Interview | Sarah Tomp

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 12:00 AM

Interview | Sarah Tomp ; Author of My Best Everything

My family moved a lot when I was growing up, as my father, a geologist, pursued his love of research and teaching. The houses, neighborhoods, and scenery changed with each move, but inside our home there were always more books than anything else. 

My childhood summers were spent on an isolated lake in Maine. My father was busy mapping the geologic formations of the state while my mother, two brothers, sister and I were given the luxury of avoiding boredom. We read, swam, hiked, climbed trees and boulders, designed clam farms, caught frogs, picked leeches and blueberries, made sand candles and other things from shells, driftwood, rocks, or whatever else we found throughout the day. One summer my brothers caused a bang when their homemade still blew up. They were always making something, so that explosion wasn’t anything I paid much attention to, or even thought about, until recently. Those summers were when I perfected the art of daydreaming—one of my most important writer’s tools. 

After graduating from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with a degree in Special Education, I planned to stay and teach in that small college town. But then I went to visit a friend in San Diego. 

After seeing the sun and the sand and the ocean and the palm trees and burritos, along with a certain young Navy officer, I went back to Virginia and loaded my car with important things—such as a large rock with a fossil embedded in it (I am a geologist’s daughter, after all)—and then headed west where I took a job teaching in San Diego. 

I’m still here. And I still love the sun and the sand and the ocean and the palm trees and burritos, along with that same young Navy officer—except he’s not quite as young or even in the Navy anymore. We now have three children who are all taller than I am. The fossil rock is under our lemon tree. 

As a teacher, and later a mother, I fell in love with books for children and teens, and decided to try and write my own. I am passionate about books for young people in all forms—including those which are ready to read and those in progress. I love to talk about books and writing. I’m an active member of the San Diego SCBWI where I’ve served as a mentor. I’ve taught writing to students of all ages, from elementary school through adult.

About My Best Everything:

      When did you start writing this book? And how long did it take you to finish?

Starting a story is a very slippery thing for me—it’s hard to pin down that actual moment. There is so much pre-thinking and pre-writing that goes on before I actually believe it’s going to be a real story. I tend to be a slow writer, especially in the beginning. I need breaks to think and reflect.

For My Best Everything, I thought I was writing a simple love story. It was going to be about a girl leaving town and a boy who’d just come home. I knew she was a control freak who had somehow lost control, but I wasn’t sure of the details. I think I must worked on the romance of the story for about six months before I realized what kind of trouble Lulu had gotten herself into.

Once I knew we were going to make moonshine, the plot of the story moved along fairly quickly. I think it took around six or seven months to finish that draft.

      Was there a certain part of the book that you were set on having?

Maybe this seems kind of obvious—but the love story was always central to me. And drinking was always an issue too. As for specific scenes, riding inner tubes down the river was one of the first ones that came to mind.

      What was your number one struggle in writing this book?

The ending! I feel like my story has two endings—the end of the action, and the final wrap up. Both were so tricky to figure out. I can’t even count how many times they both changed. And that’s once I threw out completely different situations and options!

      Now, what was your favorite thing about writing this book?

The dialogue. I loved all my characters—Lulu, Roni, Mason, Bucky in particular, but also the adults and the junkyard guys—and I had so much fun letting them run their mouths to each other. I love their different relationships and perspectives and I just really liked letting them have their say.

      Which character do you relate to the most?

Oooo! This is such a good, but hard, question. Although I lived in a town a little bit like her hometown, Lulu and I actually have very little in common. As a teen, I never would have had the gumption or stubborn determination needed to get a moonshine business up and running. I’m not musically talented like Roni and I definitely wasn’t ready to get married when I was that age. I knew boys like Bucky in high school, and we were friends, but I’m not him. I’m not really like Mason either, except we both believe in meant-to-be/fate/destiny.

So here’s my true confession: When I was in high school I was most like Buttercup. She doesn’t get a lot of page time, but enough that now you know teen me. I like to think of those days as research.

      Why did you choose to write this in letter format?

As soon as I started writing from Lulu’s perspective, all this guilt came bubbling up. It was clear that something big and traumatic had happened between her and Mason. For a long time I wasn’t sure where he was, but I figured a letter was a good way for Lulu to say what she needed to.

And, also, I love letters. I think they are such an intimate way to tell someone how you feel without any other distractions getting in the way. Plus, I guess I must be nosy, because I love the idea of getting to read someone else’s most private thoughts.

      What made you choose moonshining to be the focus of this novel?

As I said above, I knew drinking was going to be a part of the story from the start. I knew Mason was a recovering alcoholic and that Lulu had been dabbling in drinking for the first time. As I wrote their love story, Mason kept talking about moonshine. This was something that was always around when I was growing up in Virginia, so I guess it was just in my subconscious.

And then one day my kids were watching the Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners—a show I didn’t even know existed—and they asked me, “Is that what it’s really like in Virginia?” Which I thought was hilarious. But then it got me thinking and wondering… Once I realized that the ingredients really are ordinary innocent things, I knew I had to give it a whirl. It was just crazy enough that it might work.

About You:

      What is something that you would love your readers to know about you?

Hmmm! I’ve never thought about this! I’ve done a lot of interesting things in the past, but my life, especially at this moment, is pretty ordinary. I think my best qualities are that I work hard and play nice. Kinda boring, eh?

      Is there anything that you are working on now?

More gritty love stories! I’m actually working on two—something I’ve never done before—but the one that is just about ready for my first readers is about a girl who’s lost her way and a boy who makes maps. There’s caves and diving boards and secrets. The other one is too messy to talk about yet!

      If you could recommend three of your favorite books, what would they be?

Only three? There are so many books that I love, for all different reasons. I think it depends on what kind of book you need at that moment. So, just for today, here are three books that I’ve been thinking about lately.
·         All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. This is a lovely lyrical picture book. The language is gorgeous, and it somehow manages to show the vastness and the intimacy of the world, all at once. It’s both big and small.
·         The Cider House Rules by John Irving. This is an old book—and I do mean the book, not the movie—and I haven’t read it for a long time, but I always want to recommend this someone who thinks that right and wrong is something that’s black and white. I think there are so many shades and rhythms of rightness and wrongness. It’s not up to me to judge someone else. Basically, I think we just don’t know how we might act in a certain situation until we are there.
·         Chime by Franny Billingsley. This book took me by surprise! I never expected to love it as much as I do. The world is strange, the voice is unique—but it’s the love story that put the spell on me. It’s so different and so utterly satisfying.

      If there is anything you would like to add, feel free.

Just a big THANK YOU, Erica! I’m thrilled and honored to be on your blog today! 

My Best Everything

Now, after you've heard about the amazing author, Sarah Tomp, I would love you guys to go check out my review of My Best Everything -- I'm adding the catchy synopsis below.

You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?
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Erica is a 20 year old college student and book lover. When she’s done with studying she’ll always want to relax with a book, of any kind. If she’s not reading she could be caught up in her latest Netflix series or lost in a conversation with her spectacular boyfriend.
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