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Sunday, August 21, 2022

Interview with Sara Hartley, Runner Up in the WOW! Q3 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest


Sara Hartley lives and writes in Northern Michigan. She is constantly inspired by the young artists she encounters in her daily work at Interlochen Center for the Arts and is active as a local theater artist and musician in her community. Sara is pursuing her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts and working on her first essay collection. 

Read Sara's essay here and then return to learn more about the author and her 

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Hi Sara, congratulations on placing with this essay, and welcome! How did you first get the idea for “Oven Spring?” 

Sara: I was doing a writing exercise to focus on sensory details and, having been a baker in the very early mornings year ago, I remembered being aware of my senses in a very different way. When the world is quiet, small sounds seem amplified. When you haven't had breakfast yet and you're barely awake, every delicious smell that reaches your nose wakes you up a little bit more and a little bit more. I wanted to capture all of that, probably because I'm really not a morning person at all but I believe there is real magic in those wee hours. 

WOW: Even your description of the writing exercise had amazing sensory details in it. Fabulous! What is your favorite line from this piece and why? 

Sara: "For only a few minutes yeast eat and reproduce in a frenzy, giving up their last breaths in microscopic bubbles, caught in a Pompeii flash, entombing their songs, their flavors." Pompeii has always been absolutely fascinating in that it completely froze a civilization in time. When yeasts are in "oven spring" they are going crazy reproducing in optimal conditions. They're having the time of their lives and you can watch the bread rise with all of that activity and at some point it just stops. All of those glorious holes in the bread are a preserved civilization that was at its zenith and then died and solidified. I love this analogy just because of all the wonder and mystery and all of the last breaths that are contained in a loaf of bread. I guess it's kind of morbid but makes bread, which has already achieved religious transcendence, a more universal and secular sacrament for me. 

WOW: You mention in your bio that you are working on your first essay collection. What are some of your favorite themes to explore and write about in creative nonfiction? 

Sara: I like to use humor as my gateway in most of my writing. I guess Oven Spring isn't really a great example, but I like to link unexpected things to the heart and hope that it will resonate with others. When I was a kid, for instance, I used to think I was an alien or that I would be contacted at some point by aliens. It's amazing how just talking about that connects for a lot of people who say "oh my gosh, me too!" I want to write the kinds of essays that make readers feel like they have a best friend who knows them or shares memories with them in a delicious and secret way. 

WOW: I love that. How do you divide your time between creative endeavors such as writing, music, and theatre? What does an average day look like for you? 

Sara: I'm practicing saying "no" more these days but I'm really lucky to have incredible opportunities finding me all the time. I am always balancing work and writing and rehearsals. There is really no "average" day. Maybe once or twice a month I have a day with nothing scheduled and I circle it with a fancy purple pen and write "DON'T SCHEDULE ANYTHING." Sometimes I hold to that. Sometimes I don't. Everything I do creatively informs everything else, so saying "no" sometimes feels like making choices in the multiverse. The me who says "yes" is almost always richer for it, so those can be tough choices. 

WOW: It's so hard to put boundaries in place with ourselves when there are so many creative endeavors we want to explore! What advice would you give a writer who is just starting out in exploring the genre of creative nonfiction? 

Sara: Don't hold yourself back. People get very hung up on genre. If you are writing and there is a supervisor with a clipboard in the back of your mind making sure you're on the straight and narrow, fire them! All of the best writers in history were doing subversive things with form and voice and commentary. Just be yourself and tell your story. So many times I get myself tied into knots trying to be too clever or careful or whatever. I'm not a huge John Mayer fan but my earworm in those moments is just "Say (what you need to say)."

WOW: Sara, this has been a pleasure. We look forward to reading more of your work in the future!

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