Sarah Domet’s debut novel, The Guineveres, was released from Flatiron Books in October 2016. She’s also the author of 90 Days to Your Novel (Writers Digest Books, 2010). She holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati and will be teaching courses in fiction writing in our creative writing program.
Learn more about her on her website.
What are you currently reading, if anything?
I’m fortunate to have a job that requires me to read. It gives me the chance to conduct independent studies for my creative projects, crash courses on interesting subjects “for the sake of research.” (I put “for the sake of research” in quotes only because I once spent a full day reading about Jarts for one throwaway line in a story. It’s easy to get off track.)
My current novel project, set partly in 1910, features a protagonist who claims to commune with the dead. To better understand this era, I’m reading Through a Glass, Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of All. This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the spiritualist movement: mediums, seances, lies, frauds, sex, and scandals.
What is a text that you think everyone should read?
I think it’s less important to read a specific text than it is to read widely, to read texts you like and loathe, texts with which you both agree and disagree. (Sidenote: this is quite different from reading badly written texts—avoid those at all costs!) When you read perspectives, styles, and ideas that don’t reflect your own tastes, you’ll sharpen your thinking and clarify your own ideas and values.
Reading against the grain proves particularly important in this cultural moment where our news is often curated online to reflect worldviews with which we’re likely to already agree. What specifically about a text did you like or not like? What makes you mad? Immersing yourself in a three-hundred page book that contradicts your own thinking challenges you, first, to listen, and, next, to question. Finally, it pushes you to articulate why you disagree, and not in the surface level click-of-an-emoticon sort of way.
We can easily live in bubbles, and reading something we disagree with reminds us of the larger possibilities of literature as a world-broadening art form.
What is your biggest pet peeve in the classroom, or a big mistake that students tend to make?
In my experience, the biggest mistake students tend to make is letting others define them as writers. Too many students have come into my classroom with preconceived notions about their work based on a grade they’ve received (either good or bad) in a previous class. Declarations are rarely useful at the beginning of a semester: I am a good writer. I am a bad writer. I am a fill-in-the-blank writer.
Instead, try posing questions: What can I learn this semester? How can I push my writing in new directions?
Who are your biggest role models?
I’m especially grateful for a handful of former teachers and professors who helped me find both my voice and my direction. In fact, without a particular professor tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, I think you should consider going to graduate school,” I may not be even here. I think of these individuals often, especially when I’m in the classroom. I try to remember that I’m not only teaching students about a particular subject, but, if I’m any good, I’m inspiring them to become better writers, thinkers, and citizens (literary, and otherwise) outside of the classroom.