Sara Jade Alan is the author of “A Messy, Beautiful Life,” a young adult book that came to her after a dream following surgery for a rare bone cancer.
The following is an interview with her about her work and the inspiration for it:
What inspired you to write this book?
I was in my twenties, living and performing in New York City with my college improv group, when I was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in my leg. A few months after surgery, I woke up from a dream about a girl and a boy onstage in a flirty improv scene, and I wanted to see where their story went. I had written sketch and standup before, but a novel always seemed so daunting—until I had to be on crutches for a year and suddenly had lots of time to sit and imagine! Cancer quickly became the obstacle for the main character to overcome because I wanted to explore the juxtaposition of cancer and comedy, the possibility of finding humor and light in the darkest times, and the power of friendship and love in these life-altering moments.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
I love reading about courageous, intelligent, deeply loving and passionate young women who express themselves and champion their ideas even when it’s difficult. Some of my favorites are: Anne from “Anne of Green Gables”; Hermione from the Harry Potter series; Kel from the Protector of the Small series; and Starr from “The Hate U Give.”
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
I chose the start of the book as it gives a fun little intro to improvisation, a scene which I think captures the absolutely exhilarating—and sometimes terribly awkward—nature of the art form. This scene also introduces the protagonist, Ellie, and the boy she’s going to form an important friendship with.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
It took 10 years from when I started writing this book to when I got a publishing contract. This gave me time to take writing workshops, attend conferences, and make new writer friends. So, becoming part of the welcoming and inspiring Colorado writing community has definitely been one of the most fun, rewarding, and unexpected parts of working on this book.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The most difficult section to (re)write was Ellie’s diagnosis. When I first wrote it, I had Ellie try to distance and protect herself with sarcasm, which my editor challenged me to strip away. Even though my personal cancer experience was different than Ellie’s, I tapped into the emotions I experienced during that time in my life and filtered them through Ellie’s perspective so readers could have a chance to feel the emotions right along with her. There was a lot of cry-typing while I rewrote that scene!
What project are you working on next?
My next book is a young adult story that shifts perspectives between two wildly different young women who are the only girls to make it to the televised finals of a big teen comedy contest in New York City. They both desperately need the grand prize to change the course of their lives. It’s like “Pitch Perfect” meets “Last Comic Standing” with a dash of “Dumplin’.”
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