Sarah Jane Marsh is a writer of children's narrative nonfiction and author of THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD (Disney-Hyperion, May 2018) and MOST WANTED: JOHN HANCOCK AND SAMUEL ADAMS (Disney-Hyperion, 2020).
Sarah has taught American Revolution history in elementary and middle school. Like Thomas Paine, Sarah attempted several adventurous careers (zookeeping, dolphin training, firefighting), before earning an MBA from the University of Vermont where she studied organizational change.
Also like Paine, Sarah believes in lifelong learning and speaking out for social action. She works with her community on youth suicide prevention, Adverse Childhood Experiences education, and meeting basic student needs.
Sarah lives with her family outside of Seattle. THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD is her first book.
Representation: Caryn Wiseman at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Meet Thomas Paine and The Dangerous Word!
"The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark."
As an English corset-maker's son, Thomas Paine was expected to spend his life sewing women's underwear. But as a teenager, Thomas dared to change his destiny, enduring years of struggle until a meeting with Benjamin Franklin brought Thomas to America in 1774-and into the American Revolution.
Within fourteen months, Thomas would unleash the persuasive power of the written word in Common Sense-a brash wake-up call that rallied the American people to declare independence against the mightiest empire in the world.
This fascinating and extensively researched biography, based on numerous primary sources, will immerse readers in Thomas Paine's inspiring journey of courage, failure, and resilience that led a penniless immigrant to change the world with his words.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
As an American Revolution nerd, I knew that Thomas Paine was the author of the scandalous pamphlet Common Sense advocating for American independence. But when I discovered his personal story of resilience, I was both fascinated and inspired. He struggled and failed a lot in life, but was fearless about using his words to advocate for himself and for others. He became a kindred spirit to me and I wanted to share his story.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
As a teenager in England, Thomas Paine ran away from his father’s corset-making shop to set sail as privateer (a government-approved pirate) with Captain Death aboard the Terrible leaving from Execution Dock. I desperately wanted to include this scene because it shows Paine’s courageous first attempt to change his destiny. And later, he invoked that same courage to persuade American colonists to change their destiny. And who doesn’t love pirates? Lastly, Ed Fotheringham’s brilliant illustrations elevated this scene with both rowdy action and poignant emotion.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Persistence. It’s not a glamorous word. But I’ve spent half my life learning the craft of writing and logging miles of written words that will never be seen. THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD began six years ago when I forced myself to complete a bad first draft by the end of my kids’ summer camp. Then I struggled through multiple drafts to find the voice and angle for this story. But I didn’t give up. Thomas Paine was a pretty persistent guy, so his journey inspired my own.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
The bold red color! As a former wildlife biology major, I know red is often a warning sign in nature. So it’s fitting for a story about a dangerous word and time in our nation’s history. And Ed Fotheringham’s illustration is full of rich detail that is carried throughout the pages. Our Disney-Hyperion team went all out designing this cover. The back is equally bold, with Abraham Lincoln’s sprawling quote, “I never tire of reading Tom Paine.” Lastly, if you remove the book jacket, there’s one last bold surprise!
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2016 2018?
I’m excited for UNPRESIDENTED, Martha Brockenbrough’s YA biography of Donald Trump. Her biography of Alexander Hamilton was masterful, so I’m itching to read Trump’s life in her words. Also, I had an early read of Elizabeth Raum’s THE BIG, BOLD, ADVENTUROUS LIFE OF LAVINIA WARREN which I can’t wait to give to family and friends. Lavinia Warren was less than three feet tall and traveled the world in the 1800’s with zeal and confidence. For someone who can talk myself out of traveling 20 minutes to Target, I found this book a real kick in the pants.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
My next book is MOST WANTED: JOHN HANCOCK & SAMUEL ADAMS, a light-hearted look at the unlikely political partnership between this odd couple that ultimately landed them at the top of Britain’s most wanted list. Almost a prequel to THOMAS PAINE, this story will span the beginning of our American conflict with Britain. We’re returning with the same team at Disney-Hyperion and I’m thrilled that Ed Fotheringham will illustrate again.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
When Thomas Paine arrived in America, he spoke out against slavery. It was challenging to choose only a few of Paine’s powerful words and weave them with my own to explain his outrage and fearlessness in speaking out on a “dangerous” word. This was a key scene because this same courage and conviction led him to take on another untouchable subject – American independence. So I was trying to convey a lot in a few words.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Drafting is difficult for me. I wish my words would flow eloquently from my brain through my fingertips to the page. But they don’t. My first pages are dry and dull and just plain awful. It can be discouraging.
But I’ve learned to trust the process. If I persevere through a lot of bad writing, eventually I’ll tumble out a delightfully descriptive word or sentence. And through multiple drafts, I’ll start to close the gap between the words on the page and the vision in my head. So if you think your drafts are terrible, you are in good company. It’s perseverance and polish that make the difference.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
Suicide prevention is an important topic for me. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American teens -- and it’s preventable. Like with Thomas Paine, we still have “dangerous” words today. We must keep talking and educating about depression and mental illness to break the stigma. I volunteer on my high school’s suicide prevention team and lead trainings for parents. If anyone is struggling or simply wants to learn more about nearby resources, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) provides free and confidential counseling 24/7/365. You don't have to be suicidal to call. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share about this!
Thomas Paine and The Dangerous Word
By: Sarah Jane Marsh
Release Date: May 29th, 2018
Three winners will receive a copy of Thomas Paine and The Dangerous Word (Sarah Jane Marsh)
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