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Disney Hyperion’s Sam Saves The Night: Interview with Shari Simpson

Don’t sleep on the new Disney Hyperion novel, and first book in the SleepWakers series, Sam Saves The Night. Every reader needs the positive reinforcement that comes from 13-year-old sleepwalker and wry world-observer, Samantha Fife. 

From sleep-baking brownies to sleep-stealing a wheelchair from an upscale retirement village, Sam’s nights are eventful… and problematic. Schoolwork straining and mother Margie’s patience waning, Sam and her family are downright exhausted. She needs a miracle… or a strip-mall sleep specialist and a sleep study that takes soul-searching to another level.

Author Shari Simpson conveys just the right amount of wit, humor and fast-paced fun while creatively exploring harsh realities and vital truths in Sam Saves The Night. Sam’s story is not only the very first novel to kick off SleepWakers, it is also Shari’s very first novel. Period. 

Shari is a playwright, screenwriter, and self-described “chronic Fabulous-chaser.” Author of humor parenting blog Earth Mother just means I’m dusty, she would write her blog for moms “who can’t give up the fight to be Fabulous and are slowly coming to terms with being Almost.” Shari received her Master’s degree in acting from the American Conservatory Theater; co-wrote the Disney Channel original movie The Swap, and won the 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year for Humor Writing. Adding Sam and her band of merry (and some meany) sleepwakers to the mix, it is no wonder that Sam saves the night – the author herself is unstoppable.

Keen to soak up some of those creative juices, we caught up with Shari to find out more about Sam, SleepWakers, and seventh-grade cliques… 

Shari, thanks for joining us at The Disney Blog and congrats on getting Sam Saves The Night out into the world! 

Shari:  Thank you, Jess! It’s pretty thrilling that Sam is out there saving the night and doing her thing.

Sam Saves The Night is published by Disney Hyperion Books. I understand that this is not the first time you have teamed up with Disney – you co-wrote The Swap, a Disney Channel original movie. What has your experience been like working with Disney in these two capacities? Have you always been a Disney fan?

Shari:  I’ve been a fan ever since Bambi’s mother died and Dumbo’s mom sang that tragic song from elephant prison (um, obviously I have a penchant for Disney’s sob-inducing side). It was so much fun working on The Swap for the Channel, adapting Megan Shull’s lovely YA novel for Peyton List and Jacob Bertrand to star in.  I loved that the producers of the film wanted lots of laugh lines, but kept the underlying sweetness and yes, sadness, of the original work. I think we’re seeing a theme here, right? I dig the Disney blend of humor and poignancy; it hits smack-dab in my writer’s sweet spot. 

How did writing your novel differ from writing the play Maybe Baby, It’s You? Besides the clear stylistic differences, what aspects stood out to you in each writing process?

Shari:  I am a massive middle grade fiction fan—I loved reading the books for this age group long before I ever decided to write one—so the prose kind of poured out of me naturally. But I also was an actor, so writing dialogue is right up my alley as well. I will say that I am a lover of words, lots and lots of words, so novels actually suit me a bit better—I’m always having to cut and trim and condense when I write a play or a screenplay. One thing that is similar in all my forms of storytelling, however, and my screenwriting partner will attest to this, is that I always laugh at my own jokes. I admit it freely. 

Heh, love it. What inspires you to write?

Shari: Everything. I just think in stories, it’s the way my brain works. I am constantly constructing tales in my head, or stopping in the middle of the street to make a note of some quirky idea I just had, and I have the added bonus of having the most insane personal stories as well. Honestly, I believe God enjoys putting me in ridiculous situations so that I’ll have funny stuff to write about. If we had time, I’d tell you about the chandelier that broke out of the ceiling and fell on my head in a restaurant, but we don’t have time. See what I did right there? That’s called a story tease.

Oh goodness, that is a tease! I hope you’re alright!  

How did you come up with the plot for Sam Saves The Night?

Shari: The first question everyone asks is if I’m a sleepwalker myself. I’m not, but my husband is a sleeptalker—he has entire conversations with imaginary folks while he’s snoozing next to me, and occasionally even sings songs and claps his hands in his sleep. I think that’s where the germ of the idea started, but the rest of it grew from a strange vision I had one day, a mental flash of a teenaged girl who’s about to walk out of her bedroom, but then looks back and sees her own body still in the bed. The image was so odd and intriguing, I couldn’t get it out of my mind and it grew into a theme which I’ve always been intrigued by, which is our dual nature; the dichotomy of the face we show to the world as opposed to the person we really are inside. 

You just touched on one of the many themes in the book. The School Library Connection review noted that readers will have “much to think about in the underlying themes of bullying, stereotypes, and superficial judgments.” The novel also encourages readers to reflect on others’ struggles, successes and motivations, as well as what it might be like to live with allergies or illnesses. What themes were paramount in your mind while writing Sam Saves The Night?

Shari: Besides the “dual nature” one stated above, there is the theme of grace—of treating others with kindness and respect, regardless of their reaction. Sam has an opportunity to get revenge on someone who’s hurt her badly, but she makes the decision to help instead. And that is a decision we all have to make every day. 

The juxtaposition of darkness and light in the story is also striking. Not just day and night; awake and asleep; but the idea that “people show who they really are in the darkness” and “maybe things that were born in the darkness really could venture into the light.” Why did you choose to explore personalities and relationships in the story in this way?

Shari: I’ve always loved MLK Jr.’s quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I am a person of faith and the interplay of light and darkness is a huge theme in the Bible, so it’s in every fiber of my being. I try so hard to be a person of the light, which means being honest about my own darkness. You’ll see Sam struggling to take the high road, but sometimes just wanting to be a kid and be liked and fit in somewhere, even at the expense of her values—that’s my eternal struggle. 

The interview continues on page 2

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