Inspired by J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (and the fact that today’s younger readers aren’t as inspired by it), Sarah Collins Honenberger gives us a compelling book about Daniel Solstice Landon who wants to follow in Holden Caulfield’s footsteps. The heartrending thing about Daniel? He has cancer and doesn’t have long to live, particularly since his hippie parents don’t believe in standard cancer treatment. As the discussion questions at the end of the book highlight, what exactly is a minor’s right to receive treatment? Against his parents’ will? And while that might feel clear and justifiable, how far along that line of minors’ rights do we go? And how do your actions affect others, even if you’re dying? Fascinating issues, and all of them are raised here with snappy dialog and humor, as well as sobering seriousness. But I should let you hear from the author herself rather than me.
Catch Sarah at her website or blog. Enjoy her interview below — starting with the fun questions and moving onto the serious — and be ready for the release of CATCHER, CAUGHT (AmazonEncore) on December 28th!
Tea or coffee? Flavor? Milk or sugar? Never really was a coffee drinker except socially after a meal, but once in a while I drink it black and my best friend teases me and says, “Oh, so you’re drinking it like a grown up today.”
Favorite season? Indian summer, abundant sunshine without that southern humidity.
Can you deal better with wind or rain? I love wind. I’ve been so blessed in my adult life to live in two houses, both on hilltops. Plenty of wind. Rain, while necessary, can be depressing.
Deciduous or evergreen? Deciduous. I like that change of scenery.
What’s always in your fridge? Blue cheese and green apples.
Favorite comfort food? Ice cream.
Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods? Ice cream.
Food you’d rather starve than eat. OKRA
Cat or dog? Dogs are so loyal and sincerely affectionate. Our dog is 14, totally deaf and loves to ride in the car, which fits my mobile life style between piedmont house and river house.
Flats or heels? Cowboy boots.
Natural fibers or synthetics? Linen, 100 cotton or silk.
Jeans or fancier? Khakis.
Short hair or long? Short. I had none last year with the chemotherapy and actually loved my hats, still wearing them.
Ideal evening. Fire in fireplace, good book or a friend who tells stories, snowing outside, Chopin on the stereo.
Ideal vacation. Hiking in Tuscany.
Favorite board, card, or computer game? Scrabble or Hangman.
Favorite sport or form of exercise? Sailing by myself or tennis to be sociable.
Language in which you’d most like to be fluent. Italian.
Country you’d most like to visit. Wales in England.
Skill you’d most like to acquire. Be able to quote passages from my favorite books.
Favorite musical instrument. Piano.
You’re going on a book tour: Plane, train or automobile? My convertible, top down.
Topic you’d most like to write about. Misunderstandings between people: families, races and cultures.
Topic you think most needs writing about. Misunderstandings between people: families, races and cultures.
Author you’d like to meet. Marilynne Robinson (Gilead, Home, Housekeeping)
Question you’d ask that author. “Does your writing fiction involve communicating with God or bring you to a closer, clearer understanding of him?”
What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration? My children and their friends. They are so full of enthusiasm for a wholly integrated and cooperative global community. Their generation will save us all.
What most surprises you about our current culture? Widespread fascination and reliance on what movie stars think about global crises, the general population’s easy acceptance of ‘opinion’ as ‘expertise.’ Education is not as respected as it should be.
Some favorite books? A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds (her prose is stunning, she wrote it in one weekend), The Book of Hard Things by Sue Halpern (A unique story, subtle, complicated, but straightforward language, an enviable talent for a writer )
Some favorite movies? “A Love Song for Bobby Long” (So unlike Hollywood, but charming and gritty at the same time, New Orleans music that is actually part of the story), “Into the Wild” (terrifying story about losing a child to an unrealistic dream), “Out of Africa” (Pioneering Woman and Love, great combo)
And now for the more “serious” questions:
Why did you write this book / choose this topic? Headline stories about kids whose parents refuse to follow standard medical treatment fascinated me. It’s hard to contradict your parents, but the possibility of dying raises the stakes. Coupled with the typical immortality teenage boys feel. I wanted to explore that 16 year-old boy’s point of view in the face of a fatal illness, to see if I could find out what might change his mind about that automatic belief in his own invincibility.
Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories? In my thirty years of family law practice, I saw lots of families in distress. The wide discrepancy between what each party in a crisis feels and sees is one of the biggest reasons for family conflicts. Writing out those crises can illuminate those divergent realities. Stories often help people ‘walk in someone else’s shoes.’
Why do you write for young people? I didn’t set out to write for young people in Catcher, Caught, but when I heard that today’s teenagers weren’t connecting with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, I thought that was a tragic loss. Holden’s story, his sadness, was a crucial part of my youth, seeing how quickly someone could feel lost and disconnected. I hoped by letting Daniel tell his story that today’s teenagers might connect with Holden’s issues, his sense of fairness and generosity of spirit despite his being on the outside and his failures. In the end, even with his confusion and depression, he defends a strong morality in his analysis of suicide, sex, relationships with his brothers and his sister, and in how he treats the other prep school boys.
When do you write? Whenever I can, not often enough. I aim for four hours a day. I’m happiest when I can spend 8 or 9 hours with a particular character. To make a fictional character full blown and believable I like to write without any interruptions for as many hours and for as many days as I can. For the last three years I’ve been lucky to spend a month in Florida writing. It’s a great luxury to have that time alone to concentrate. I have to thank my husband for that opportunity. He’s home working and keeping everything else on track when I disappear.
Where do you write? In front of any window. Looking at the river whenever I can.
How do your ideas come to you? Something I overhear or see on the side of the road. It’s a visual usually that starts me thinking why was that woman yelling or why was that man wearing his wading boots.
Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker? Nietzsche said “One must have chaos in one to create a shooting star.”
What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling? Last year I came home from chemotherapy the first few weeks and asked my husband why they kept putting me in that room with all those sick people, and he would say, “Because you’re sick, sweetheart.” I’d never been sick in my life. It wasn’t in the definition of Sarah Honenberger. But I learned that their stories were far worse than mine. It was humbling.
Is there a sequel to Catcher, Caught? Book club readers have asked me that about all my books. It’s very reassuring that they like my characters. But my endings are ‘antennaed’ endings, meaning I don’t write the final scene or tie up all the loose ends because I think readers like to imagine those things. If I’ve done my writing well, readers can envision what happens without my spelling it out.
How long have you been writing? Started at 9 with a neighborhood newsletter on a toy hand-cranked printing press. At 13 I wrote a Victorian romance novel with carriages and cravats. Seriously, I’ve only written full-time in the last five years or so. I wrote four novels while I was still practicing law. It took me five years to write the first one on Saturdays and late at night. Only one of those first few, WHITE LIES, has been published. WALTZING COWBOYS was written as a short story first, and then it was the second book published by Cedar Creek after the short story won the HooK contest in 2004 when George Garrett and Steve Boykevich judged. Catcher, Caught is the third novel to be published, but the first one with a big publisher.
How much of Catcher, Caught is autobiographical? None really. Of course having raised three children, two boys, there are bits and pieces of that in the book, just like any life experience is reflected in an artist’s creations.
What are you working on now? Another novel, about the friendship between the teenage sister of a boy who drowns and an older woman, a cancer patient. Everyone asks if I’m going to write about my cancer, but my story is not unique. For now this fictional character is as close as I want to go.
Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do? Vicarious living. You can experience a thousand lifetimes in a thousand places through books. You don’t have to be a chess champion, or the victim of a schoolyard bully, or a girl who’s raped by the football team to understand how it feels to be that person. And you’ll be more compassionate, more educated the more you read.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that? Think about it from the other person’s point of view BEFORE you speak or act.
What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book? Life is shorter than you think and you’ll get more out of every experience if you remember it’s about the experience, not about you.
Thanks, Sarah! And happy reading, all!