Courtney Summers writes gripping stories that tend to stick with you long after the last page is closed. When I listened to her speak at YALLfest in 2016, her commitment to give girls a strong voice really stuck out to me. When I had the opportunity to participate in this blog tour with Wednesday Books, I jumped at the chance to talk more with Courtney Summers about her latest book, Sadie. I’ll introduce the book and then move straight into what I learned from the author.
About Sadie by Courtney Summers
Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.
But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.
When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.
Q&A with Courtney Summers
Do you have a favorite scene, quote, or moment from Sadie?
My favorite scene is a spoiler, but my favorite quote is this: “I wish this was a love story.”
What gave you the idea for Sadie?
One of the things that inspired Sadie was the way we consume violence against women and girls as a form of entertainment. When we do that, we reduce its victims to objects, which suggests a level of disposability–that a girl’s pain is only valuable to us if we’re being entertained by it. What is our responsibility to us? I really wanted to explore that and the way we dismiss missing girls and what the cost of that ultimately is.
Can you talk a little bit about how you created the setting for Sadie?
Sadie is set in various fictional towns and cities across the state of Colorado and Sadie, as a character herself, was integral in creating those places. I had to make sure to put her in environments she could not only respond to, but would reveal her headspace and past to the reader.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
When I first started Sadie, I was extremely skeptical of West– he had to prove himself to readers over the course of his narrative and given the nature of his job, I was curious to see where writing him would take me. I really loved the way his arc unfolded. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by it, but more gratified by it than I realized I would be.
What was the hardest part of the story to write?
There wasn’t a particular part that was harder to write than any others—writing a book like Sadie requires occupying a dark emotional headspace all the way through, so it was all a bit tough to write in that sense.
Sadie is told through two points of view: Sadie, as she looks for her sister, and West’s podcasts as he follows her story. Did you experience more difficulty writing one or the other, or did you like writing in one form more? How much of the novel did you write in chronological order, and how much did you jump around?
I enjoyed both of them. Writing Sadie’s perspective was very familiar to me because all of my books feature an intensely close first person, female point-of-view. Writing West’s perspective, the podcast format, proved a little more challenging. Not so much because of the way it was written (scripts) but because each episode had to propel Sadie’s narrative forward and give us a different way of looking at the things she went through.
So far, I’ve only ever been able to write in chronological order!
Was this how you always envisioned the book or did it change as you wrote it?
Regina Spektor said something really interesting about writing songs that I’ve always loved and related to as an author. She said, “[A]s soon as you try and take a song from your mind into piano and voice and into the real world, something gets lost and it’s like a moment where, in that moment, you forget how it was and it’s this new way. And then when you make a record, even those ideas that you had, then those get all turned around and changed. So in the end, I think, it just becomes its own thing and really I think a song could be recorded a million different ways and so what my records are, it just happened like that, but it’s not like, this is how I planned it from the very beginning because I have no idea, I can’t remember.”
I feel something similar when writing– the heart of my idea remains intact, but the way it takes its ultimate form is always a little different (or even a lot different) than I might have been expecting, which makes it difficult to recall the starting point. But that’s okay as long as the heart is still there and you’re satisfied with and believe in what you’ve created.