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A Young Novelty - Sara Samarasinghe
08/25/2009 - By Chad A. Safran
Photo: McKay Imaging
Already Published Sara Samarasinghe Has A Way With Words
Do you remember what you were doing when you were 12 years old? You were probably having a sleepover at your friendís house or watching television or maybe you were involved with sports or music. Chances are that you were not having your first novel published. However, that was the case with Holmdelís Sara Samarasinghe, who wrote her first novel, Dalaina, before she was a teenagerÖand she has not stopped writing. She has actually continued her prolific output by coming out with three more books, and her fifth Ė Love & Lies Ė is due out this fall. Not bad for someone who doesnít even have her driverís license yet.
Sara gets support from her family. Both father, Harish, and mother, Chintha, are engineers, and her sister, Samantha, is a Rutgers Senior majoring in environmental business economics. While her familyís occupations and studies donít focus on books, Saraís destiny with words appeared at a young age when she began reading before turning 4 years old. She began writing at age 5, starting with poetry and then venturing into short stories and essays before turning to novels. Her skills were acknowledged with awards from her local school district, as well as from John Hopkins Universityís Center for Talented Youth. Local TV programs have featured Sara, and sheís made appearances on NBC affiliates in New York City and Philadelphia and Philadelphiaís ABC station. She will also be on the New Jersey Network this September.
Sara, who turns 16 this month, keeps her readers and fans updated through her website, teen authorsite.com/interviews, and she has her own YouTube channel. She has also been invited to speak at local elementary and middle schools to encourage kids to read and write. Yet, the Holmdel High School honors studentís work remains unknown to many since she is a self-published author. Living In Holmdel was recently lucky enough to get the chance to get to know this special young woman upon recommendation from SallyAnn Mosey (featured in the magazine last November).
LIH: How did you get started writing?
SS: I have been writing short stories and poems since I was five. It started with my first rendition of Cinderella and then I worked on short stories. I wrote poetry for anthologies. I entered contests for poetry and essays in fifth and sixth grade. I got published that way. That was my first brush with publication. Then when I was 12 I moved on to novels, and thatís what I stuck with from there.
LIH: What do you mean by your first rendition of Cinderella?
SS: I got the story kind of mixed up. I loved the story so much when I was growing up [so] I wrote my own version of it. It was pretty much similar, but I screwed up a couple of things.
LIH: How do you go about your writing process?
SS: It depends on how I get the idea. Sometimes Iíll get ideas for books and I have to ask myself, ďCan I turn this into a novel?Ē Sometimes it doesnít work out because I have so many ideas. Once I decide on an idea, I will just
start writing or do my own little plot summary so I have an idea how the story is going to get mapped out.
LIH: Do you normally try to outline your characters first?
SS: I think thatís easier because if I donít know my characters too well then I canít decide what they would say or how they would act in certain situations. The characters really make the story.
LIH: How detailed do you make your characters before you begin constructing the storyline?
SS: I try to be really simple at first because I try to keep writing; then I realize I donít have enough information about the character so I write their ages, their backgrounds, any personal events that changed them into the person they are, and their relationships with the other characters.
LIH: How long does it take you to write a novel?
SS: It depends on what the story is like. If it requires a lot of research then it will take me longer. For Deception I wrote about Yellowstone National Park and I had to do a lot of research about the volcano, so that took me a year. The shortest, I think, was Gotta Love High School, which is my longest novel, but it took me 7 months because it was easier for me to write at the time.
LIH: Gotta Love High School, your second novel, is more than 450 pages. Do you look at that novel now and think that you could have made it shorter or, perhaps, even longer?
SS: The story is different from my other books because I have four characters narrating it and they all tell the story from their point of view. It got difficult to keep it concise so I ended up writing more than I expected. By the time I got it printed I did not expect it to be 450 pagesÖbut it just happened.
LIH: When do you take the time to write?
SS: It depends. Sometimes if I get an idea during school I will write it down. Most of the time itís on weekendsÖand a lot over the summer.
LIH: So what did you write this summer?
SS: Thatís my latest novel, Love and Lies. Itís going to be released sometime soonÖI am not sure when. I am finalizing it now.
LIH: Do you have an agent?
SS: No. My dad and I do the PR work right now. I donít have the budget yet, but we will look into getting one.
LIH: So how do you go about finding a publisher?
SS: I am actually self-published right now. Itís really tough to find a mainstream publisher because most of them donít accept unsolicited manuscripts. You have to have an agent or you have to have been published before. Itís really complicated, and itís tough to break out into the literary world. Right now I am going with self-publishing to see what I can get. Hopefully, a mainstream publisher will pick up my work.
LIH: Do you know how many books youíve sold so far?
SS: Itís tough to get a lot of publicity. Not a lot of people know about the books, so we havenít sold that many. The first one probably sold the most because we had a book signing for that.
LIH: So you had a book signing at 12 years old? What was that like?
SS: I was nervous at first because it was my first event with the books. My friends all came to support me. It was a lot of fun, but then when the public speaking started, that was the more nerve-racking part. After I got started, it became a lot more fun. I love public speaking now.
LIH: You did this at Barnes and Noble in Holmdel. How did the book signing come about?
SS: They usually donít take self-published authors, but there had already been some publicity with the Asbury Park Press. The community relations manager booked me prior to the articleís publication. That was in February 2007.
LIH: Since you are self-published, how do you actually get the books printed?
SS: We started with ďAuthor House.Ē You submit your manuscript and cover or they can do the cover for you. They have all these options. We did that for Dalaina, but now my dad handles all that. I just do the writing and design the covers. My dad helps with the layout.
LIH: So what do you enjoy writing about most?
SS: It depends. I enjoy writing about the backstabbing and gossip and all the fun stuff in high school.
LIH: How do you come up with ideas for the characters and plot?
SS: Usually the idea for the book is a tiny idea that will come into my mind. Once I decide, I can expand it into a novel; then I will think about what the characters will have to be like in order for the story to work out. I will develop the characters from there. I usually donít write the plot out, but sometimes, if the book is really complicated like Love & Lies was, then I have to write the plot out in order for the story to flow normally.
LIH: Have you used friends in your book?
SS: Not really. They always ask me but they got tired of asking me after the first two. Occasionally I will take some of my experiences from school and put them in the book, but thatís really rare. I usually just write what I observe. Most of it is actually from my imagination because I have a penchant for drama.
LIH: What are some of the obstacles you have come across as an author?
SS: There are a lot of obstacles, and itís all worth it. The biggest difficulty would be the publishing aspectÖbreaking out into the publishing industry and being able to share your work with other people. Once youíve written something you really want to share it, but itís hard to do that. Other times when Iím writing, I get writerís block and itís extremely frustrating because I just want to finish and keep going. Sometimes Iíll run out of ideas for that particular book and I will have to stop for a little bit. Other times my hands start hurting a lot from typing, and I will have to stop all the other activities I am involved in. That kind of impedes my work a little, but I usually keep going.
LIH: What do you do when you have a case of writerís block?
SS: I try to take a break from the book for a little while. I will just go about my regular activities because I am usually so caught up in schoolwork anyway. Most of the time itĎs take a break, listen to music, go read a book, and then come back a little later.
LIH: Is a little later a couple of hours or a couple of days?
SS: It depends on how bad it is. Sometimes I get tired of writing and need a break for a little while. It can go anywhere from a few months to weeks to days or hours.
LIH: Have you ever had a moment in the middle of the night where youíve had dream, you wake up, and then you need to write?
SS: One time. I turned it into the basis for a novel. I started the novel but I never finished it. Right now itís just a side project. It may turn into a mystery novelÖIím not sure. The dream was more like an idea that came to me after I woke up. Then I realized that it might be a good idea for a book, but once I thought about it, the more I realized I would have to change a few things. It turned out to be so different from the original idea, but it was a start.
LIH: Have there been times when you ended up writing all night?
SS: Thatís happened a couple of times. I didnít want to go to bed; then I got more ideas so I kept writing. Actually, last night I was up and writing more ideas down and thought I was done. Then the whole book started flowing, so then I got more ideas.
LIH: How would you describe your writing style?
SS: It varies depending on what book it is. Looking back on Dalaina, I feel it was kind of strained because Iím not sure what I was really aiming at. I did a third-person narrative and itís kind of difficult for me to write like that. Thatís why it didnít come out exactly the way I intended. None of my other books are narrated by the main character. Gotta Love High School was really looseÖjust teenagers talking. It was really casual for me and a lot of fun.
LIH: What do you like and dislike about writing?
SS: Writing is just something I feel like I have to do. I have written in journals and diaries and poems, but novels are whatís easiest for me, other than just journals. Writerís block always gets me down and frustrated. I dislike how itís so tough to break out into the publishing world. Other than that, itís an amazing way to express myself and I love it.
LIH: When you struggle who do you go to for help?
SS: I have a little journal and a blog, which I have never posted online, but use to document my progress when I write certain books. That kind of helps me keep going.
LIH: Is it hard to go from writing fiction in your spare time to having to write essays based on facts for school assignments?
SS: It depends on what the paper is. Sometimes itís really tough, because I will have to write an essay with all these facts and statistics Ė especially for history Ė but I like looking at the finished product and feeling good about something that I have written thatís not fiction for once. Itís kind of breaking away from my safety zone.
LIH: Who has influenced your writing? Who has given you instruction along the way?
SS: Iím mostly self-taught. I have been an avid reader all my life. I started reading when I was 3 1/2. I think I have been influenced by the authors I have read as a teenager, like Meg Cabot and Lurlene McDaniel. Itís what I think teenagers would like to read. So whatever comes to mind, whatever is a similar situation to what someone might be going through, I will write about that. Itís mostly inspired by imagination. My parents and sister have always been very supportiveÖespecially my dad. He always inspires me with his creativity. He always helps out with the illustrations and keeps me motivated.
LIH: So who would you say is your primary ďaudienceĒ?
SS: My first book was probably for pre-teens and whoever else wants to read it. As I get older my novels are going to be geared to an older audience. It just depends on how my writing style matures and how things turn out.
LIH: In addition to your writing, you also do public speaking at elementary and middle schools in the area. What do you talk about?
SS: I always tell them to keep reading and writing, especially if writing is something they want to do. You can always improve your writing, no matter what. Even though you think you canít edit something, you can edit it. I know that from countless times re-reading my books, over and over. Itís just that reading helps expand your vocabulary. It opens your mind to different writing styles from different time periods and different cultures. Whatever comes to your mind and whatever you feel you need to write about or whatever you want to read, then you should go for it, because reading is your window to the world. Writing can be the same thing if you want it to.
LIH: When you originally did public speaking you were apprehensive. How did that change since you are now extremely comfortable in that role?
SS: I started public speaking in eighth grade because I got invited to some primary schools and elementary schools. The audiences were really big, and I had never done public speaking at that age. I was incredibly nervous before my first assembly, but after that Ė the kids were so adorable; they were so excited and they wanted to hear about my work. I really wanted to share that with them and inspire them to do something, like follow in my footsteps, go for sports, whatever their goals are. I think itís best for them to hear from someone their age about doing something that they want to achieve. It makes it more realistic for them and opens more doors of opportunity. As time went on, I did more and more of those assemblies. I started speaking to kids my age, and it made it easier being in front of kids I knew. At first I was so scared to talk to the kids in my class because I had known them for so long and knew they would see me as someone different. Now I love speaking to my class because I feel like I know them all personally.
LIH: What do you do when you are not writing?
SS: Over the summer I like to hang out with friends, just watch movies, relax a little. I love to do a lot of reading. Thatís something you can always catch me doing. I like listening to music. Iím involved with student council, and thatís always a lot of fun. I am not really an athletic person. My friends will tell you I stay inside a lot. Sometimes I will write my own songs. I can play the piano and I have been playing hand bells for 5 years now at school.
LIH: Are you hoping to pursue writing as a career?
SS: It all depends on how things turn out. If an industry publisher takes my work, then of course I would do writing because it is something I love to do. Itís a part of meÖitís something I have to do anyway. If writing doesnít work out, I would consider so many different careers. Last year I wanted to be a doctor because I was obsessed with ďHouse.Ē Then I got really excited about being a lawyer. Now I am thinking about business. I have no idea what I am going to do though.
LIH: So what kind of future expectations do you have for yourself?
SS: I am definitely going to be writing more books [but] I donít know how many. Just whenever I get an idea I think I can turn into a novel then I will go for it. It all depends on how successful the books end up being. I would love to be published. I want to get my work out there and share it with other kids. Other than that, I want to continue with high school and make sure that goes well before going on to college. Depending on what major, weíll see what happens from there.
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