Wisdom from the Publishing World with Sara Dahmen
Welcome to the September installment of the 2021 Author Series, where a published author shares with us what advice they would give to their younger/pre-published self. Sara Dahmen is our September author, but she does so many more things than writing I can't even begin to list them here . . . just scroll down for her full bio. (Seriously!) I first met Sara at a writing conference and immediately admired her spirit, energy, and tenacity. Anyone who does the cookware research for her historical fiction so well that she ends up not only with a new hobby, but starts a company selling such cookware and learns how to make it, too. . . is my kind of person!
I've interviewed her before and also reviewed her books in this space. I wholeheartedly recommend her both her fiction and nonfiction! (Check out her books at the bottom of this post!)
Sara Dahmen is an award-winning writer and entrepreneur, as well as the only female coppersmith in America, manufacturing, restoring, and building copper cookware in her garage-turned-copper-shop. To create her kitchen items for her company, House Copper & Cookware, Sara uses tools from the 1800s as well as current power tools, and bases all her new designs on lost American cookware shapes, sourcing all materials from the USA.
Sara’s non-fiction book on the history, science, use, and care of cookware, Copper, Iron, and Clay: A Smith’s Journey, (William Morrow/Harper Collins) was released in 2020 and features her story, recipes, and interviews from the biggest cookware makers in the world. Her historical fiction Flats Junction series (Promontory Press, Inc.), including Tinsmith 1865 and Widow 1881, has been critically recognized and was the inspiration behind starting her copper cookware business. Her next book, OUTCAST 1883, was (finally!) given a release date of Fall 2022.
Sara has published over 100 articles as a contributing editor for various trade magazines, spoke at TEDx Rapid City and is a Duluth Trading Co. model as well as an award-winning tv and movie screenwriter with scripts optioned and bought. Sara’s screenplay, THE RIVER BETWEEN US, co-written with Wisconsin author Barbara Joosse, has recently placed in the top 10 scripts by the Chicago Screenplay Awards. In her spare time, Sara sews her family authentic clothing for their 1830’s reenactment camping, keeps honeybees, chickens, rabbits and multiple gardens. She lives in Port Washington, Wisconsin with her husband and their three young children.
Here's her advice to us and to her younger self.
If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, what advice would I give?
Advice to my elementary self, who cannot even spell “village” but is determined to write stories with horrific pacing, obvious plots and on-the-nose dialogue:
“Just keeping writing! No matter what! It doesn’t matter how bad it is, or the fact that you’re just skating on gut, just don’t stop, because the practice will pay off! Also, you maybe don’t want to draw photos of EVERYthing you write in your ‘books’. Just a tip.”
Advice to my high school self, who writes long-hand in notebooks during class, surreptitiously passing them off to friends at lockers so they can read installments of your latest attempt at “romance” which is painful and still on-the-nose and terribly angsty:
“Someday, you’ll be typing as fast as you think, so you won’t be stuck doing long-hand, and it will be heaven. Keep reading voraciously, and try on different styles of writing, from Buck to Vonnegut to McKinley – find your voice by practicing with others. Don’t be afraid to dabble in poetry, or to write short flash fiction for fun. Share it more, to get feedback sooner. And stay in tune with your gut – it will never be wrong.”
Advice to my college self, who writes in the city nights on a fat, heavy laptop to manage the stress and lack of creative writing opportunities that college classes provide, and who firmly believes writing will never be anything but a very tiny side hobby:
“Start asking 'what if' and 'why not' with abandon. Use those rejection letters you get from agents and publishers to get free beers at the bars who use them as currency (you could buy at least five rounds with them, which is something at least!), and spend less time dismissing yourself and more time learning about the industry – it’ll give you a tiny leg up later. Also, it’s ok to edit stuff. Really.”
Advice to my pre-published young adult self, who stashes away long, descriptive, prose-filled stories on a computer drive (and on floppy disks – remember those?) and who is so distracted by life and family and children that writing nearly ceases to exist:
“You’re going to hear no, get more rejection, have scary editing sessions, and spend more of your savings than you ever dreamed, but just DO everything that pops into your life, face it all with less worry and just keep working hard. All the strife, heartache, lawyer bills, and time will culminate in a rich life. Don’t forget to enjoy it as it comes!”
Check out her wonderful books below:
Copper, Iron, and Clay, is a beautiful photographic history of our cooking tools and their fundamental uses in the modern kitchen, accompanied by recipes that showcase the best features of various cooking materials. Today, most people are concerned about eating seasonal, organic, and local food. But we don’t think about how the choices we make about our pots, pans, and bowls can also enhance our meals and our lives. Understanding the origins of the cookware we use to make our food should be just as essential.
Richly illustrated with dozens of stunning color photographs, Copper, Iron, and Clay showcases each material, exploring its fascinating history, fundamental science—including which elements work best for various cooking methods—and its practical uses today. It also features fascinating interviews with industry insiders, including cookware artisans, chefs, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers from around the world. In addition, Sara provides recipes from her own kitchen and some of her famous chef friends, as well as a few historical favorites—all which are optimized for particular kinds of cookware.
When her tinsmith father and brothers head West, Polish immigrant Marie Kotlarczyk has no choice but to go along. The Dakota Territories are anything but welcoming to the Kotlarczyks, resulting in tragedy and loss. As the months trip by, Marie must survive by picking up the metalsmithing hammers she secretly desires but also fears. When she faces the skeptical people of Flats Town, the demands of the local Army commander, and her public failures, her inner voice grows destructively, forcing Marie to decide exactly who she is and what it means to be a woman smith.
Proper Boston widow Jane Weber moves to the Dakota Territories to save her reputation, choosing lies over possible death. Her arrival as the housekeeper for the half-beloved, half-reviled local Doctor is only half the trouble, as Jane rooms with the last Lakota woman living in town while navigating a mercurial friendship with the fiercely independent town grocer. In Flats Junction, though, everyone has an untold story. Battling her shortcomings, falsehoods, and swallowing her inherent curiosity, Jane must choose how she will truly reinvent herself, and where she belongs.
Learn more about Sara on her website at saradahmen.com.
Shop her House Copper and Cookware store.