Interview with Sabrina Pena Young

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Like any little girl, I wanted to be a famous rock drummer when I grew up. I dedicated the bulk of my teen and college years to drumming, playing in everything from Gothic bands to Christian alternative rock to orchestra and avant-garde ensembles that created irritating "sound art". I've dedicated over a quarter of a century to my music as a performer and composer. Still not a famous rock drummer, though. Maybe I should go with my fifth grade backup career and become an international spy.
When did you first start writing?
To be honest, I started writing in elementary school...stories about space vampires and evil monsters...stuff I should have saved since it's such a favorite topic today. I constantly wrote mysteries and science fiction, sometimes what I thought was dramatic historical fiction, and even the occasional horror my college years my writing became simultaneously more academic as i preened to be a musician and scholar while also littering my dorm with poem upon poem about love and angst (great fodder for lyrics...not so great in a literary sense).
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, it was an awful mystery that I thought was very much inspired by Nancy Drew...but probably read more like the short synopsis of a Scooby Doo mystery. I was in fifth grade, though, so I suppose it was forgivable.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love seeing where my characters are going, and really, just messing with their lives. I have spent most of my creative career writing music and experimenting with sound...but I really love experimenting with words. Words can reach so many people so quickly. Music does, too, but in a different way and not everyone is willing to listen to every style of music, while most folks will at least read a page or two of something unfamiliar.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
To be honest, I started to read at the age of two and in first grade had conquered the entire Grimms and Hans Anderson fairy tales, along with a kid-friendly bible, and a hundred classics, simplified for young readers. Shortly after that I read through the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, full versions of many classics, and obsessed over every Nancy Drew mystery I could get my hand on. I remember reading The Picture of Dorian Gray at age twelve, and deciding that it was my favorite book. The idea that on the outside we put on a facade while on the inside we were crumbling evil corpses really related to my existence as a child in a difficult home. Somehow the outward beauty of Dorian and the sheer viciousness of his true self reverberated with what I thought life truly must be for all humanity. We were worms pretending to be butterflies. Needless to say, Edgar Allen Poe and the macabre also fascinated the young me, who attempted to make sense of a world that was topsy-turvy.
Describe your desk
Eclectic. An older imac sits surrounded by plants and music equipment. A couple of fans blow on the computer to keep the hard drive from frying again, and there are always at least a dozen different cables and cords snaking around the desk, all plugged into my microphone, music keyboard, Malletkat, or random MIDI controllers. Sketchbooks and journals detailing chicken scratch from my latest projects litter the area, as well as a handful of old bills that probably should have been recycled months ago. At least one children's book always sits next to me, not because I've read it recently, but because it seems the most convenient place to drop it at the moment, although inevitably, it gets in the way.
What is your writing process?
Thinking...oh, I think and obsess about an idea for months, sometimes years, before a single note or word is written. Then I sketch out ideas in a journal, snatching stolen moments here and there, hoping that the ideas come together. Then comes the laborious process of creation. I am a composer by trade, and writing is no different. Sometimes I wish for inspiration, but usually I just get in a "zone", when it is late, LATE at night, and just go...the mental preparation making me go on automatic, just putting together what has been wrought in the synapses of my mind. The stage I hate the most? Revisions..oh, I hate revisions, but they are necessary, since I often forget what I created while in the zone, and what is created in the zone is not necessarily something that is keepable.
What do you read for pleasure?
At any one time I am conquering several books at one time. Recently I have been reading books about the foster care system, horror and thriller stories, gardening books, and Chinese cookbooks. Tomorrow I may pick up a few books on how to make my own cheese, conspiracy theories, and a historical overview of Buffalo. Because I am a speed reader with a multifaceted mind, I take comfort in absorbing hundreds of facts simultaneously. I'm also easily bored, so checking out a dozen books at a time satisfies my insatiable desire for knowledge.
What's the story behind your latest book?
A few years ago I wanted to create a new epic sci-fi opera. I found an old unfinished short story about a scientist who had accidentally been experimenting on her own mother. The story was going nowhere fast, but I took it and revamped it into an entire opera libretto and produced Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, a sci-fi machinima opera about a teen named Libertaria who escapes from a genetics factory, teaming up with her addict father to lead a children's cyborg army. But as the music production continued over two arduous years, I found that the format I had chosen - a feature animated film of about sixty minutes - didn't allow much time to really know the characters like I know the characters. So instead I decided to write a short story, then a novel version of the story.
What advice would you give to new writers and creatives?
People always say to "think outside the box". Well, the truth is that today there is no box. The rules are being broken constantly, which means that you can take whatever creative idea that you have today and act on it. There are no excuses anymore. I saw this with my opera. I had no money, no opera company, just an imac and my ideas, and was able to produce Libertaria: The Virtual Opera with the help of an amazing volunteer cast and crew. The same can be true of your next novel or screenplay or musical. You don't need permission or money, just time and perseverance and innovation.
Published 2014-08-07.
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