Sunday, 16 July 2017

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Sarah K. Stephens

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

Sarah K. Stephens is a developmental psychologist and the debut author of A Flash of Red, a psychological thriller released by Pandamoon Publishing in December 2016. When she’s not teaching at Penn State University, she can be found writing, baking, running, walking her lovable pitbull, Jasper, and spending time with her family, most likely playing Scrabble.

1)    Can you tell us a bit about your first book?

A Flash of Red details the chaos that ensues when mental illness invades our most intimate relationships. Professor Anna Klein and her husband, Sean, are a young couple each struggling with their own misperceptions of reality.  While Anna’s daily anxieties turn on the axis of her mother’s path into psychosis, Sean escapes to the alternate reality of love and sex offered online. When Bard, a student of Anna’s, develops his own obsession with the couple, their already unsteady world collapses with irrevocable consequences. A Flash of Red ultimately asks the question: What happens when we can no longer tell the difference between what we want and what is real?         

2)    What was your original inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut?

In elementary school I worked with an incredible teacher, Mrs. Lippiatt, in an advanced English and Writing program that continued into Middle School. She pushed her students to continuously improve themselves as writers and communicators, but always with constructive feedback and empathy. As I found myself in adulthood with children heading into their more independent teenage years, I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Lippiatt and her urge to always challenge yourself. It was then that I began A Flash of Red.

3)    How long did it take you to write your first book?

It took about 1 year to write the first draft, and another year to edit it myself before submitting it to agents and publishers.

4)    If you could do anything differently in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

I would encourage myself to adopt the practice I used for my second novel, Dear Heart, which will be released by Pandamoon in 2017: Get the words out and then judge their quality in a brief editing session the next day before you write your next passage. Writers can be so judgmental of their own work that it paralyzes us. With practice, I’ve learned to be more forgiving of myself in the first draft, and then to turn more critical in the editing process. I’ve found this allows my ideas and plot to emerge fluidly without any reduction in the quality of the writing itself.

5)    Was your first book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

My first novel was traditionally published by Pandamoon Publishing, although they are not a ‘traditional’ publisher. At Pandamoon, authors have an active role in the marketing and publicity of their book. It is truly a collaborative process throughout the entire journey of acquisition, editing, and publication. As an author, I enjoyed the support and structure provided by Pandamoon, especially in working with their excellent editors, while also having freedom as the author to contribute my ideas for the cover, marketing, and publicity ventures.

 6)    Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

Be brave and be patient. Putting your work on the page, and even more so sending it out to agents and publishers, is an act of courage. Writing is such a personal and solitary experience that fear can often inhibit writers from sharing their work with others. Trust in your work. It might take time for others to notice, but ultimately high quality writing speaks for itself. 

Tell us about your first…

7)    Book you bought

I’m not sure which one, but it was most likely one of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club series. Claudia was my favorite babysitter.

8)    Person you fell in love with

My husband--we fell in love when we were just teenagers, and never looked back.

9)     Holiday you went on

Disneyland in Orlando, Florida. I was 4 years old and the giant squid on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride scared me terribly!

10)  Prize you won

A Power of the Pen prize for short story in 8th grade

 11)  Album you purchased

Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream. I still love that album.

 12)  Time you were in trouble

I was definitely a rule-follower as a child, but one time I was in the school’s bathroom and decided to play a prank on my friend, who I thought had come into the stall next to me. I tried to hold the stall door so she couldn’t open it--I thought this was funny for about a minute, until I realized it was a teacher in the stall and not my friend!

 13)  ..choice of alternative career if you weren’t an author

Does developmental psychologist count? :) If I had to trade in my other day job, I’d say Anthropologist. I just find people way too fascinating!

14)  … time you felt like an adult

Having my own (full) refrigerator in my apartment as a graduate student.

15)  Dish you cooked

Linguine with white clam sauce--I was trying to impress my boyfriend (now husband). I still make that dish quite often for my family.

Thank you so much Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions. 

What happens when you can’t tell the difference between desire, obsession, and reality? Thanks to her husband, Anna is about to find out.

Psychology professor Anna Kline and her architect husband, Sean, are a young couple in a fractured marriage, each struggling with their own misperceptions of reality. Sean seeks solace from his perfect wife in the cold intimacy of love and sex offered online, while Anna copes by offering her own oppressive version of devotion. Becoming an ever more tangible presence in their weakening marriage is the question of Anna’s mental state and whether she will follow the same path as her now institutionalized mother. When Bard, a student of Anna’s with a family history of schizophrenia, discovers Sean’s addiction, Bard’s admiration for Anna morphs into a delusion of special intimacy. Guilt-ridden with his own past failure to protect his older sister, Bard’s skewed mind begins to see Anna as another woman in need of rescue.  As Sean and Anna’s marriage becomes a battleground of manipulation, Bard privately crafts a strategy to save Anna from her husband, sending their three worlds spinning out of control with irrevocable and deadly consequences. A Flash of Red's driving plot and multi-faceted characters detail the destruction that ensues when mental illness attacks our most intimate relationships.

Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing ( 
Publication Date: December 8, 2016
eBook: ASIN: B01N5DR40X
Print Book: ISBN-13: 978-1-945502-14-9
Pages: 234

Bio: Sarah K. Stephens is a developmental psychologist and a senior lecturer at Penn State University. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her short stories and essays have appeared in LitHub, National Book Critics Circle: Critical Mass, Five on the Fifth, The Indianola Review, and (parenthetical). Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, was released in December 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing.

My novel is currently available on Amazon and
Facebook Page: Sarah K. Stephens

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