In conversation with Sarah Priscus



Joining me on AD's In Conversation With this morning is Canadian writer and author Sarah Priscus. A graduate of the University of Ottawa, Sarah's short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and have been recognized on the Wifleaf Top 50 longlist.

One of my Daily Hive July book picks, Sarah's dazzling debut, Groupies has received advanced praise from CrimeReads, who called it “an epic tale” and Debutiful who said it “was sure to be a runaway hit.” 

Ahead of release day tomorrow, I caught up with Sarah to talk about her mesmerizing protagonist Faun Novak, advice for aspiring writers, and what book has changed her life.

Sarah Priscus by Peter Wiercioch

Congratulations on your debut. How does it feel to release your first novel? 

Thank you! I had read that it never sinks in that your first book is a "real" book, and I always thought that was silly. But now that Groupies is coming out, that advice is accurate. Whenever I think about Groupies, it's a half-surprise, in a good way. I'm nervous, of course, but mostly excited. Even in the hustle and bustle of pre-publication, I take time to appreciate each little success. 

Faun Novak is a mesmerizing protagonist that will captivate readers everywhere. What was it like to step into her shoes as you were writing the book?

When I started writing, I knew she had to have nothing left to lose. She starts the book grieving her mother, dropping out of college, and leaving a dead-end job. So I asked myself what someone would do if they felt they only had one chance left to succeed. She's uneasy and awkward, so she uses her Polaroid camera as a way into the rock world and as a social crutch. Her desperation helped her make sense as an eventual groupie. Everything she does, she does to feel valuable. 

Writing every part of her arc with an open mind was vital. People who feel lost do things that aren't always sweet or pretty, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve that empathy. Treating characters as humans is good practice for doing the same for people in real life.

What do you love most about the '70s?

This is an interesting question because I'm not sure I'd even say I "love" the 70s. My interest in the 70s might be closer to intrigue than adoration. It was such a messy and painful time, politically and socially, but great art and ideas came out of its turmoil. 

In high school, I saw a video of Fleetwood Mac performing "Rhiannon" live on the Midnight Special. That performance is unbelievable: wild and soaring. It got me hooked. Popular culture in the 70s had this sense of aplomb. Nothing was subdued, and everything was exaggerated. I love it when music—or art in general—is comfortable being outlandish and intense. It was like every feeling was something worth screaming about. I sometimes feel like I'm "too much," so I connect with that kind of intensity.

The 70s were an in-between period. The 60s idealism was gone, but the plastic-y MTV aesthetics of the 80s didn't exist yet. So, it's the perfect setting for characters seeking their identity, especially women exploring their independence.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 

Just write! Forget writing twenty pages of outlines and trying to get things perfect immediately. Blasting words onto the page by exploring as many ideas and concepts as possible is the best way to improve. I used to be finicky, rewriting one sentence five times until it sounded right. You have to push along without worrying if you're good enough.

There will be time to edit, and that's its own skill. My drafts are always messy, full of notes to myself and parts to fill in later, and that's okay.

Getting comfortable with people reading your work is also essential. The first time I was critiqued was in a high school writing class. I was terrified. I hated anyone making suggestions. I just wanted to plug my ears and hum. It wasn't that I thought my writing was already perfect. I knew it wasn't, but I couldn't bear to hear that from anyone but myself. Eventually, it got easier. Putting yourself out there and writing without holding yourself back are two things that, for me, developed that essential tenacity and courage. 

Tell me about a book that changed your life.

I remember taking The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron out of the library and bringing it with me on vacation. I was about eight. My family was renting a beach cabin, but the rain started pouring. I went inside with sand still on my feet and laid across the bed, reading this book from front to back. I brought it to the beach the next day to reread it. It's about a young girl, Lucky, who runs away from home in the middle of a sandstorm. It was the first book I'd read with a character searching for meaning in their life. It's atmospheric and moody. Lucky wasn't like the plucky, always-smiling characters I knew. Instead, she was insecure and reckless but still brave. My life wasn't anything like Lucky's, but I felt so seen by all her anxieties and wild dreams.

This book showed me the power of books beyond entertainment. It made me feel intelligent, literary, and bold! I still think about it all the time. That's the thing I love most about books and writing: how the right words at the right time can latch onto you and stay forever in your head. 

Groupies is available for order in hardcover from Indigo and in e-book or audiobook format from Kobo