New Voice: Sarah Tregay on Love and Leftovers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

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
love.



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.