Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Sarah Stewart Taylor--Be Fearless

DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the perks of being an author is getting to read advance copies of upcoming books. Another is following the careers of other authors who have become friends. Such is the case today, with the publication of Sarah Stewart Taylor's THE MOUNTAINS WILD. I loved Sarah's Sweeney St. George books, and missed her writing in the years she was doing other things. So I'm thrilled to bring you Sarah today, with a wonderful new novel, THE MOUNTAINS WILD.


Twenty-three years ago, Maggie D'arcy's family received a call from the Dublin police. Her cousin Erin has been missing for several days. Maggie herself spent weeks in Ireland, trying to track Erin's movements, working beside the police. But it was to no avail: no trace of her was ever found.

The experience inspired Maggie to become a cop. Now, back on Long Island, more than 20 years have passed. Maggie is a detective and a divorced mother of a teenager. When the GardaĆ­ call to say that Erin's scarf has been found and another young woman has gone missing, Maggie returns to Ireland, awakening all the complicated feelings from the first trip. The despair and frustration of not knowing what happened to Erin. Her attraction to Erin's coworker, now a professor, who never fully explained their relationship. And her determination to solve the case, once and for all.
  
Here's what I said about it: 
"With its evocative Dublin setting, lyrical prose, tough but sympathetic heroine, and a killer twist in the plot, Sarah Stewart Taylor's The Mountains Wild should top everyone's must-read lists this year!" ― New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie

Julia liked it, too:

"Lyrical, moody, THE MOUNTAINS WILD unfolds like an Irish ballad, at turns stirring, tender and tragic. Sarah Stewart Taylor has written a book as much about the mysteries of the human heart as the questions surrounding the long-missing woman at the silent center of the tale. A triumphant return to the genre." ― New York Times bestselling author Julia Spencer Fleming

So this one comes highly recommended indeed! Here's Sarah to share her inspiration--



BE FEARLESS

I am not a slogan-y sort of person. I have never made an inspirational collage. I don’t have any “Success” posters hanging in my writing room. I am generally of the mind that a single motivational sentence or word could never contain enough nuance to be actually useful.  

And yet, a few years ago, when I embarked on a writing project that would become my new mystery novel, THE MOUNTAINS WILD, I found myself turning over and over again to two short sentences: Do Your Work. Be Fearless. Finally, I typed them up and pinned them above my desk. 

I needed a bit of fearlessness. The heart of the novel -- about a Long island homicide detective named Maggie D’arcy who returns to Ireland twenty three years after she first went there looking for her beloved cousin Erin -- had been lodged in my head since the night in 1993 that I drove with a group of friends up into the mountains outside Dublin, Ireland, and someone said to me, “This is where the American woman disappeared. She was from Long Island, like you.” 

Over the next six years, a string of disappearances in and around those mountains would baffle Irish investigators. Most of the disappearances -- including that of the young American woman from Long Island who, like me, had recently moved to Ireland  -- were never solved. During the years I lived in Ireland, I traveled all over the country, visiting many of the places near Dublin and Wicklow where the women had lived or gone missing. It wasn’t until I returned home to the States though that, thanks to the advent of online news, I learned about all of the cases. I started writing crime novels set in New England, and then I had three babies in five years and for a while, I didn’t write much of anything. I could chase a toddler across a busy road while eight months pregnant and with another toddler strapped to my body and go three weeks in a row without sleeping more than two hours at a stretch, but could I still construct a mystery plot? I wasn’t sure. I was afraid I’d never be able to do it again. When I started finding the time to tell stories again, I wrote kids’ adventure novels and the Irish cases receded in my mind, but never went away.

And then a few years ago, a plot began to crystalize. I started to think about the families of crime victims, in particular the families of crime victims who have disappeared, of whom no trace is ever found. I wondered what choices those family members might make, how it might affect their choice of careers, their relationships, the rest of their lives. I thought about the ripple effects of disappearances, of how everyone in the victim’s orbit is changed. 

Glendalough Valley

I was afraid to write the book though. A story inspired by those disappearances in Ireland somehow felt like it wasn’t mine to tell. Ireland was my favorite place in the world. The years I spent there, working and going to graduate school, were among the happiest of my life. I became myself there. I felt funny writing about something terrible happening there. I didn’t feel confident even trying until I sat down with an Irish friend in a pub in Dublin and told her my idea. You have to write it!” she exclaimed. 

 I started to do my work. I started traveling back to Ireland as much as I could to research locations, reconnecting with old and new friends and revisiting places that had been important to me. I interviewed experts and read accounts of the cases written by former investigators. I tried to figure out how to write the book. Irish crime writers I admire had written some terrific novels inspired by the disappearances and I knew I didn’t want to attempt to write the novel from the point of view of the Irish investigators or families. I decided to write it from the point of view of an American in Ireland. I wanted to capture the feeling of being a foreigner in a country you may think you understand, but really don’t. I wanted to capture the excitement and intense focus of getting to know a new place, the sense of everything being just slightly different: the words for things, the electrical outlets, the understanding of historical events and social dynamics. And I settled on the first person, present tense, because I wanted to narrow my character’s viewpoint to her own limited knowledge, to show her experiencing Ireland moment by moment, rather than thinking she -- or I -- had anything like a bird’s eye view. 

Glendalough Valley Boardwalk

My main character, Maggie D’arcy, appeared in my head one day. She would have grown up in an Irish American enclave on Long Island, she would have a complicated relationship with her missing cousin. She would go to look for her and be surprised by what she learned of Erin’s life. She would fall in love with Dublin, and with one of the men in Erin’s life there. She would realize how little she actually understood about Irish history and politics. Despite some promising leads, she would fail to find any trace of Erin, but she would become a homicide detective and years later, when new evidence was found and a new woman had gone missing, she would have to return to Ireland to face the man she’d loved for all those years and to try and solve the case once and for all. 

I’d done my work, but I was still terrified. I’d been out of the mystery community and that part of the publishing world for so long. Could I even do this? Would anyone want to read what I had to write? Doubt swamped me. 

And that’s when that phrase came to me. Do Your Work. Be Fearless. There was something about those words that centered me, that showed me the way. Put your head down. Do the work. Then put it out there, knowing that a book is always a risk, that not everyone is going to like it. Staying in Maggie’s head helped me. What was she experiencing? What was she missing? Where had she misunderstood? Maggie, it turned out, needed a dose of bravery too. 

THE MOUNTAINS WILD comes out today. My husband and my kids, now 15, 11 and 10, are helping me celebrate. I have been welcomed back so warmly -- as you can see from the quotes from both Julia and Debs on the cover of my book -- and I am so excited for the day that I get to see everyone in person once again. 

When have you had to talk yourself into being fearless? What resulted? And what slogans or phrases have been meaningful to you at various points in your life? 

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

DEBS: I love Sarah's questions! Stop in to chat and chime in!

73 comments:

  1. Congratulations and Happy Book Birthday, Sarah! Your story sounds quite intriguing and I’m looking forward to finding out how Maggie makes out when she returns to Ireland.

    Meaningful slogans:
    Always be kind.
    Have courage.
    I’m afraid I’ve not had much luck talking myself into being fearless, but occasionally I manage to work up the courage to try some of those difficult things . . . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. I enjoyed this book as well. So happy to have you writing mysteries again. (Although if the kids' adventure novels were published, I'd love to hear more about them.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Mark! Hint, I wrote the kids' books as S. S. Taylor ;)

      Delete
  3. Congratulations on your new book, Sarah. It's such a fascinating story and a setting I enjoy reading about. In fact, I just ordered The Mountains Wild before coming over here to Jungle Reds. I have seen lots of positive feedback on the novel, and I can't wait to read it.

    I think the slogan that has helped me most through tough times is "put one foot in front of the other," as an encouragement to just take one step and then another to get through something. I posted a cartoon on FB the other day that shows a boy and a horse in the woods, and they have the following conversation. Boy: I can't see a way through. Horse: Can you see your next step? Boy: Yes. Horse: Just take that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congratulations, Sarah on the release of The Mountains Wild! The anticipated hype is well-deserved.

    I enjoyed reading an ARC of The Mountains Wild too and welcome your return back to the mystery fiction community. I also loved the Sweeney St. George mystery series.

    In these COVID-19 times, the slogan "Alone but not lonely" really resonates now with me now.

    And as I mentioned in BOLO books, I saw Sarah's interview last week with Brian P. c/o Minotaur. The opening cameo with Spot the lamb was hilarious, and I love the packed bookcases in the background!
    The Youtube link is here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmLjCw0X2Rg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Grace! My husband has brownie points forever and ever for being willing to be my sheep wrangler and bringing a lamb into the house for fifteen minutes of sheepy fame.

      Delete
    2. It was worth it, Sarah. A most memorable interview opening!

      Delete
    3. Thanks for this, Grace! I can't wait to watch it!

      Delete
  5. Wow. Congratulations on making it back, Sarah The story sounds fascinating. Am off to order it!

    I didn't start writing fiction until I had two little boys in elementary school, but I slowed it way down until they were in college or later, so bravo to you for bookending your kids' younger years with writing.

    My college roommate's mother used to say, "Live so you won't have regrets." I've always liked that, and it goes hand in hand with carpe diem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's a good one. Someone once told me that, when you're faced with a decision about something, try to figure out which of the choices for action will leave you with the fewest regrets. I think that works.

      Delete
  6. Happy book birthday! The slogan that's helped me, trite but true, is "Love is Patient"
    To chime in along with everyone else this book IS WONDERFUL!! Read it without delay

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Robin. Your words have meant so much. I had a parenting moment yesterday where "Love is patient" would have come in handy . . .

      Delete
    2. Robin, you did a great interview with Sarah. Could you share the link?

      Delete
  7. Welcome back Sarah, we missed you! I will head to the bookstore today...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I've missed this wonderful community. It's really good to be back.

      Delete
  8. Happy book birthday Sarah. It is a good thing that you were fearless .
    With my love of Ireland and recommandations from the Reds, I'll download The Mountains Wild.
    When I am afraid of something, I repeat to myself this sentence : Fear makes our ennemies more frightening than they actually are.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've been a fan of Sarah's since the Sweeney St. George series - so happy to see you here, Sarah!

    I think writing was something I had to talk myself into being fearless about. It helps when you have wonderful friend/writers who can read your fearlessly written stuff and pull you back from the abyss.

    On slogans? Expect the worst: then you'll never be disappointed. I know, I sound like Eeyore. But it's gotten me through quite a few rough patches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Hallie. Yeah, I think adjusting expectations is really important for happiness. It took me a long time to learn how to (mostly) set aside my ideas of how things should or might be and try to experience them as they are. Not easy . . .

      Delete
  10. Congratulations on your new release! I'm looking forward to revisiting Ireland in your book.

    Fearless? I'll be pitching my debut at Killer Nashville this year. I ordered chic face masks for an extra boost of self-confidence.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I look forward to getting my hands on this book just as fast as I can. Congratulations, Sarah!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sarah, congratulations! With all the Reds' writers and readers chiming in, I know what book is going on top of my TBR pile. And I love the Irish setting--if a young woman hadn't sailed from Dublin to Virginia in 1766, I wouldn't be here today. Thanks also for sharing how it felt to step back into writing--and the lamb earns lots of bonus points here, too!! :-)

    I have two mantras that keep me going: 'Just do it, step off into the abyss!' It hasn't killed me yet to do so. And 'Blue Sky' for when things are toughest--a Buddhist-inspired phrase to remind me that no matter how many clouds pile up over my head, above them all is the blue sky.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Congratulations on the book, Sarah! It sounds fabulous.

    I feel a little fearless every time I send in a manuscript because...maybe this is the one they hate, you know?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good Morning Sarah, glad you are publishing again. I just requested your book, the outsider who thinks she knows, but really doesn't know sold me. My slogans? "In five years will it matter?" that helped me get past hurt feelings. Now I use some 12th Century "Fierce Mantras From Tibetan philosophy. They are: What ever happens, let it happen, 2.What ever the situation is, it is fine 3. I don't need anything what so ever (except ___) I say faith, y'all can fill in the blank.

    Happy book birthday! Sheep?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Congratulations on your book birthday, Sarah. I'm new to your books but I'm going to begin with The Mountains Wild because it is so highly recommended by this incredible community of writers and readers. I'll explore the kids' lit too, because I've a grandson who might just be the right age to begin reading your adventure books.
    My inspirational slogan is not about fear, it is about an approach to life. Emerson: "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." It's probably my mantra even if I'm going to the post office.
    Congratulations again on your new book.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Welcome back to the world of mystery, Sarah! You personify the idea of "Hold your nose and just jump".

    Three times in my life I can remember being on the edge of a terrifying leap of faith moment, and the rewards of closing my eyes and going for it were surprisingly great. Of course once you've jumped there's no turning back, and the bigger the cliff the more true that is. The bigger the risk, the greater for a potential reward.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Congratulations on your new release! I am intrigued! (heading to the bookstore)
    My mantras of the past several months - "All shall be well" and "trust the journey"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karen, your comment made me think of a carved bench I saw in Ireland a few years ago. I don't think I can post a pic. here, but it said "The trail is beautiful. Be Still."

      Delete
  19. Congratulations! Two of my favorite artists have never steered me wrong before so I am definitely in! Sounds like a great book, just my kind.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Congratulations on getting back in the game, and for successfully raising those three children! The book sounds great.

    As for me, I'm big on "Be here now," when everything seems to be falling apart. It's usually not. I'm just feeling overwhelmed by what I THINK might happen. But right in the immediate moment, none of that stuff is happening and, if I take it moment by moment, chances are it won't. So, deep breath. Be here now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that one, Gigi. I'll try to remember it!

      Delete
  21. Sarah, thanks so much for being here! I wonder if you could tell us a bit about what's next for Maggie. Will she go back to Ireland? And sheep farming! What's up with that?

    There have been several times in my life when I needed "Be Fearless," one biggest was starting that first novel. Now my daily mantra is Nora Robert's "Bad pages are better than NO pages." :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I like "You can't edit what you haven't written!" I am working on Maggie's next adventure right now. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that she's grappling with the events of The Mountains Wild and I'm really having fun showing her in her element in this book, as a skilled, compassionate, tough detective. Anything more might be a spoiler ; )

      Delete
  22. Sarah, welcome back to the mystery community! We met ages ago when I wasn't yet published and was a volunteer at the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA. I was such a fan of your earlier series. Those books still sit on my shelf of "favorite mysteries." I can't wait to get my hands on this new one. It sounds incredible!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Annette, it's really good. As you can tell by the fact Debs and I both used the term "lyrical," Sarah's writing, especially about the sights and smells and sounds of Ireland, is beautiful.

      Delete
  23. Sarah, welcome to JRW and Happy Book Publication Day! I love that part of your story is set in Ireland. I am always looking for stories set abroad. If you stop and think about what you take for granted, these kind of things are what a FEW people think DEAF people cannot do. The first 1/4 of my life was spent as a person with profound hearing loss (now the cochlear implants help!). Before I got my Cochlear Implants, I did things that you and millions of other people take for granted. I remember being told that I am fearless and brave. My thinking is WHY Not?

    Just because I have a missing sense (auditory ears not working), Why cannot I be independent? Often I am the Only Deaf person that Hearing people have met! The most famous Deaf person was also Blind - Helen Keller. Some people may know about the Deaf actress from Sesame Street or the Deaf actress who won an Oscar in 1987.

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marlee Matlin! I saw "Children of a Lesser God" on Broadway the summer of '81, when I was working as an Actor's Equity apprentice in New Jersey (another fearless young woman thing.) Without unearthing the Playbill - somewhere up in my attic - I can't recall if the lead was Phyllis Frelich or one of her successors, but all the actresses in the starring role were Deaf.

      It was my first view of ASL, and that performance was where I learned how to applaud for Deaf performers!

      Delete
    2. Yes! Phyllis Frelich won a Tony for her role in Children of A Lesser God on Broadway many years ago. I am sorry to say that Phyllis Frelich died a few years ago (too young). It was a shock! The understudy for the film role, Brandi Rarus, just published a memoir about adopting a Deaf child. Regarding Marlee Matlin, she ALWAYS has a Sign Language interpreter. Most of the time when I venture out, I do NOT have a translator, which is probably why some people thought I am fearless. LOL.

      Delete
    3. I remember Marlee Matlin's performance too! I remember seeing a story about a neighborhood where all the neighbors learned ASL so that a man in the neighborhood could have the experience of not having to translate. I loved that!

      Delete
    4. Julia and Sarah, this is probably the only time you have known or met a Deaf person. Often if you met a deaf person, you would find out the person is deaf when you hear that person's voice (it sounds like an accent). Think about the times you thought someone was ignoring you. What if that person was Not ignoring you? I learned a valuable lesson when someone thought I was ignoring that person. Not a happy experience. After that incident, I always looked around me and often people talk to me. Most of the time I can understand what the person says because most people say the same things "How are you?"

      Delete
  24. I think know what I'm looking for this weekend. Copperfields here I come!

    Talked myself into being fearless? Twice. Once when I left for college and obtaining the degree I wasn't supposed to be smart enough for and the second time was last October when this non-joiner attend Bouchercon. When someone asked me why, someone who knows me and introverted personality well, my answer was "Why not?" Yes, it's a little immature but I never go anywhere or spend any money because I'm always afraid of losing my job and not having that money when I need it. So, yes, "Why not?" was the appropriate answer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deana, I've come to think there are two times in our lives when we can really say, "Why not?": when we're young (and too inexperienced to worry) and when we're older (and have already been there and done that.) The difference is, you have to talk yourself into it when you're older...

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Deana! "Why not" is a good way to approach things!

      Delete
  25. I'm so happy to be introduced to you, Sarah, and to your character, Maggie. I've definitely going to be tracking down your book. It sounds like a must-read.

    As for words that inspire me, I have many that I've collaged into posters or bookmarks to keep me on track. One phrase that is meaningful for me these days is: "Be here and also look ahead." I'm keen to move into the next chapter of my life (post full-time work), but I'm not there yet, so I have to keep my focus on today even while I'm looking ahead to tomorrow (beyond next year, actually). I find it helpful to encapsulate inspiration in a few words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amanda that sounds lie something I've been working on. I'm trying to get better at setting goals and schedules and planning ahead, but at the same time, I'm trying to stay grounded and in the moment (or at least in the day.) It's a hard line to parse for me.

      Delete
    2. Yes, it's a hard line, indeed, Julia; I agree. But the words remind me to plunk my feet (literally) firmly down on the ground beneath me and to write something forward looking in my daily log, and between those two actions/activities, I pull myself together and get on with the things in front of me.

      Delete
  26. Happy book birthday! I’ve ordered it on my Kindle and moved it to the top of the virtual pile.

    My mantra?
    1. Show up
    2. Be on time
    3. Pay attention
    4. Don’t get attached to the outcome.
    This works for me

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those are excellent points to keep in front of you, Ann.

      Delete
    2. Ann: I particularly like the first point: Show up. That is more than half the challenge.

      Delete
    3. Finta, I am a fan of "Be on time." I have a number of, ahem, punctuality-challenged people in my orbit but I like to get there at the appointed hour.

      Delete
    4. Sarah, I’ve started your book this afternoon!

      Delete
  27. This sounds wonderful, and I have a special soft spot for books set in Ireland anyway, so I think part of the Amazon gift card I got for Mother's Day is about to be spent!

    I sometimes feel like a faint shadow of the fearless young woman I used to be. I probably need to reclaim some of my fearlessness. But a slogan that does serve me surprisingly often these days is from the Disney movie Finding Nemo. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." For me, it just means keep putting one foot in front of the other. Take care of the task at hand. Don't think about the rest. I say it to myself fairly often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we're all feeling that way these days,Susan.

      One of the things I liked about THE MOUNTAINS WILD was Sarah's perfect evocation of what it's like to be that fearless young woman living abroad, willing to try almost anything and getting to know and love another culture. One of the most significant times in my life was when I went to school in London for my year abroad, and it was wonderful getting to step into those shoes again with Maggie.

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Julia. It was really satisfying to revisit that period of my life through the writing of this book. It was so rich and full of change and growth!

      Delete
    3. The period, I mean. I just realized it sounds like I'm praising my own book! : )

      Delete
  28. Hi Sarah! The Mountains Wild sounds amazing. I don't really have words of inspiration I repeat to myself. "Just keep swimming" from Finding Nemo is usually apropos. I've been known to say "tomorrow's another day" usually with a "well, hell" preceding it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pat, you and Susan (just above) have the same mantra! Helps explain why Finding Nemo is still such a beloved film, doesn't it?

      Delete
  29. Oh, SO late today--and SO behind on writing. But this is such a gorgeous respite--thank you! And I have been hearing about this book everywhere--congratulations!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Hank! Eagerly waiting you August book!

      Delete