New Voice: Sarah Tregay on Love and Leftovers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Sarah Tregay is the first-time author of Love and Leftovers (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy

When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. 

By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this “vacation” has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up.

But understanding love, especially when you’ve watched your parents’ affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you’ve lost it?

Love and Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl’s journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

When I started Love and Leftovers, I set out with the goal of writing about a main character who makes a big mistake. I had just finished reading several books where the main character’s friends had wronged them, and I wanted to reverse that.

Because of this premise, I was concerned with what readers would think and if they’d find such a character likable. So I spent a lot of time thinking about Marcie’s not-so-great behavior and when it would occur—if she jumped in too soon she’d appear insincere, and if it took two hundred poems to happen, well, that’d be a dull read.

But it wasn’t just timing, I felt like I had to set Marcie up in such a way that what she does seems like the next logical step—even if it’s a step in the wrong direction. I took her away from her friends, made her question her relationships, and then gave her a temptation she couldn’t walk away from.

Then, when the moment comes, I used the verse format to my advantage. It’s sparse, sexy and funny, without too many “edgy” details.

I think that my decisions were the right ones for my book. With the right timing and the right set-up, I felt that my main character could slip up and fall hard, as long as there was a little humor in there too. As for how many details to include, I put in what felt right for my story.

If I were to put Love and Leftovers on a novels-in-verse scale of sweet vs. edgy, I’d put it on the Sonya Sones and Lisa Schroeder sweet side, and not on the Ellen Hopkins edgy side—and I love reading Ellen’s books—but what feels right in her novels wouldn’t be right for mine.

As a poet, how did you achieve this level in your craft? What advice do you have for beginner poets interested in writing for young readers?

My approach to poetry is intuitive, rather than something I studied in college. (My MFA is in design, not writing.) That said, I’m happy to share a bit about how I write.

In addition to the interior details of the poem—word choice, metaphor, turns-of-phrase, etc.— I pay close attention to the visual and auditory components.

I am a graphic designer by training, and I organize typography on a daily basis. This ties in amazingly well with the visual aspect of poetry.

Unlike prose, poetry has white space (think paper). Line length, line breaks, indents, and hard returns all play a part in how a poem looks on the page. Careful choices about white space can add structure to the poem, aid reader comprehension, and add meaning.

I feel that poetry literally has a voice—the type with pitch and cadence. I read my writing out loud and make adjustments because of the way it sounds. For example, an angry poem will sound grating, and a contemplative one will sound hesitant.

Occasionally, this technique has gotten me into grammatical trouble, but my editor was kind enough to point these moments out to me.

So my advice to poets is to take a minute to both look at and listen to your poetry. And if you are going to publish your poems or novel in verse, be prepared to make a few tweaks after the designer has typeset your book—the pages are a different size and the poems look very different than they do in Word.

9 thoughts on “New Voice: Sarah Tregay on Love and Leftovers

  1. Great interview, Cynthia and Sarah! Sarah, I loved reading about your process, especially as I am NOT a poet but I love reading poetry. Even though a novel-in-verse may have fewer words than a traditional novel, the care taken with those words is probably quite time consuming. I can't wait to read LOVE & LEFTOVERS!

  2. Ditto Eve's comment above. Brilliant questions and inspiring answers. Thank you, Cynthia, for such a lovely interview, and thank you, Sarah, for writing LOVE & LEFTOVERS!

  3. I just received my copy in the mail a couple days ago, I've never read a novel in verse before (though I have many on my tbr list), I read through the first few pages and am in love with Sarah's writing (unfortunately I have a couple more books to read before I get to sit down and devour it)

  4. Having just finished your wonderful book, Sarah, I loved this glimpse into the development of Marcie's character and choices. I like the idea of the reversal — of the protagonist doing her friends wrong.

    I don't know if you remember this, but the second part of your interview, the portion about poetry needing to be seen and heard, is something you let me share at a verse novel talk here at an SCBWI schmooze. As I read your book, I was struck by the visual elements you used and the way these choices bolstered/communicated more deeply the words on the page. Looking forward to more from you!

  5. Great interview, Cynthia & Sarah!. I do like the spare, intense feel of books in verse and think the format works so well for young readers who can otherwise get tangled up in prose.

    I just got in my copy of LOVE & LEFTOVERS and can't wait to get into it!

  6. Eve, I'm likewise not a poet but a poetry fan with an appreciation of how much care goes into it.

    Katherine, thank you for your cheers!

    Megan, how exciting that Sarah's will be your first novel in verse. You have a lot of great YA reads in that format waiting for you.

    Caroline, I agree that the reversal is fascinating, and I also think, when the story is right, it's time for more of us to take risks with protagonist likability. I wish I'd been able to come to that talk.

    Jeannine and Miriam, happy reading! Thanks for chiming in!

    Kimberly, thanks for the recommendation and for gifting a second copy, too! That kind of support is absolutely key to a book finding its audience.

    Joanne, verse is certainly popular–perhaps more with young readers than grown-ups, and they seem more inclined to wrote poetry, too.

Comments are closed.