Q&A With Sara Ackerman

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Q&A With Sara Ackerman 

I have the honor and pleasure of doing this Q&A with USA Today Bestselling author of historical fiction. Her novels are Island Of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, The Lieutenants Nurse, Red Sky Over Hawaii, Radar Girls, The Codebreakers Secret & coming out in 2024 The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West. 

Q: Sara would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I about The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West? 

A: Yes, I would love to! The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West is an action packed dual-timeline novel featuring a ground-breaking female aviator and the young woman who uncovers her buried history decades later. This is my first non-WWII book, and I can’t wait for everyone to meet these two inspiring women!

The idea for this novel came about while I was leafing through an old book called The Saga of The Sandwich Islands. When I came upon a page on the 1927 Dole Air Race from Oakland to Hawaii, I was immediately intrigued. How had I never heard of this incredible story of courage and tragedy? Charles Lindbergh had just completed his famous Atlantic Crossing, which inspired James Dole, pineapple magnate, to offer up a large prize purse for first and second place. Aviators from around the country scrambled to take place. But since it was 1927, there were no female pilots in the race, only a female passenger named Mildred Doran, despite the fact that there were many capable female pilots out there at the time. Since I write fiction, I thought it would be fun to create a few of my own characters in a kind of what if scenario. Thus, Olivia West was born.

Here is the official synopsis on the back of the book:

1927. Olivia “Livy” West is a fearless young pilot with a love of adventure. She yearns to cross oceans and travel the skies. When she learns of the Dole Air Race—a high-stakes contest to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West Coast to Hawai’i—she sets her sights on qualifying. But it soon becomes clear that only men will make the cut. In a last-ditch effort to take part, Livy manages to be picked as a navigator for one of the pilots, before setting out on a harrowing journey that some will not survive.

1987. Wren Summers is down to her last dime when she learns she has inherited a remote piece of land on the Big Island with nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and an overgrown mac nut grove. She plans on selling it and using the money to live on, but she is drawn in by the mysterious objects kept in the barn by her late great-uncle—clues to a tragic piece of aviation history lost to time. Determined to find out what really happened all those years ago, Wren enlists the help of residents at a nearby retirement home to uncover Olivia’s story piece by piece. What she discovers is more earth-shattering, and closer to home, than she could have ever imagined.

Q: I enjoy reading historical fiction and you obviously enjoy writing it. What is your favorite part about writing historical fiction?

A: I love how much I learn while writing these books, and also seeing how the characters of yesteryear really come to life when I put them on the page. When the book is done, I almost feel as though I’ve lived in their shoes, and these people are like old friends. Also, I do my best to be historically accurate and spend a lot of time making sure I have the events, the language, the place, the food and those kinds of details as real as possible, and I always find out the most fascinating things. 

With Radar Girls, it was so interesting when I began to dig deep to learn about radar and plotting and aviation. With The Codebreaker’s Secret I had to learn about cryptanalysis. Both were so challenging, but also gave me such an appreciation for how brilliant and gutsy these women must have been. And for The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West, I had to delve deep into early aviation history and learn every detail I could about this particular race as well as navigation prior to modern day technology. It’s a lot of work, but I love it! 

Q: What is the process like when researching, plotting, writing and editing your work?

A: I usually start with a loose idea and go from there, first sending it to my agent to see if she is onboard. Then I attempt to plot out all threads of the story as much as possible (I have to for my editor), but know that it may well change. Great ideas and new characters often present themselves when I least expect it, which is always fun. I write 500-1,000 words a day and take a day off now and then if I need to. I have a new policy for myself that I can’t get out of bed until I write 300 words, and I’ve found it sets the tone for the day and makes me feel like I have a head start. 

Once the draft is done we go into edit mode. I first reread the whole book and make changes, then send the draft to my agent (who reads and gives me quite a bit of notes) and then my editor, who gives me even more notes. These developmental notes are extensive and I always read them, cry, set aside for a few days, then dive in. All this work can be very tough, but it makes the book so much better. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold!

Another important part of my process is daydreaming. I need time to brainstorm about my work in progress as I walk my dog, swim, paddle, hike, drive or watch the sunset. The unconscious mind It’s taken time for all this to evolve, but I feel like it works well for me. 

Q: How long does it typically take for you to write a book?

A: A first draft usually takes 5-6 months, then another few months of editing. My books usually come out a little over a year apart, though The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West releases 18 months after The Codebreaker’s Secret. 

Q: I read on your blog that you have a journalism degree. How long were you a journalist and would you say that your journalism career helped with researching and writing your historical fiction books?

A: My journalism degree was not put to use in the traditional sense, since I ended up working in a graphic design office and went back to school for a masters in psychology, to be a school counselor. The writing background helped, for sure, and I think psychology also has been instrumental in helping me understand my characters more deeply, especially those who have undergone trauma. 

Q: If you had to choose, which books did you have the most fun researching and writing and why?

A: It’s so hard to pick! They were all fun in their own way, but I’m going to say Red Sky Over Hawaii. 

This book was fun to write because Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (aka Volcano) is one of my favorite places in the world.  I have been going there since I was young and have spent a lot of time exploring every single trail in the park, from Mauna Loa road, to Halema’uma’u (Kilauea’s main crater), all the way down Chain of Craters road to the coast where the lava flows out to the sea. I know it like the back of my hand. In my book, I wanted to give the reader the same feeling I get when I’m there, and the sights and sounds and smells, whether it be the crunch of lava underfoot, the whirring of the wings of the honeycreepers (tiny forest birds), or the scent of the sulfur that permeates the air. 

It was also fascinating to dive deeper into the history of Volcano during the war. I had no idea that it was such an important military hub, as well as being home to a rustic old house tucked away in a remote part of the park with an intriguing history. I came upon the house by chance one day while I was out hiking, and needless to say, I was curious. When I dug deeper and found the house was originally built as a hideaway house in 1941 in case of a Japanese invasion, I knew I would be writing a book about it. 

Also, I am a big fan of magical realism, so it was fun to add a touch of that to my story. If you’ve ever been to Volcano, you know it is quite an enchanting place with a powerful energy. I enjoyed the exploration of the “unexplained phenomena” throughout the book. It’s my only (published) novel with hints of magical realism.

Q: The entertainment industry needs original content again. Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? 

A: Currently, no, but I’m hoping that might change soon. It would be incredible to see my stories brought to life on the big (or little) screen.

Q: What is the best advice you would give to aspiring authors on writing, dealing with criticism & family and friends who might not support their writing goals?

A: I would say that criticism will come along with writing, so it’s something to expect to a certain degree. I don’t read my reviews any more, unless I know they are positive ones. I do, however, greatly appreciate constructive criticism and feedback from my agent and editor. Sometimes it’s not what I want to hear, but their feedback inevitably makes my books better. As far as family and friends not supporting you, again, I would say that this is your journey and oftentimes it’s a lonely one. The less you expect from others, the easier it will be for you. Oftentimes it’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that they don’t understand. Focus on the story and the writing and the rest will come. 

Patience & Perseverance is my motto, and it has served me well!

Q: Is it too early to ask about the next book you are writing about now or can you reveal any details?

A: I have another book releasing in November of 2024, and I’m so excited about it! This one is not historical, it’s a love story/adventure novel partly set on Maui and it involves big wave surfing. I’m working on revisions for it now. The book after that comes out in June 2025, and that one is another dual timeline about an unsolved mystery in Waikiki during the early 1900s.