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2024 Bedside Reading's Author Q and A

Drawn from Life will be a featured selection for Bedside Reading's Summer 2024 program, bringing books into luxury hotels and resorts in the Hamptons and the northeastern U.S. Here's their just-published author Q and A with Sarah. (Caution: There may be spoilers...)

Q: How did you come up with the title?

A: I wanted to make my main character expose her vulnerability in a very visible, visceral way, that goes against what you would expect of a mousy bookkeeper—but I didn’t want to use the common tropes of self-abuse or self-harm. What’s more visible and vulnerable than posing nude for figure-study classes in an art studio? At that point, the title announced itself.

Q: Where did the idea for this book begin?

A: The main themes—guilt, atonement, reconciling a moral injury—go way back. When I was in high school, a teenage friend disclosed that his mother had always blamed him for the serious injuries she’d suffered in a car crash. He’d been a few minutes late leaving an after-school event and she’d had to drive around the block a second time, looking for him, and that’s when another driver smashed into her car. My friend carried the tragic injustice of this blame into his adult life, emigrating to the other side of the world to escape her undeserved vitriol.

A misplaced belief in agency—that we, or someone close to us, has real control over what happens in our lives—can cause tremendous heartbreak. I wanted to create a story that addressed that, featuring a character who gets stuck in the “should-have” and the “if-only” of regret. That brought me to Alice Gregory’s article in The New Yorker (“The Shame and Sorrow of the Accidental Killer,” September 11, 2017).

I knew I’d found the core of my main character: an ethical, conscientious young woman burdened with the guilt of an accidental killer. Then I had to figure out how to get her unstuck from that. And I needed a worthy antagonist to propel the story forward. So I created her troublesome cousin.

Q: What was the writing process like for you?

A: The writing took three and a half years. I added characters and plot twists, researched PTSD, physical trauma, and various therapies. I talked with military veterans about moral injury. I also fell in love with my characters and gave them complex backstories. The book grew to 105,000 words and wandered down too many rabbit holes—all fascinating to me, but not all supporting the heart of the story. Editor Annie Mydla (Winning Writers) brought me back on track to emphasize the essential story: Emma must find the courage to confront her cousin. She can have help, but ultimately this has to be Emma’s story.

Q: While DRAWN FROM LIFE is a work of fiction, you depict elements of real-life traumas and the various methods used to help victims of trauma.

A: I’m careful about use of the word “victim.” It’s become a common, and commonly misused, word. In one sense, everyone can claim victimhood because none of us is fully in charge of what happens in our lives. (The agency problem.) But this can suggest a “learned helplessness,” in which we decide that if we have no control, we might as well give up. Emma, as the childhood follower and sometimes target of a bully, comes to recognize this in herself. It’s at the heart of her battle. 

Instead of “victim,” I prefer the term “trauma survivor.” Therapists use different techniques for different injuries, and this is one example of a therapy that Emma is familiar with called “re-writing the narrative.” She cannot change the facts or the outcome of the accident, but she can change how she sees her role, how she responds to the facts, and what she will do next.

However, there’s an extra stumbling block for Emma. When someone has inadvertently caused irreparable harm, a therapist may advise following the three As: Acknowledge, apologize, amend. But Emma can’t remember enough to acknowledge what truly happened. She’s stuck on the “apologize” phase without fully understanding what she’s apologizing for. This need to know what really happened drives her to try bargaining with her cousin for the truth—thus propelling the story to its climax.

Q: How did you determine whose perspective would drive the story?

A: I first thought the story belonged entirely to Emma, so I began it in first person. But I quickly realized I needed more of her cousin’s perspective to expose the dark side of the family dynamics. With only Emma’s perspective, we’d remain as much in the dark as Emma herself is for much of the story. 

Lucy’s character was the most interesting to consider but the hardest to write. How dark is too dark? What can I reveal without revealing everything? 

Chaz, the third point-of-view character, kind of snuck in on me. I was intrigued by what his life as a foster kid might be like, and how he might perceive Emma. His character fit nicely into a “watcher from the wings” role and I really enjoyed bringing in his backstory and perspective.

Q: Your detective doesn’t appear until the second half of the book. Why?

A: He’s riding shotgun, not driving the story. I needed a police presence to move certain things forward but it’s Emma’s story, not his. Maybe he’ll have a stronger role in the next book. Or he could have his own book. 


Did you know? If you purchase Drawn from Life in paperback directly from this website, you'll save $2.00 off the regular retail price. Look for the link on the Home and Book pages.

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