2012 YA Debut Interview: HARBINGER by Sara Wilson Etienne (Artwork Reveal + Giveaway!)

It’s Week 2 of my 2012 YA Debut Interview series! My favorite part about a new year (besides building a wobbly tower of unrealistic expectations for how much I’ll write in the coming year, yay!) is the thought of all the new voices I’ll get to discover. There’s a whole crop of debut YA novelists coming out with books in 2012, and I can’t wait to read them! So, to share my excitement with you, I’m doing a new series of short interviews on this blog.

From December 5 through December 16, I’m featuring ten Winter/Spring 2012 debut authors who wrote books I want to read! Look for giveaways accompanying these interviews—as well as a chance to win a pre-order of your choice at the end of the series. Last week I featured five debuts… and this week I’m featuring five more.

Read on to see how Sara Wilson Etienne answered my questions about writing Harbinger and more (and if you comment on this post, you could win a signed ARC!)…

…and as a special addition to today’s interview, this post includes a Harbinger artwork reveal! Read on.


2012 YA Debut Interview:

Sara Wilson Etienne, author of Harbinger (Putnam/ Penguin, forthcoming February 2, 2012)

I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?”

Plagued by waking visions and nightmares, inexplicably drawn to the bones of dead animals, Faye thinks she’s going crazy. Fast. Her parents think Holbrook Academy might just be the solution. Dr. Mordoch tells her it’s the only answer. But Faye knows that something’s not quite right about Dr. Mordoch and her creepy prison-like school for disturbed teenagers.

What’s wrong with Holbrook goes beyond the Takers, sadistic guards who threaten the student body with Tasers and pepper spray;  or Nurse who doles out pills at bedtime and doses of solitary confinement when kids step out of line; or Rita, the strange girl who delivers ominous messages to Faye that never seem to make any sense. What’s wrong with Holbrook begins and ends with Faye’s red hands; she and her newfound friends—her Holbrook “Family”—wake up every morning with their hands stained the terrible brown red of blood. Faye has no idea what it means, but fears she may be the cause.

Because despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place; she feels especially linked to the handsome Kel, who helps her unravel the mystery. There’s just one problem: Faye’s certain Kel’s trying to kill her—and maybe the rest of the world, too.

A rich and tautly told psychological thriller, Harbinger heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in YA.

In my experience, every book wants to be written differently—and each one behaves differently from the one before it. Some novels like it out of order, and some rigidly insist on being written from start to finish. Some novels come out fast; others are excruciatingly slow. Some novels torment you, and some sing you to sleep. What did your novel want? Was there ever a moment when it misbehaved?

Harbinger wanted my soul! When I wrote the first draft of it ten years ago, Harbinger was only 90 pages, told from a different POV, and had almost no dialogue. But the story stuck with me. Over the years, I picked it up again and again. Learning how to write, how to create three dimensional characters, how to get this complicated plot to play nice and make sense. And each time I rewrote and revised it, I found something new in the story. Something new about Faye. Harbinger was truly a passion project.

What is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?

Fear. It’s the thing that always slows me down. That little voice that tells you your book will never be good enough. You’ll never be good enough. But I have to say that eventually, my main character, Faye, taught me how to kick its ass.

Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book.

Most of Harbinger was written in my messy office. Oh, it always starts out clean… but the longer I work on a draft, the worse it gets. Mugs of half drunk coffee, cereal bowls, and scraps of scribbled notes become a shrine to that revision. It’s always a relief to send off a draft and unearth my desk!

What was the moment when the upcoming publication of your novel felt “real” for the first time—when you got your editorial letter, when you saw the cover, when you held the ARC in your hands… or something else? Or if it doesn’t feel “real” yet, when do you think it will?

Honestly, I just get these occasional moments of clarity. Most of the time, I go about the business of writing or promoting and it just seems like this fact. My book is getting published. Then every once in a while I have these flashes where I understand what that really means. That Harbinger will be sitting on library shelves, in bookstores, that strangers are going to be reading this story that lived in my head for so long. In those moments, the reality of it blows my mind.

Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any two authors (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?

Wow! Awesome question! At first I was going to pick Madeleine L’Engle because she’s one of my favorite writers, but she might be a bit of a deep thinker to endure jetlag with. So I’m gonna go with Libba Bray, who is hilarious, a genius at dialogue, and who I can imagine being an amazingly fun book tour buddy. And Dianna Wynne Jones. That way if we get into trouble or an event gets boring, she can just open up a parallel universe for us!

I would have to go to Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Because I’ve never been to any of them and they sound awesome. A bit greedy? Why yes, I am!

And I’d serve baklava and incredible coffee. No one would be able to turn the pages of the books because they’d have honey all over their hands. But it’d be a great party.

How do you plan to celebrate your book’s birthday on February 2?

Well, on that day, I’ll probably kidnap a few of my friends and make them have cake and tea with me at Jin Patisserie. And I’ll pop a bottle of champagne with my husband, Tony, who illustrated the inside of Harbinger. Then, that weekend, on Saturday, Feb 4, 2012, I’ll be having a launch party and signing at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles. It’s one of my favorite bookstores ever, so I can’t wait! So everyone please come by and help me celebrate!


Sara Wilson Etienne went to college in Maine to become a marine biologist. But when research on leatherback turtles transformed itself into a novel, she realized that she loved fantasy more than fact. Though she didn’t become a scientist (or, luckily, publish that first story) the craggy coastline and wild seas stayed with her and became Harbinger.

Learn more about the book at www.holbrookacademy.com.

Read Sara’s blog at www.sarawilsonetienne.com.

Follow @wilsonetienne on Twitter.


In addition to her interview today, Sara is also letting me reveal the next piece of Harbinger-inspired artwork, as part of a wonderful series of artwork reveals connected to her book.

Here Art Reveal #8:

Walk the Path! Explore the whole gallery of Harbinger-inspired artwork at www.holbrookacademy.com/sketchbook.php

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne debuts February 2, 2012.


Oh wait… there’s also a giveaway today!

Do you want a chance to win Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne? Sara is giving away a signed ARC to ONE LUCKY COMMENTER on this post. Just comment below and you’re entered to win.

(If you tweet about this giveaway you get +1 extra entry… just let me know you did.)

RULES: One winner will be chosen randomly. The giveaway to win a signed ARC of Harbinger ends Thursday, December 22 at 5:00 p.m. EST. To win this giveaway, you must have a US mailing address. Be sure to include your email in the comment form (it is private and only I will see it), so I know how to reach you if you win.

And stay tuned for the end of the 2012 Debut Interview Series—for a chance to win the pre-order of your choice out of all ten featured authors!


What is the next Winter/Spring 2012 debut novel I’m looking forward to? Come back tomorrow to find out.

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