Sara Goff talks about weddings, charity and dance tryouts.
1. Tell us more about your novel, I Always Cry At Weddings.
I Always Cry At Weddings is about self-discovery and living for our dreams. Ava Larson has put her fiance’s life before her own for too long. She tries to be the Ava he wants her to be, then she tries a lot of different things to find the Ava she wants to be, from dying her hair to a major career change. Finding love for her goes hand-in-hand with self-discovery.
I wrote I Always Cry At Weddings for women who feel things may never look up, or think too much time has passed to pursue their dreams. Ava conquers her insecurities to go for her dream of becoming a professional dancer and through rejection and triumph finds unconditional love within her own heart and from a man whom she considers the ultimate leap of faith.
I believe there’s a plan for each of us, a plan that taps into our unique potential, even beyond what we think we can achieve . . . but that higher plan requires the courage to follow our heart.
2. Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?
Sixteen years ago, pre-kids, my husband Jonas and I were taking a break from Manhattan in the south of Thailand. We happened to see a sunset beach wedding with the bride in tears. “Some people always cry at weddings,” Jonas said, as if it were perfectly natural. I was curious. Was she having second thoughts, or so in love all she could do was cry? I’ll never know the answer, but that moment sparked the idea that became Ava’s story.
3. Do you have a favourite part or scene from I Always Cry At Weddings? Could you tell us why you love it?
The first line of I Always Cry At Wedding is “Ava stood on the steps of City Hall under a bright sun.”
Ava is about to be a witness at her friends’ City Hall wedding. She thinks they’re crazy and isn’t looking forward to it, but then is shocked when their no-frills, ten-minute ceremony is everything a wedding needs to be. Her friends are in love and the personal vows they exchange are sincere. It gets her thinking about her own wedding, a large, formal event, only a month away . . .
I have to tell you the inspiration for that scene. Sixteen years ago, I stood before the Justice of the Peace at City Hall in Manhattan with my fiancé, now husband, Jonas. His little brother Hans and our good friend Greta were our witnesses. No joke.
A year later, Jonas and I were married again, a church wedding in Sweden, where Jonas was born and raised. (The church dates back to the 1100’s!) We invited our families and a few close friends. It was another day full of sunshine and promise. The minister was warm and jovial, and we recited our favorite poems. My mother played the pipe organ, and Jonas’ mother prepared a five-star meal. It was perfect and intimate, but I have to say, I felt most connected with Jonas at our City Hall wedding. So I started writing with this thought in mind: If I had the choice between a big and glamorous wedding or a simple and sincere one, what would best set me up for a successful marriage?
4. Do you see yourself in any of the characters in your novel?
My life has followed a similar path as Ava’s. We both worked in New York’s fashion industry as a merchandiser and buyer. We both want to make a difference in the world, and dedicate ourselves to helping others through creative expression. And Ava and I both go for what we want in life, even if that means stepping outside our comfort zones.
In some scenarios, however, Ava is more reckless than I am. The red hair, for one! I pushed myself to try new experiences in order to understand Ava’s life. One example of this is the Rockettes scene. I didn’t feel I could write it without trying out for their teams. So that’s what I did, while taking notes. I didn’t make the cuts, but I learned the dance routine, and I felt what it was like to vie for one of their coveted spots.
In writing I Always Cry At Weddings, I had to ignore some of my own instincts and check in with Ava before making her decisions. I didn’t always agree with her, but I knew she’d figure it out in the end! 😉
5. Can you describe I Always Cry At Weddings in 3 adjectives?
Author Jill McCorkle called I Always Cry At Weddings funny, sad, and also a little scary. I like those simple adjectives, but in order to get there my characters had to be courageous, honest, and able to laugh at themselves. Oops, did I just use six adjectives?!
6. Have you ever been stuck while writing your book? How did you get over it?
Writing is a deep, all-consuming state of mind which I find soothing, whether I’m writing well that day or the paragraphs I’ll eventually cut. I usually can’t tell the difference between good and bad writing while I’m doing it. All I know, or rather all I have to believe, is that I’m making progress. There’s something very satisfying in that, like being pregnant and ticking off your trimesters. Progress. Anticipation.
Focusing on the rhythm words make adds another dimension to writing. Words and their tones set a mood and evoke emotions the same way music becomes a vehicle for reflection. Really, setting out to try and create something meaningful is all the motivation I need.
Now, when I’m falling asleep at my computer, after being up too late the night before watching a movie, the news, or working on my charity Lift the Lid, I turn to green tea, yoga breaths, and strong mints.
7. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
The question isn’t how I decided to become a writer, but when I stopped being afraid to write. In the fourth grade I wrote a very imaginative story, a brilliant story, I thought, until my teacher marked it down for being sloppy and hard to follow. She was right, but I was crushed.
Skip ahead to college. I majored in English Literature and History, instead of Writing, because I believed writers, even those just starting out, could write well. I knew I had a lot to learn about the craft, and that scared me. Fear kept me from trying.
My backdoor to writing was the Writing Center on campus, run by a woman named Betsy, who reminded me of Gloria Steinem. She hired me as a tutor, a paid position, and I spent three-and-a-half years working there part-time. Why I didn’t take this as affirmation is mind-boggling to me now, but at the time I mentally separated helping others to write from my own creative thinking.
As it turned out, the hours I put in at the Writing Center influenced my life more than any class I took. Now, many years later, while I make writing the focus of my charity, while I speak on writing and instruct writing workshops, and while I create characters and build storylines, I pull from that experience, from that once untapped source of confidence and believing in myself . . . and keep writing.
8. What is a great book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to others?
One fairly recent book I loved is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s a beautifully written and poignant World War II story that follows the lives of a talented young German boy and an inquisitive blind French girl. I still feel gripped by their experiences throughout the war. Having little time to read, I listen to books in the car while making school runs and driving around town. The audio version put me right in the action!
9. Tell us about your charity, Lift the Lid?
In the icy dark of winter, living in Sweden at the time on an island outside of Stockholm, I had a revelation: start a charity with the purpose of having a long-term, meaningful impact on the education of children living in poverty. And, how better to do this than through creative writing and self-expression! Winters are dark in Sweden almost 24-7. That moment the sun came out in my life. I started to research how to set up a nonprofit and never looked back.
Lift the Lid, Inc. was born in 2010. As a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we’ve raised nearly $80,000 for the four schools we sponsor, and we’ve published over 150 students’ poems and personal essays on our website. Some of our projects include: building classrooms, helping to start in-school sustainable businesses, such as farming and a tailor shop, initiating and sustaining a school lunch program, providing menstrual cups, establishing a band with music lessons, implementing educational tablets with training, and supplying uniforms, shoes, books, paper and pencils. We also hold an annual writing competition at our three schools in Kenya. This year’s goals include helping to build a science lab for Lenana Girls’ High School in Kitale, Kenya and a library for Mogonjet Secondary School in Kericho, Kenya.
For every donation of $20 or more, a student writes a poem or personal essay, which is scanned and published on our website at http://www.lift-the-lid.org. The students feel proud to see their work published, and when a donor leaves an encouraging comment, they feel even more connected to the world and motivated to work harder. Reading their essays, I feel the same way: proud, connected, and motivated to work harder for them.
10. What are you working on next?
I have a second novel underway, something of a sequel to I Always Cry At Weddings, only a new phase of life for Ava and a new set of challenges. I’ll leave the rest a secret for now.
Ava is ready to set Manhattan abuzz with her wedding. At least until she realizes her fiance wants marriage for the wrong reasons, and maybe she does, too. In a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable – she calls it off, taking on more debt than she can afford and returning to the single life.
When Ava loses her job in fashion and her mom succumbs to cancer, she decides to revamp her life entirely, taking a vow of chastity and going for her dream of becoming a professional dancer.
Change brings trial and error, and she’s inching closer to financial ruin, but an undercover cop promises a new romance … and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy beneath her stoop brightens her days.
When her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live and what in the world love – unconditional love – means.
Author Sara Goff spent seven years as a New York City fashion designer and merchandiser before leaving her career to make a difference in the world. She founded the global educational charity Lift the Lid, Inc. in 2010, which supports underprivileged schools and encourages young people to exercise their creative expression through writing. She’s currently Chair of the Literary Committee at The National Arts Club in Manhattan and is a public speaker on such topics as volunteer work and finding purpose in life, and the writing process and the power of the written word. After seven years living in Stockholm, Sweden and then London, England, Sara is back in the States, enjoying life in Connecticut, with her Swedish husband, their two sons, and sweet little girl…a Yorkie named Pia. Her first novel, I Always Cry at Weddings (WhiteFire Publishing), is a New York City tale about figuring out life and finding love.