Writer’s Desk with Sara Ella
Once upon a time, Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle. Now she spends her days homeschooling her three Jedi in training, braving the Arizona summers, and reminding her superhero husband that it’s almost Christmas (even if it’s only January). Sara is the author of the Unblemished trilogy and Coral, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid that focuses on mental health. Her latest journey into the world of Wonderland and The Curious Realities feels like coming full circle after working for Disney. Sara loves fairy tales and Jesus, and she believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.”
More about The Wonderland Trials
All Alice Liddell wants is to escape her Normal life in Oxford and find the parents who abandoned her ten years ago. But she gets more than she bargained for when her older sister Charlotte is arrested for having the infamous Wonder Gene—the key to unlocking the curious Wonderland Reality.
Soon, Alice receives a rather cryptic invitation to play for Team Heart in this year’s annual—and often deadly—Wonderland Trials. Now she has less than twenty-four hours to find her way into Wonderland where nothing is impossible . . . or what it seems.
The stakes are raised when she discovers players go missing during the Trials each year. Will she and her team solve the clues and find the missing players? Or will betrayal and distrust win, leaving Alice alone in a world of her own? Follow the White Rabbit into this topsy-turvy fantasy where players become prey, a sip of the wrong tea might as well be poison, and a queen’s ways do not always lead one where they ought to go.
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Q&A with Sara Ella
TG: Everyone always asks for an interesting fact, we’re going to flip the question. What is one boring fact about yourself?
SE: I despise mayonnaise. If I watch someone put mayo into something, I won’t eat it. If I can pretend something isn’t made with mayo (like Ranch dressing) it’s fine.
TG: Where did you get the inspiration for The Wonderland Trials and The Looking-Glass Illusion?
SE: I have always loved Alice in Wonderland, and even played Alice at Walt Disney World during my college days. I started my research for the duology by going through Lewis Carroll’s original books. I wanted to represent the fun and whimsy of the originals while still exploring my own twists and turns. I knew I wanted Alice’s story to be centered on games, and I knew I wanted to find an allegorical element that was powerful and subtle at the same time. As I discovered the story, those elements found me, and the story world for my Wonderland became much bigger than I ever imagined possible. And that’s really the heart of these books—believing in the impossible.
TG: Do you have any habits or rituals as a writer?
SE: Prayer to begin with. Always coffee, sometimes tea. Cookies, scones, or dark chocolate-covered almonds if I have them around. I always listen to my book’s “theme song” when I sit down to write, sometimes on repeat for specific scenes. Then I transition into instrumental soundtrack music for focus.
TG: What habits would you encourage others to take up to be a more productive writer?
SE: Write when you don’t want to and create a consistent routine. That doesn’t mean write every day, but it does mean you must make writing a priority. Your to-do list will always be there. Mine is never-ending. When I put writing off until I’ve completed other tasks, it never gets done. I also find that writing in the morning and front-loading my day that way makes all the difference. I have more energy then, and if I write later in the day, great! If I’m too tired later, I can still say I wrote today.
TG: What do you snack on or drink while writing?
SE: Like I said before, always coffee. 🙂 Sometimes a treat or baked good is involved, but I try to limit those unless I’m on deadline. If I’m close to a deadline, I may very well eat scones every day if I please.
TG: How do you overcome writer’s block?
SE: I don’t believe in “writer’s block,” not in the way it’s usually spoken about as if it’s this ominous and impossible black abyss of nothing that needs destroying. Every writer has moments of not knowing what comes next. It doesn’t matter if you are a meticulous plotter or an all-out pantser—you will come to a point of feeling as if your mind is as blank as the page in front of you. I honestly think this is something God allows, at least for my own writing, that leads me to always return to and rely on Him for the answers. So when I am experiencing “writer’s block,” I try to look at it as a reminder that I need to lean on the Lord and seek Him. Because if the story is for His Glory (as it should be) then it’s His anyway.
I also find it helpful to refresh my mind. I love using the “Save the Cat” beats as a guide to get me through. If I just wrote the Catalyst, for example, I know there needs to be a time of debating for my character before they can reach the Break Into 2, the B story, etc… That helps me brainstorm and get past those momentary barriers.
TG: Are you an “edit-as-you-go” writer or do you wait until the very end before you do any editing?
SE: I used to be an “edit-as-you-go” writer. I lived by it! Now I find I’ve had to adjust my process if I ever want to just reach “The End.” So I have adopted the fast drafting method with my last two novels. I use a lot of brackets, take detailed notes, and leave countless in-document comments during this process. These are key to helping me edit and revise later. So I guess I am still “editing” myself through my note-taking, but it’s just taken on a different format and adapted to fit my new process.
TG: What would you say is the most common mistake new writers make?
SE: Overthinking. As a big overthinker myself, I can relate, but it’s something I’ve learned to combat and overcome with time and practice. I have mentored several new writers, and the common theme I see with most of them is that they are overthinking their own abilities or some negative feedback they received. I like to remind them that not all feedback is constructive. The biggest thing I think new writers need to realize is that they are capable of making their own decisions. They know their stories better than anyone. Just because someone says to change something in your story, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right. Sometimes they are, but not always. So don’t overthink it, trust your instincts, and recognize that reading is subjective. Your story won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay. The positive side of that is your story will be for someone. So cling to that and move forward with your best work.
TG: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
SE: “Just because writing is hard, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.” – Nadine Brandes
TG: What is coming up next for you?
SE: I have a four-book series contracted with Enclave Publishing, with the first in that series releasing in 2025. I can’t say much other than the first book pairs a fairy tale with a story from classic literature.
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