Sara Lunsford's memoir Sweet Hell on Fire has been bought by CBS Television Studio.
1. Sara, can you tell us about Sweet Hell on Fire and how your years as a corrections officer at Lansing Correctional Facility inspired you to write this book.
Sweet Hell on Fire is my first narrative nonfiction published by Sourcebooks in November of 2012. I decided to write the book because when people found out that I'd worked in a prison, they always wanted stories. Anyone who's ever worked in any kind of law enforcement always has them by the truckload. So I started writing. At first, it was almost a Girl's Guide to Prison, if you will--mostly funny anecdotes and some of the gallows humor that's a mainstay of the job. Then my agent told me I needed to dig deeper and talk about how the job affected me. What was the point of the book? The story arc? What tied everything together was my journey while I was working there. Then the book became about my struggles and the prison became the backdrop.
2. From serial killers to sex offenders, as a corrections officer, you had to deal with a wide range of criminals. How did you cope with the challenges you faced on a daily basis? And did you realize at the time that you were experiencing events that would someday be the basis for a book?
I stopped actively pursuing writing while I was employed with the prison, so I had no idea anything that happened would ever end up in a book. I'd come to see the world in two categories: predator and prey. That effectively stifled both genres I loved. I wrote horror, but I decided I'd seen enough of it on the job so I didn't need to write about it. I also wrote romance (which is my current job) and I stopped believing in happily ever after both because of the job and the situation in my personal life.
I didn't really cope with my challenges. Instead of dealing with my problems, I poured myself into my job and after I left work, I crawled inside a liquor bottle.
3. On the back cover of your book is the quote, "I was a bad mother, a bad daughter, a bad wife, a bad friend. Boozed out and tired, with no dreams and no future. But I was a good officer." What finally made you decide to change careers and become a full-time writer?
That question has a really long answer that covers several chapters in the book. I guess to sum up, I'll say that I started believing in happily ever afters again and finally found a way to be comfortable in my own skin. Writing has always been my dream, but it wasn't until I became a person I wanted to be that I felt I could achieve my goals.
Page 2 of 2 - 4. How different was writing this non-fiction book from the other books you have had published and how difficult was it to relive the darker days you experienced in a prison environment?
I thought writing this would be easier. Everything had already happened so it was more just a matter of writing it down, right? Not at all. When I first started writing, it was almost like it happened to someone else, but when I came to those darker times it was tough. I knew people would see things about me I didn't want to share. I was worried about being seen as weak, what people would think of me. Until I realized that there were other people who were in the same situation I was in: feeling lost, hopeless and alone. I wanted them to see they're not, that it does get better, and no matter what you've been through, what you've done, redemption is possible. Happily ever after is possible. I'm living proof, so it's my duty to speak.
Since the book came out, I've had emails and messages from people who've told me that my book gave them hope. That makes everything worth it.
5. The dramatic rights for Sweet Hell on Fire have been sold to CBS Television. Any word on who will be playing the main characters? Who would you choose if you were the casting director?
I am so thrilled about the sale. It still seems a little surreal. There's been no word on casting, but I'd love for Gina Carano to play me. She's rather amazing.
— Rimsie McConiga