I recently interviewed Sarah Darer Littman, author of Confessions of a Closet Catholic. This is the first of a few interviews I have planned. I hope that you enjoy it. Just a side note, there are a few mild spoilers, and those questions I will mark in red.

Which character can you relate to most? Was your family more like Jussy’s or Mac’s?
Jussy is definitely the character I relate to most – her insecurities, her overdeveloped guilt complex and most particularly her obsession with chocolate!My family was probably a mixture of Jussy’s and Mac’s. Warm and loving like Macs, but with the food issues and confused messages about Judaism of Jussy’s. And like Jussy, I was a Tormented Middle Child. I can’t even say, “middle child” without putting “tormented” in front of it!

How did Confessions of a Closet Catholic change from its original drafts? SPOILERS
The book that I originally sent to the editor was about half the length and didn’t have many what I now think are some of the best scenes in the book. For example, the scene where Jussy goes to the real confessional wasn’t in what I thought was the “finished” book. That’s where a skillful editor like Julie Strauss-Gabel came in. By asking the right questions, she helped me to make “Confessions” an infinitely better book.

Which authors have inspired you the most?
So many! But I guess prime influences were Paula Danziger (I came up with the idea for “Confessions” in a workshop I was fortunate enough to take with her before she died) and Judy Blume.

What’s your writing process like?
I’m definitely more of a character driven author than a plot driven author. For me, it all begins with my main character and trying to figure out what drives them. I usually don’t know where the book is going until I’m well into writing it. So I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I’m never going to be the kind of author who can get a three-book deal on a proposal. I just don’t work that way. I had a serious case of “second book blues” until I went away to a writing retreat for published authors and came to terms with the fact that I have to write the way I write, and that might mean completing the entire book before my agent can sell it. But that’s what works for me.
I love how Confessions of a Closet Catholic ends. Did you experiment with different endings?
The last few paragraphs didn’t change much through the various rewrites, but the last few chapters did. So I knew how I wanted the book to end, but I changed the process of how Jussy got there. I have a feeling something similar might well happen in the edits of my second novel.

Do you plan on writing any other books with Mac or Jussy as a main character?

I’ve got nothing planned at the moment but there have been plenty of requests! It would be nice to visit Jussy and Mac at some point in the future to see what they’re getting up to.

Can you tell me a bit about your second novel? Will you be aiming for the same age group or a little older?

My second novel, which will be published by Scholastic Press in early 2009 and doesn’t have a title yet, is for a slightly older age group because of the subject matter – it’s about a teen girl’s fight to win her battle with bulimia. As a recovered bulimic myself, I feel really passionate about this book, and can’t wait to go out and speak about it at schools.
Although it’s for an older age group, like “Confessions” the second book deals with a serious subject but with humor. One thing I’ve learned at my ancient age is that most trials in life are bearable if you can learn to laugh about them.

I’m busy working on a third novel, which will aimed in the same age group as “Confessions”.

How much research did you do for Confessions of a Closet Catholic?

Quite a bit. I read a great deal about different religions, in order to write about Jussy’s religious explorations in a sensitive, yet humorous way. I interviewed a Catholic priest. I went to the chapel at Manhattanville College while I was there for Writer’s Week and snuck into the confessional to see what it felt like. Like Jussy, I half expected a thunderbolt to come down at me!

What’s the best thing about having a book published?

Getting fan mail! There’s nothing more satisfying and inspiring than getting a letter or e-mail from someone who has read your book and found something they can identify with.

What was the most fun scene to write? The hardest? SPOILERS

The most fun scene to write was definitely the dog puke scene. What’s not to love?

The hardest to write was the one where Jussy reads Bubbe’s letter. I was crying so hard I could barely see the computer screen.

Any advice for aspiring authors? Recommendations for most helpful books?

The two most important pieces of advice I have for aspiring authors are:

1) READ – a lot! Not because you want to copy the style of other authors, but because it’ll help you learn what works and what doesn’t.
2) WRITE – a lot! The more you write, the better you write, at least in my experience. Everyone has an idea for a book, but an author is someone who actually gets their butt in the chair and writes one.

Books that I’ve found really helpful are Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer and best of all, Stephen King’s On Writing.

I’ve got more useful tips in the For Writers section of my website.

Thanks so much, Ms. Littman, for this interview!

Confessions of a Closet Catholic

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