Sarah Adler writes romantic comedies about lovable weirdos finding their happily-ever-afters. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and spends an inordinate amount of her time yelling at her mischievous cat to stop opening the kitchen cabinets.
I had the opportunity to interview Sarah, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hello, and thanks so much for having me! I’m Sarah Adler (she/her), and I write romantic comedies out of my mustard yellow home office (and various coffee shops) in beautiful Frederick County, Maryland. I’m also an avid reader, baked goods fanatic, and casual but enthusiastic bird nerd.
What can you tell us about your debut book, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes? What was the inspiration for this story?
Mrs. Nash’s Ashes is the story of a former child actress on a mission to reunite three tablespoons of her elderly best friend’s remains with the woman she fell in love with while serving in World War II. But flights are grounded and she’s forced to drive to Florida with her ex-boyfriend’s grad school rival. Hijinks, of course, ensue.
Back in the fall of 2020, I heard a radio interview with a musician who talked about how, when his mother passed away, he took her ashes on tour with him to sprinkle on every stage he played. I couldn’t stop thinking about that! Like, as a memorial gesture but also just the logistics. Around the same time, I was brainstorming what a modern-day version of the classic screwball comedy, It Happened One Night, might look like. Eventually, those two ideas converged in my head and a story was born.
As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically romance?
I’ve always been fascinated by people—trying to understand how they work, what makes them tick—and I think romance is an ideal way to explore that. When I make my characters fall in love, I’m basically chucking them into a crucible and testing what they melt down into, and how they’ll re-form. It’s a really fun way to study the human condition. It’s possible to do this with other genres, too, of course. But I’ve also always been very anxious, so the promise of a happily ever after, that everything is going to be okay, is not only incredibly appealing but somewhat necessary for me as both a reader and a writer.
How would you describe your writing process?
When I first have an idea, I make sure that it has not only a premise but also enough of a plot to become a full book. If it doesn’t, I write it down for later and move on to the next one. If it does, I start writing the first few chapters and see how it feels—if the voice is coming naturally, if the characters are forming on the page. Next is a very loose, almost stream-of-consciousness outline that’s 90% dialogue I know I want to use in future scenes, and that guides me as I head toward the middle. By the time I hit the 50,000-word mark, I usually get stuck and miserable for a while, but I’ve done this enough times now that I know it’s temporary. So I take a break, refill my creative well, and eventually dig back in and reach the end. I tend to revise at the line level as I go, so by the time I have the full story on the page, it’s time to get some feedback from my critique partners and/or editor about bigger, structural stuff. Then it’s time to tinker with whatever doesn’t work until it suddenly does.
One of the hardest things about writing a book is finishing one. What strategies or advice might you have to say about accomplishing this?
I’m not a planner. I don’t do a formal outline. I don’t do goal-motivation-conflict charts. That’s not me, not how my brain works. But what I’ve learned is crucial to a manuscript’s success is that I make sure before I get started that I have a plot and not just a premise. It’s really easy to generate premises—the “what if…?” question that sets up the situation—but it’s a lot harder to actually respond to that question with a novel-length answer. Most of the projects I’ve started and abandoned were great premises, which meant I could start, but then there wasn’t a middle or an end to follow it up with. Writing a book is like getting from A to Z, and if you only have an A, well… you might eventually work your way to Z out of sheer luck but it’s not going to be an easy trip.
As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?
Jennifer Crusie is my favorite romance author of all time, and I turn to her books frequently for both comfort and inspiration. Music is a significant part of my process as well; I tend to listen to certain genres or artists on repeat while drafting and revising. My work is always at least a little influenced by film and television, especially ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms like M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Night Court, which are great examples of how to blend humor with heavier topics. And I’m also really inspired by my surroundings, especially the landscape (which is actually kind of ironic now that I think about it, considering I don’t spend a ton of time describing settings in my writing).
There’s also an element of finding inspiration within myself. Each book I write is a semi-subconscious effort to work through some feeling or aspect of my life I haven’t been able to grapple with in real time. What I mean is, I don’t think it was a coincidence that I realized I was bisexual while writing Mrs. Nash’s Ashes, which has a sapphic love story B-plot.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?
I love that feeling of starting a new project and watching the characters come alive on the page. It feels so magical when it’s working well as if the people in my head are real and eager to tell me all about themselves. I also love the moments during the revision process when one new sentence or paragraph suddenly makes everything click into place—extremely satisfying.
Usually, the place I get most frustrated is the middle of the book, when I often feel like I’ve lost the thread of what I’m trying to do. That’s the point where I often have to step away, rest, recalibrate, reread what I’ve written so far, and find my way back into the story.
Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
Hmm… I have a master’s degree in history that I’ve never really had an opportunity to use in any formal professional way, and I’ll jump at any excuse to do research. I’m also an atrocious gardener, just absolutely terrible at it, yet I keep trying every year anyway because I’m slow to learn a lesson.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
What’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song? Wow. That’s impossible to answer, really. But I have a soft spot for “Sara” (even if they did omit the ‘h’).
What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?
It feels almost cliche at this point but read. Especially when you’re first starting out, it’s the most important thing you can do. Read in your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read old stuff. Read new stuff. Read things you love. Read things you hate. It’s the number one way to improve your craft, understand the market, and make connections. A writer who thinks they can write a good book without ever reading is as absurd, in my opinion, as a chef who thinks they can make good food without ever eating.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I can’t say too much except that my second book is currently scheduled for spring 2024, and it’s an enemies-to-lovers romance featuring a fake spirit medium, a goat farmer, and a ghost.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I’m a huge fan of Bridget Morrissey’s A Thousand Miles, and I’m excited for her upcoming sapphic romance, That Summer Feeling. Rachel Runya Katz’s Thank You For Sharing is coming out in September and I can attest to its excellence. And Tori Anne Martin’s wlw romcom, This Spells Disaster, is high on my TBR. Outside of the romance genre, C.J. Connor has a queer cozy mystery (a quozy, if you will) pubbing this summer that’s going to be my birthday present to myself.
Header Photo Credit H.D. Kimrey