Describe your latest published novel. Guardian Spirit is the story of Millie and her 12-year-old daughter Sadie and 5-year-old son Sammy. Millie escapes her abusive husband and takes her children to the abandoned cabin in The Blue Ridge Mountains where she often visited with her grandparents as a child. She hides there for the summer. The cabin has no running water so they carry it from a spring and take baths in a #3 washtub. Of course the mean husband tries to find them and a Cherokee medicine woman plus Sadie’s Guardian Spirit family help The Madison family get away from him.
What inspired the book? The original plan was for Guardian Spirit to be a children’s story for my granddaughter. The cabin is real; it is a very mystical spot, with animals and nostalgia all around. I wanted my granddaughter to experience the magic of it all. But then the voices of Millie and Sadie became too strong, as my own childhood memories surfaced. Guardian Spirit quickly became a gift to myself as well as others who have experienced domestic violence.
I did however pen two children’s stories for my granddaughter. They are spin off’s from Guardian Spirit and are called, The Wayward Adventures from Skunk Cabbage Bog. .
What was the most difficult part of writing Guardian Spirit? The most difficult thing about writing Guardian Spirit was finding the time to get my thoughts on paper. This novel flowed out of me like melted butter. I couldn’t get it written fast enough.
Describe your writing space. I have lots of different writing spaces. I hand scribe all my novels, so I like sitting outside, or in my sunroom, or in the wingback chair in my living room The space where I work on the computer is quiet interesting. My Mac sits on an old desk I bought years ago for $99. I sit in a straight-backed chair that once belonged to Herman and Bertie Gentry, and there are post-it notes everywhere!
What’s next? My next novel “The Color of my Heart” is now going through its first edit. The story takes you back to the last known slave ship, The Wanderer that landed on Jekyll Island. It tells the experience of Lucia who was on that ship and of the next 6 generations to modern day, where the story evolves around Laura. She thinks her life is perfect, then finds out her mother was a descendent of Lucia, and a woman of color!
How complete is your first draft? The first draft of my novels is pretty complete. I do however fill in a lot of detail during my first edit. Describing scenery, the way things feel and smell. My word count usually doesn’t differ over 500 words or so from first draft, to the ready to send to a publisher’s copy.
We love travel. What’s your favorite part of your hometown, Elkin, NC? I like the smallness of my hometown. Love the Big Elkin Creek where I waded as a child, and the Yadkin where I’ve caught many a catfish. I find peace when looking out my sunroom window at the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. And I enjoy the downtown area, where I’ve walked the streets all my life. I have so many memories from there. And of course the people aren’t too bad either.
Your first novel, In the Coal Mine Shadows, is set in 1922. How did you research this historical novel? In the Coal Mine Shadows, set in 1922 was my first novel. Starting it in 1992, it took me 13 years to finish. The research for the book was done several different ways. First of all I got out my trusty encyclopedia, yes encyclopedia! No Internet at my house back then. I scoped out a location in Virginia, finding a town called Bergton. I wanted the setting to be a small rural town. Then as the years passed I visited a coal mine in Beckley, West Virginia. A retired coal miner actually takes you on a tour through parts of the coal mine. You wouldn’t believe the conditions these miners work in. Crawling around on their bellies all day, damp, dark… cold, not enough air to breathe. Then as the years progressed, and the Internet arrived at my house, I Googled 1922 cars, apparel, houses, coal mining camps and towns. All this gave me a visual for the scenes I wrote about.
Why do you write? I write, as an outlet for my feelings. I’ve always scribbled things down. Penning my worries or triumphs is just a way of life for me. I also write because I love to read. I want my readers to feel the essence of my stories. I want them to experience what the characters feel. I simply want my readers to enjoy and be entertained by my books, and there is always a life lessen woven in, whether the reader decides to heed it or not.
What would you do differently if you started a novel today? Now that’s a hard one, since the times are so different. Starting a novel today would be much easier than it was almost twenty years ago. Why, because I am twenty years older and have twenty more years of experience under my belt. And research information is so much easier to obtain. But most importantly I know who I am now, and what is important in my life. Not only in what I write, but also in how I see the world in general. The difference in my writing today than twenty years ago is that I now know to be a good writer you must write from the heart.
What’s your favorite Southern saying? My favorite Southern saying, how can I choose, I have so many. “Lord knows I try.” “Stubborn as a mule.” “Livin’ above their raisin’”
We love pets, tell us about yours. Pets, do you mean all eleven of my cats? I am known as “The Cat Lady” in my community. I just love those little fur balls. Five of the eleven are 4-weeks old. I just started teaching them to drink milk from a bowl and use the litter box. They are really smart animals and learn very quickly. Someone left me a half grown little lady that we named “Poofey” last week. Fortunately my house happens to be the drop off for un-wanted felines. Bring them on; I don’t think I’ve ever turned one away!
Starting a new career at fifty, is a challenge, but one that has been my lifelong dream. Learning all the ins and outs of the publishing world has been a bit overwhelming at times. I was asked last week during an interview if this would be my last career change. My answer was, “Never say never.” But I truly hope the world will continue to read my work and enjoy, so I can pursue this career of doing what I love to do more than anything. That is anything except being a wife, mom, and grandma! www.sarahmartinbyrd.com