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Behind the Books

The Story Behind Sadie and The Survivors

It all started with a wedding. Or, really, it started with the drive to a wedding.

My dear friends, Anna and Austin, were getting married in Tupelo, Mississippi, in June 2009. I made the drive from Nashville to Tupelo by myself, fighting with the 100-plus-degree heat baking me, despite the air conditioning in my car. Somewhere between the Tennessee state line and Tupelo, with undoubtedly fantastic music playing in the background, I let my mind wander. I thought of a girl—more beautiful but maybe more awkward than I—driving to Tupelo to be a bridesmaid. She was nervous, stressed even. (I was not.) Maybe weddings freaked her out. Maybe she was worried about being alone. Maybe she didn’t get along with the other bridesmaids. I wasn’t sure of the what or the why yet, but I just knew this girl existed. On one of those rural highway loop-the-loop things, I could see and hear in my mind a mean-girl type saying, “Come on. When are you going to become Sadie, Sadie, married lady?” (Do you know that song? That line? It’s from Funny Girl, and I suppose it was only stored somewhere in my brain because my high school drama department did Funny Girl my senior year.)

Sadie. Sadie, Sadie, married lady. Sadie. I’d never known anyone named Sadie. I’d never imagined the face or the mind or the story of a girl named Sadie. So I kept thinking, tucked her away in the back of my mind, and went on about my life.

As I drove around Tupelo for the next day or two, helping Anna prepare for the wedding, I thought of Sadie. I thought of how she was reacting to whatever I was doing. I wondered if the wedding she was attending was turning out to be as stressful as she was worried it would be when she was 100 miles outside of Tupelo. 

That’s part one.

Part two came not long after.

The day of Anna and Austin’s wedding, it was 103 degrees in Tupelo and nearly as hot inside. At the end of the day, after we’d thrown lavender (not rice, not birdseed) over the bride and groom and it had baked to the sidewalks, I felt faint from the heat. By 5 o’clock, I’d retreated to the hotel where I was too restless to do anything but lie there. Having recently read the first young adult series I’d read since I had, in fact, been a young adult, at the advice of a friend, I crawled the internet exploring the passionate fandom these novels inspired. I read interviews with authors, learned about the concept of fan fiction, read fan forums and movie casting updates, and before I knew it, I had a desire to be a part of this world coursing through my heat-stroked veins.

By Sunday night, I was back in Nashville. I’d spent the drive back thinking about a million creative things. I wrote a song, I thought about Sadie, and I thought about the millions of dedicated fans of the über-creative, supernatural, young adult series. Over a burger at Five Guys with a friend, I recounted the story of the weekend. By the end of the meal, my brain was pumping. I wanted to write a young adult series. I wanted to do something huge. I wanted to find a niche no one had tapped. I wanted to be my most creative self.

By the time we drove out of the parking lot, the phrase “Salem Witch Trials” crossed my mind. By later that night, I’d written a 1600 word outline I simply called “Creature” that actually covers every major detail of the now five-book outline I have for the whole series. And when I thought of my leading lady, the choice was simple: my ill-at-ease bridesmaid, Sadie. To be fair, I hadn’t ever imagined her as anything but human, but the fit was just too good to pass up.

The entire writing process was 27 days, from idea to epilogue. 

I was in graduate school (even in the summer) and working a research job that funded said graduate school at the time, but it still happened. It’s safe to say that an inordinately large amount of the first Survivors book was written between midnight and 4 a.m. My good friend, Meg, is largely responsible for any quality that happened between those hours. She kept me focused and kept me sane, and she’s the second-most dedicated Survivors fan I know. I’m the first.

But it was the greatest 27 days of my life. I fell so madly in love with Sadie Matthau, with her twisted history and powerful, conflicted emotions toward her family of Survivors, with her human friend, with the Winters, with her lifestyle… so in love, I was blinded. I had never felt passion as real as I felt for Sadie and the Survivors. I forgot to eat. I forgot to sleep. I forgot to do anything that wasn’t school, work, or Sadie. It seems to have paid off.

Despite a number of significant life accomplishments having transpired between then and now (receiving my graduate degree not least among them), I can still say my world is consumed by the madness of the Survivors world: by the Salem witch trials; world mythology and cultural beliefs on supernatural creatures; by the anonymous mountains outside Bigfork, Montana; by Sadie Matthau, Cole Hardwick, and Everett Winter—just to name a few. 

But I would have it no other way.