Sara Bennett Wealer grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (the “Little Apple”), where she sang with the show choir and wrote for her high school newspaper. She majored in voice performance at the University of Kansas before ditching her operatic dreams and transferring to journalism school instead. Since then, Sara has been fortunate to make her living as a writer. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two daughters, and still sings when her schedule allows—most recently with the May Festival Chorus, the official choir of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Her debut novel, RIVAL, will be published by HarperCollins in December 2011.
1. What was the inspiration behind RIVAL?
RIVAL was inspired by memories of what it was like to be a singer in a competitive high school music department. The arts can be pretty cut-throat, and when you add friendship into the mix it creates all sorts of tension. None of my experiences were dramatic enough to make a good story, and, obviously, the book is pure fiction. What I wanted to do was capture how it feels to be in a pressure cooker where you have to perform at your best, all the while keeping an eye out for someone else who could, at any moment, perform better than you and knock you out of the running. The pressure is even greater when that person is someone with whom you have a past. RIVAL is about friendship and betrayal and figuring out that the person you think is your enemy might just be the one who understands you the most. 2. Which of your characters can you relate to the most?
There are two main characters in RIVAL: Brooke is popular and powerful, yet she yearns to escape and make a living as a professional singer. Kathryn, meanwhile, is a shy overachiever who sort of assumes people don't like her. I think if you ask people who know me, they'd say they see more of me in Kathryn. I'm a little more pensive, more of a loner. But I also feel like I've got some Brooke in me, too. She hates BS and wishes she could focus all her energy on doing what she loves. Some days I wish I could just live on an island and do nothing but write! 3. Music plays a big role in RIVAL, what's the story behind that?
Music has played a big role in my life! I grew up singing - I know the joy it brings and also, obviously, the tensions that come when you aspire to reach a certain level as a performer. I wanted to write a book for young adults who are interested in music and the arts, because I feel like there isn't enough out there that speaks to them (although the TV show "Glee" is doing a great job of starting to fill that gap). But I also wanted something everybody could enjoy. RIVAL has romance, parties, intrigue, a Homecoming Dance... and it might even inspire someone who's never heard opera before to check out Gounod or Puccini! 4. If you were trapped on a deserted island, what three books would you want with you?
Oh, that's hard!! "House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton is my all-time favorite book. And... you know what? I love too many other books to pick favorites. Can I cheat and tell you what three pieces of music I'd like to have instead? I'd take Beethoven's 9th Symphony (the Ode to Joy), Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and anything by October Project or Tori Amos. 5. Is there a message you wanted to share with readers by writing RIVAL?
I guess I wanted to show how a rivalry can bring out the best and the worst in a person. It can inspire you to work to achieve your goals. At the same time, it can eat you alive. I also wanted to explore how the assumptions we make about other peoples' lives, goals, motivations, etc. are colored by our own experiences, needs and desires. It's hard to really know another person, and often we don't fully understand someone until we've hurt them and/or been hurt--until it's almost too late! I don't mean to sound hopeless or depressing. RIVAL actually ends up at what I think is a very sweet place. But I know a lot of teens are struggling with the conflicting emotions that a rivalry can stir up. I don't know if they'll learn anything from my book, but I hope they at least see that they're not alone.
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