Forever Dead or How Sara Dobie Bauer Blew My Mind

For the past few years, I have had the pleasure of working with Sara Dobie Bauer.  She’s exactly the type of writer every reader wants to fall in love with: her stories are erotic, romantic, clever, heavy on characters to drool over, and deft with plot twists, plus she’s adorable (is it appropriate to say she’s hot as hell?), slightly wacky, and energetic (every time I blink, she has something new!).  Exactly the kind of gal with whom you’d like to stay up all night talking and drinking.  Who wouldn’t want to obsess over her work and say proudly “I was on that ride just as it left the station!”

Her most recent work is “Forever Dead” which lands on Amazon this week.  Not only is the story one of her best–witty, intriguing, erotic (there’s that word again!), and smart, but the cover art is also worth showcasing on your bookshelf.

After reading so much of Sara Dobie Bauer’s work, I collected my thoughts and launched a slew of questions her way, and her answers sort of blew my mind.  Check them out, and then swing on by Amazon and pick up her latest book.  Trust me, you’ll be as hooked as I am.

Forever Dead Amazon:

sara-dobie-bauer Forever-Dead

So Sara…….

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Depressive writer with anxiety disorder who enjoys horror films and scotch.

Ohio University creative writing honors graduate (which means my college experience was more fun than yours).

Book-aholic. Obsessive wordsmith.

Sufferer of wonderfully elaborate and detailed nightmares.

Prison volunteer.

Gay rights advocate.

Die-hard Benedict Cumberbatch fan.

Wife of Jacob and mother of two dogs.

Midwesterner who still doesn’t fully understand how to survive in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona.

Tell us about some of your books and short stories.

Can’t tell you everything because it would take years, but my favorites? “Don’t Ball the Boss” was published by Stoneslide Corrective and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. It’s about a gay personal assistant who falls in lust with his boss (based quite obviously on Benedict Cumberbatch). Also finished writing the novel Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary this year about an awkward newbie vampire chick who falls in love with the smell of her adorable neighbor. Currently agent-shopping.

If you want to use links:

How long have you been writing?

Since elementary school. My dad was really into true crime, so I read all about John Douglas, the guy who pioneered psychological profiling for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. (Yes, I might have been too young to read these books, but hey, I turned out okay. Sort of.) I remember writing extensive psychological profiles of characters in my short stories in junior high. I wrote my first novel as a freshman in high school. I was either a creative prodigy or a complete psychopath.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Being a writer sucks, but if you’re born a writer, don’t fight it. Write and write and write. And READ. Stephen King said, “If you want to become a better writer, you must first become a better reader.” Never a truer sentence uttered. And grow some thick skin. This career kills people.

Do you have a writing ritual, like a place where you write or a warm-up you do?

Nope. Stories come to me in flashes. I can be anywhere: the gym, the grocery store, in a movie theater. Images appear to me like flashing lights, and I have to write them down. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. They pour like blood from the vein. Sometimes I feel like leeches are literally stuck to my skin.

Do you belong to a writing group and do you find them valuable?

I do, and yes, very valuable. However, thick skin is key. If you join a writers’ group, you’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear. You’re going to be attacked and not always because of your work. As human beings, we carry baggage, and certain topics make that baggage spew forth. I once utilized a stereotype in a short story. I created a young woman who was overweight, insecure, and played video games. I got skewered by my group to the point of having to finally shout, “ENOUGH! We’re not talking about this anymore.” Have a thick skin. Be willing to listen. Take some advice; discard the rest. Other people are not always right. Figuring out who is right is part of the critique process.

What is your writing process like from idea to final draft?

Ha. I wish I could tell you. More often than not, I have no idea where the story is going. I don’t outline. I do stick to my junior high habit of profiling my characters pre-draft. Other than that, I write and I write, and I let the characters take me where they need to go. Writers might be punching the computer keys, but we have no power over what our characters are going to do. If you’ve written someone strong, your characters will steal your thunder and boss you around. Don’t be afraid. That’s a good thing. Plot is the last thing that should be on your mind during a first draft. Character, character, character! I’ve even had moments where I thought I knew what the end of a story would be, and the damn character changed his or her mind. Ride the wave. If you try to control your characters, the story will suck.

This one is for the peanut gallery: where do you get your ideas?

I would say everywhere, but that’s a bullshit answer. One of the best places to get an idea? Music. I’m a Pandora fan, and my stations range from Frank Sinatra to Meg Myers to Imelda May to Fiona Apple to … I could go on forever. Certain songs trigger an emotion in me, and then, an image builds. Grows. Expands. I’d say music is my biggest inspiration but so are my dreams. Half my stories are based on dreams that wake me in the night. It’s why I keep a pad of paper by my bed at all times. My husband just loves when the lights go on at 3 AM. Really.

Did you begin your writing career as a result of a single formative event?

I tried to fight the writer in me. Hard. Post-college (where I earned a creative writing degree), I was a bartender. I was a really good bartender, because I’m a Grade-A flirt. Then, I worked in public relations. I went years without writing a solid story. But there was always an itch in the back of my brain to write. And then, I did. I wrote a novel at twenty-five (my fifth by then; I keep my first four manuscripts in a locked box in my house). I quit my job as a publicist and have been writing professionally ever since. A single event? No. A creeping knowledge that writing was my life purpose? Always.

Whose work would you like to be on the bookshelf beside?

Christopher Moore. Nuff said.

What do you read?

EVERYTHING. I read 66 books last year, and I hope to break that record in 2015. I’m drawn to dark stuff: Neil Gaiman, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, and Christopher Rice. But like everything else in life, I’ll try anything twice.

What attracts you to one book and not another?

As a professional book reviewer, I know the drill. A good cover. A story I’ve never heard. I like to skim the opening pages. If the writing blows, the book ends up in the donation pile. If you can’t hook me in twenty pages, you’ve failed.

What book are you an evangelist for?

I’m honestly unable to choose one, so:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (The truth about censorship.)

Music for Torching by AM Homes (The truth about marriage.)

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (The truth about being a woman.)

The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman (The truth about being mad.)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (The truth about the fearful future.)

What book, if you could read it again for the first time, would you read?

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I was a depressive, drug-abusing cutter as a teen. I also loved Rocky Horror Picture Show (still do). In high school, I had yet to define my sexuality. This book speaks to all the troubled, lost teens out there, but it speaks to adults, also, reminding us of the bravery it takes to truly be yourself and embrace every moment.

What are you currently reading?

At the Sign of the Naked Waiter by Amy Herrick

Who is your favorite literary character?

I’m sorry to plug myself, but my favorite literary character right now is Ian Hasselback from my as yet unpublished novel, Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary. Ian is a sexy ex-surfer who is totally okay with his girlfriend being a vampire. He basically floats through life on a wave of joy, and I wish I was more like him: more happy-go-lucky, more innocent, more compassionate. He thinks it’s weird if someone doesn’t like cheese. It is weird if someone doesn’t like cheese.

Again, feel free to link:

If you were a literary character who would you be and why?

Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series. She’s a witch, which means she has awesome powers. (I would really like to ride a broomstick.) She has a perpetual smile on her face, even when being chased by Death Eaters. She didn’t lose half as much as Harry throughout the series, but she got to be his brave, weird friend. I like the idea of being a brave, weird friend, but I also want a magic wand.

If you could invite a group of writers (living or dead) to dinner, whom would you invite?

Neil Gaiman (for his British wit)

Christopher Moore (for his sense of humor)

Scott Fitzgerald (for his party presence)

Edgar Allan Poe (for his demons)

Lord Byron (for his sex appeal)

Note: An orgy would obviously follow dinner.

If you could invite a group of characters out for drinks, whom would you invite?

Jay Gatsby (for his rose-tinted glasses)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (for his excessive party mentality)

Tyler Durden (for his attitude)

Dracula (for his monstrosity)

Note: An orgy would obviously follow drinks.

What draws you to write about the supernatural and the erotic?

Supernatural: The world can be a really boring place without a bit of magic. Why not believe in the unbelievable?

Erotic: Sex is good. Sex is great. Everyone needs to be turned on, preferably every day; I like to assist in the process.

Additional links to use at will:



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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My friend and fellow bookseller Dorothy put this book in my hand and told me to read it.  I knew a bit about it and I balked.  It took my many moons to pick it up again and start it.  And within a few lines, I was in love.  Don’t balk like I did, it’s worth reading and sharing.

Fault in Our Stars is about many things: love of books, love of reading, gaming, friendship, family, death, life, hope.  It is funny and clever and most likely one of the best books I have ever read.  It is also the most honest book about falling in love and what love means that I have yet encountered.  (Just so you know, I have read a LOT).  People might insinuate this is a sad book.  They are wrong.  It is not a sad book so chuck that idea right now.  It is a moving book.  There’s a difference.  There are books one reads and enjoys.  And then there are books that haunt us.  I want a book like this one, a book that lives inside me, that I keep returning to again and again.

So go directly from here to your favorite library or bookstore and find a copy for yourself.  And brace yourself for the surprise and joy of falling in love with a story.

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The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Paige Mahoney is a clairvoyant, or “voyant,” in a world where clairvoyants are known and feared as unnatural. She belongs to a crime syndicate and ends up, cornered, fighting for her life. Her defense strategy ends up sending her on a spiraling journey which will take about seven books to completely unravel and understand. The bulk of the book takes place not just in the underworld but in a hidden underworld beyond ours peopled with humans and angelic/demonic creatures (none of whom are completely what they seem). Paige finds herself caught in a web of slavery and rebellion, soldiers and gods. The subtext and indeed a major setting for the character interactions is the “aether,” a realm of the mind and dreams connected with voyants’ auras or psyches.

Many reviewers have compared Shannon’s debut with the Harry Potter books and not just for the obvious fantasy storyline and 7-book story arc. Shannon’s ability to build a world within a world rivals JK Rowlings’ and then ratchets it up by writing an alternate history of our own world. Shannon’s writing is completely immersive: she manages to construct a complicated backstory and relay it effortlessly to the reader. She also manages to weave a sophisticated alternate history with a wholly original magical system (a prerequisite for a fantasy series) while drawing complex characters with believable depth and personality into a smart and engaging plotline involving murder, betrayal, twisted loyalties, and just the right level of heated romance. Rich storytelling skill combines with layers of plot twists and top-notch characterization and the heady mix that emerges is intoxicating.

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Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Emma of Normandy is only a teenager when she is deemed the sister strong enough to wed the troubled King Aethelred of England. Normandy and England have an uneasy peace. Danish Viking raiders frequently attack English shores, while the Danish leader, Forkbeard, appears to be allied with Emma’s brother, the Duke of Normandy. Upon reaching England and wedding Aethelred, Emma finds herself completely alone and surrounded by those who mistrust her and her motives: some who seek merely to undermine her, and others who seek her life. A few trusted women and men live and travel with her, but no one can protect her from the cruel, slightly demented Aethelred who is racked with guilt and fear over the death of his brother years ago or the attractive and unattainable Athelstan, son of the king and current heir to the throne or Elgiva, the seductive, conniving would-be queen whose place was usurped by Emma. With exquisite prose and a thorough but not condescending knowledge of the world of 1002 AD, Bracewell writes of the lives of those we seldom discuss in history courses, but whose actions changed the shape of the world. The children of these characters paved the way for William the Conqueror in profound ways. Although the story occasionally strays onto predictable paths, the events unfold in surprising ways. After Emma succumbs to the inevitable, the novel seems to rush to its triumphant but cliff-hanger ending. Bracewell deals gently but realistically with her characters. Few authors indeed would allow a woman who lost a child to mourn that child so obviously, and to return to the pain of that grief so frequently and believably. If that weren’t remarkable enough, Bracewell also gives all of her characters, men and women alike, depth and personality and legitimate, often contradictory viewpoints. Bracewell’s admirable and excellent debut novel should stand proudly on the shelves beside those of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Geraldine Brooks.

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White Horse by Alex Adams

Zoe is trapped in a nightmare reality. She used to be an extremely intelligent, recently bereaved woman moonlighting as a janitor at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the city. Then a jar suddenly appears in her apartment. Two things happen simultaneously: she feels a growing, irrational fear of the jar, and the people around her start to get sick. And all the cats nearby start to behave strangely. As readers, we know the jar is in reality a menacing item. For Zoe, her fear of the jar causes her to seek therapy. Although frustrated by Dr. Rose’s questioning and tough love approach–she pretends the jar is a dream when speaking with him—she values his perspective. As the world starts to crumble around her, Zoe thinks she may just be going mad. And Dr. Rose urges her to open the jar and face her fears. That was then. The narrative flashes back to the time before the world ended, but the main story takes place in Zoe’s terrifying present: most of the world’s population has succumbed to a strange disease dubbed White Horse (after one of the horsemen of the apocalypse), a disease that starts out like the flu and either kills the patient or irrevocably alters their DNA. As a scientist, I find any story suspect that suggests an alteration of the genetic code can so profoundly change an organism who then continues to live, but I am a sucker for a great post-apocalyptic tale, particularly those involving main characters battling nature, other people, and their own natures in order to survive. The story shifts from past to present frequently, as the revelations of the past inform the current plotline, in a measured and suspenseful way. As Zoe’s struggles reveal she is pregnant, the plotlines of both past and present take on new meaning. In the present Zoe finds herself traveling in the company of many interesting characters: the blind, abused Lisa; the menacing, stalker Swiss, whose enigmatic character provides many surprises for the reader and for Zoe herself; and a strange, prophetic oracle and her unfortunate sister. Zoe’s desperate odyssey unfolds slowly, and all those questions of where, why, how, and who eventually come to light. Although she doesn’t realize it at first, Zoe may hold the key to the survival of her entire species, just as she once unknowingly wielded the key to their destruction. Adams’ novel reads like a warped Homer, with the ever-patient Zoe journeying to find her heart’s desire rather than waiting for fate to tear it from her. What an excellent, exhilarating journey it is.

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The Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard

Lizzie has only been married a brief time before her husband heads out to fight for The Cause (being the independence of the colonies!). After his death, she finds herself alone on their plot of farmland. Grief takes its toll on her and her land, but comfort comes in the form of neighbors, chiefly the eminent Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. The two embark on a lifelong friendship as Lizzie begins to feel she is part of the neighborhood. Lizzie also resumes her work as a midwife in this new community, aiding mothers before, during, and after birth, and attending those who are ill. Soon enough, Abigail insists Lizzie must have help on her homestead, and recommends Martha as a servant, although the bond between the three resembles sisterhood after a short time together. Along with Martha’s arrival comes more news of the war, on their very doorstep it seems! A vibrant cast of characters, all of whom exhibit a remarkable capacity for change throughout the course of the novel, revolve around Lizzie and her fight for The Cause. Daynard has written a compelling and hopeful book about a dark and dangerous time in American history. She has peopled her story with characters real and imagined, and given all of them depth. The complex relationship between Lizzie and her women friends, particularly Martha and Lizzie’s sister-in-law Eliza, fill the novel with heart and warmth and many pleasing and surprising twists. Although the dialogue tends toward the archaic at times, as do the often-infuriating manners of the day, it is written true to its time and subject matter. As Lizzie heals and grows, she opens her heart to the secret child of a close friend and eventually to a man who could possibly be more than just an acquaintance. The “revolt” referred to in the title seems, as Lizzie’s friends all advise, quite dangerous and there is barely an instigating event to spur her to pretend to be a spy, although her method of doing so is clever and engaging. Although many of the characters’ storylines have been wrapped up in the novel, perhaps there still might be room for a sequel.


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Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Veronica Mars meets Harry Potter in this devilishly clever young adult novel. Kami Glass is your typical teenager—she feels like a perpetual outsider and she protects herself with the sharpest wit imaginable. She’s also capable of defending herself physically (she’s no wilting damsel calling for help in a crisis). Yet Kami has a secret. Since infancy she has shared a mental link with a boy (be he real or imagined) named Jared. When the real Jared walks into her life and her small town, Kami’s carefully constructed worldview blurs and then shatters. Kami’s small town is plagued with sayings about the noble family that used to live there, and when that family returns, the secrets they and the entire town have kept blow wide open. A series of attacks followed by a murder lead Kami and her small group of interesting, misfit friends into danger and beyond—into the realm of the supernatural. Brennan’s writing follows Kami’s headstrong, caustic wit, providing readers with a glorious mash-up of teen-coming-into-adulthood insights and magical imagery. The story contains many creepy elements as well, balancing a finely-wrought emotional storyline for Kami and Jared. In perhaps the book’s most sinister moment, supernatural elements collide and several characters celebrate the coming of the rain in a deliciously spooky scene. Brennan has crafted an excellent story and a complex world where the everyday and the magical live side by side.

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A River So Long by Vallie Lynn Watson

Watson tells the story of Veronica’s life after her marriage, during the year she comes unraveled, in brief vignettes—scenes scattered like buckshot or blood splatter. Although the nature of Veronica’s job is never clear, she travels frequently to conferences and meetings. Nearly all the scenes take place during one of these excursions. Either she travels all the time or these are the only times she considers herself alive. Her husband is only a shadowy, alcoholic figure stranded in Veronica’s past. Instead of focusing on her home life, Veronica moves from man to man (and the occasional woman is alluded to): a work colleague, several old friends, one of whom she has never been physically close to but with whom she seems to be either in love or obsessed—both of them are familiar with the tragedy of her parents’ lives and deaths, an old boyfriend and his adopted sister who is also the object of Veronica’s strange obsession and with both of whom she shared a defining sexual encounter. The staccato beat of the scenes is mesmerizing, dropping the reader from one pivotal moment in Veronica’s life to the next as her life spirals slowly out of control. Watson’s writing is precise and expert. Scenes of Veronica’s nameless longing as she watches barges drift down the river from a hotel window unspool as meaningfully as her discussions with her various partners and friends whom she visits in a circular, dizzying pattern of need. A River So Long is a lyrical, seductive read to be savored, and one that, more than likely, will reveal even more depth of character and an even greater cleverness of scene patterning upon rereading.

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The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

Gavin is a newspaper reporter who loses his job. Gavin is not perfect, but he does mean well. He becomes obsessed with a photo that may or may not depict his daughter—she looks a lot like Gavin’s own sister and she is supposedly the daughter of his long-lost high school girlfriend. So ten years after leaving for college, Gavin returns to his hometown in steamy, humid, perpetual summer Florida. Along the way, the reader also becomes privy to the past lives and choices of Gavin’s gaggle of high school friends, namely those belonging to the Lola Quartet, their musical group. The Lola Quartet boasts some lively characters whose subsequent choices shaped their lives and the lives of those around them in ways they could never have predicted. Jack heads out to music school but fears he’ll never have “have the music” the way truly talented musicians do. Daniel helps a friend in a desperate situation that turns into a ten-year nightmare for everyone involved. Sasha’s life fizzles due to an addiction (or a sickness—the novel neatly debates whether her particular addiction is something she can control or if it is a sickness that will always try to control her). Sasha’s little sister, though not part of the quartet, instigates the novel’s most complicated mystery and helps unwittingly unravel the lives of nearly everyone around her. Mandel’s writing is lyrical and mesmerizing and can be compared most easily to that of Kate Atkinson in her ingenious use of character-switching and time-swapping throughout the narrative. The Lola Quartet is part thriller, part mystery, and all literary fiction of the highest order.

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The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker

In Baker’s sophmore outing (after The Little Giant of Aberdeen County), she builds a story around a small New England coastal town and three incredible women whose lives are rooted in the earth. Jo and Claire are the Gilly sisters, born to a life working the salt marsh, tied to the evanescent, magical properties of the salt itself and its ability to foretell the future and save or ruin lives. Both of their lives are marked by tragedy as they grow older, one a physical tragedy and the other a hidden, emotional tragedy. Their lives are altered, too, by the town’s favorite son, Whit Turner, who seems to love them both in turn, but keeps much to himself as well. Into this complicated world of salt and secrets comes Dee, a motherless teenager with a tendency to follow where she is beckoned by handsome, charismatic men. The narrative is reminiscent of Alice Hoffman in its tendency to harken to the fantastic in the everyday. Baker has written a lovely, lively, engaging novel about strong women and their choices and how their ultimate loyalties lie with the land and each other. The ending, however, in which a character makes an unfortunate mistake and several others suffer the consequences (nicely foreshadowed earlier in the book), then is rewarded with everything she ever wanted, provides a complicated, if unsettling denouement to a harshly beautiful novel.

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