Interview with Author Sarah Adler

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

Interview with Author Taleen Voskuni

Taleen Voskuni is an Armenian-American writer who grew up in the Bay Area diaspora surrounded by a rich Armenian community and her ebullient, loving family. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in English and currently lives in San Francisco, working in tech. Other than a newfound obsession with writing romcoms, she spends her free time cultivating her kids, her garden, and her dark chocolate addiction. Sorry, Bro is her first published novel. 

I had the opportunity to interview Taleen, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! I’m Taleen Voskuni, an Armenian-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been writing all my life but only buckled down and tried to unlearn all that I thought I knew about six years ago. It eventually worked out! I’ve got two young kids that keep me busy and I work in tech. I’m not the mom that creates elaborate crafts, but I do tell some decent bedtime stories.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Sorry, Bro? What inspired the story?

The book is about an Armenian-American woman in the Bay Area named Nar, who gets convinced by her mom to go to this series of Armenian events to try and meet Armenian men. There’s lots of Armenian line dancing, cooking classes, and brandy tasting. But it isn’t any of the mom-approved bachelors that catch her eye, but a witchy Armenian woman instead. The two of them are pretty taken with each other right away but the issue is that Nar isn’t out as bi, and her traditional family and community don’t really seem supportive of it. And the final event is a huge banquet which her entire family is going to be attending along with her new…secret girlfriend.

In terms of inspiration, the first spark of Sorry, Bro came to me when I heard the voices of two women talking to each other. One saying something like, “can’t we have just one conversation without bringing up the Armenian Genocide?” and another woman gently and curiously correcting her. So strangely, my romantic comedy started with a conversation about this heavy topic, but it was also the dynamic between them, the forgiveness in Erebuni’s response to Nareh, that I found so compelling and wanted to explore. 

Also, Nar’s journey, embracing her Armenianness sort of parallels mine where I rejected parts of my Armenianness for too long, or refused to see it and then embraced it so fully that I wrote a book about it. 

Sorry, Bro is said to feature Armenian and queer representation. What does it mean to you as an author writing this type of representation in your work?

It means so much! This is an intersection that has not been fully explored in the Armenian commercial cultural canon. There has been a lot of work done by Armenian academic writers and literary and experimental artists, which I have loved and savored, but I hadn’t seen much universally accessible on the topic, so I wanted to write it. Where is our fun Armenian queer book? Now I can say: here it is!

One of my goals with Sorry, Bro is to reach a wide audience and to teach non-Armenians about who we are. To have an Armenian-American story out there, one that is joyful and has the potential to reach readers who don’t know anything about Armenian culture; that is very important to me. Armenia is under siege, and I hope that by learning about Armenians and getting a peek into our culture, more people will care and will try to do something when we call for help.

What drew you to writing, particularly romance? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I have been writing since I was five, and I am wondering now if part of what draws me to writing is my inability to express myself well verbally. My thoughts fly at me a mile a minute and it’s hard for me to get organized thoughts out in the moment, especially if I’m passionate about the subject. But writing? You can take your time, edit, shuffle around and organize on your own time. I think writing helps me make sense of my own life, then share my insights with others. 

Long before I knew what a romance novel was, I’ve always been drawn to romantic subplots in movies and books. I was the girl in high school for whom having crushes was a hobby, maybe even a personality. I loved love. I still do! 

So many writers! Jane Austen was and is a huge influence, and when I was younger, every Disney princess movie ever made. The Mummy—there’s a joke that this was a bisexual awakening for thousands of us in the ‘90s and it’s not wrong. And Clueless! What a masterclass in humor and timelessness. I love vast multi-generational epics like East of Eden, and more recently, Pachinko and Homegoing. I also love getting my heart broken, and I think the most effective heartbreak I’ve ever felt in a book was In the Woods by Tana French. I’m still not over it, seven years later. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?

I swear by the outline, the outline is my beacon and savior. So first I nail that down (and of course while writing, it always changes a bit, but that’s part of the fun), then begin drafting. I can usually only write in the margins of time, so on the weekdays, at lunchtime, or after the kids go to sleep. I have bi-weekly writing goals, not daily, and that really helps give me flexibility. 

For inspiration, I find that showers really help! I can usually solve plot issues while in hot water. Or meditating. Sometimes I meditate for 5 – 10 minutes before writing and can write a lot more clearly.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging for you?

I used to detest scenery, and now I feel like it’s my greatest weapon, and love using it in my writing to heighten emotion in a scene. I also love writing humor, it makes writing such a pleasure, and I hope my enjoyment shines through on the page. 

I find that writing realistic dialogue and making characters sound different without turning them into caricatures is tough. I still have a lot of work in this area, but I’m looking forward to learning and improving!

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/ advice that help you finish a first draft?

This is not going to work for everyone, but I need someone to send pages to every 2 weeks. I’ve found that 15 pages every 2 weeks is a doable chunk for me, and I must have someone on the other end who I trust (who is both non-judgemental and helpful) receiving those pages. Without accountability like this, I simply will not finish. 

That, and having a deadline. I’m actually thrilled that now with an editorial team, I have deadlines! I love and respect a deadline. I will move heaven and earth to meet a deadline when there is someone who is relying on me. But without that, I would endlessly draft and tweak.

This is why I love writing contests so much. PitchWars and Author Mentor Match were my first deadlines; the reason I finished my first and third novels. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

None, I’m happy with all questions asked!

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

That I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be published. There is nothing about this process so far that has been disappointing. Anything I get I am so thankful for. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.

And most importantly, I truly do not want to be known, but I do want to share Armenian diaspora culture with the world. Armenia is on the verge of being wiped out by its genocidal neighbors, who are scheming every day to find some way to ethnically cleanse Armenians from their indigenous lands. Literally (not figuratively!) every interview I give, there is some new horror happening in Armenia at the hands of Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey. So I would love readers to take an interest in what is happening in Armenia. Here is an on-the-ground media source that is providing accurate information: ​​

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?

I feel success in writing is a combination of: (1) Constantly trying to improve (2) Putting in the actual work of writing (3) Finishing (4) Luck 

Not much you can do about #4, which honestly is a huge factor, but you can control the first three! 

I’ll elaborate on the first one. Approach your writing with an open eye—what can you improve? Study writers you admire and try to learn what makes them so good (I’m still working on this myself, and feel it can be a lifelong pursuit). Find writers in the same boat as you and share work. It is shocking how much editing someone else’s work will improve your own.  

Then just keep trying! 

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I am! I was lucky enough to get a 2-book deal with Berkley, so I am in the developmental editing stage of that book. I’m not sure if I can give away the plot yet, but I’ll say that it’s another queer Armenian romcom, this time a foodie book that takes place in Chicago. And surprise, the parents are once again heavily involved. 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Yes! Here are some books that came out recently:

Meryl Wilsner’s Mistakes Were Made, or as you may have heard of it, the MILF book. Holy steaminess!

Ashley Herring Blake’s Bright Falls series is a fabulous sapphic series full of memorable characters. Delilah Greene Doesn’t Care might be my favorite romance ever.

Courtney Kae’s In the Event of Love is the most delightful holiday romance, both sweet and steamy. 

Dahlia Adler’s Cool For the Summer is the perfect YA bi-anthem book. I adored it!

Forthcoming books:

For fans of horror, Trang Thanh Tran’s book She Is a Haunting is full of lyrical prose and one terrifying house. 

Elle Gonzalez Rose’s book Caught in a Bad Fauxmance is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while.

Header Photo Credit Clouds Inside Photography