Hello, readers! Today’s blog post is super exciting, in collaboration with Entangled Teen and Chapter by Chapter, I have an exclusive chat with Sara Jade Alan, author of A Messy, Beautiful Life. If you’re in the mood for a powerful, endearing book– check it out! It’s perfect for when you want a lil cry and want to FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS.
This post also includes a give-away and excerpt from the book 😀
Life is funny sometimes.
And not always the ha, ha kind. Like that one time where a hot guy tried to kiss me and I fell. Down. Hard. And then found out I had cancer.
I’m trying to be strong for my friends and my mom.
And I’m trying so hard to be “just friends” with that hot guy, even though he seems to want so much more. But I won’t do that to him. He’s been through this before with his family, and I’m not going to let him watch me die.
So, I tell myself: Smile Ellie. Be funny Ellie. Don’t cry Ellie, because once I start, I might not stop.
Welcome, Sara Jade Alan. Thank you for sharing some of your time for a few interview questions!
1. This book seems like it will have us experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions. Did you have a soundtrack/songs that helped you ‘get in the mood’ for writing this book?
I did! I started the first version of this story in 2006, so the songs have morphed over the years. Cold Play’s “Fix You” was a big influence in the beginning. It’s so beautiful and I especially love the lyrics, “Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones.” When I was in the middle of writing her all-is-lost moment I was driving in the car and heard Paper Kite’s “Willow Tree March” for the first time and felt like that would be the song she was listening to when she was sobbing in the car on the way home from Jason’s. And of course, the group of friends base their sketch scene off of Georgie Dann’s “Paloma Blanca” so I would watch that video and laugh every time, which was definitely a nice break from the other deep emotions of the book.
- Is this story loosely based off anything (eg life experiences, fairy-tales etc)?
Yes, it’s inspired by my own experience with a rare bone cancer (chondrosarcoma), though I was in my twenties when I was diagnosed.
- When you were a fellow young adult, was there any books, movies or TV shows that piqued your interest for YA contemporary?
The movie I watched repeatedly was Girls Just Want To Have Fun. I love the funny, supportive, friendship dynamic between Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt’s characters. I love the competition format—where she’s facing her fears and taking a risk to follow her dream, which pushes her to grow and get out of her comfort zone. And of course, the romance. And now that I’m thinking about it, in GJWTHF, they fall for each other onstage and in rehearsals—for them it’s while dancing and for Jason and Ellie it’s while doing improv and sketch comedy.
- As an author, do you ever find yourself thinking “in character” as somebody from your book (like actors etc).
I’m an improviser, so I love getting into characters. I will walk around as a character from my book to notice how they move in their body and see what they observe. I read my dialogue aloud in my characters’ voices to make sure it fits. Our bodies are intelligent, and I think sometimes as writers we can get so in our heads, just typing away at our computers, that it’s helpful to move around to find different perspective and inspiration.
- Did you have a dream cast for A Messy, Beautiful Life? If so, who did you picture while writing this book?
I didn’t have a cast in mind while writing, but if I get to dream, I’d love Reese Witherspoon to play Ellie’s mom.
- How long was the process of creating this book?
One quarter of my life.
(Is that too dramatic of a way to say a long time?) After the first draft, I put it down for a while and focused more on performing again. But yes, it’s gone through many versions, and after that first draft I took a bunch of workshops and read lots of books to learn how to write a novel. I also worked on other projects during that time, but I’m so grateful my editor, Candace Havens, believed in this story and helped me transform it into a book I’m proud of.
- And finally, is there a particular message you would like to share to fellow teens who will read A Messy, Beautiful Life?
Look for the light in the darkness. Love yourself unconditionally.
From the outside, it must have looked like a weird improv girl about to lie right on top of a strange boy. Onstage. In front of almost two hundred people.
We had been doing near-acrobatics for the past two minutes. Snippets popped into my mind—entangled arms, wrapped legs, arched backs. My brain processed the building energy of the audience, the rising laughter, the hoots and whistles, and I realized our scene must have looked like an epic dry-humping session.
Mortification enveloped me, like all the naked, peeing nightmares of childhood but without the happy escape of waking. I feared this might be one of those shuddery life-moments to etch a forever-home on my memory’s instant-cringe list.
And yet. The rare connection, the out-of-body-ness… I understood what it felt like to be in the moment. I also knew there was “in the moment,” focused but aware, and really in the moment, where everything outside the scene slipped away. It was what I’d read about in all our improv books—like some Holy Grail of improvisation. But I hadn’t known it was possible to totally “lose your mind” and be completely in the moment. Now I did, and it was fun.
If only it could have happened in private.
But it hadn’t. And we were still in it—I was hovering perilously close to his face, as all this flashback processed in the embarrassment quadrant of my brain in an instant. I made the mistake of looking him in the eyes.
Our faces were so close. His lips formed a shy grin on one side, revealing a single, irresistible, dimple. We cracked up, and I released the rest of my weight onto him in a fit of nervous laughter, my head falling in the crook between his neck and shoulder. My nose informed me I had a new favorite smell. As he brushed off some of my hair that had fallen in his face, his arm mashed against me in a nice and only slightly suffocating kind of way, and he shouted, “Will someone please yell freeze already?”
Someone from the audience yelled, “No! We’re waiting for you to do it.”
“Yeah!” the whole audience agreed in unison.
And then they chanted, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”
Oh my God. It hit me that I was, in fact, still laying on top of him. Super speedily I stopped sniffing him like some crazed wildebeest and jumped up, only to be left standing downstage, caught and bewildered, a flush of embarrassment crying out like a face tattoo.
I decided I really should quit improv.
It would make life so much easier.
About the Author
Sara Jade Alan wrote her first comedy sketch during second grade recess, then cast it, directed it, and made costumes out of garbage bags. Since then, she has performed in over a thousand improvised and scripted shows all over the country. When she lived in New York City with her college improv group, she worked as an assistant to a best-selling author of young adult novels featuring strong female heroes and was completely inspired by her books and the awesomeness of her teen fans. Spending a year on crutches, Sara turned to writing her own young adult stories and was hooked. Currently, she is one-half of the comedy duo, The Novelistas, who perform about writing and teach performance to writers. Hailing from a suburb of Chicago, Sara now lives in Colorado with her husband—who she met in that college improv group—and daughter, who they waited a bunch of years to make. She is a member of and guest instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.