Hello! Sasha here! I've been honored to ask a few questions of the lovely Sara Lövestam, freelance journalist and previous Swedish language teacher, who also happened to write one of the most dazzling books of 2017. Wonderful Feels Like This has many amazing characters and is filled with such radiating beauty that it would be a shame if you went another day without reading it, especially because it's already in bookstores! You may have heard of Sara before, as she writes her own blog and runs a Facebook and Twitter account. I'm excited, and I know you are too! Let's not keep you waiting! Here's today's interview!
Sasha: The story you have created was truly wonderful. Anyone who reads it can definitely say wonderful feels like that! How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
Sara: Thank you so much! The idea came to me when I was talking to a colleague about this old jazz musician and comedian, Povel Ramel. I was a big fan of his when I was a young girl, which seemed to puzzle this colleague. According to him, anyone who likes Povel Ramel is more likely to be an old man. This got me thinking: What would a young girl and and old man have in common in order to enjoy the same songs? Could they build a friendship on it?
Sasha: I've heard people compare your novel to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What similarities do you see between your novel and Stephen Chbosky's?
Sara: I feel embarrassed to say I haven't yet read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but from what I've understood, both books are about someone who keeps in the background and slowly begins to blossom. The main feeling Steffi has at school is that she is either invisible or put down, and that no one sees her true personality and talent. In the company of Alvar, she starts to discover ways to express herself.
Sasha: Steffi is a character that I feel a lot of young teens can relate to. She's trying to find herself , and by the end of the book, she's grown immensely. Do you see yourself at all in Steffi?
Sara: Yes. I don't have exactly the same experiences as Steffi, but I was an outsider at school and I handled situations and feelings in similar ways. All teenagers do not act out - a lot of them/us handle things quietly. School is also such a special place, in the way that you don't get to choose your environment and your peers. You're stuck there, until you graduate and are free to search for people you can relate to. It makes it even harder to find yourself. When I wrote the book, I used a lot of my own memories of being a teenager trying to find my way.
Sasha: My favorite character is definitely Alvar. He's old and quirky and just so interesting. Where did you get the inspiration for such a wonderful character?
Sara: I have no better answer than "he just came to me." When I knew the character would be an old jazz musician who likes Povel Ramel and could connect to a teen like Steffi, I could immediately see his face and the twinkle in his eye, and I knew he would have been a bit shy in his youth. I have actually received quite a few letters from older men, who are happy and tell me they feel represented in this book - as "non-macho" men they long for these kinds of stories. (In Sweden, this book is launched as an adult book. That's how lots of old men have come to read it.)
Sasha: The ending of the book really caught me off guard. How did you get
the idea to tie the character's relationships together?
Sara: I am glad it did! At the beginning of writing this story, I pondered the role of the retirement home. In a small village like this, the retirement home holds so many stories about the neighborhood, so many explanations as to why things are the way they are. My grandparents lived at a retirement home at the time, and a lot of the descriptions of this home are based on that place. There was an old lady there, very similar to Svea in the book, and I sometimes speculated about the possible reasons for her anger. And I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say that my grandparents were also an inspiration.
Sasha: One of the characters struggled with revealing her sexuality to her parents. This wasn't a main topic in the book, but it was important. What advice would you give to young adults who deal with the fear of talking to their parents about those topics?
Sara: This is actually a big topic in many of my other books, that haven't yet been translated into English, and it's a subject I'm passionate about. It's such a liberating feeling to finally tell someone, instead of keeping it as a dirty secret (and when it's out it usually stops feeling dirty). My advice would be to find a supportive community, IRL or online, so you know that you'll have support from somewhere if things turn bad. My second advice is to accept yourself and be proud of yourself even if you're not ready to tell anyone yet - this was a big struggle for me in my teens. And my third advice is to tell. There are exceptions of course, and it depends on your family background, but in many occasions the reactions are way worse in your head than in real life. Secrets are heavy to carry.
Sasha: What other Swedish novels and authors would you recommend to young adult readers?
Sara: One of my favorite YA authors died earlier this year. His name was Ulf Stark, and his audience is perhaps a little younger than mine. He is an inspiration, the way he draws his portraits and creates atmospheres. Another favorite from my own youth is Maria Gripe. If these two have not been translated into English, there's something wrong. The other contemporary YA writers that I like have not yet been translated to English, as far as I know. It's a very difficult market to get into. For a Swedish author it's usually much easier to get translated into languages like German, Spanish and French than English.
Sasha: Now for the question I have been dying to ask, what's next? Have you began writing anything else that you could tell us about?
Sara: I am always writing! Right now I'm on a project where I'm writing an adult novel and a YA novel side by side. The adult novel is about a woman dealing with a crisis by getting into genealogy, and the YA novel is about her neighbor, a 14 year old boy and his life online versus IRL. In a way it's inspired by those scenes in Wonderful Feels Like This where Steffi creates another persona online. It will take me a while, it's a big project. But in the meantime, I'm of course hoping to get more of my already written YA published on the English market.
That’s it for today’s interview with Sara, but you can continue the conversation by following her on Twitter and on Facebook. Hey, and don’t forget that you can find PickMyYA on Twitter and Instagram as well. Be sure to come back again next week when Sasha will be back here again interviewing Candace Ganger, author of the recently released (and utterly adorable) The Inevitable Collision Of Birdie And Bash.