For years, Sarah Jio was a Seattle-based freelance journalist who wrote for publications ranging from Glamour and Real Simple to The Seattle Times and The New York Times, with constant deadlines, even the night before her wedding. Then she became a novelist with best-sellers in 30 countries and a three-book Random House contract. We asked the Seattle writer about love, lit and life at the dawn of the Pearl Jam era, depicted in her new novel, Always.
What inspired you to write? When I was 7, I wrote this silly little book about a girl who had a dream about a tugboat. It won a young author award. My late grandfather was one of my greatest supporters. Sadly, he never got to see my first book published, or learn that I would become a New York Times best-selling author. Now I’ve written nine books (11 if you count the ones I gave up on).
How does Seattle feature in your new novel, Always? When I was 16, I dated a boy in a punk rock band with a Mohawk. I love writing about love. First love set to all the great music coming out of Seattle went into the writing of Always. While I never got a tattoo, that era is truly tattooed on my heart. The music, the terribly fitting thrift shop fashion, the cafés!
What was the most fun to write about related to the ’90s? The way we used to order our coffee. We were all so obsessed with all those flavored syrups. I used to drink toasted marshmallow lattes every day. I had fun creating a scene in the book about how far we’ve come with coffee in Seattle.
Are there in-jokes only a local would get? Many things. My favorite was the scene at Sit & Spin, the café/Laundromat Soundgarden and Pearl Jam frequented, and where I spent countless hours.
You often wrote about the Seattle lifestyle during your time as a journalist. Did that help your fiction? My reporting kept my eye on the pulse of trends and fascinating people. I can’t think of a place I traveled to for work in those years that did not end up in a scene in a book.
How do you balance your jobs—writing and raising three boys? Sharing parenting duties with my ex has afforded me time to travel, research and write. All aspects of my life haven’t always gone according to plan, but I am grateful every day that I get to do what I love. Balance and organization are key. The rest—the writing and the laundry—will all work itself out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.