Guest Post: Sarah Foil on Why She Writes

One of the biggest things from my childhood that contributed to me becoming a writer was the fact that parents read to me every night before bed. It started as a tradition when we were too young to read for ourselves, to help me and my brothers fall asleep as many parents do. But we continued on every night long after we were able to read on our own. My dad was usually the reader and he loved doing it.

He grew up in theater so he didn’t just read books. He put on a performance. When he read us Harry Potter, each character had their own voice, accent and mannerisms. It was a one man show and when the movies came out, his version of Hagrid was a mirror image of Robert Coltrane’s performance. Our family life wasn’t perfect, but we had this 30-minute ritual every evening where we came together and enjoyed a new world together. While this alone inspired an interest in books and a love of reading, it wasn’t until one evening that my dad read Where The Red Fern Grows to me that I realized the power of good writing. I’d been assigned Where The Red Fern Grows by my third-grade teacher for a book project. Every evening my dad would read a section to me. Together we met Billy Collman, and we experienced the trials of his attempt to raise money. We celebrated when he finally bought his hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. We held our breath as they competed in their first hunting competition and won. Finally, we came to the climax of the novel. A mountain lion kills Old Dan, leaving both Billy and Lil Ann heart broken. While Billy tries to carry on with his life, Lil Ann refuses to eat and withers away.

Here, my dad pauses. His face turns red and his lips pull thin. He tries to continue on, reading about the burial of Lil Ann, but his voice breaks and his Adam’s apple bobs. His eyes well over and he begins to sob, sitting on the corner of my bed, holding my third-grade project in his hands. Meanwhile, I sit under my pink duvet, holding a teddy bear to my chest and watching with confusion and fascination. Sure, I was upset about the dogs, but I was nine years old. I was expected to cry over dogs and children’s books. My dad was 40, smoked and drank beer. He watched football and mowed the lawn. He didn’t cry, ever. Now he was breaking down because a fictional dog died. I couldn’t believe it. With the right words, somehow Wilson Rawles made my dad have a physical reaction. Is that what books were really about? It isn’t just about wizards and magic and dragons. Those things are fun and I still read about wizards and magic and dragons every day, but books could be so much more. This was the power of an author, to push people past their comfort zones, to make them feel. To make people cry over characters who at one time only existed in their mind. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books that made people feel. That exposed people to new things. That made grown men cry. Everytime I doubt myself or wonder why I’m torturing myself to finish a novel that may never amount to anything, I remember Billy, Old Dan, Lil Ann and my dad crying at my bedside.

About Sarah

Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact.

Writing Prompt: Thanksgiving

Write a scene in which your favorite literary character joins your family or friends for Thanksgiving, and create some tension. You have up to 1,000 words. Have fun!

3 Characters Who Beat All the Odds

What is it about an underdog or a character that’s fighting against the odds that inspires us? Is it the fact that we, as readers, can relate to them because we feel like, in a similar situation, we would have the same misfortunes? Or is it their spirit? I think it’s a little bit of both. That’s why this week’s mini-listicle is all about characters who beat the odds.

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Aliena of Shiring, Pillars of the Earth

Aliena is one of my favorite characters of all time because she is completely torn down–socially, politically, economically, physically, and emotionally–yet she manages to rise above. She does this by working within–and breaking–the confines of her world. Author Ken Follet did a fantastic job of balancing her missteps and victories in Pillars of the Earth.

Jo March, Little Women

Jo is one of my all-time favorite characters because she is so ahead of her time. Yet, she is frustrated at so many turns by the limitations placed upon women in the mid-nineteenth century. All the same, she finds her way–despite a stubborn streak–to realize her unconventional goals. Author Louisa May Alcott beautifully writes Jo as a relatable character who leaps off the pages of Little Women.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

To me, Katniss’s draw isn’t that she can fire a bow with near-perfect accuracy. It’s not her Robin Hood attitude. It’s the way she changes throughout the course of the Hunger Games. It’s the way she adapts in order to preserve both hers and Peeta’s lives. I won’t get into the third book, where she hides in a cupboard for most of the first half, but aside from that, Katniss’s strength comes from the fierce love she bears those select few with whom she’s close. Author Suzanne Collins brought to life one of humanity’s greatest capabilities in Katniss.

Who would you add to this list?

Who are your favorite underdog characters, and why? You might notice that all three of mine are female. That’s not to say male characters cannot fit this role; only that my favorites happen to be female.