Author Sara Ella burst onto the YA scene in October 2016 with her debut novel Unblemished (Thomas Nelson), the first book in The Unblemished Trilogy. Nominated for a 2017 Christy Award, Unblemished is a suspenseful urban fantasy that explores themes of self-image, good vs. evil, and the power of the marginalized to change the world. Book two, Unraveling, was published in July 2017, and book three, Unbreakable, comes out in May 2018. Here, Sara shares her thoughts on the power of storytelling, why her heroine’s story needed to be told, and what readers can expect next…
How do you get into the mindset to write for the YA audience?
I’m a reader. I love young adult stories. All my favorite books are about young adults. I think that’s where it started. Stories about teens are highly relatable. Those are the years I remember most. Trying to fit in and figure out who I was and who I wanted to become.
For me, getting into the YA mindset is sometimes easier than fitting into the adult mindset. All the emotions and struggles and questions from those years are still clear in my heart and mind. I write about those experiences because I think they’re still relevant to all ages, which is probably why the YA audience isn’t comprised of teens alone.
What inspired you to write a character like Eliyana, and why do you think it’s important to tell her story?
In today’s culture, social media is flooded with the filtered and the photoshopped. I’ve struggled with self-image issues my entire life. My skin was never clear enough. My hair was never the right shade of blonde or brown. I’m too short. Too sensitive. Too everything I didn’t want to be.
I think, now more than ever, we’re constantly bombarded with images we compare ourselves to. We feel the need to use apps to get clearer skin or a more enhanced makeup look. Eliyana is the worst and best version of myself. Everything she feels about herself—ugly, worthless, nothing—are things I have felt. And everything she desires to become is all I hope to be.
I wrote her story because I wanted to inspire myself and others to realize that who they already are is amazing. Other’s words don’t define us, and, sometimes, our greatest flaws can actually turn into our greatest strengths.
Which character surprised you the most as you wrote Unblemished, and how?
Oh, that would definitely be Ky. He certainly took over in a way I never expected. I tried to keep him in the neat little villain-sidekick corner I created for him, but he just wouldn’t stay put. Writing Ky taught me what it means to have a truly character-driven story. While plot is important, I believe no plot could ever stand without real and relatable characters. Ky broke out of his planned mold and took over, and I’m so glad he did. The series wouldn’t be the same without him as he is now!
Why do you think that storytelling is such a powerful way to communicate truth?
Reading is one way many people cope with real-life situations, and storytelling is very much the same for a writer. Unblemished isn’t just some random story I came up with for the fun of it, or even because I thought it would sell. Eliyana’s journey is the story of my heart. All the emotions she feels are my own. Grief, heartbreak, first love, overcoming fear—these are truths and experiences I have faced.
Storytelling is a way of working out my own feelings, while also relating to others on a deeper level. It’s a way to say, “Hey, I get it. I’ve been there. I understand.” I hope the truths I have discovered in my own life and put on the page will come through and touch the lives of my readers. Their letters and notes encourage me every day to keep writing stories like Eliyana’s.
What do you hope readers take away from Unblemished and from The Unblemished Trilogy as a whole?
I would love for readers to come away with an understanding of self-acceptance. It’s okay to be different. We’re all unique, and each of us has beauty and talent to share with the world. The flaws we see in ourselves may just be the things about us others wish they had. You never know who you might inspire by just being you. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Because who you are is beautiful.
Could you tell us what readers can expect from book three, Unbreakable, without giving away any spoilers?
Readers can expect more of the girl we love to hate, Ebony Archer. They can also expect to travel to the Sixth and Seventh Reflections (and beyond). Without giving too much away, I’d say you can look forward to some healthy sibling rivalry between our favorite guys, battles with light and darkness, and some super fun twists I’m hoping will make your jaw drop
Will you give our readers a hint about what you are working on now?
What a fun question! Let’s just say it involves all the things I love—fairy tales, plot twists, swoony boys, strong heroines, and, of course, happily ever after!