Sarah Dayan Mueller on “Home in a Hundred Places” and Writing During the Pandemic

I don’t do interviews in this neck of the Internet as often as I did during the first year of doing this blog. However, I occasionally make space to speak with a fellow writer on their own creative process. That’s what’s happening today, and what makes this interview really special is that it’s with someone who I interviewed on here before: Sarah Dayan Mueller.

Mueller is an author from Brooklyn, New York who has traveled to many places across the country and the world. I previously featured her on here seven years ago when her debut novel, Greater Than the Still, was released. This time, she’s back to discuss her second novel, Home in a Hundred Places; a historical fiction novel which was heavily inspired by the life of her father. In an exchange over e-mail, she talks about what went into the process of writing this novel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

LL: I’m aware that Home in a Hundred Places was heavily inspired by your father’s life. What sparked the idea of writing a novel that was influenced by it?

SDM: I’ve always been fascinated with my father’s life and by all the stories he told. It’s as if he lived a hundred different lives in the span of his one lifetime. I’ve always played around with the idea of writing a story about his life but put it on the back burner until more recently, when I decided I needed to preserve all of his experiences as best as I could. 

LL: Writing a work of fiction inspired by real life occurrences can be tricky to execute. How did you approach finding a balance between fiction and reality?

SDM: The majority of events that took place in Home in a Hundred Places were true experiences. For the fictional aspects of the story, I didn’t want to deviate too far from the reality of my father’s life, and wove those pieces of the story into true events that actually happened. It wasn’t too hard to balance between fiction and reality mostly because the majority of the novel was real, with some fictional parts to enhance the story.  

LL: This is your first novel in seven years. Was it a conscious choice to wait a while before releasing a new novel? If so, why did you feel that now was the right time?

SDM: It’s a bit of a cliche to say it, but life just simply got in the way. In the past seven years since my first novel was released, I got married, changed my career, moved to San Diego, the Washington D.C. Metro Area, and Chicago (thanks to the military!), and had my son. Although I wasn’t working on any full-length novels during this time, I’ve still been constantly writing. When I began writing Home in a Hundred Places, I felt like I had a bit more time to take it seriously and focus on it that way I wanted to. 

LL: How much of this novel was written during the pandemic and how was it writing a novel during these very unusual times?

SDM: All of it! I started writing Home in a Hundred Places in May 2020 and finished it in January 2021. I wrote most of it while my son took naps and after he went to bed for the night. Since we were home all the time, I was able to find much more time every day to write this novel. Writing it also helped me sometimes forget about all the stresses that came along with 2020, and it was a great outlet to use during the unusual times of the pandemic.

LL: Your novel is set across multiple decades and countries. Which era and country were the most difficult ones to capture in your writing?

SDM: I had to do tons of research for this novel because it was based in so many countries and time periods. That part was actually very fascinating to me as I got to learn much more about the places and decades my father lived in. Surprisingly, the parts that were the most difficult to write were the chapters of my childhood. I have so many fond memories of my childhood and for some reason, I found it a bit hard to condense all of my memories with my dad into a couple of chapters. It was an emotional process as well, but something I’m glad I wrote. 

LL: What was writing this novel like compared to Greater Than the Still?

SDM: I think I’ve definitely grown as a writer over the past seven years since Greater Than the Still debuted. My inspirations and experiences have changed my writing style and I think that can be seen between the two novels. Writing Home in a Hundred Places was actually much easier to write than my previous novel, because for the most part, the story was already told. Since it is based on the true story of my father’s life, it was easy for me to write those memories down and make a novel out of it. I also felt emotionally very close to my father during this writing process. He knew I was writing this novel before he passed away and it was an amazing experience for us to share, even if he never got the chance to read it. 

LL: What has the response been like to your novel so far?

SDM: It’s been amazing to hear responses from people who read my novel. They are blown away at my dad’s life story and how much he experienced. I’ve received a lot of support and positive feedback about my writing and I’m glad that I’ve been able to touch people emotionally with this story.

LL: I know that your dad never got to read it, but if you don’t mind me asking, what do you think his response would have been to it if he did?

SDM: I think the first thing he would say is “wow, you really wrote all of this?” and then laugh to himself in amazement. My dad was my biggest supporter, he was always so excited to read anything I wrote and would give me his honest opinion on my work. I think he would be happy that I was able to preserve his life’s story, especially so that one day, my son can read all about his grandfather’s life. 

LL: What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects currently in the works that you can talk about?

SDM: For now, I’m working on marketing and promotion of Home in a Hundred Places. Coming up next, I’d like to work on a series, something much more lighthearted. I’m just in the initial brainstorming stages of it, but I’d like it to be a lighthearted book series about a woman who travels around the world and all the fun adventures she has along the way. Writing Home in a Hundred Places made me realize how much I love writing about different locations, so I’d like to continue to do that in the future.

Home in a Hundred Places is available for purchase over on Amazon. To keep up with Mueller and her endeavors, be sure to check out her website and also on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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