Mark McDermott

Young, local writer debuts novel at {pages}

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Author Sarah Hersman reads at {pages: a bookstore} May 20. Photo by the Irish School of Falconry

by Taylor Friedlander

The man swiveled his arm around his back, his weathered fingers grazing the alien-like flesh protruding from his scapula. Looking over his shoulder he observed the reflection of his backside in the mirror. There was the puckered line of his spine, sloping shoulders, graying hair. And, then there were his wings. He lifted the Polaroid camera from his dresser, readying himself for a photo.

Sarah Hersman saw each moment of the scene unfold. In fact, the entire scene was her creation, something she dreamed up 10 years ago. And 10 years, later, that imagined moment evolved into her first book, The Night’s Gift.

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The Night’s Gift, Sarah Hersman’s debut novel.

Much like Harry Potter, her book fits the genre of “young adult fantasy” while still appealing to readers of all ages. This may have something to do with the fact that both Harry Potter and The Night’s Gift explore relationships between characters separated by generations.

Though Jake is older, calloused, and cynical, he has a soft side. This helps him strike up an unlikely friendship with 16-year old Alvara. In many ways, she is your typical teen. She’s strong-willed, rebellious, breaks curfew, and sneaks out her bedroom window on a nightly basis. But her feet never touch the ground. Like Jake, she has wings. This is the gift brought to her by the night.

While Alvara is light in flight, she’s laden with the weight of secrecy and isolation. It’s only when she encounters Jake that she realizes she’s not alone. The two are an unlikely duo, tasked with a daunting mission. It is up to them to fight against a malignant force that threatens to destroy the world. Alvara and Jake’s values are put to the test, as they brave circumstances neither of them had ever imagined. While the magical and fantastic abilities of the characters are what first hook the reader’s interest, it’s ultimately the strength of the characters themselves that makes their saga meaningful.

The story began as a pet project for Hersman —  a Mira Costa Class of 2006 graduate and daughter of Councilperson Nancy Hersman —  while she was completing her undergraduate studies at Brown University. When she graduated from Brown in May 2010, she found herself with a vacant summer to enjoy. The following fall, she would launch into a PhD program with UCLA’s neuroscience department. Family and friends thought Hersman might use the free time to unwind or travel, but she had other plans. While friends beckoned her to the beach, she remained steadfast in her commitment to completing her first novel. By the fall, the first draft of Hersman’s book was complete, and she began her PhD program.

Signing on with an agent is traditionally the first step towards publication. But Hersman quickly learned that most agents and agencies are mainly interested in writers pursuing a writing career.

“Though I had a few interested parties, all eventually turned me down because it was clear this wasn’t my main career,” Hersman said. “If I didn’t write a second novel, they might not make a profit.”

So she turned her attention to boutique publishers more focused on sharing a vision than maximizing profits. She made a connection at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

“I saw a display of book covers I fancied at Mischievous Muse Press,” Hersman recalled. She struck up a conversation with the publishers, cracked a joke, and then, as if it were a novel, she was invited to pitch her book. The rest is history.

Sarah Hersman will read from The Night’s Gift May 20 at 3 p.m. at {pages} (904 Manhattan Avenue, MB).

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