Meet Sarah Jane! She’s an assistant editor for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, and a vital part of the Off the Shelf team. When Sarah Jane was growing up, her father read Nancy Drew books to her. These days she is an avid reader of mystery, thriller, and horror, along with everything from literary fiction to poetry to personal essays. She is also an advocate of quasi-destructive book love—her best-loved volumes are highlighted, scribbled in, dog-eared, and wavy from being dropped in the bathtub.
Q: Tell us about your job. What’s it like working in children’s publishing? How’d you end up there?
A: I ended up working in children’s books by a lucky twist of fate. I studied creative writing in college and was hoping to have a career editing adult literary fiction. But since publishing jobs are so competitive, I decided to apply for every entry-level publishing job I could find. I ended up in children’s book publicity, which was fortunate, because I discovered I love picture books! After a year, I switched over to editorial for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books. Working on picture books and novels for young readers is both a lot of fun—because I get to collaborate with artists as well as writers—and very fulfilling—because I know I am making books that kids will be reading in their formative years and important times in their lives. I still remember so many of my favorite books from when I was a kid, and those books really shaped me into who I am today.
Q: We all know you’re a huge Stephen King fan. What do you like most about his writing?
A: I am! As you can probably guess from my reviews on Off the Shelf, he’s my favorite writer. I’ve always been drawn to stories that are a bit dark and creepy (as a kid, I loved Neil Gaiman’s creeptastic picture book THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS!), so I started reading Stephen King for the chills. But I kept reading for his well-drawn characters and the emotional resonance of his work. He isn’t afraid to delve into the dark corners of human nature and examine our relationships, motivations, and the measures people can be pushed to in desperate times. Some of my favorite Stephen King writings aren’t even very scary—JOYLAND is mostly about coming-of-age, first love, and coming to terms with loss (okay, also, there is a haunted amusement park ride). RITA HAYWORTH AND SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is about the resilience of the human spirit in the worst of situations. And his memoir, ON WRITING, is one of the most inspiring and life-affirming books I’ve ever read.
Q: Who are some of your other favorite authors?
A: This is the hardest possible question for a bookworm! Some of my favorites are Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell, Stieg Larsson, Ray Bradbury, and Shirley Jackson. And on the children’s side, some of my favorite authors and books include ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, GHOST and PATINA by Jason Reynolds, FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo, THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel, LEAVE ME ALONE! by Vera Brosgol, THE NIGHT GARDENER by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, and so many more!
Q: A little birdy tells us you’re also a writer in your spare time. How on earth do you find the time? What are you writing?
A: Well, I try to be! I’ve always loved writing, and it’s nice to take a break from the editorial side of things and be creative in a different way. But finding the spare time can be tough. Sometimes I write for a bit in the morning before work, and sometimes I use a free evening or weekend morning to plant myself at a café and write. Besides writing about books for Off the Shelf, I am tinkering with a middle school novel and working on some short stories.
Q: What’s one thing we don’t know about you?
A: I did competitive synchronized swimming for a year in middle school. It’s such a little-known, intense, and beautiful sport. We’d wake up at 5 a.m. on weekends for practice and be in the pool for hours, wearing weight belts and swimming laps underwater. Then we’d travel all over the country for competitions—slathering Knox gelatin over our hair (to keep it from falling out in the water) and wearing sequined bathing suits. The team was a tight-knit and wonderful group of girls. But I still flinch every time I hear “Jingle Bell Rock,” because I once had to do a routine to that song that involved holding my breath for a very long time!
Some of Our Favorite Posts by Sarah Jane: