First Draft, Ep. 99: Sarah Nicole Lemon (Transcript)
First Draft, Ep. 99: Sarah Nicole Lemon - Transcript
The original post for this episode can be found here.
[Theme music plays]
Welcome to First Draft with me Sarah Enni. Today I’m talking to Sarah Nicole Lemon who’s debut YA book DONE DIRT CHEAP is out now.
[Sounds of crickets and cicadas chirp and buzz in the distance]
Sarah and I met this summer at a madcap writing retreat in the Smokey Mountains. In hindsight, it seems like this was the perfect way to meet a kindred spirit. Sitting on creaky rocking chairs, on a porch overlooking lush green hills. Humidity and sticky legs, and buzzing cicadas, and meandering conversation. Sarah has an easy going laugh, and startlingly bright eyes, a combination that suits her fiction. Come for the girls who seem like they’d invite you to ditch class to grab a burger. Stay for the thoughtfully raucous, boundary pushing on how and why we define ourselves by female friendships. I really loved talking to Sarah. About religion, and social class, and traveling out west and, of course, motorcycles. I think you’ll dig it too. So, grab a sweet tea, and some DEET, pull up a rocking chair, and enjoy the conversation.
Sarah ENNI: So, how’s it going?
Sarah Nicole LEMON: It’s going great!
ENNI: I’m so happy we could hang out, meet for the first time at this retreat.
LEMON: I know, it’s awesome. You’re so much fun!
ENNI: You know, Sarah’s gotta hang out with Sarah’s, basically.
LEMON: That’s right! You’ve got to band together in our mid-80’s-ness.
ENNI: Oh, my god, yes. Forever. So, I like to start the interviews with going way back to where were you born and raised?
LEMON: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but not any place specifically, kind of all over. My parents moved around a lot. So, everywhere but urban areas in Pennsylvania.
ENNI: Everywhere but the urban areas? [laughing]
LEMON: Yes. All the rural places are where I’m most familiar. I graduated high school, actually, from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, which is in the coal region.
ENNI: What was the moving around all about?
LEMON: My parents are just kind of nomadic. They get itchy every couple of years, and they just want to go someplace new. But, they also want to stay in Pennsylvania. They tried to move to Chile one time and that didn’t play out… they abandoned that.
ENNI: They tried to move to Chile with you?
LEMON: Yes. There were five of us at the time, and my dad’s an engineer by trade. So, he was like: “I can move to Chile. We can have a better life… blah, blah, blah.” But, nope. We moved to a two-bedroom house in northern Pennsylvania.
ENNI: Every two years is pretty often for someone to get relocated.
LEMON: Right. And I wasn’t in school though, so it wasn’t a major upheaval. I was homeschooled until 11thgrade when I went to public school.
ENNI: Okay, wait. We have to talk about that.
LEMON: I know, yeah, right? [laughing]
ENNI: What was it like to go to public school in 11th grade?
LEMON: I remember my first day, I was walking in, and I was with a friend who I already knew, so I was pretty happy about that. And I remember thinking like, “God, I’m so happy I’m at least as old as the freshmen.” Because, I was only fourteen, because I had skipped grades.
ENNI: Oh, my god. There’s a lot going on here!
LEMON: Yeah! So, I was like, “Okay. Okay, we have to be cool.” I was Schafer then, “Be cool Schafer.” So, it was really overwhelming. It was a big, public school. My class had 650 kids in it, and that was one of the smallest classes in the school. It was back in 2000, 2001, and it was definitely an adjustment. But it was fine. I slid right in and had no real issues. I can hide pretty well, though.
ENNI: That’s wild. You were fourteen going to all these classes. Was your goal to just get through? Or, were you trying to get into the social part of it also?
LEMON: My goal was to get through, and get out. I needed to get out of my house at the time. It wasn’t a great living situation by that point, so my goal was to get to college. That’s all I wanted to do, was go to college. Since I was homeschooled, and pretty much in charge of my own work, I just upped my pace. I made this giant plan when I was thirteen, to graduate early and leave. And I did. Thankfully.
ENNI: Okay, a hundred thousand questions, but what was the pull to do those last two years at a public school?
LEMON: I couldn’t get my high school diploma through a regular, homeschooling program. I would have had to enroll in some sort of accredited program. And usually those accredited programs cost money. And I didn’t have money, at all. The difficult part about it was, I had to convince my parents. My mom was great in that she gave me a lot of freedom academically, and provided me that opportunity, but she didn’t really know what she was doing. I was her first and they weren’t really aware.
ENNI: It sounds like you were moving really fast, and really smart, and picking things up fast. So, that would have been hard to keep up with.
LEMON: Yes, and she just kind of abandoned me to reading, which is what I wanted to do. So, it worked out. But once I figured out I couldn’t graduate high school, I was like, “Oh. I really have to figure this out.” Actually, when I was thirteen, I called this counselor at Penn State, and I asked him, “What do I need to do in order to graduate from high school, and go to college?” So, he gave me a couple of options. I remember he was like – this is how petty I can be – because I told him I wanted to graduate by sixteen, he was like: “I think your goals are admirable. You obviously have a lot of drive.” And blah, blah, blah. He’s like: “But I think your timeline is a little misguided. I think it’s just not realistic.” And I remember thinking on the phone, like, “Man, when I’m sixteen, and I’m graduating, I’m gonna be sure to send you a graduation announcement.” And, I definitely did. I definitely, definitely, did.
ENNI: After going from self-teaching, I’m sure going to a public school, and reading in that environment, or learning in that environment, the takeaways would be so different. And the perspectives would be so different. What was it like to have to…? I’m not gonna phrase this very well, cause I’m not saying, “What’s the big difference?” I’m saying, from an academic standpoint, what was it like to get information in that way?
LEMON: I think what it was, was that there’s a game to play in academia, and I didn’t understand that. And even in college, I had little holes in my education, even in stuff I was really good at. For my AP English class, when I was a senior, we had to write a big paper on a book. And I picked THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. And I wrote this paper, it was a critical analysis. It was twelve pages, where I talked about how, in my opinion – and I used research to back it up – but, in my opinion, it was man’s revolt against God. The whole story of it. And it was evidenced by the three sons, and I did this whole thing. And my teacher pulled me aside afterwards, after she had read it, before she handed it back. She handed everyone else’s back. She didn’t hand mine back. She pulled me aside, and she was like, “I would have loved to give you an A, but you didn’t cite anything.”
ENNI: [Slight pause] Oh.
LEMON: And I was like, “What do you mean? I did.” I had one citation because that was a biography background. And I was like, “I thought of this.” And she was like: “But the point wasn’t to think about it. The point was to research what other people have thought.” And I was like, “Oh!” I didn’t understand that. I had never had to do that before. In terms of organizing that information, and putting it into something. I could have, if I had known that that was what was happening. So, I ran into those sorts of problems. Everybody else had had a lot of practice, and understood the rules. And teachers are interacting with you, expecting you to have had this giant knowledge. And this is part of why I can’t write contemporary YA that is very suburban, or school focused, or anything like that. Because I don’t have the coding for that, really. I don’t know.
ENNI: It’d be kind of amazing to have you just do it.
LEMON: It would be such a mess! It would be like every movie you’ve ever seen, smashed into it. Plus, the weird stuff from my high school experience. It would be a mess.
ENNI: Let’s not leave high school yet, cause I want to know about how reading and writing were a factor of your self-lead education? As a young person, how did that factor in?
LEMON: It was the only reason I got anywhere where I was. Like I say, reading saved my life. It really did. Through reading, I had access to places, and people, and culture, that I had absolutely no access to as a poor, white girl, in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. I was just actually back with my kids, where I grew up, and I realized, like, “Oh, you have to drive fifty minutes to Walmart.” And, it’s in the middle of fields. And there’s nothing there. I was like, “Oh!” I had to go to the post office and it was forty minutes, and I was like, “Oh, now I understand why it was so difficult to get a stamp, when I was a kid.” I spent so much time, as a kid, trying to get stamps to write letters, you know? And it was a major issue.
ENNI: Still, so many questions! You are the oldest of how many kids?
ENNI: So, you had to be the leader, and a surrogate mom, I’m guessing.
ENNI: And also, figuring your own shit out. That’s a lot.
LEMON: Yes. I couldn’t wait to leave.
ENNI: So, seven, how old was the youngest when you left?
LEMON: When I left, the youngest had just been born. I was actually at her birth. I assisted in her birth. I was the first person to hold her, and cut the umbilical cord.
LEMON: Yes. I’m fifteen years older than her. And then I left. Which is strange now, because now she’s fourteen. She’ll be fifteen this December. Our relationship is totally unlike all of my other siblings that I grew up with, because we never lived together. We’ve never lived in the same house. I’m really like an aunt.
ENNI: That’s really interesting. Okay. But, reading and writing… how did your schooling start? How did it go? I’m curious about all the stuff. And you’re moving so much, there’s a ton going on.
LEMON: Right. So, my mom started homeschooling. She taught me to read. And I remember the day it clicked because I hated reading before that. And then one day, we were reading a Beka Reading [laughing] and it just clicked. And after that, I was reading constantly. I couldn’t stop. I read through all of our books. I read through - now it just sounds weirder and weirder - but I wasn’t allowed to go to the library because we moved around a lot, and it’s hard when it takes thirty minutes to drive to the library. We couldn’t afford to replace books if they got lost. So, I was not allowed to take books out of the library. I was always hard up on books. I always needed books. So, I read things I didn’t even want to read, just because I wanted to consume words. Because everything else in school, except for math, is reading based. Even science, you can get by with just reading. It enabled me to plow through all of the rest of my school work, and advance much quicker than my intellect actually would have allowed me to advance.
ENNI: Interesting. Because you were just consuming it?
ENNI: And you had the text books for that stuff?
LEMON: Right. Somebody donated all of our text books, and purchased a large amount of reading text books, for us as a family. So, thankfully, through the kindness of everybody who as ever given me a book [laughing], that’s why I’m here.
ENNI: That’s huge. I love that. What a gift. I moved around when I was a kid too, and I love talking to people who are like us. Where you find books, when your life is not constant, books can be. And they can be an escape to a place that’s the same, no matter where you are. Was reading a safe space for you?
LEMON: Absolutely! It was the only place where I could always go, and it would always be there, and it was always mine. No one else could invade that. Especially when you’re living in a very small house, with a large amount of people. Everything is invasive. There’s no sense of privacy, or personal space, or anything like that. So, books and the woods were the two places that I was like – and if I could take a book to the woods – that was even better.
ENNI: So, you get done with high school at sixteen. Where did you go to college?
LEMON: Oh, okay. Now this is gonna make me sound even crazier! I was set to go to Penn State. That’s where I wanted to go. I wanted to major in physics.
LEMON: Yeah, I know! Now I look back, and I’m like: “Oh, darling child. That’s adorable.” I wanted to major in physics. I wanted to go to Penn State. I was accepted. I was ready to go. And then dummy me, because I’m sixteen and just dying to get out, said something like, “Oh, Penn State’s the number four party school,” or something like that. I said something off-handed that my mom heard. And even though I had been saying stupid shit for the last ten years, my mom heard, and was like, “Wait a second. You’re sixteen! You can’t go anywhere!” And even though they weren’t paying for my school, I was sixteen. I still needed somebody to drive me to school. To drop me off. She said: “You can either go to Penn State here, the community campus, or you can go to Liberty University in Southern Virginia.” Which is Jerry Falwell’s school. I looked up the rules for Liberty.
ENNI: Which are what?
LEMON: Which were… okay, I could get around them all. I think I said something like: “If I can come back to my dorm smelling of weed, and I’m not gonna be immediately kicked out, then I will go to Liberty.” I’m pretty sure, that’s exactly what I was looking for.
LEMON: And, so, it looked like that could happen. I couldn’t stay home. I couldn’t stay home. It really wasn’t an option. It was a difficult situation at that point. It didn’t really matter if she told me to go to Bob Jones, or anywhere else, I would have been like, “Okay, bye!” [claps hands]
ENNI: Okay, is it in the backyard? No? Okay.
LEMON: Yeah, right. So, they dropped me off on the corner, and I had to walk to my dorm [pauses] and they said, “Bye.”
ENNI: Bye? Wow! So… you do not have to answer any of these questions if they are uncomfortable, or if you’d rather not. But, it sounds like your family was really religious, but maybe you were not?
LEMON: Yes. They were very religious, and I was, but I didn’t do it very well. I always really wanted to be a good, Christian girl. To my saving grace, actually, I just could not do that. Everything in me rebelled against it, always.
ENNI: There’s a lot of rules and structure.
LEMON: And I was terrible at following the rules and the structure. I was always asking ‘Why’ and if it didn’t make sense to me, then I wanted to know. And that’s not super great. And so, I got into a lot of trouble. I worked at a Gothard affiliated summer camp and I was in trouble all of the time. And the more I got into trouble, accidentally, the more I became into trouble. It was just so much trouble.
ENNI: It was a cycle. But, in trouble for what kind of stuff?
LEMON: Because I liked boys. Because I had the “grown-up body” at fourteen. So, I got in trouble for finishing work, and I plopped in the grass of a field, and I’m like, “I’m dead!” Because this is twelve hours’ worth of work, and I got into trouble because my boss was like: “You can’t lay on your back. It does things to your breasts that make boys watch you.” I was twelve, actually, when she said it to me. It was oversexualized, and I just didn’t do great.
ENNI: That’s really intense.
LEMON: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I make a joke, “Oh! I was in a cult for a while.” [laughing] Except I wasn’t a good cult member!
ENNI: It didn’t take!
LEMON: It didn’t. I didn’t do well. My parents aren’t that conservative, but they thought that that was a good solution, for me, because I was having problems with them. They figured if it’s Christian, then it will be healthy, in some way. Even if it’s more strict and conservative than we are. So now, I’ve left the religion, but I’m still a believer. But I would like to preface that by saying, I fully support gay marriage, and all of that. So, I’m still a black sheep in my family. My mom just cried because I’m not voting for Trump.
ENNI: Oh, really?
LEMON: Yeah. Really.
ENNI: Okay, well, we could talk about this for a million years, but I’m not going to ask you too many more questions, on the record, about that. Was your family always religious from when you were born?
LEMON: Yes. My dad was actually, before I was born, he was heavy into drugs. He had a long criminal past. He’s robbed banks, and bakeries. Lots of criminal, stupid [stuff], as a drug user. Then he got “saved”. My mom met him, and she’s was a Methodist. Her storyline is the very good Baptist church girl, who meets the bad boy… the reformed, bad boy. And that’s been their whole relationship, that storyline. And it’s still that way.
ENNI: That is really compelling to me. I’ve been talking about this lately in the context of myths that we build for ourselves. And how it can go a lot of different ways when you’re a really young person. The example that has come up lately is, people talking about when you’re a kid, and people tell you, “Well, you’re this type of person.” Even if it’s someone being like, “You’re a writer.” Then you get it in your head, like, “Oh, I’m a writer!” You start to place expectations on yourself that are all [from] external sources. I’m thinking about your parents, and my personal experience of believing that you are part of something, and that can make something last longer than it’s supposed to. Or, give you weird ideas about yourself that aren’t necessarily true.
LEMON: I’m still unpacking, in a very intense way, all of the things that I was taught to believe about myself; being a terrible human being, being the troublemaker, not being a nice person. Because, with a girl with my personality, and that environment… you’re a troublemaker, you are confrontational, and I’m realizing: “Oh wait. No. I’m actually a nice person.”
ENNI: You’re pretty darn normal, yeah! You’re using the word bad, that’s a big word to place on you as a person. That’s hard. I was not raised anywhere near that religious, but I did have a Catholic background.
LEMON: Oh, Catholic, that’s a baggage of shame that gets put on you.
ENNI: Shame is the number one word. Yes, my therapist and I talk about it a lot.
LEMON: Mine too! It’s still the same with the Baptist, it’s just [that] we don’t call it shame, necessarily.
ENNI: Shame and guilt. A bundle of a package to carry around all the time. I don’t know if you feel like this too, but I’m unpacking a lot of feeling like I’m loud. And whenever I have strong feelings, it was constantly like: “Whoa. Pipe down. You’re disrupting things.”
LEMON: Yes! I got kicked out of a couple churches, actually, because I couldn’t contain myself while in service. It was just my face, and a deacon noticed it.
ENNI: Just noticed your expression?
LEMON: Yes. The preacher had just said something that I knew was textually, and contextually – both – inaccurate. Like I said, I wanted to be a good church girl. I knew my bible, and I knew that he just did something wrong. I’m sitting there, clutching my pearls, and just sitting there. And the deacon noticed my expression. I was in high school, and he said, “If you’re going to be like that, please do not return.” And I was like, “See you next week!”
ENNI: That’s cuckoo!
LEMON: I did show up. I kept going.
LEMON: I didn’t know what to do with that. I knew that I was right, but I also felt like I was wrong, at the same time.
ENNI: How did it feel to go to college where there’s still a lot of that expectation? Did you feel like it was free and you were able to carve your own path?
LEMON: In a lot of ways, yes. I didn’t need to interact with any of that, unless I wanted to. There was a lot more agency given to me by being on my own at school. So, from that standpoint it was great. I definitely still struggled with it. And I definitely struggled with some of the things that… I think that Liberty is just like any other college, in that they definitely have issues with how they handle incidents, like violence with women, and all of that sort of stuff. So, that’s where I came up against a lot of issues, and I got in trouble. I got put on disciplinary probation at Liberty, actually. It was for the dumbest thing! I had done so many other things that you could have put me on disciplinary probation for!
I got called into the dean’s office, and I had no idea what it was for. I know all of these things it could be for, but I don’t know what it’s for. I was so surprised. She sat me down, and she was like: “I just wanted to call you in before giving you your sentence, because I had never heard of a girl doing this. So, I was really curious what this was.” And I was like, “Oh my god, what did I do?”
ENNI: Yeah, what the heck?
LEMON: I guess a roommate, or somebody on my hall, had seen me. I was talking to my little brother on the phone. At the time, he was ten. He’s very outdoor[sy], hunting, fishing, and whatever, and we were talking about throwing knives, because that’s what a ten-year-old boy wants to talk about, right? And I had this very benign butter knife that I had stolen from the cafeteria – to butter things with – and I had a robe hanging on the back of my door. And he was trying to tell me, in his ten-year-old reading, how you hold the knife in order to throw it. So, I closed and locked my door, and I threw the knife into the robe. It hit the robe and then slid into the pocket. And that was it. And someone had reported to the dean that I was throwing knives into the door, and it stuck in the door. I was like, “If I was that talented, like seriously?!”
So, I got put on disciplinary probation and a $500 fine. Which, I was paying for school on my own, so I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Like, “Oh [sighs], add it to my tab.” It was so frustrating. I was like, “Well, I’m relieved I’m not getting kicked out for sleeping with my boyfriend, but, um, this knife thing is ridiculous!”
ENNI: That’ crazy! That someone overheard you, and made up a story, and it cost you $500.
LEMON: $500. I’m sure it gossiped around the whole hall and got distorted.
LEMON: Yes. And then went to the dean. I don’t think that one person went to the dean and told a lie. I think it just was gossip, because that’s what girls do, especially Christian girls really like to gossip. And then they go to the dean, and then… I’m there.
ENNI: Wow, that’s wild! Oh, my gosh. Okay, something that I totally overlooked asking about was… in addition to reading, where you writing?
LEMON: I wasn’t really writing anything. I wrote one book when I was fifteen, in high school.
ENNI: “I wasn’t writing anything, except for this one book that I wrote!” [laughing]
LEMON: [laughing] I wrote this one book!
ENNI: [laughing] What was this book?
LEMON: It was [about] a girl who rides dirt bikes. She has a crush on her best friend who lives next door. It was called THE BOY NEXT DOOR, because I was so original! And he rode dirt bikes and they rode dirt bikes together. And then she realizes she has a crush on him, and he’s like this pretty boy that likes to date all the girls. And she’s the tomboy, and it was the whole thing. Obviously, I wrote it because that was all I wanted to read, and I didn’t have access to contemporary YA at that point. So, I wrote what I wanted to read.
ENNI: And that was senior year of high school?
LEMON: Yes. And I wrote it because, this is terrible, you have to do a graduation project in Pennsylvania. And one of the options is that you can write a book. So, I was like, “Oh. I’ll write a book.” But then I got scared that I wouldn’t finish it, and wouldn’t be able to graduate. So, I did a whole actual graduation project, on top of writing a book. On top of my full course load of AP classes [laughing].
ENNI: Wow, that’s amazing!
LEMON: And then, all through college I didn’t write anything, I occasionally kicked around that old book from high school and rewrote it. If that’s what I wanted to do, to be creative, that’s what I went back to. In college, I was so focused on surviving, because I was on my own, that there was no room for creativity. I started working after I left college, and it’s funny because, that book really served me very well. When I started writing seriously, to be published, that was the book that I opened up. And I was like: “Great. I don’t know where I’m gonna start, so I’m gonna start here. This is still a book I love.” It changed form in many ways, but it’s actually the book that my agent signed me on, in the end.
ENNI: Really? That’s so interesting. Okay, wait, I don’t want to skip over all those years. What were you doing to pay for college? Where were you working?
LEMON: I worked at a plastic extrusion factory, which was my best job! It was twelve hours. Four days on, four days off.
ENNI: Oh, my god… what does that mean? Plastic what?
LEMON: They made sheet plastic. I was just a manual laborer.
ENNI: Twelve hours? Wow. Was it messing you up, physically?
LEMON: I had great shoulder muscles! No, it was really hard. And actually, I realized, like: “Oh. This is why people go to college.” Because, I can’t do this for the rest of my life! I wouldn’t even be able to do this for ten years without it substantially wearing down my body. So, I did that. My first job was butchering wild game.
ENNI: Oh, really?
LEMON: Yeah. I did telemarketing. Before you are eighteen, it is very difficult to get a job, especially in a rural place. I was a terrible telemarketer. I don’t think I sold a single thing. But, I did it!
ENNI: So, working to pay for college is probably the best way to understand the value of what you’re working for. That’s amazing. So, no time for writing.
LEMON: No. The last years, I worked as a paralegal and that was the greatest job I had in terms of, well, it wasn’t. It was actually the worst job. But it was nice to be somewhere that was air conditioned, and I could brush my hair, you know what I’m saying? That was really nice. It paid the worst. I got paid $5.75 an hour, and that’s what I lived on. Also, my boss was horrific. He kidnapped me and did all sorts of terrible things. But, it was air conditioned!
ENNI: Wait! What does this mean? We have to talk about it because it’s going to tie into…
LEMON: It’s in the book, actually. So, the villain in this book…
ENNI: Well wait. Maybe let’s wait and come back to it when we’re talking about the book, and we can tell the stories. Let’s get to you writing the book. When you were leaving college, what did you want to do? What did you end up majoring in?
LEMON: I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought, lawyers read…
ENNI: Oh, that’s so sweet!
LEMON: I told you, I was a bad kid. And everybody says, “Oh, if you’re really argumentative, you should be a lawyer.” I heard that a lot. I finished with a Government degree with a Pre-Law focus. I couldn’t pay for law school, obviously, I couldn’t even pay the entrance fee to apply. I looked around for a school that I could work for, because most schools have a policy where they pay for your education, if you work there at the same time. So, I got a job in graduate law admissions at Georgetown. And, as it turned out, I didn’t want to be a lawyer! Because that’s a terrible job! I liked being a paralegal. A paralegal was what I thought a lawyer was. It’s paperwork, and reading, and research, and fun stuff. The lawyer is like a game of horrible proportions. No offense to all of the lawyers out there. But thankfully, I figured that out before I went ahead. There’s a lot of people who go through law school and then they get out and realize: “Oh, this is not for me! This is not, at all, what I thought it would be.”
ENNI: So, when, in this life transition, did writing come back?
LEMON: When I became pregnant and I was put on bed rest with Francine. I came home, that first day of bedrest, and I opened the Word document. I opened that old book I had when I was fifteen.
ENNI: That’s amazing!
LEMON: Well, no, it’s not. Because I closed it five minutes later because I was so exhausted, and pregnant, and I had pre-eclampsia. So, I just went to be with a book. But I still consider that was my first day as a writer, because I was determined. I didn’t tell anyone. Nobody knew that I wanted to do this. I kept it very, very quiet until I got an agent, basically.
ENNI: You wrote the whole book in secret?
LEMON: I wrote for six years in secret. My husband kind of knew, he didn’t know how serious I was about it, but he was supportive of whatever I was doing. Well, I was afraid to fail, too. And, I was afraid to want something that was… I was afraid to listen to what my family, and everyone, were gonna say about wanting something that is not in line quite with their values, necessarily.
ENNI: Is it values? Or is it…?
LEMON: I don’t know. There’s something there that is not [pauses] and I’m getting friction, occasionally, now about it. I try to move past it. I’m sure I internalize it a little bit, and I’m trying not to. But, I don’t know quite what it is. But there is definitely something.
ENNI: It’s almost like, it’s not a one-for-one, but it’s like a class thing. Or, when I talk to my family about it, they are like, “You’re writing a book?” It’s like this thing that is so out of the scope of what anyone would do. They can’t relate to that. To trying to do it. They’re like, “Okay. We’ll buy the book when it comes out.” But they don’t know how to relate to all of this that we’re talking about.
LEMON: And this part, the publishing part of it, is where I lose my family. The writing of it is okay. The creative aspect is fine. But once I stand up, and I say: “I want other people to read this. I want people to interact with this art that I’ve created.” There’s some notoriety in that, in terms of wanting people to read your stuff. And that, then, all of a sudden becomes wrapped up in things that are pride, and those things.
ENNI: Even hearing you saying the word notoriety as opposed to public interaction.
LEMON: Yes. And that’s how they would view it. That’s what they’re looking at it, through the lens of, is notoriety rather than me. I just want to share what it is that I have. This is what I have to share.
ENNI: So, for six years you’re writing, and you’re writing the same book? The first book idea that you had, the dirt bike book?
LEMON: Yes, the dirt bike one. And it changed. It became a wake boarder. And I learned, basically, how to write, on that book. It was a very safe place. Half way through those six years, I stopped writing it and I started writing this very, I don’t know, when you’ve bit off more than you can chew?
ENNI: Oh yeah, like overly ambitious?
LEMON: Yes, yes. That’s what I was looking for. Way overly ambitious, literary, crime fiction. And it was an adult book. It was this big, hot, mess of stuff! I had no idea what I was doing, really. And I wrote it, and it was probably still some of the best writing I’ve ever done, in terms of craft, like sentence craft. And I subbed it out to agents, and agents couldn’t turn it down fast enough. And the thing is, I knew my writing was good. This was my first introduction to publishing as a thing that’s not related to writing at all. Because I knew, actually, that my pitch was good. My pages were really great. I had queried the first book I wrote before, and had people ask for pages, ask for full. It just didn’t ever materialize into an offer. So, I knew that this wasn’t a lack of quality, or craft that was making these rejections come in so blistering fast. It was really just a reaction to the content and to what the story was.
Which was very country, and very crime. So, I would send out a query and fifteen minutes later I would get a rejection. It was, “Get it out of my inbox… fast!” I was like, “I don’t understand what’s happening.” This seems very strange. I don’t want to go out and say, like, “Oh, you’re just rejecting the idea, completely.” So, I signed up for one of those writer’s digests…you know? Agent’s with the query? I forget what they’re called now. But like, query letter stuff? And it was with Barbara Poelle and Holly Root. Barbara was on my list of agents, like the top five, that I wanted really badly. But I didn’t send any queries to because everybody kept deleting my queries [laughing].
So, I did that, and it wasn’t helpful at all because Barbara loved it. Which, I was like, “Oh well… that’s great.” But she requested the full. So, she loved it and requested it. I was like, “This isn’t useful for anyone else if you reject it!” She called me a month later, and she was like, “I love your writing. I love it.” She was like: “I cannot sell this. I can’t sell this at all. I don’t even know where to begin to sell this.” She was like: “Do you write anything else? Do you have anything else? And, have you ever thought about writing YA? Because your voice still has that quality to it.” So, I was like, “As it just so happens, I have this one under the bed.” But really, it was under my pillow where I was clutching it every night. I had just rewritten it because that was the safe place to go again. I didn’t know what to do next. I just went back to rewrite that. So, I gave it to her, and she read it, and came back with an offer to represent me.
ENNI: That’s so great!
LEMON: Yeah [pauses], and then that book died in publishing.
ENNI: [Exasperated sigh] As so many of those first great books do.
LEMON: And it’s okay. I kept saying: “It got me from fifteen to an agent. It’s okay. That book did more than enough for me.”
ENNI: That’s pretty amazing, and almost like one of those worrying stones. That you could go back to it and love it so much. Sometimes those books, I have one that I’m thinking of, sometimes those need to die… and be buried!
LEMON: They do need to die, um-hum, yeah.
ENNI: Ceremoniously and with gratitude, but moving on.
LEMON: Yes. I am grateful for all it did, and I’m grateful also it will not ever see the light of day. It’s okay!
ENNI: But, it’s interesting, had you thought about the fact that that first book was YA? Were you engaged with reading YA, or that community at all?
LEMON: I always loved reading YA. Again, it was a safe place in literature. In YA, I didn’t have to worry about reading anything that was especially trigger-y for me. I didn’t have to worry about reading things that were very, very dark. Dark in the way that Adult can be devoid of hope. And that’s the thing I loved about YA – I always called it ‘The Eternal Hope of Youth’. And that’s what I really interacted with. I was always reading it. And I was always reading it a little bit guiltily, because you’re taught as an adult – especially as an adult, going through school – you’re taught like, “Oh, you should be reading adult stuff.”
ENNI: Being mature…
LEMON: Especially wanting to be, not literary, it was just how I wrote, so you’re supposed to be pretentious about that. And I didn’t really get that, but I was like [lowering voice], “I get that you’re not happy with the fact that I’m reading Eleanor & Park.”
ENNI: I think that’s true for everybody, no matter what age we are, we all are getting side-eyed for enjoying YA. But, I wonder, if for you, if it was particularly strong because you were always so young from the moment you dove into public school, and all of the societally created stuff. You must have always been striving to be seen as the age you intellectually were?
LEMON: Yes. All of that really played into why I loved YA so much, especially Contemporary YA. In Contemporary YA I can find the coding for behavior, and those little things I was trying to assemble in myself. I really enjoyed that. So, they presented a brand of normalcy in YA that was benign, nobody was going to argue with you for being that sort of person, right? Which is white, and privileged, and well-to-do, upper middle class. And that’s the coding I was always trying to pick up. And, didn’t quite do very well, always. I was a little messy.
ENNI: Wait. Let me make sure that I hear what you’re trying to say. You’re saying that reading young adult was a way for you to access the building blocks of that coding.
LEMON: Yes, absolutely.
ENNI: The building blocks of what became, quote-unquote, normal when you’re an adult.
LEMON: Right. Absolutely!
ENNI: It would be like watching the high school movies to be like, “Now I will understand what people are talking about when they talk about lockers.”
LEMON: Right. Or, when you hear people that say, “Oh, I watched American television to learn English.” That’s what I was doing. I was trying to pick up the blending in that I didn’t necessarily have.
ENNI: I want to pivot on that. I want to hear how you came [to] writing DONE DIRT CHEAP, which is a lot of not any of that. It’s coming from yourself, and your background.
LEMON: Yes. So, for my first book, when I went out on sub, I got told by pretty much everybody that they loved it, but they couldn’t buy it. Nobody could spend money on it. It was too quiet. It was a girl, I mean they didn’t say “It’s a girl”, there was just a lot of, “This isn’t something that we can spend money on, no matter how much we like it.” So, I went back to what I was writing at the time, which was a project that had a very commercial-y hook and I hear all of these people in my head, going, “You need to have something very, very commercial.” So, I sat down and I wrote a book I hated. And I hated writing it. It was a terrible book because it was something I shouldn’t really necessarily have been writing. It was a very like, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY plot, which I didn’t want to write to begin with. It was Catholic, and it was in coal country. And I’m not Catholic, I was just versed enough, I was like, “I can get my religion issues out this way.” I sent it to my agent thinking: “This is what I have to do. I have to get used to saying that this is the book I’m going to write because this is the book people want.” And my agent called me back, and she was like: “Um… [long pause], I am not gonna put this on sub.” She’s like: “This isn’t what you should be writing. It’s too commercial and too dark.” I’m like, “What?!” [laughing] She repeated that several times, “It’s too dark.” I was like, “Oh, you mean the Catholic and the coal country didn’t go well?”
LEMON: I was like, “My upbringing was dark, Barbara.” I was relieved when she put it in the trash. But also, completely panicked. Because I had done what I loved, which was the first one, and it didn’t get me anywhere. I had done what I thought they wanted with the second one, in a way that I thought maintained some of my integrity, right? In writing it the way that I wanted to. But with a story that was very commercial. And thatdidn’t get me anywhere. And so, I didn’t know what to write next. I had no idea. What do you do with that? It felt, very much, like I was all wrong for publishing. There wasn’t a place for me. And everybody is, you know when you hear people you’re given advice with publishing, especially to first time writers who want to be published, they always say: “You need to find your place in the market. You need to do something special, or something that nobody else is doing.” But what it is, is [that] you have to find a place in the market that’s already there, but is missing you. And I had no idea how to access that because it didn’t seem like there was a place that was already there. It felt like I had to elbow at the table, like: “Wait! No! The country! Country people live here!” And not that there isn’t that there, but just whatever I was doing wasn’t something you could spend money on.
ENNI: You felt like you couldn’t write an authentic book, because it would be rejected off hand.
LEMON: Right. Yes. I had the title before I had anything else. And the title is AC/DC, absolutely, and I go with that with people. But it really was. Because I thought: “I have nothing left in my pockets. I have no idea. I have no power to spend on it. I’ve got nothing. And I don’t know what the cost is here. And I’m trying to pay it, and I’m pulling lint out.” And I’m like: “Okay. What do you do when you have nothing to hand over. It’s cheap. It’s just really, really, cheap.” And so, that was where the title came from. It was actually the publishing aspect of it all. Not anything else.
ENNI: That’s so interesting.
LEMON: And the theme of the whole book, really, is that too. Like, “What do you do when you don’t have any power in this situation?” You just have to make it yourself. But you have to originate it somehow.
ENNI: Just conjure value from nothing.
LEMON: Right! Mm-hmm. And demand the place that doesn’t necessarily exist for you. That’s the whole thing of the book, and that is what I was dealing with at the time. I wrote a terrible rough draft of something that had motorcycles in it. I was like, “That’s me, and people like it.” And, this is something… I probably shouldn’t say this. I shouldn’t say I was staring at the wall trying to figure out what I knew about, that was also commercially accessible to people. And I heard my husband yelling about the bikes on SONS OF ANARCHY in the other room, and I was like: “Oh, I can write about that. I know that.” So, I was like, “Okay! That’s what I’m doing.” I wrote a terrible rough draft. It wasn’t very vulnerable. It was like, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have to do something. So… ptew.” And I just spit something out. I was actually in YALLfest with Renee Ahdiah. We are agent siblings, and we’re friends, and she was like: “Oh here, have more whiskey Lemon, you poor thing. Publishing is so hard.” She’s so nice. And I was like, “Yeah, I have no idea what the hell I’m gonna do about this.” And she’s not an overly sentimental person, at all, but she said, “Lemon, you just need to write the book of your heart.” And she’s like: “I know that’s something people say, and it’s like… whatever! You hear that all the time, and you’re like yeah, yeah.” Because I was. I was rolling my eyes while she said it. And she was like: “You really, you just have to do that. That’s what you have to do.” And I went home and I was like, “That’s terrible.” Because for so long I had been trying to hide that person. Not necessarily out of shame, but out of necessity to be taken seriously. So, that’s why I was reading YA for the coding, right? This is the silliest thing, but it’s a really good example of what I was doing. I was parting my hair on the side, because if I part my hair in the middle, it makes the Appalachia in my face much more apparent.
ENNI: How do you mean?
LEMON: There’s a certain bone structure, especially if you’re from the area and you see it, you’re like, “Oh, that’s a mountain people.” Because the face is really indicative of that German-Irish-Scottish, and the bone structure is there. I can think of several people who have that. And that’s what my face is very similar to. It’s very woods-witch. It’s something [laughs]. So, I was parting my hair on the side like a good little preppy girl, in order to soften the harshness of my face… of my genetic identity. So, I went home, and even though it doesn’t mean anything at all, I started parting my hair in the middle, and being like: “Fine. I look like I’m going to an Ozzy Osbourne concert. Oh, well. That’s just who I am.” And I sat down and I wrote the book, like that person wrote the book.
ENNI: That’s rad, dude! I love that.
LEMON: It was so personal. And the whole thing is so personal because I can’t say where it came from without being like, “This is, you know, mid-twenties.” You’re growing into who you actually are. Instead of trying to hide that, and blend in.
ENNI: That’s like, late twenties, I would even say.
LEMON: And that’s where I was.
ENNI: How did the story evolve from there? You came home, you woke up, and decided to write this really personal thing. Where did the characters come from? Did it sweep you away? Was it chipping away?
LEMON: I always start with characters and it’s the plot that’s really, really difficult for me. I’m not necessarily sure where the plot came from, except, as I kept rewriting, and kept rewriting, and kept rewriting, and reaching for things that were familiar and that I knew about and could make personal. At some point, and I didn’t set out to do this intentionally, at all, but at some point, the villain in the book became the person that I worked for in college. It was just based off of that, we’ll say. So, the villain in DONE DIRT CHEAP, his name is Hazard.
ENNI: Which I love, such a great name.
LEMON: Yes, it’s his last name. His first name is Reginald. He is a lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia. He’s a lawyer who does legitimate lawyer stuff, but also, supplements his income with bribes, and pills, and prostitutes. A whole other level.
ENNI: Like a Better Call Saul kind of situation?
LEMON: Yes, kind of. Which was funny, that came up while I was writing, and I was like, “Oh great… I hope no one rejects it for this.”
ENNI: It’s also encouraging though that people are into that kind of story.
LEMON: Yes! And I feel like, lawyers aren’t bad people, that’s not what I’m saying at all. But, there is definitely a propensity for, if you like the game of being a lawyer, you also would like the game of being a criminal. Those two are very similar.
ENNI: It’s the same kind of compelling story with a lot of law enforcement stories, or, the dirty cop. The line is thin.
LEMON: Yes, those are two sides to the same coin. They really are. And I’ve seen both sides. I know. The person I worked for was just a typical lawyer. He might have been shady, he might have been criminal in some points, I don’t know. I’ve search high and low and couldn’t find anything that anybody cared about. But, he was particularly vindictive to me. He did some things that were definitely illegal. He took me to his house, well, I asked to go home, and he kidnapped me, essentially. And I was fine, I came out of that okay. But it was definitely traumatic, and I still had to work for him. I couldn’t find anything that anybody cared about. Like, he would punish me, repeatedly. It was a process. And it was an abusive process.
I would get built up, I would get more privileges, and I would get, professionally speaking, a lot more responsibilities. And do the things that I really wanted to do, which he knew. And he would do all of this, and help me out a little bit with money, under the guise of being a good employee. And then, all of this would lead up to an initiation for a sexual relationship, and I would deny it. And then the next day I would come in and everything was stripped away. I would be back in the filing cabinet. And he would assign me tasks just to humiliate me, and to make it very difficult for me. And then it would even out for a little while, and then it would start going back up. We did that process over, and over, and over again. But none of it was illegal. Not in a way that I could ever go to a cop, because, obviously kidnapping me is illegal. But I got in the car in the first place, you know?
ENNI: Yeah, it’s one of those [situations] as a woman. It’s hard to…
LEMON: Yes. So, I went to one of my professors at the time, who was about to be the dean of the criminal justice department, at my school. And I told him everything that was going on. He said: “There’s nothing that you can do without ruining your entire life. And, you will never work for anyone else in this town, if you make this an issue.” And that was where I was living. And I still had a whole year of school to go through. So, I was completely powerless in this situation. And I ended up blackmailing him. I made him sign this contract thing where I was like, “I won’t tell anybody about all of this stuff, if you don’t ever touch me again.” He was really big into signing everything, he’d recount everything.
And all of that little stuff that he did, is Hazard. So, Hazard was my revenge fantasy. Because in DONE DIRT CHEAP, and in Hazard, I could make that character something that people obviously cared about. I could make him the criminal. I could make him, clearly, a person that was doing something wrong. And nobody does care about it, really, in the book. Except for the girl that works for him. But eventually, she realizes that she doesn’t actually deserve any of this, and this isn’t part of her life anymore. She doesn’t want to do it. There’s a sense of justice that I never got. So, it was great to be able to do that. It also put me in therapy, because I realized how traumatic that actually was.
ENNI: Well that’s huge! Good. I’m super impressed that you recognized that you were in an abusive relationship pattern, and were proactive, even though you were stuck within it.
LEMON: I was totally stuck within it. But I didn’t realize the pattern of that, when I was going through it. I just knew that I hated it. You know what I’m saying? Now, looking back, I can see that there is a clear pattern of up and down, up and down, up and down, and that that was a part of grooming me. And I can see now, too, the minute I walked into his office, that’s what he knew.
ENNI: He had you pegged.
LEMON: He saw me as a vulnerable woman. I was on my own. I was eighteen, at the time. I had no security, no safety net, and he knew that. He knew it. And I didn’t know that that was so obvious.
ENNI: Woooow. Wow. That’s amazing to be able to put that in a book, and be able to state your case by building him up, and revealing the pattern for what it is. I think it’s so amazing because then, the reader gets to be the judge. And gets to hold this person accountable. And, if they recognize that pattern in their own life, which I think everyone, at some point, encounters a relationship that’s to some degree that like. Because even in my own head, I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” When you’re in those patterns, and someone makes you feel like you’re getting punished, and you know you’re in trouble, especially as a really young woman, and you just want to prove yourself, and be the good person.
LEMON: Yes, yes! And you’re taught, as a woman, to work with, and forgive - especially men - their idiosyncrasies, in a professional setting. It’s a lawyer, and it’s his law firm, so he’s allowed to be tempermental and it’s not about me, it’s about him. All of those sorts of things. And so, I just accepted it for part of working. Everybody in my life, as good intentioned as they were, pretty much reaffirmed that that’s just what it is. And I was coming off of the job, where I worked at a plastics factory, where I was the only young woman on a shift of forty men, who were all very nice and as respectful as they could be – possibly. But, it’s always there. I always am aware that they know I have a vagina, and that’s what this is. There is never a time, even if it’s a very respectful man - especially as an eighteen-year-old girl - you always look at a man like that. And you can see, right behind their eyes, they know - you know. And that’s what it is.
ENNI: It’s just always there.
LEMON: And that’s really what this book, both in the context of Hazard, and also Tourmaline’s father, and the Wardens, that’s the major part of this book. When you’re eighteen, it feels like your sexuality is your only power in a lot of ways. And it feels like it’s very powerful, and it’s almost like a trick because it’s powerful only if you spend it where you want to spend it. Not in order to get yourself power. You can’t exchange sexuality for real power. It’s very complicated to figure that out and to realize that you have value, outside of that, as a young woman. It takes a long time to sort through that.
ENNI: Years. And your sexuality is only powerful when it has someone to play it off of. And you don’t always get to choose who is engaging with that power, and then, no matter what, you have to be on the other side of it. I do want to have you give us a brief overview of DONE DIRT CHEAP. What is the book about?
LEMON: The easiest way to say it, is it’s a YA Sons of Anarchy meet Thelma and Louise.
ENNI: Which is the best pitch ever!
LEMON: I think it sums it up pretty well, actually. It’s two girls - who are very different sort of girls - who form a friendship, and are stuck between a local motorcycle club, and corrupt law enforcement.
ENNI: There’s so much mythology to biker gang culture.
LEMON: There is, and I love it. It’s so interesting.
ENNI: How did you want to play with that? You, obviously, are more familiar with that than the average person. Or people who are just curious on a passing level.
LEMON: Right, and so my experience with motorcycle clubs has always been… it’s not like I can sit here and say, “Oh, I was a girlfriend of somebody…” You know? That’s not what it was. It was just always around. There was always a person, even in church, who was a member of a motorcycle club. Always. Especially in rural life, it’s small, and you interact with the same kind of people and the same sort of situations. So, that’s really where my experience with that comes from. But I knew, and it’s very appealing to me as a writer, because they have all their own stories. And their identity is really wrapped up in the story of their brotherhood, and their club, and where that comes from. And it’s all very much related to where they are geographically, a lot of times, and it’s very interesting to me. And it was even as a little girl. There was a clubhouse, in a place I really liked to go to hike, as a little girl. It was so magical to me. I still, to this day, will drive past it and [gives a wistful sigh]. It’s so romantic. It’s great. Even knowing what I know now, as an adult, it’s still romantic to me. Even though I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t ever want to be part of….” It’s terrible! But, the terribleness also has an allure in it, too. Which, I will just say, I’m sure my therapist would make notes, but…
ENNI: But that’s the appeal of so many stories. The darkness is just as evocative as the light, if not more.
LEMON: And I’m definitely, still attracted to darkness, for sure. And I’m really grateful, I’m glad I got married so young. Because I would have terrible taste in men. I got really lucky… once. So, the Wardens, I knew a lot of the different stories that have gone into clubs, not just Hells Angels, or Nomads, but the smaller ones that I was around more. So, I sat down, and I knew I wanted to do something that tapped into that mythology. And those ideas that men have about themselves, and then create around themselves, because they do that. And so, with the Wardens, I wanted to do… in small towns, you kind of police yourself. The community is watching for itself, and watching for its vulnerable members, and taking care of it accordingly. I wanted to write about that. I wrote the Wardens with their mythology coming out of King Minos in Dante, who is the decider of where somebody belongs and how. So, they are the ones in the community who are deciding that.
ENNI: That’s so interesting! I like that you describe, correctly, a lot of the motorcycle clubs being like a brotherhood, and you’re sort of blowing that up by having the focus of this story being the two young women.
LEMON: Yes. It’s totally their story with the sisterhood. The “Ride or Die” sisterhood. As a girl, I always paid attention to those women. They had a bad rap, yes, and I was always paying attention to them like, “What are they doing?” Because it was attractive in that they were very unequivocally their own person. And they got to decide. And it may not have been the healthiest thing in the world, their decisions, but they were their decisions. There was a lot of ownership there, that I didn’t have as a child. I wanted to write about feminism in places that are pretty hostile to feminism. It’s absolutely still there, and what we see, a lot of time, is feminism in places that are like, “Oh, oh, we need to be feminists!”
ENNI: In really friendly environments for that.
LEMON: Yes, I read YA where parents are very openly feminist, and I’m like: “That’s so nice [in a sing-song voice]. But, what?!”
ENNI: [copies sing-song voice] “Wouldn’t that be great?”
LEMON: The dream.
ENNI: The other thing about blowing up the brotherhood stuff, is also the pull of… and you said it earlier, of calling yourself a ‘wood witch’ that is almost a great corollary. The feminized version of this is like a coven, witch-type, of sisterhood. So, mashing those together almost.
LEMON: The story itself really comes from a long tradition of songs, and stories, about women who take their revenge. Right? If you look in folk tales, and folk songs, that come out of Appalachia, we really like stories where women are vindictive, and they kill people who hurt them. We like that! That darkness, and that terribleness, which it is very empowering to a young girl who is maybe in a situation that is abusive or violent. Where you’re like, “Okay, I can get my revenge.” All the songs say… half of the songs, admittedly we’re getting killed too, so there’s just a lot of dying in general. But that is the tradition that I come from, and the tradition that I connect to. And that’s the tradition I kept. I just wanted to do it very modernly. Because I am very modern. I’m not actually a very good folk teller or, I’m not a good fantasy writer. So, I told it in the way that made sense to me, which is contemporary YA.
ENNI: How did Barbara react when you sent this book then? After you parted your hair in the center, and went for it.
LEMON: She was really excited about it. But it went on sub and [long pause] people did not want it.
LEMON Yeah. We went slowly on sub, a couple at a time. They were all people who loved my writing, and had reached out, actually, and were like, “Send me her next book. I really want it.” And they read it, and they were like, “We can’t buy this.” It was much more personal rejections, than with the first book. So, I went to acquisitions, once, and they came back and said: “No one will read this. There is no audience for this book.” They said, “The John Green crowd won’t go for it.” I was like, “Why are you talking about John Green in my rejection letter?” I had no issues with John Green until he shows up in my rejection letters.
ENNI: Right! That’s an inappropriate application. There’s readers beyond and above… and you don’t know John Green readers? They have broad interests!
LEMON: And it was so much more personal, to hear that, especially when I laid my whole self on the line with this book. I was appalled. I was like, “I don’t know what to do now.” And I was actually in West Virginia, at the time, that I realized - that I got the final rejections - and I realized: “Oh. There’s only two houses left, in this situation, and it’s not looking good.” And I’m like, “Okay.” Again, I didn’t fit into publishing, and there wasn’t a place. And whether this is true or not, because it may not be true, but it felt like it at the time. But, because I was writing about poor girls, I would have to write ten times better in order to be given the same space.
ENNI: Right, yeah.
LEMON: And I can only imagine how difficult it is for women of color, with writing stories about girls of color. What do you even do? How can you even pretend? If I’m having this much difficulty, with the amount of privilege I have, how can you even pretend that there isn’t going to be an intense amount of difficulty to get your stories to the table. Thankfully, I put it away, and I was like, “Alright, well someday I’ll make everybody love the mountains!” I started working on the next thing, which I loved, and was, I thought, more commercial but still very much me. So, I was pretty happy. And then it sold! And then it just sold! I was like, “What? What?”
ENNI: So, then we like to wrap up with advice. I’d love to hear advice you have for first time writers, or for people who are going through the trenches.
LEMON: The only advice I have, because I love giving advice, it’s like my favorite thing. I’ll tell anybody anything. My opinion, my advice about what they should do. But with writing, it’s very benign, and stuff that you’ve heard, over and over again. But, just read. Read everything! There’s good books, and bad books, literary books. Books you don’t want to read. Books that you really want to read, and re-read. Read all of it. All of it is really useful for internalizing words and what it is that you actually want to do. You can never, ever, go wrong by reading more. That’s never gonna hurt your voice. It really isn’t. And I think a young writer, young as in not as experienced, gets worried. I know I got worried. I worried that reading a lot would impact my voice, because I have a strong voice, outside of that. But what I didn’t realize was that my voice came from years and years and years and years of reading and internalizing it. And, more reading wasn’t going to do anything to that, that would harm it. It wasn’t going to affect it in such a way that would make it [different]. I’m not gonna turn into Ray Bradbury, just because I read it. You know what I’m saying?
ENNI: Yeah. I think that’s important. The work of crafting your own voice is not exclusive of understanding other people’s voices.
LEMON: Yes. And I think, actually, those are completely related. In order to have your own strong, distinct voice, it really is an internalizing all of the others. And I get it. It’s coming from a place of fear. You have a voice, and it is distinct, and it is special in many ways. I think this is what it is. I think a little bit of that comes from a place of being afraid to read YA, and have it affect the specialness. But it’s not, it’s not gonna affect it at all. It’s gonna strengthen it. Because now you’re internalizing your craft, and your internalizing your peers, and now you just know. Before you were just an idiot who could write. Well, not an idiot. You know what I’m saying?
ENNI: Before you educate yourself. Because, I think, in particular, YA isn’t a genre. That’s the easiest word to talk about it with. But, the fact is that, like when Barbara came back to you and said, “Your voice is young adult.” There’s an ephemeral thing, and the more you read young adult, the more you get what that is. But you can’t just read adult murder mysteries and be like, “Oh, I’m gonna write YA.” You’ll end up writing a book that’s just about a sixteen-year-old, but it isn’t going to have that thing that makes something young adult. The more you read it, and understand it, the more you can think about what you like, what you don’t like. You’re making informed choices if you’re well read.
LEMON: Yes, and it’s a little bit like learning to control a super power. You have this great power, and this special gift. But, especially with a younger writer, or a person who hasn’t read a whole lot, or isn’t into the discipline of reading, it’s a little bit like you’re just shooting anywhere. And that could potentially go great places. It can also, potentially, be you’re shooting at a wall, and it’s a little benign, and it’s fine. The more you hone the reading, and the discipline of it, I think, the better you understand what you’re doing.
ENNI: That’s amazing! Well that you so much! This was the best, ever!
LEMON: I loved this, thank you so much for talking with me.
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ENNI: Thank you so much to Sarah. Follow her on Twitter @sarahnlemon. Follow the show @firstdraftpod and me @sarahenni. You can also find the show on Instagram and Facebook. But for show notes, with links for everything that Sarah and I talked about, as well as an archive to past shows, a sign-up to get the First Draft newsletter, check out FirstDraftPod.com. Don’t forget that March is the #TryPod month. It’s a movement, from the podcast industry, to promote podcasts. Which, only about 20% of people listen to them. There’s a lot of people out there, who don’t know how cool they can be. On Twitter, it’s a great place to hear about new podcasts, that even you may not have heard of. And this month, tell your family, and friends, about all of the cool things you’ve been listening too. And, maybe even explain what a podcast is. That it’s free, and amazing, and that there’s something in podcasting for everyone. Go ahead and grab their phones, download a podcast or two, and feel confident that you’ve opened their ears to the future.
Speaking of spreading the word, won’t you please think of leaving a rating, and review, for First Draft on iTunes? The more reviews we have, the easier it is for other listeners to find the show. And every five-star review brings me closer to donning a leather jacket, a Daft Punk style helmet, and revving up - okay, let’s be honest – revving up a moped, because motorcycles are terrifying.
Thanks to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Collin Keith and Maureen Goo for the logos. Thanks to super intern, Sarah DuMont, who is a bright and shining light. And to transcriptionist-at-large, Julie Anderson. And, as ever, all you biker baes for listening.