stories of pirates when her family hopped a freighter to Australia when she was seven. She has since grown up, traveling extensively across the US and the globe. In addition to her work as a midwife, she also taught science and history to middle school and high school students in the U.S., Brazil, and Japan. Through these myriad experiences, she developed a deep appreciation for people’s strength and endurance and fully believes that badass women will inherit the Earth and the Earth will be better for it.

Her debut novel, A Merry Life, has been honored as the 2022 Connecticut Adult Fiction winner by the Indie Author Project, was the 2022 Kindle Book Award winner for science fiction, and was named a 2022 Book of the Year finalist in the action/adventure and science fiction categories by the Independent Author Network. It is the first book in the series Pirates of New Earth. Sarah lives with her husband in Connecticut.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
I love to box, including traditional, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA. Also, I have run over half-a-dozen marathons.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes, I am currently writing a YA book that features my Pirates of New Earth protagonist’s daughter, Grey.
Q.3 What inspired you to write the Pirates of New Earth series?
While I’ve always loved action tales and stories with strong women and, of course, pirates, it was really Kat Wallace, my protagonist, who set me on the journey to write the series. When she hopped into my passenger seat during my long commute, I found her fascinating and just had to dig in and write her story.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I actually don’t find it difficult as a woman to write men. Maybe it’s because, for the majority of my youth, most stories were written by men and featured male protagonists, so those voices were made clear to me. Now as I write, I simply get to know each character deeply and write them as people, whether they are male, female, or non-binary.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I begin with character, manifesting them through the power of play and imagination. Once I have a character, I imagine what type of life they might have and what challenges they face. I use a variety of techniques to develop the plot-my husband and I discuss much of the “bones” of the plots on runs or over a glass of wine. Then I graphically diagram my story’s plot and consider the hero’s journey aspects as well as the tropes needed. For my most recent book, I used Jennie Nash’s Blueprint for a Book and found that to be extremely useful.

Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwine with other literary genres?
As far as speculative fiction goes, I see a bright and growing brighter future for the genre. There will always be strong, traditional science-fiction stories dealing with advanced science, technology, and space adventures. But as the realm of speculative fiction broadens to include paranormal, alternate history, horror, fantasy, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and more, new voices will be heard and there are, and will be, a delightful intertwining of genres to include paranormal mysteries, fantasy romances, and post-apocalyptic thrillers. 

In addition, in the past sixty-odd years, we have begun to hear from writers whose voices had previously been marginalized, including women writers, black writers and writers of color, queer writers, disabled writers, and writers whose identity is intersectional among these, and other groups. So, short answer: yes, science fiction will maintain its independence AND it will also intertwine with other genres and that’s good.

Q.7 How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
If writing the book includes the planning time, the actual writing, and the revising time, along with the all-important procrastination time (my house is never so clean as before I really start writing), then I would say it takes me about three to six months to get a book from idea to the ready-for-the-editor stage. My first three books went more quickly than that because I had written a zero draft that I drew all three from.

Q.8 What’s your writing schedule while working?
I write best in the mornings and do more editing and/or marketing/social media work in the afternoons. However, when the story is flowing, I can easily put in 14-hour days just writing as long as I have coffee and fuel to keep me going!

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the key aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
What is “classic”? Jonathan Swift? Mary Shelley? Jules Verne? Certainly, Golden Age sci-fi created the lasting science fiction tropes that are still built upon today. For me, I look to Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffrey, and Ursula Le Guin and think classic. 

I don’t think the key aims have changed - modern science fiction and speculative fiction writers look at the world as it is now and imagine remarkable “what-ifs”. That’s what science fiction always has done.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped popularize the genre?
I’d like to broaden this question to speculative fiction. Spec-fic is popular because readers long for stories that allow them to both escape the world at hand and interpret it through the resolution of conflicts in the stories. Films, especially modern films, make the consumption of science fiction stories accessible and consumable in a 90-120 minute span.

Q.11 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing? Tell us about your marketing campaign?
This is definitely a work in progress. I have an amazing book coach, Martha Bullen, who assists with some of the paid newsletters. I do lots of social media work for engagement and I network with other authors, participate in giveaways and connect with my local bookstores and libraries.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most influential period in the whole history of the genre?
Since the history of the genre requires that each new generation stands on the shoulders of giants, I don’t think any particular era is most influential. Just like any history, there are break-out events, authors, and books that particularly helped shape the genre in each era, but modern speculative fiction would not exist without each era unfolding as it did.

Q.13 If your book was made into a movie, whom would you like to play the role of Kat Wallace?
I would bypass celebrities and embrace emerging actors who have worked really hard to make their way. I think everyone would want to be Kat. But the role would go to Helen Laser, the woman who narrates the audio books. I had the opportunity to see her on stage in the play “Indecent.” She would be an amazing Kat Wallace.

Q.14 Who designed your book cover? How do you select them?
I looked at many, many different options before selecting The Book Designers. The talented Alan Hebel and Ian Koviak listened to me and asked insightful questions both about Kat and about any scene I wanted depicted. Kat is a force of nature on the inside, but on the outside, she is a regular woman who works hard to get what she wants. She has short hair and has had children. I wanted her face to be obscured so the readers could create her face in their minds. Ian and Alan worked hard to make the covers evocative, accurate, and beautiful.

Q.15 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have written four books in the Pirates of New Earth series as well as a short story in A Million Ways: Stories of Motherhood. I can no more select a book as a favorite than I can a child. I love them all as they each trace Kat’s life and adventures at different times.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
For my main character, Kat- simple: she told me her name and once you get to know her, you’ll know that you don’t debate something like that with a pirate who wears a knife on their thigh. Other character names sometimes just came to me, at other times I have used name generators or name lists especially, if I am seeking a certain ethnic background for a character. Since I wanted Bosch to be diverse, I wanted to be sure names reflected that diversity.

Q.17 What do you want readers to take away from your books?
Women and men are strong and resilient. They are leaders. They can go on a raiding mission and get home and make sure their children have dinner and get tucked in at night. People from vastly different backgrounds can work together and find friendship and even love. People are flawed and that can be a challenge, but also a strength.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. Mr. Rogers
. He embodied kindness and understanding, and I would just like to have him back on the planet for a moment to reassure us that things will be okay.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
I totally cannot pick a favorite - too many genres and too many lovely writers.

Because I am in the midst of writing YA, my current reads are YA: Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and her Lapidary, Abby Dewsnup’s Branson Garcia and the Sea of Sceros, S.S. Segran’s Aegis Rising. I also went back to old school YA and read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
I have always loved writing and reading. I published my first poem, The King of the Sea, 
when I was eight through that big publisher, My-Mom-Is-A-Teacher-And-Has-Access-To-A-Mimeograph-Machine Press. After a flurry of poems and in-school writing assignments, I still dreamed of writing someday, but never felt I had a story to tell. It wasn’t until early 2020 that Kat Wallace appeared for me at about the same time that I received a comment from a work colleague who enjoyed a piece of informal work writing I had done, asking if I’d ever published anything. Those two events started my writing career.

I began to write Kat’s story and after a few months I had a 110k word stream of consciousness about the events of Kat Wallace’s life. Initially I had no plans to share it with anyone. Then, somehow, I did share it, first with family, then with trusted friends. And, to my amazement and delight, people liked Kat and her tale. Their feedback made me realize there was a spark in the story and maybe I could publish it. It needed extensive revision and there were clearly three books in that zero draft, but I was on the path.

I spoke with Martha Bullen, of Bullen Publishing and with her guidance, decided to become an independent author and publisher. I created my imprint, Sooner Started Press, found my editorial and design team and published my first novel, A Merry Life, Book One of Pirates of New Earth, in early April 2022. It has won several awards. The second book, Navigating the Storm, followed in July 2022, Burn the Ship, the third book was published in November 2022 and the conclusion of the series, Blow the Man Down arrived on the scene in March 2023.

I also wrote a short story for the anthology, A Million Ways: Stories of Motherhood. I now write full time and am loving the path my life has taken.

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