Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I think I read it for the first time when I was thirteen or fourteen. It’s a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of one of Psyche’s sisters. For various reasons, I always related to the character of Orual.
See above! I read most books only once. But over the last twenty-five years, I’ve reread Till We Have Faces at least ten times. Other books that have merited a reread: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. And of course, all of the Harry Potter books—except this time I’m reading those aloud to my children.
I recently read These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner—just a really fun, romantic sci-fi. Also We Were Liars by E. Lockhart—beautiful writing and a haunting story. I’m currently reading Fake ID by Lamar Giles and so far it’s fantastic—lean prose and fast-paced. So it depends on my friends’ tastes!
I began to write teen fiction because I was told I had a “young voice.” I didn’t read a lot of YA growing up, but once I started reading it as an adult, I found that I really enjoyed the developmental conflict layered beneath a fabulous, romantic story. Adolescence is such a dynamic, emotion-drenched part of life, when a person is constantly becoming, and harnessing all that nuance and intensity … that’s the privilege of writing YA.
Of Metal and Wishes is the story of sixteen-year-old Wen, who lives with her father, the physician at the local slaughterhouse. There, she is watched over by the mysterious and feared factory ghost, and she also forges an unlikely and forbidden relationship with Melik, who is a Noor, foreign, despised young men brought in as cheap factory labor. I was first inspired by The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which I read as a teenager and have been haunted by ever since. Then I watched the documentary Food Inc. a few years ago, and after the video of young undocumented workers in a poultry processing plant, I thought, “there’s a story there.” The parallels with Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera only came as I was halfway through writing the book, and it just felt right.
Writing Of Metal and Wishes was a strange, ecstatic experience for me. I was between projects and had no time, so I wrote it extremely quickly because I was so determined and compelled to get the story out. I certainly hope readers will feel the emotional energy that spilled from my brain to my fingers and onto the page during those weeks!
Balancing two intense careers is definitely challenging, but I’m fortunate to have colleagues who understand and are supportive of my double life. When I’m doing my psychology work, I’m deeply entrenched in reality; we work with children and teens who are at risk for being removed from their homes. So when I’m writing, it’s nice to bury myself in the most fantastical tales I can possibly spin. However, I do think my profession—and the population I work with—has given me an awareness of and interest in writing about characters who are underdogs, who have to be resilient and use all their intelligence and passion and spirit to survive and thrive.
In late 2009, I abruptly decided that I should write a book. I’m not sure why, but the urge to do it was overwhelming, and the story came pouring out. After getting over the initial “Oh wow, I wrote a book, I am so special” glow, I realized that: 1) I was only one among tens of thousands of aspiring authors (therefore, not so special,) and 2) my beloved first book was not actually that good. So I absorbed the wisdom of the online writing community and wrote another book. I queried it, and while I did, I wrote yet another book. I got rejected a lot, but that’s part of the game. But about a year after I first started writing, I signed with my agent (Kathleen Ortiz at New Leaf Literary). It’s been a fabulously wild emotional roller coaster ever since.
Of Metal and Wishes is more of an intimate tale, while its sequel is on a grander scale in every sense—the setting, the romance, the cultural differences and tension, and the danger.
I’ve climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and for several wonderful years afterward shared my life with a dog I named after the other African peak you can see from the summit of Kilimanjaro—Mt. Meru.
Of Metal and Wishes is easy to describe as a loose retelling of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, but I will tell you a secret: that’s not what I originally intended, and to me, that similarity is more of an overlay—the flesh as opposed to the beating heart of the story.
When I was a teenager, maybe sixteen-years-old, I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It wasn’t for school; there was a faded-out old paperback copy on one of our many shelves at home. I can’t remember whether I was rainy-day-bored or morbidly curious as I plucked it from among many equally dog-eared volumes. What I do remember was how I tore through the pages after that.
“They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside.” The characters in that book were caught in a Sisyphean nightmare, only when the boulder they were pushing inevitably rolled downhill, it would crush a foot, a hand, a heart. My experience with The Jungle was over half a lifetime ago for me, and yet I’m still haunted by it. So when, one evening a few years back, possibly bored, possibly morbidly curious, I watched the documentary Food, Inc. and saw recent footage of poultry factory workers, mostly undocumented, no legal protections, laboring in the worst possible conditions, it awoke those memories of reading The Jungle and my understanding of that reality. This time, I decided to write about it.
Here are the Phantom similarities: There’s a bit of an ingénue in Wen, who comes to live with her father on a factory compound after her genteel mother dies. And there’s the Ghost, who grants wishes and exacts revenge, who is so fearsome that no one dares go below to the labyrinthine sublevels of the meat factory. To be completely honest, though, the parallels with Leroux’s tale only came to me as I was halfway through writing the book.
The true origin of the Ghost in Of Metal and Wishes: “... it was to be counted as a wonder that there were not more men slaughtered than cattle.” The Ghost is an underage worker who perished in a terrible accident on the killing floor, one of the many who were chewed up and spat out by the factory and the society that allowed it to exist. Some of the factory workers pray to his ghost because he offers a little hope in their dangerous, uncertain world. Others find their hope elsewhere, in banding together, in each other.
That’s the foundation for the story, a gritty reality circulating beneath a slightly more romantic, wistful tale of a girl and a boy and a ghost. And it all sprouted from that moment of boredom or curiosity, when my fingers skimmed over the spines of my parents’ vast collection of books and settled on one that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
"I would like to thank you for writing such a powerful novel, with violence, but also incredible tenderness and forgiveness."
Fine creates a memorable atmosphere of desperation, deftly weaving together numerous subplots that intersect in a grisly and satisfying climax."
“Sarah Fine's slaughterhouse-set Phantom of the Opera retelling is vivid, grisly, and beautiful. It's impossible not to root for the tenderhearted Wen and the noble Melik as they move through this world of endless meat and misery. Fine's writing is smart and fittingly brutal, and this bittersweet tale is as haunting as any melancholy aria sung on the stage."