A conversation with Sarah Zettel, on women, suspense and ‘The Other Sister’

Tuesday, November 6, 2018 - 10:42am

Sarah Zettel, University alum and author of “The Other Sister” recently sat down to speak with The Daily about her latest release. From starting off at the University scribbling in “notebooks with friends creating shared worlds,” today Zettel has produced over 18 novels in sci-fi, romance, fantasy and various other genres. “The Other Sister” is a domestic suspense and psychological thriller that flips the traditional fairytale upside down. The novel follows two sisters, Geraldine and Marie Monroe through secretive schemes and abnormal familial dynamics. From my conversation with Zettel it is is clear that her latest work is laced with darker shades of human psyche and the dichotomy of good and evil.

Zettel’s inspiration for writing “The Other Sister” is tethered to her childhood love for the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. Since she was 13, she knew she wanted to write in a wide variety of literary genres and forms. Today her childhood vision has blossomed into reality, with her various published works ranging from science fiction to young adult romance to, currently, domestic suspense. Zettel recognizes that “The Other Sister” belongs under the domestic suspense genre.

“It’s more about the idea than where it goes on the shelf,” Zettel said. 

She is well aware of the good and ugly stepsister tropes, but what really sparked her inspiration for “The Other Sister” was what it would be like to be the ugly stepsister. She wanted to play with a range of emotions and dynamics among people.

“Each genre offers you a chance to put a new angle on a story,” Zettel said. This novel, therefore, explores the consequences and casualties that occur when darker family dynamics are in play.

Fairytales commonly confine women to inferior or victimizing roles, while men are depicted with heroic stature. When I asked how Zettel tackled these gendered tropes while writing “The Other Sister,” she said: “The common perception of women that is used to keep them in their place is that women are not allowed simply to be human beings, they are supposed to be giving beings.”

This description entails that women are expected to give to everyone around them.

“If she doesn’t give enough and in the right ways then she is a bad woman and you can do what you want to her,” Zettel said. She wanted to explore what happens when women don’t “give properly.” Zettel explained that women simply are not allowed to be angry about anything, neither their status nor the expectation put on them to give to others without any reciprocation.

“I also wanted to explore what happens when you either refuse not to suppress your anger or you hide it so well that you are left with very few options,” Zettel said. She sympathizes with Geraldine for this same reason, as Geraldine is the troubled and outcasted sister in contrast to her more conforming sibling Marie.

To Zettel, any form of writing or public expression by women is inherently a feminist act.

“It’s finally allowing us to give voice to the range of what it is to be complete human and to be a woman,” Zettel commented on writing. Zettel described that suspense and thriller genres allow writers and readers to look at how anger, violence and justice uniquely affect women. She cites “Gone Girl” as a recent example of a suspense novel and film that deconstructs representations of women as the “perfect victim.”

“It is a really interesting piece of work, Zettel said. Deliberately feminist or not, it is a deeply feminist piece of work”

In the past, Zettel wrote full-time nestled in her garret with a cat and now finds herself working in a well-lit, social writing workspace; her extroverted personality is thriving. You can tell she is a prolific author with exceptional enthusiasm for her craft. Zettel is engaging, passionate and determined to cultivate constructive depictions of women in her work.