Author Sarah Gerard on Soulmates, the Sunshine State and Her New Book
Ahead of the release of True Love, award-winning author Sarah Gerard gets real about her home state and how it inspires her work.
When Sarah Gerard’s life turned upside down during a divisive election and a stinging divorce, she channeled her emotions into 281 pages of laughter and misery. Using her life experiences to propel literary masterpieces isn’t uncommon for the award-winning author. Gerard’s 2017 collection of essays, Sunshine State, is a raw retelling of her upbringing and earned her innumerable praise. Her new novel, True Love, releasing July 7, takes us on the dark, humorous journey of a young woman on the search for her soulmate. Clearwater-born Gerard crafts a relatable story of odd friends and failed relationships to find where we belong.
WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR TRUE LOVE COME FROM?
SG: It came out of a big tangle of questions that I was asking about love and what we’re talking about when we say that love is true. And also, I was in my early 30s. And my marriage at the time was under a lot of pressure. So I was examining the choices I had made over the course of my 20s and what I had learned about love from the mistakes I made and the mistakes I have seen my friends make and the things that people had done to me. I’m married again now, and I know that I learned a lot from that relationship, even though it didn’t last longer than six years. I did a lot of growing up during that time, and that has taught me a lot about what it means to love a person.
YOU NOW LIVE IN NEW YORK, BUT FLORIDA TAKES A PROMINENT ROLE IN YOUR WRITING BEYOND THE SETTING, HOW DOES THE SUNSHINE STATE SHAPE YOUR WORK?
SG: Well, something I have appreciated since being here under quarantine is my ability to walk around outside the house and see nature. Like I woke up this morning and opened the window and there’s a snake on the hedge right underneath. It feels electrifying to see animal life, especially coming from a big city. In New York the only animals you see are finches and squirrels and pigeons. But Florida, it’s wild in a completely different way. Florida is verdant. It’s constantly blooming, and we have this constant reminder that nature will prevail. And there’s something hopeful about that. I feel grateful that I have the ability to be with nature and have a meditative space right now. It’s necessary as an artist.
IS THERE ANY PLACE IN PARTICULAR THAT FUELS YOU CREATIVELY?
SG: The beach. It’s my favorite place. Something about the waves, the rhythmic flow of the waves, gives me solace. And being in the sunshine too. Sunshine is a disinfectant, right? There’s something just really elemental about it, like primordial. I find it very grounding.
YOU WORKED ON TRUE LOVE FOR THREE YEARS. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE FEELING OF FINISHING THREE YEARS OF WORK?
SG: Oh, it was a major relief. And it’s also anxiety inducing because you finish your edits on the book right before it goes to print. There’s really not a period of processing before the book is released, and once you release a book, you can’t take it back. It’s scary, but also a relief because I can move on to other projects that have been waiting. Now I’m working on some short stories to give myself the satisfaction by completing something in a shorter period of time. It’s motivating. But I think three years is actually a pretty normal amount of time to spend writing a book, you know, some people spend 10 years on a book. It has to be something you really believe in.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE BOOK?
SG: Oh, man. I don’t know. I hope they like it. I hope they think it’s funny. I hope they recognize something in it. Each of the characters is supposed to be someone you might know, so I hope they relate to the story, and I hope they find it appropriately disturbing and hilarious. I hope it leads them to think a little bit too. That’s all I ask.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN TRUE LOVE AND SOULMATES?
SG: Absolutely. Yeah, I believe that my partner is my soulmate. They are my life partner, my best friend, my confidant, and I have the biggest crush on them. So I’m very lucky. I feel very grateful to be in a safe place with them. I think true love is knowing that something like this can happen in our world and your partner will still be there with you. But I should also say that the novel is a dark comedy. These were all serious questions that I was asking myself, but I wanted to send up a lot of the mythologies about love that have been floating through our culture and making people unhappy for a long time. So it’s a satire. It takes place between 2014 and 2016 and ends with the election of Donald Trump, which was one of the precipitating events in the end of my relationship at the time. It just really exposed the fractures in those relationships between people that we had been maintaining for a long time, against our better judgment. So it’s looking at things like white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia and how we are responsible for one another as a culture.
YOU CREATED A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST TO ACCOMPANY THE BOOK. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE TRUE LOVE PLAYLIST?
SG: The playlist was just kind of an atmosphere that I moved through over the three years that I wrote this book. It began as one song, and then I just kept adding until there were over 100. I think each one kind of gives me a different entry point and thinking about love or thinking about relationships between characters. It’s almost like each song is a monologue being spoken by a character in the book. Some of them came out of playlists that my friends had made for me when we were in our early 20s. Or songs that I was listening to while I was breaking up with someone in my 20s. Some of them were actually significant in my first marriage, and one of them is a song that was played at my wedding this past November to my partner, Patty. So each one has a different window into the subject, like a different attitude about love.
YOUR COLLECTION OF ESSAYS SUNSHINE STATE RECEIVED SO MUCH CRITICAL ACCLAIM, DID YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE WRITING THIS SECOND BOOK?
SG: I wanted to do something very different. Every time I write something new, I try to do something different with my writing. I didn’t want to write another book of essays. I don’t like to do what people expect me to do. I would feel like I have to one up myself. So instead I do something completely different and write a novel about a completely different subject. I feel grateful that anybody reads my work at all, you know?
THE WORLD HAS ONLY GOTTEN STRANGER IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS, CAN WE EXPECT ANOTHER BOOK FROM YOU THAT REFLECTS THAT?
SG: Oh, God. Yeah. I’m working on some short stories now, like I said. One of them is coming out in a queer fiction issue of McSweeney’s in October or November. That short story is called Glass. Then I’m also working on a writing craft essay about how to write about love and the symbiotic relationship between life and art. And then I’m also working on a long-term nonfiction book, which has been in progress for about three or four years already now, and I’m still reporting on it. But I have no idea what the timeline might be for that, a couple more years at least, but I can’t tell you what that’s called. It’s a secret. There’s more coming.
Read Gerard’s feature story on famed artist and Floridian Marilyn Minter, which ran in the Fall 2019 edition of Flamingo.