Monday, November 2, 2015

Interview with Sara Goff, Author of I Always Cry at Weddings + Giveaway! (US/UK/Can only)

I'd like to welcome Sara Goff to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of her debut novel, I Always Cry at Weddings!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Sara! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

Sara Goff founded the global educational charity Lift the Lid, Inc. in 2010, which supports underprivileged schools and encourages young people to exercise their creative expression through writing. Formerly a New York City fashion designer/merchandiser, Sara left her seven-year career and resolved to make a difference in the world.

Since then, Sara has been accepted into Sewanee Writers’ Conference and received two fellowships to Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia and Nairobi, Kenya. While living in Manhattan, she especially loved being a writing instructor for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers Workshop, founded by author Ian Frazier, and for The National Arts Club’s creative writing program for students. She’s spoken at the Soup Kitchen and at several inner-city high schools and Saint Francis College in Brooklyn about the writing process and the power of the written word.

After nearly seven years living in Stockholm, Sweden and then London, England, Sara is back in the States, enjoying Darien, Connecticut with her Swedish husband of 14 years, their two sons, ages 1.5 and 6, and their sweet little girl... a Yorkie named Pia. Her first novel, I Always Cry at Weddings, is a New York City story about figuring out life and finding love.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which just hit shelves last week:

Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite's son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding. At least until she realizes her relationship isn't what it should be. Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable - she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she'll save sex for marriage.

She's convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance...and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.

But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren't the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live... and what is the world love really means.

Describe I Always Cry at Weddings in six words (or less!).

I have trouble writing short stories; the six-word memoir would take me eons! But I do have six words for I Always Cry at Weddings. In 2007, I was accepted into Sewanee Writers’ Conference and took an early draft with me out to Tennessee... and then with sweating palms into a workshop with the fabulous author Diane Johnson. She was kind to read it and all its flaws and liked the story enough to endorse it. In her words (I’ve chosen six), she wrote, I Always Cry at Weddings is for the “marriage bound or the marriage averse.” Cool. That’s just about everybody!

As a huge fan of first lines, I'd love to hear the first line of I Always Cry at Weddings. Could you give us a brief commentary on it?
Ava stood on the steps of City Hall under a bright sun.
It’s a simple sentence, but there’s a lot behind it. Ava is about to be a witness at her friends’ City Hall wedding. She thinks they’re crazy and isn’t looking forward to it, but then is shocked when their no-frills, ten-minute ceremony is everything a wedding needs to be. Her friends are in love and the personal vows they exchange are sincere. It gets her thinking about her own wedding, a large, formal event, only a month away...

I have to tell you the inspiration for that scene. Fourteen years ago, I stood before the Justice of the Peace at City Hall in Manhattan with my fiancé, Jonas. His little brother Hans and our good friend Greta were our witnesses. No joke. I was so sure, so in love and so happy that sunny June day, the 28th to be exact, that it glows in my memory.

A year later, we were married again, a church wedding in Sweden, where Jonas was born and raised. (The church dates back to the 1100’s.) We invited our families and a few close friends. It was another day full of sunshine and promise. The priest was warm and jovial; we recited our favorite poems, my mother played the pipe organ, and Jonas’s mother prepared a five-star meal. It was perfect and intimate, but I have to say, I felt most connected with Jonas at our City Hall wedding. So I opened I Always Cry at Weddings with that thought in mind. A wedding doesn’t have to be what everyone says it has to be.

What's the greatest thing you ever learned?

To let go. And, by the way, I’m still learning it. I started a charity in 2010, called Lift the Lid. We sponsor underprivileged schools and support the education of students living in poverty. We also encourage them to explore self-expression through writing.

This lesson of "letting go" came to me during a recent writing competition hosted by Lift the Lid at Lenana Girls High School in Kitale, Kenya. The girls wrote about a special role model in their life, and as I read their essays, I noticed a similarity between the influential women inspiring them. Women like Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Wangari Maathai, and a lady selling vegetables, to name a few.

Here’s the similarity and the lesson I took home: Achieving your goals takes more than tenacity and staying power; it takes letting go, whether it be possessions or a fear of the unknown, insecurities or bad habits you’ve picked up along the way. A bad rap. Pride. Whatever is holding you down, be ruthless, have faith and get rid of it. Free yourself to reach your full potential!

How do you react to a negative or harsh review to your books?

Make death threats! Just kidding. Throughout writing I Always Cry at Weddings, I sought out critical feedback at conferences and workshops, from critique partners and agents, family and friends. Hence, the story has seen many rewrites, which is great. That’s how feedback works. However, now that the book is done and my obsession with improving it has been switched OFF, I’d much prefer praise! I know (sigh) a harsh review is inevitable. If it’s directed at the themes in the story, I’ll stick to my beliefs. If it’s a writing quibble, I’ll try to learn from it for the next book.

Blog babes, click "Read more" to find out Sara's random favorites, her best writing advice, and what makes I Always Cry at Weddings stand out as a book from all the rest. We're also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of I Always Cry at Weddings, so you don't want to miss that either!

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Some randomness...

What kind of kid were you in high school?  Social. A joiner. A striver in my classes. Athletic, but not a star in any one sport, especially basketball! As for what was going on deep down... I wanted to be a writer but was afraid to start writing. It was years before I felt comfortable with and believed in my own thoughts. And then I had to figure out how to organize them into words!

Most romantic thing a guy has ever said to you? I love you. That’s good enough for me. The thing is, I’m too practical, disciplined, and more of a buddy than I am mushy-gushy. Romance to me involves adventure, not rose petals.

Currently wearing? I had to answer this question. Gym clothes, thank you very much. I need a VERY good reason to put on anything else.

Guiltiest pleasure? Raw almonds. I told you I was practical and disciplined!
Charity of choice? Lift the Lid is the 501(c)(3) educational charity I founded in 2010. For every donation over $20, a student writes a poem or personal essay, which is scanned and emailed to the donor, along with a photo. The work is then posted on our website, where you’ll also find the projects we initiate or support at our sponsored schools. LIFT THE LID... AND SEE WHAT’S INSIDE!

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Out of all the fantastic books out there, what makes I Always Cry at Weddings stand out from the rest?

For starters, I Always Cry at Weddings isn’t about sex. (Please keep reading.) It’s about finding love—true, unconditional love. It’s about self-discovery and making it in the Big Apple, and it’s about how quickly you can lose everything. Ava Larson, in her mid-twenties, realizes that the life she’s worked so hard to create meets other people’s expectations, not her own. Her journey to figuring out what she wants gives her an up-close look at dating, financial ruin, and the kind of homelessness that goes unnoticed. Her story is real. It’s inspiring, and it will make you feel like loving life to the fullest.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to please anyone, other than yourself and the Spirit that moves you!

What are you involved in when you aren't writing?

I have two boys, ages six and one-and-a-half, which means I’m into mud and stones.

Lots of sand and crabs, jumping into cold water, random stuff in pockets, food I’d never eat, Lego, Lego... did I say Lego? The question should rather be what am I involved in when I’m not having the time of my life with two awesome small people. That would be my writing and charity, often when it’s just me and the moon enjoying those quiet hours of the night!

What's a question you've always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

Finally! Here’s my question: Sara, do you have any regrets?

Well, I gave up my career in fashion to write, pursue charity work, and now stay at home with my boys, as well. I feel fortunate today, but my path here wasn’t a straight line. In my late twenties, I was working in a nightclub and even wanted to audition as a mermaid in a giant fist tank behind a bar, which felt artistic, but would’ve had its challenges. (Luckily, they weren’t hiring.)

When I met my husband, my best friend and the love of my life, the hard work becoming a writer really kicked in. Jonas made that possible and remains an amazing force in our lives, providing in simple and yet abundant ways I never could’ve imagined. To answer your question, no, I’ve never had regrets. I believe if you follow what’s in your heart, life (or God, if you will) provides the rest, often times surpassing all expectations.

What is the message in I Always Cry at Weddings that you want readers to grasp?

Love is unconditional. Really.

What’s next for you?

I’ve nearly completed my second novel, which I’ll leave a secret for now ;)

Can't wait to find out more about it when it comes out! Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you'd like to ask our readers?

Readers, did you know what you wanted from life and love in your early twenties?

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Sara! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of I Always Cry at Weddings—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer Sara's question in the comments below:
In your early twenties, did you know what you wanted from life and love? When did you figure it all out?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Sara and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at Claire McKinney PR!
Giveaway ends November 16th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US, Great Britain, and Canada residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!