Sarah Darer Littman is the author of CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, an award-winning novel for readers 9 and up and PURGE , a poignant but funny journey of a teenager winning her battle with bulimia out and LIFE, AFTER, a novel of immigration, tragic loss, and renewal. Her fourth novel, WANT TO GO PRIVATE?, a chilling tale about a high school freshman who becomes involved with an Internet predator, has just been published by Scholastic Press in August 2011.
She has won the 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award. Ms. Littman’s books are realistic and tell-it-as-it-is in today’s world for teenagers. The latest novel, WANT TO GO PRIVATE, has been recognized as a must read for Young Adults and their parents by NY Finest Speakers ( a speaker bureau made up of City, State and Federal Law Enforcement professionals dedicated to educating and protecting today’s young people and their parents, from threats posed by Internet usage and drug involvement.)
Tell us about your novel, Want To Go Private, which is being published in August 2011. What triggered your interest in the subject of teen vulnerability on the Internet?
Two years ago, Supervisory Special Agent Tom Lawler from the New Haven FBI office came to my son’s school to speak about Internet Safety. After his presentation, I was talking to him and he told me true story about a girl who’d left with a predator. Fortunately her mom was clued up and had the passwords to her accounts, so they were able to figure out what had happened pretty quickly, but even so, by the time the girl and the predator were apprehended, they were almost at the Canadian border. What really struck me about the story was the girl’s reaction when the police found her – it wasn’t “Oh thank goodness you’ve rescued me!” but rather “Don’t hurt him!” As soon as I heard that, I said to SSA Lawler, “That is the book.” Because I knew that I had to understand – and figured that others would, too – how a girl who had heard the Internet safety lectures at school and whose Mom was clued up enough to have her passwords so she’d obviously had the lectures at home as well, had traveled from the point of hearing all those warnings to getting in the car and “Don’t Hurt Him!”.
How did you go about doing research on the sensitive subject of Internet predators?
I was fortunate to get permission to work with the New Haven FBI office for my research and I also consulted with detectives at my local police department in Greenwich, CT. I read a huge stack of books on the subject, which gave me many sleepless nights. This was not an easy book to write!
Tell us about the Contemps, YA Authors Keeping It Real. How did you get involved with them, and their mission as writers for YA?
It’s been very easy to feel like a poor step-child as a realistic contemporary fiction writer for the last…well for a while now. Witness how Barnes and Noble shrank their general teen fiction shelf and created an entire paranormal romance section. I know there are teens out there who would much prefer reading a novel about real life to anything paranormal or fantasy. In my own house I had have one kid who likes all fantasy all of the time and another to whom that is anathema – this kid wants books about real teens in realistic situations, not vampires, werewolves, or fairies.
Those of us who write YA realistic contempory books really believe in them and since our books often don’t get the high-powered marketing love, we decided to band together to highlight the pure awesome of this genre, and make our site a resource for teachers and librarians who are interested in finding books kids like mine who want to keep it real.
What’s great about YA literature today is that there are books for all readers – it’s a matter of putting the right book in hand of the right kid at the right time, and librarians and teachers terrific at doing that.
Who do you feel has been a big influence on your writing style?
Funnily enough, since I haven’t read one of his novels since reading IT made me afraid to go to the bathroom for weeks, I’d have to say Stephen King. I read the sentence “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs,” in his book ON WRITING, shortly after my first book CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC came out. Then I read my book aloud to my son and realized just how right he was! I am now a sworn enemy of the adverb.
What do you like most about writing? What do you like least about it?
What I like least is writing the first draft. You know, the actual WRITING part. To me, writing a first draft of a novel is like having all my teeth pulled without anesthetic. What I love, love, LOVE is revising. To me, that’s where the novel really happens.
You are a strong advocate fighting against censorship, especially of books for and about teens. Can you give us some insight about your feelings about intellectual freedom?
My parents let me read whatever I wanted. They might have put some books on the top shelf in the study, but we always knew where they were and there was a step stool so we could get at them. I strongly feel that kids will put down a book that they don’t feel ready for and that parents shouldn’t act as censors. It’s fine to guide – for example, my daughter wanted to read “The Lovely Bones” in sixth grade. She’s sensitive and I thought the first chapter might give her nightmares. So I gave her a warning. Told her that it was a great book, but that the first chapter was very upsetting and it might give her nightmares, and my advice was maybe to leave reading it for a year or so. I would have let her read it if she’d insisted, but she was happy to take my advice. She read it in 8th grade and was it was all good.
It’s my very strong belief that books are positive vehicles for promoting conversations about difficult topics, particularly when kids are teenagers and kicking off discussions can be challenging. Sharing a book and then talking about it in the car or at the dinner table is, to me, such a positive way to parent. And isn’t it better for kids to confront difficult topics in the safety of a book and be able to discuss them with us and hear our thoughts and values?
I think the folks who try to ban books from library shelves are making a huge mistake because they are trying to foster a culture of denial – “if we ban books about these issues we can pretend they don’t actually exist.” I’d like to tell those parents that denial is a far worse enemy than anything contained in those books and their kids are way, way smarter than that.
What tools do you use to do research and to write your books?
I’m a research geek. I think it’s because I love to learn and I write about topics that interest me. I read many books to get a broad understanding of the topic. For my book LIFE, AFTER, the first third of the book was set in Buenos Aires and I didn’t have the money to travel there to research my setting, so I made heavy use of Google Maps and local blogs to gain a sense of atmosphere. And then, my best research geek moment was finding a database that the City of Buenos Aires kept that detailed every tree on every street and in every park in the city. Oh, the JOY!!
You’ve also been a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. How differently do you approach writing a column vs. writing a novel?
Writing a column is much quicker with more immediate gratification. It’s also helped me as a novel writer, because I tend to be very wordy (if you meet me in real life, I talk a lot and I write just like I talk) so as a columnist trying to fit a cogent argument into a short column space, I’ve had to become very good at self-editing.
Oh, and as a columnist I can always look forward to good hate mail, whereas as a novelist I’ve been pretty lucky with the fan mail :-)
Please give us an eight-word description of your life.
Humorous former MBA/farmer’s wife writes (when not chauffeuring).
Oh shoot. That’s nine words. Will you let me slide?
Check out the following websites for Sarah Darer Littman
the award-winning animation “Q & A “ by Rauch Brothers Animation based on the Story Corps interview between her and her son.