Book Publication, GUTS, Writing

GUTS on Pre-Order, and other surrealities

T-Minus 41 days until 2/13/18, the book birthday of GUTS! Right now it’s out in the world in a mostly “coming soon” kind of way, but each mention of me or GUTS in a public forum still catches me by surprise.

First, there’s the pre-order. I can go to AmazonBarnes & Noble, Indiebound and see my book. I have an author page on Amazon, with my photo and everything. I took advantage of a special ad sale for authors and sprung for an ad in the Jan/Feb (“Inspiration”) issue of Poets & Writers, a magazine with a huge circulation. There’s GUTS in the New Titles section on page 82, and my name, spelled correctly and everything.

Next, I’ve started scheduling events, here in Seattle and elsewhere. Hugo House, where I teach occasionally, is kindly hosting my book launch party on 2/13 at the very cool Hotel Sorrento. My friend Stephanie Barbe Hammer is jetting in from LA to emcee the event, and former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen is leading an onstage Q & A.

Family ski trip to Colorado? I’ll give an author talk at the library and then head down the road to Boulder to teach a class called “Acts of Courage: Writing and Publishing Memoir.” (Big thanks to Tin House 2013 friend Ashley Simpson Shires for connecting me with the Colorado Writing School, which is willing to pay me even though they’ve never met me).  I’m quite humbled by everyone’s generosity and enthusiasm.



Stay tuned for more news as I have it!

Book Publication, GUTS, Vine Leaves Press, Writing

GUTS: The Path to Publication

Now that the kids are settled in at school, I can turn my attention to the child I’ve neglected over the summer: my memoir. My publication date for GUTS is February 13, 2018, a date that will no doubt come up quickly. The next few months will feature the tasks that many authors dread: marketing our work. Most writers prefer the hermit life of putting words on the page in the privacy of their writing spaces to the more public tasks of self-promoting, readings, conference presentations.

I do like the solitude of writing, but I’m also excited to get out from behind my writing desk and talk to readers about my book and the writing life. Self-promotion is difficult for me, but I’m trying to get over it. Just today at the dog park, I sent an email to a friendly woman I’d just met so she could have my contact information. “I’ll come to your reading!” she said as we parted a few minutes later. An almost complete stranger is planning to come to my reading – hooray!

Now all I need to do is schedule it.

Setting up readings, it turns out, is slow going, though yesterday I had my first success. The week my book comes out, I’m going to be on vacation with my family (parents, siblings & their families, Matt and the kids, Matt’s brother) in Steamboat Springs, CO. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read with my whole family present, so I contacted the librarian at the beautifully renovated Bud Werner Memorial Library and I’ll be giving a talk and a reading there on February 19, 2018. Wow! Though it may seem strange to kick off my book tour so far from home, Steamboat was my off-and-on home for 2 years post-college, and there are even a few paragraphs of GUTS that take place in Steamboat.

It’s great to be able to have such an attractively designed website — courtesy of Sharon Mentyka — to help me with that self-marketing. And now I’m thrilled to have a beautiful cover to share with everyone. We Vine Leaves Press authors are fortunate to have a publisher who is also a book designer, Jessica Bell. I love the way that Jessica listened to my ideas and created a cover that conveys the theme of bravery.

So here it is…the cover!!


And yes, it’s very cool and totally surreal to see my name in print on a book cover. And have a page on Vine Leaves’ website dedicated to GUTS, and even have it show up with a 5-star review (thanks Jessica!) on Goodreads!

I’m planning to blog more regularly in the lead-up to February 13th, and keep the site updated as I schedule events. I hope my friends and family will follow my blog so you can all keep tabs on GUTS as it makes its way into the world.

Book Publication, GUTS, Vine Leaves Press, Writing

Publication News!

How long have I wanted to write the (inelegant) sentence my book is being published? Perhaps since I wrote the first words of what would eventually become my memoir, GUTS, 7 years ago. Perhaps since the age of nine, when I filled in “a writer” next to the question printed in a fill-in-the-blanks book I owned, what do you want to be when you grow up? However I do the math, the result is the same: I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just signed a contract for publication of GUTS by Vine Leaves Press!

[Melborne, the virtual home of Vine Leaves Press.]

Vine Leaves and I found each other in an unexpected way, or at least it was a surprise to me. After many moons of querying agents and editors, I decided on a whim to participate in a Twitter pitching party.

I know. I’d never heard of one either.

On a designated day (6/9/16, in my case), agents and editors scan Twitter for worthy projects. Authors distill their book synopsis down to 140 characters, add the appropriate hashtag (#PitMad), and hope that someone spots their awesome tweet and requests a submission. Although I have a Twitter account, I’m really more of a Facebook girl, and had to get my friend Marin – an excellent writer and pro-Twitterer – to help me compose my tweets. Here is the tweet that caught the Vine Leaves editors’ attention: “BRAIN ON FIRE meets TRUTH AND BEAUTY in a story of friendship, a mysterious illness, colostomies, death, and a triathlon.

From the originally requested excerpt came a request for the full manuscript. And one evening in late August I got the email offering me publication. My face looked something like a paler, older version of this as I read the email, sitting home alone, my kids already asleep:

Yesterday I sent the signed contract, and now I’m on my way. I’ll start working with a Vine Leaves editor in the Spring of 2017, and things will clip along from there, I have no doubt. I’ve spoken to several Vine Leaves authors and read some of their books and I’m honored to be in their company. Look, here I am, listed at the bottom underneath the gorgeous covers of the already-published and soon-to-be-published books:


I think the press will be a wonderful home for GUTS. I’m grateful to acquisitions editor Peter Snell, publisher Jessica Bell, and the whole Vine Leaves team for their enthusiasm for GUTS.

Last night I was at the aforementioned Marin’s launch for her excellent young adult book, BLEED, BLISTER, PUKE, and PURGE: The Dirty Secrets Behind Early American Medicine. While waiting in the signing line, I was introduced to a woman. “Sarah has a book coming out in 2018.”

“Me too,” I said. Which felt weird. But also awesome.


Freaky Friday

Today is Friday the 13th, a day that can cause worry among superstitious people. I’m kind of superstitious, and plenty of things cause me anxiety, but not this. My birthday is on April 13th, and I turned 13 on Friday the 13th, so I’ve always liked the number. Friday the 13ths have always felt special to me. Lucky.

Except for that one time, seventeen years ago.

March 13, 1998 was also a Friday. I know this because I looked it up recently while doing research for my memoir, GUTS. In March of 1998 I was 26 years old and 5 months into treatment for Crohn’s Disease. I’d had a flare-up, a common complication of Crohn’s. On Friday the 13th I had a CT scan and went home to await the results. My 3rd bite of dinner, my first food all day, was on its way to my mouth when the phone rang.

“You have an abscess,” my doctor said, breathless, like she’d read the radiology report and run up a flight of stairs to call me. I thought I detected a note of excitement in her voice: Finally my mild, hard-to-treat Crohn’s Disease was asserting itself in some identifiable way.

“You need to go to the hospital. Immediately.”

So Wiley and I went to the Emergency Room. They brought me to a curtained-off area and told me to put on a hospital gown. After 3 failed attempts to find a good vein in my arm, the nurse inserted a port into the back of my hand where an IV would be placed when I went upstairs for surgery. If I went upstairs. We waited and waited. In order to stay warm, I’d put my jeans back on underneath my hospital gown like a three-year-old who wanted to wear pants and a twirly dress to school.

Two hours after we arrived, the surgical resident stood in the curtained-off area, peering at my CT scan on the film reader.

“I guess that’s an abscess,” he said. He was handsome: short, early thirties, with a shaved head and frameless glasses. He turned to me, taking in my gown-and-jeans ensemble, my arms crossed for warmth.

“You look too good to be here.” It sounded like a pick-up line, and I blushed. But it wasn’t flattery, it was doctor-speak. He meant: I’m not much older than you, but I’ve been through 4 years of medical school, and 6 years of residency, and now I’m the Chief Surgical Resident of a busy urban hospital and in my experience when someone needs surgery they look like they need it, if you know what I mean. You are too far from death’s door. You don’t even have a fever, for Pete’s sake.

It turned out that he was right to be skeptical. The Crohn’s was a misdiagnosis. The abscess wasn’t an abscess. It was a rare, benign tumor called a teratoma. It would take a new set of doctors to figure this out. A year and half after that ER visit, I’d have surgery to remove the teratoma, then another when it came back 5 years later. Now I’m one of over a million Americans with an ostomy (a gut-related and GUTS-related fact I also recently looked up).

This Friday the 13th of March, I have different plans for the evening. Wiley and I are hosting a table at “People Eating and Giving,” the annual fundraiser for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a writing center for kids. I recently joined the BFI board, and I am excited to be at the event in that role for the first time. The evening will mark another first: I’ll be wearing a dress for the first time since my colostomy surgery. As you can imagine, clothes shopping with a colostomy can be tricky (as I describe in this essay), and dresses particularly challenging to wear. Thanks to a recent purchase of a magical concealing undergarment, though, I can wear a dress without anyone noticing a plastic disk protruding from my mid-section. I never thought of putting on a dress as an act of triumph, but I bet that’s how I’ll feel.  Triumphant.  Liberated.  Maybe even fearless.


Some BFI regulars, being fearless

GUTS, Writing

The Next Big Thing: GUTS

Big thanks to Stephanie Barbe Hammer, author of THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR: A NOVEL IN STORIES, for tagging me in the Good Reads project, THE NEXT BIG THING.  Below is a first for me; a self-interview about my memoir.

What is the title or working title of your book?

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I used to be a teen services librarian, and, while in that job, I served on a committee that put together themed booklists for teens.  One year we did a themed list about illness, so I read a lot of books about illness, including memoirs.  It was a lot like when I was in high school, and got obsessed with books about the Vietnam War.  Only this time, I could do something other than get depressed.  I could write my own illness memoir, about my health problems related to a tumor I had on the outside of my intestine.  So that’s how the book started out.

And then one of my closest friends, Beth, died of cancer.  We had talked about writing a book together about our experiences of tumors, surgeries, trading roles of patient and caregiver.  But it was one of the many experiences I didn’t get to share with her.  Instead, I wrote about my experience of having her die, about her illness, my illness.

I started doing triathlons as a way to celebrate my health, and then as a way to honor Beth.  So it all came together: illness, health, loss, strength, friendship.  Swimming, biking, running.  Though illness is still a big part of the story, I don’t think the book belongs in the category of “illness memoir” anymore.

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