#PitchWars 2017 Mentee Bio

Greetings, Dear Reader! I’m Sarah. 

(Get this baby outta my face.)


I write YA. Find me on Twitter.








SECRETS IN THE STONE is YA historical fiction with feathery kisses of romance, mystery, and a touch of magical realism. It’s set in England, 1912, in one eerie island manor and one misty, mossy glen.

Estella Ripley learns on her eighteenth birthday that her late grandfather left her his old island manor, complete with a peculiar underground passage and stone walls that seem to perspire in every season. She is confident that her soon-to-be husband, Edward Maxwell, will run the estate, thereby fulfilling her grandfather’s wishes. But the estate is more than just a house; Estella discovers it is also a secret glen that inhabits a group of wild Irish fugitives who safeguard a mysterious garden of Gaelic plants that wield dangerous capabilities.

When Edward discovers the secret glen, his true colors are revealed — he wants the estate, and he’ll do anything – even commit Estella to Bedlam – to gain control. Estella must extinguish Edward’s vain thirst for power to protect those precious secrets in the glen that her grandfather entrusted to her alone.


The Author and Her Book

I did not write this book to prove a point, or make a political statement, or challenge society. I wrote it because 16-year-old Sarah would have DIED to read this. Honestly, I still love living in this world of deception and love and mystery!

Whenever I read a book, all I want is to thrive in its world. Hopefully that’s what I’ve created for you, Dear Reader — the opportunity to live in these pages, wiggle your toes in the wet moss, get your skin smelling like peat, and root for our determined Estella to somehow escape the cold hands of that sneaky monster, Edward.

Being a PitchWars Hopeful

Sometimes (every day) I dream about an agent calling me: “Sarah, I read your manuscript and I just. get. it. Let’s talk about getting it in teenage girls’ hands, eh?”

Man, I ache for this. And, like Estella, I will persevere, sometimes annoyingly so, until what I want (my published book) is in my hands. I’ve worked on this manuscript for over a year now, doing everything I can to make it better – critique partners/betas, hard-copy printouts for editing, hiring two professional freelance editors (who transformed it!), etc. I even recorded myself reading as a means of revising. I’ve never felt more dedicated to something I want (and I wanted to be an actress in college — and did a terrifying one-woman show…) and I’ve never been more in love with a creation than this book. (Don’t tell my children.)

But I am not married to my words, though I’ve given each and every one of them nonstop thought! I’ve rewritten this story 4.7 thousand times, so killing my darlings is almost no longer painful. I carefully consider feedback and will most likely obsess over it (talk to myself, dream about it, elicit everyone’s opinion, etc.) until I just need to sit and write it out. I work on revisions very quickly because I’m psycho ex-girlfriend obsessive about making this story sing — and I’m not even sorry.

The Author

I live in a small town in NY near the VT border with my husband, three little kids, and a chocolate lab named Walter Sobchak. (“Mark it eight, Dude.”)

I work in a fancy law firm in Downtown Albany, where it smells like exhaust and sounds like a highway. I prefer our country home that smells like cut grass.

I have a useless master’s degree in education, but I like my bachelor’s in English, complete with a side order of musical theatre. Working in law pays for my useless master’s degree; it’s the reading and writing YA part that makes me a happy person.

Some favorite books of mine: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier); The Madman’s Daughter (trilogy) (Megan Shepherd); Into the Dim (Janet B. Taylor); A Spell For Chameleon (Piers Anthony); A Perilous Undertaking (Deanna Raybourn); Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey (JD Salinger)

Weird Sarah Things:

  1. I write with either “Murder, She Wrote” or “The Golden Girls” in the background because they are my friends and make me feel comfortable.
  2. My blog is a totally different voice than my YA manuscript. Fiction can be exciting and creepy and dramatic; non-fiction life with three children must be funny or I’d have a coronary.
  3. Antiheroes are my thang, and when someone tries to tell me that a protag needs to be likeable, I shove Scarlett O’Hara in their face, quickly followed by any of the hateful characters in Gone Girl. (Protags need to be interesting or intriguing, not likeable, and I shall fight to the death for this!)
  4. I am perfectly comfortable giving up on a book after reading a few pages. If I can’t feel the atmosphere or if the characters aren’t interesting enough, I desert. I’m impatient like that.
  5. I have an obsession with things that smell good, so my manuscript is riddled with poignant scents — and that sense plays a huge role in the plot. (See what I did there? “Scents” and “Sense”? My punny mother would be so proud.)
Here’s Estella, waiting to see whether you’ll stick around for that part where she does what she swore she’d never do.

Why Does Poop Always Find Me?

I want to tell you something. When someone with stars in their eyes says that children are a blessing and a miracle and a beautiful story to read anew every day, slap them in the face, Cher-in-Moonstruck-style, and tell them to snap out of it. It is HORSESHIT.

Hey, speaking of shit, read on.

It is 7 pm and snowing out, and our house is roughly 50 degrees. The oil ran out and we need a delivery; who knows when that will happen tonight. But we need it. We’re freezing.

Almost 2-year-old Perry is touching her butt and crying, “Pee! Pee!” We run upstairs to sit her on the toilet so she can imagine herself peeing. She’s stripped down and we’re ready to get her in PJs.

Gretta cries from downstairs, “Mommy, the oil man is in the kitchen!” This sounds creepy, but I know what’s going on — he’s here to give us the oil bill and tell us everything’s up and running.

I turn to the naked Perry. “Hold on a sec; I’ll be right back.”


I deal with the oil guy for awhile, then remember Perry and head upstairs.

I notice a terrible smell, which means that Perry pooped. No big deal; I’m changing her anyway. Before I can remember that I LEFT HER NAKED AND ALONE, I see finger-painting on the toilet seat.

Guess what? It’s not paint.

I scream, because why not?

Perry tip-toes in and she has streaks of poop all down her legs, across her belly, on her hands. I scream again and start laughing, because FUCK MY LIFE. Unfortunately, I’m slightly hysterical at this point and I scare Perry. She begins to cry, “Poopy.  Poopy.” Before I touch her, I run into the bedroom from where she came because clearly there’s a mess somewhere and I must find it.

Have you ever searched a hardwood floor for poop? It’s a humbling experience.

I find the poop. It’s on the floor of the girls’ Vidia House. “Vidia House” refers to their pink and purple tent that houses Gretta’s vanity and all their hair/makeup/beauty supplies. (“Vidia” is Gretta’s word for vanity.) Why poop in the place reserved for getting pretty? I don’t know, maybe it’s soothing. Maybe it’s a joke on Gretta.

Most amusing is that when Little Vain Princess Gretta sees the poop inside her beloved, pink and girly Vidia House, she loses her shit (figuratively). “Nooooo!” she cries with all the drama of being Sarah Downs’s daughter implies. “Not my Vidia House!”

Here is Gretta storming from the desecrated Vidia House.

Meanwhile, Grady comes upstairs. “What is going on?” he asks. I show him the horror that has ensued.


Here’s Grady laughing his ass off.


Finally, after taking pictures like any smarty would, I hose off Perry in the bathtub. She stops crying until we return to the scene of the crime and she points to the Vidia House: “Yucky!” she cries. Sure is, kid. Sure. Is.

Gretta is still crying.

Grady is still laughing.

And I am still drinking.

What a blessing. What a miracle children are.





When Not To Kill Your Child

Here is my middle child, Gretta. She looks like a peach, doesn’t she?


She is a wild girl with the voice of a 50-year smoker, and I am not exaggerating. Perhaps she’ll be a bass in the high school choir someday.

She loves to get riled up and be aggressive, and I don’t know why I often forget this important fact. Maybe it’s her low, raspy voice that lulls me to temporary amnesia, but I always pay for it in the end.

Yesterday Gretta beautifully colored a wooden Halloween mask in the shape of a bat that covers most of the face except for the eyes. She’d hold it up to her face and scare her younger sister, which was fun and amused them both (win-win). But then it was my turn to be roped into the fun.

Raspy Gretta asked, “Mommy, hold it up to your face and scare me!”

Sure, why not?

I must be amazing at scaring people, because as I held the wooden mask to my face, Gretta screamed and slammed her hand into the mask.

I’m not sure what obscenity I chose at the time, but rest assured it was vulgar and unstoppable.

Once I staunched the bleeding and found myself some ice, I began my Silent Treatment. I’m sorry, but I just don’t like to speak with aggressors.

But Gretta didn’t give a shit, of course. When her victim didn’t respond to the twelve dozen “MOMMY”s, Gretta chose another tactic:


I made the mistake of making eye contact with her, and she used this to her advantage. With a parental expression and her smoker’s voice, she said to me, “I think you owe me an apology.”

At this point in my tale I ask you to re-read the title of this post.


“Patience” is not for me.

Long story short, I wrote a young adult novel and have spent the last two months submitting it to literary agents for possible representation.


I liken this process to pregnancy, which I despised, because I have absolutely no control over anything. Much like pregnancy, all I care about is the end product; the waiting around is what kills me and is when I turn into a psycho miserable monster.

Don’t get me wrong — writing the book was not like pregnancy. Writing the book was heavenly, with all its beautiful moments of “Yes, Sarah, that sounds great!” and “Ooh, what a great idea!” and “Don’t stop now, it’s only midnight.” Writing this book was addicting; I couldn’t wait to leave my crappy day job, put my kids to bed, and then jump into my writing chair and reacquaint myself with my characters. It gave me purpose and drive, something that was severely lacking in my otherwise mundane daily life.

But after that book has been born, and it’s gone through its twelve millionth draft and seen its thousandth critique, it is time to shove it from the nest and see if it’ll fly. I mean, it flies for me; in my eyes, it is my baby, my sweat, my heart, my pride. But giving it up to another to tell me whether they find worth in it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I shall put this into perspective, though, so as not to be too dramatic. It was not as hard as childbirth. It was not as hard as that one-woman show I did in college that nearly wrecked me and my love of theatre for good. It was not as hard as all those opening nights struggling through stage-fright. And it was certainly not as hard as substituting middle schoolers. Talk about painful. But it was difficult to ask someone to judge something I was proud of already.

I don’t believe in luck, so I guess I must say that my hard work paid off and I have been asked for my manuscript a few times. This is, apparently, in the querying world, a Miracle. So I have to be proud. I should be proud.

But instead I’m just impatient. I want instant gratification, and unfortunately for me, this is not the way the process plays out.


In the meantime, I am occupying myself with obsessing over my manuscript. I check my email – I’m not kidding – at least twice every minute for a possible reply to my query. I check QueryTracker (and paid the extra $25 membership fee) for its special features that indicate when others have submitted their queries to each agent and the agent’s response time. I’ve even printed out my character inspiration photos and displayed them next to my desk at work; I like to glance at them occassionally just to keep myself rooted in my obsession. But they also give me hope – my story is real, at least to me, and the more I stare at them, the more hopeful I become. I don’t know why. It’s actually incredibly creepy, but whatever – shit gets strange when you write a book.


My Berry First Birthday Party

My first daughter/second child has a very special, close-knit relationship with Satan.

“Smile, GC…”

However, she was the best newborn baby of all time.  She slept like an angel, let me put fun things in her hair, and initially had a very calm disposition.

And then she turned one and all hell broke loose.

But before we were introduced to the wrath that is GC, she was our little sweetie pants, and therefore I thought she deserved a first birthday party that reflected her precious demeanor.

And, of course, the month of March in New York State makes us all want spring to happen as soon as possible, so we need a little fruity cheeriness.

Enter the Berry Party.  And here’s how you own a theme:DSC_0532.jpg

The first step in making a most wonderful, cutie party is to determine what kind of “mood” you want to create.  For this, I wanted a springy, bright party with happy colors, but I’m not a big fan of “girly” themes, so I went with reds, blues, a little pink, and white/cream.

… On second thought, the first step to any one-year-old birthday party is to accept that the party itself is not about the birthday kid – it’s about impressing everyone with how obsessive a mother can be about the look of the party, aka the theme.  And feel no shame, Ma.  It looks friggen awesome, so own it.

I would highly recommend scanning Pinterest for general theme ideas, if you haven’t already.  When you find the tiniest detail you like, grab onto it and build from there.  For instance, I saw this beautiful party service and absolutely died.  Though it’s light and fluffy and a little too feminine for what I wanted, I stole some ideas and made them work with my theme.  (Check out the scrap fabric banner and the individually wrapped sandwiches.)


My point is you should steal.

I continually scan Pinterest using various search words; for this party, I searched “berry party” and “strawberry party” and “first birthday” and “red checkered party”, etc.  Check out the background of this one; looks shockingly similar to the invitation I created, eh?


And from there I built a menu by searching all over Pinterest for berry recipes.

I made a spinach and strawberry salad with raspberry poppy seed dressing (to DIE for).

I also made blueberry pie pops – and the only picture I was able to get from my party was of an empty plate!  But good luck getting them to stand up straight; I basically just laid them on the plate.  But if you are, like I was, going for a “look”, I’d skip these buggers.  Messy and awkward.

The tiny decor details consisted of simple paper crafts, which were matted circles of various colors and stamped.  I used jute to wrap around the small jelly/mason jars, which you can find at Walmart, or a hardware store, or just about anywhere.

Gretta_s_custard        gretta__utensils


(My wonderful sister is a cake decorator.  Sorry, but I don’t sell her services… Yet, anyway.)

In my Pinterest searches, I found this adorable milk bottle idea, and I just had to do it.  But I’m cheap – not to be confused with frugal – and I am certainly not spending almost $50 on vintage milk bottles.  I found a different way: buy 2 or 3 packages of Starbucks Frappucchino (buy ’em at Target – way cheaper), drink or save the contents, then soak the bottles in warm, soapy water for an hour or so.  I used a razor blade to scrape off the glue and labels.  Some of the writing on the bottle is ink, so just scrub the shit out of it and it’ll come off after soaking.  And then voila – you have a beautiful, clear glass bottle.


So cute.  I filled each one with strawberry milk, and it tasted like elementary school.  And those paper striped straws are everywhere nowadays, so I’m not even going to post where I got them.  Okay, fine – I got them here, which is an excellent place for classy party supplies, though sometimes somewhat expensive.


These beautiful little suitcases were a birthday gift for my daughter, though I can’t remember now where they’re from.  But the key to an excellent birthday display table is layering.  You can use regular ol’ boxes and wrap them in pretty paper, or used wooden crates or serving platters – anything to vary the layers of food, desserts, and treats.  Remember, it’s all about the way it looks, because, believe me, your one-year-old doesn’t give a shit about any of it.

Finally, be sure to dress your kid in something that matches.  And be sure to take lots of pictures so’s you can show off later.

Happy Decorating!

That Time My Kid Shat In My Car

Silly you.  You probably assume this is about that time when my child wore a diaper and pooed during a long car ride, or something equally as innocent.

I assure you – nothing about this incident is innocent.

May I become Sophia Petrillo for a moment?  Picture it — Hoosick Falls.  June, 2013:

It is 6 a.m. and we hear a train downtown and a car horn going off somewhere nearby.  How annoying.  Suddenly my husband says, “I have a bad feeling that G is not in the house.”  Naturally, I scan the kids’ room and I see one child asleep.  But wait – don’t we have two children?

Yes, we do.

I check all the rooms in the house but G is nowhere to be found.  Something strikes me that perhaps I ought to check outside.  I go through our yard and I wonder why I am so compelled to check the driveway.  Why would a three-year-old be in the driveway at 6 a.m., right?  Funny you should ask…

I see a little person bopping around in my car and I go to the window.  It’s G, of course, and he looks at me with surprise, like, “Holy hell, Mommy actually found me!”  Little guy unlocks the door and immediately begins apologizing.  So he knows he’s in the wrong.

I open the door.  I want to yell at him and tell him my car is not his god damn clubhouse, but my attention is taken by the fact that he’s not wearing a shirt.  Or a diaper.  And hey, why are the contents of my glove compartment emptied onto my floor?


Perhaps G stepped in doggy poopy while on his way to my car, and now he’s stepped all over the car and it’s everywhere.  But Walter’s poop has a very different smell than people poop; I love him more than anyone ever, but I don’t feed him steak and potatoes.  That fella’s on “healthy weight” dog food.  His poop is healthier than any human in my house.

The smell of this poop is kid poop – like a horrible mixture of chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese and fresh death.  This is my car’s new air freshener.

(Oh, and did I mention I was hung over that morning?  Bonus.)

Then it all meshes together in my brain as I note the soft-serve on the baby’s car seat, the fingerprint poop smear on the window, the chunks of crap on EVERY SEAT BUT HIS OWN, and the fact that he is sans diaper.

This kid pooped in my car.

He must have been saving it up for days, because he had enough to deposit it in four seats and on one window.  I don’t know how he’s managed it, but the poop is in very specific areas of the car, as if he’d been cognizant of each location’s significance.  For instance, a perfectly precise coil of poo landed on his sister’s seat, as well as on my arm rest and the passenger’s side.  But his car seat was immaculate.

It is difficult to think of the first question to ask in a situation such as this, so I save my questions and drag him from the car.  I immediately place the animal in the tub, consider drowning him, then turn to see my groggy husband’s wide eyes.

“Don’t even *expletive* talk to me right *expletive* now.”

It is then that this man had the audacity to grin.  I remember envisioning divorce papers falling from the sky.

My husband and his grin took care of my animal son while I assessed the damages to my car.  (I would like to note that if this had happened to my husband’s car, there’d be one less alive child in the house.)


G told me later that he didn’t know why he’d taken off his diaper and pooped in Mommy’s car, because all he really wanted to do was “get into Mommy’s car and drive to see the train that was making all that noise.”  I guess trains really rumble the bowels, or something.

I made the beast help me clean the car.  I am not sure how to explain how incredibly filthy an experience it was, but then again it’s probably the kind of thing that needs no explanation.  Let me just say that my favorite part was pulling out the quarters from the air vents, which G tried to plug up because “money fits in there.”

And then I used those quarters to buy giant deadbolts for our home’s interior doors.