The Sweetest Debut: Sarah Domet on ‘The Lives of the Saints’ and ‘Dateline’ Fanfiction


Welcome to the Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

Set in a convent, Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres is “a wondrous look at the aches and pains of growing up” according to one critic. The author told Flavorwire about the origins of her book in a short story, reading about the religious saints, and writing fanfiction about Keith Morrison of Dateline.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

The Guineveres follows the lives of four girls—all named Guinevere—abandoned by their parents at The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration during a time of war. When a group of comatose soldiers arrive, the girls believe these boys may hold their ticket to freedom. The Guineveres open themselves up to the dream of a better future, but also to disappointments, betrayals, and revelations about the essence of family itself.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

Growing up in a convent.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

In 2008 I wrote a story called “Our Boys” as part of my dissertation. The plot was essentially the same: four girls fall in love with four comatose soldiers. I intended the tale to be playful, quirky—surreal, even. However, after the story was published, I couldn’t stop thinking about these four Guineveres. They began persistently pestering me, yanking on my hair and keeping me awake at night. They wanted to tell me how/why they came to the convent. They wanted to explain who they’d become as adults. I knew if I ever wanted to sleep again, I’d have to find a way to write their stories. In early 2012 I began to write the novel in earnest.

What’s a canonical book you think is overrated?

Whether or not I admire a book can be totally dependent upon my mood or even the moment in my life. When I was required to read Tristram Shandy early in grad school, I couldn’t have loathed the book more. (I mean, come on—I just wanted to get to the plot! Those damn diversions! Something about his nose? And something about a clock? Get on with it, already, Sterne.) However, when I returned to the book again years later, I fell in love with it. Now I’m hesitant to call out any book as underrated. Maybe I just didn’t read it at the right time.

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. It’s her debut, and my favorite of all her novels. I remember reading it when I was much younger and saying for the first time (privately—it would be years before I’d say it publicly): I want to be a writer. The book opened up for me the possibility of what kind of fiction a woman could write.

A book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Lives of the Saints. As I read it, I became more and more fascinated. While many of the male saints were out in the world doing—founding abbeys, leading forces into battle, preaching, or participating in the world in a public way—for the female saints, faith was often intrinsically linked to their bodies. Bodily suffering became a mode of practicing their faith, and so they’re often depicted as inflicting suffering upon themselves: starving themselves, lying of beds of glass and stone, wearing crowns of thorns, cutting off their breasts, burning their faces with lye, etc. I thought, well, this isn’t too dissimilar to the body image issues of many teenagers. I’ve always been a fan of literary retellings, and when I started The Guineveres, I saw an opportunity to tie the saint stories into the narrative of the girls.

Do you have a favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I like to pretend that television provides vital research for writing. My tastes range from high to low brow, but if I had to pick just one, Dateline is my tried and true standby. Also: The Wire, How I Met Your Mother, Homeland, Battlestar Galactica, anything on HGTV, and old episodes of Frazier.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Mad Max: Fury Road. I was very pregnant at the time and afraid the intensity of the chase scenes (practically the whole movie, that is) would induce labor.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

I don’t, typically. Though I went through a phase of writing to Gregorian Chant because I once read it increased creativity.

Who is your fashion icon?

I like anyone who can rock a blazer. Maybe Ellen Degeneres meets Mariska Hargatay?

Do you prefer working in a coffee shop or silent library?

Either. I have an amazing capacity to focus.

Desk, bed or couch?

Desk. My dog sleeps beneath and serves as a foot warmer.

Morning writing or late-night writing?

Morning is when I’m most efficient. 1 morning hour = 2 evening hours.

Writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I’m a believer in just getting the words down on the page. If I let myself edit as I go, I’m liable to stay on the same scene indefinitely. Usually, when I open my current writing project, I’ll only allow myself to read back a paragraph or so.

If you could write fan-fiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Keith Morrison from Dateline. I adore his lilting voice. I love the way he says the word “record” (Reh-CORD). He somehow manages to repeat this word multiples times each episode.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

“The chief suspect was a stock boy at Columbia Records,” Keith said, menacingly. “Deep in the bowels of the stockroom, his job to was inventory record after record. But, did the stock boy hold the record…for murder?”