Local author Sarah Terez Rosemblum's debut novel, Herself When She's Missing, was released this summer. A lesbian psychological thriller and romance, "Herself" has been well received throughout the country. Recently, Rosenblum sat down with Windy City Times to discuss the book, her writing process and how she hopes to be received as an author.
[Note: Rosenblum has written for Windy City Times.]
Windy City Times: What kind of critical reception has Herself When She's Missing met with, thus far?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: It's gotten a lot of good feedback and I feel like people have understood what I was getting at. There's been some good responses from fellow authors; Carol Anshaw called it a compelling read and Peter Orner recommended it as well.
WCT: This is your first full-length novel. It always seems easy when reading the final product, but can tell me a bit about the development of the story?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: I started it in class here [at The Art Institute of Chicago, where Rosenblum received her MFA] and, up until then, I had only written short stories. Originally, it was a short story because I didn't know what a novel felt like at the point. I quickly realized that I had more to say about these characters than would fit in a short story!
It's in non-linear form, so it doesn't follow a timeline. I decided that making it non-linear made Andrea, my main character, work.
WCT: The non-linear timeline threw me off a bit in the beginning, but by the middle I was right on board. Speaking of the main characters, both Andrea [protagonist] and Jordan [antagonist] are great characters who seem like they must have been a blast to write. Do you have a favorite between the two?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: It might seem that because the story is told through Andrea's eyes that I thought of her first, but that's not necessarily the case. Actually, the first character I came up with was the Criminal Mastermind [as Jordan is referred to throughout the story]. The first real sentence of the book is, "The Criminal Mastermind loved reality television." This sets up the questions, "Is she really a criminal or a mastermind?" and "Who's narrating it that we think of her this way?"
I had to figure out a lot about Andrea, and who she was internally, things you don't necessarily see on the surface of a character. Andrea and Jordan are ultimately drawn together because of their similarly obsessive personalities. They're similar in ways greater than Andrea even knows, or want to believe.
WCT: Do you draw inspiration from prominent lesbian novelists such as Alison Bechdel and Jeanette Winterson, or do you see yourself a creating a style or genre all of your own?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: I think it's really important to read all the time if you want to be a writer. I've potentially learned more reading than I have in school. I'm especially interested in lyrical phrasing, as much as I care about character; language absolutely has to be there as well. In light of that, I love Michael Cunningham. I recently read Specimen Days. I took it off the shelf not knowing anything about it, which is my favorite way to read. Even if the novel wasn't entirely successful, he made me want to take a pilgrimage to wherever he lived and have him teach me everything he knows. I'm obsessed with the language!
I mentioned Carol Anshaw earlier, and I definitely love her writing. Janet Fitch, who wrote White OleanderI think she renders characters so exquisitely.
Generally, I'm not concerned with maintaining my own voice. I trust that my voice is going to be there. I think that other voices are goodas long as they're good voices and they're going to help me!
WCT: I also thought that sexuality was very well rendered in Herself When She's Missing. It's a very sexy novel.
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: Thanks. When I was doing readings on the West Coast and here in Chicago, I felt so awkward reading the sex scenes out loud. Nonetheless, I felt like to leave the sex scenes out would only hurt the book. My intent was not to arouse, but the develop character, and I think the book really did that. A lot of it is about more than lesbian sex even; it's about power dynamics and sexuality.
WCT: What demographic is Herself When She's Missing written for and what kinds of responses have you gotten from readers, thus far?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: When I started writing, I wasn't thinking of a specific readership, but when it got later in the writing process I started thinking, "Who's going to read this?" I wrote it for anyone who's ever been in or seen someone is the sort of relationship situation where you lose your sense of who you are for another person.
In terms of queer versus straight, I've been super-thrilled by the response from queer publications. As I was writing, though, I wanted to make sure it wasn't for queer audiences only and that it was compelling to men as well as women.
I've been so happy: A lot of my early readers were straight guys and now I'm hearing from a lot of straight women in their 50s who say, "I've been there!" That makes me really excited because I didn't want it to get marginalized. I've been excited to hear from booksellers who put it in with general fiction as well as lesbian fiction.
WCT: All right. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Sarah Terez Rosemblum: Buy it! Please!
WCT: I appreciate the candor there!
Herself When She's Missing is available at Women and Children First as well as other local bookstores. Rosenblum will be at the store Saturday, Sept. 15, for the monthly lesbian-themed event Sappho's Salon; see www.womenandchildrenfirst.com .