“Birds are endlessly entertaining”

Author Sarah T. Dubb weighs in on birdwatching, writing, and the inspiration for her new novel Birding with Benefits, which will be available on June 4, 2024.

Before reading, be sure to mark your calendar for her library book launch!

Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase.

About the book

Birding With Benefits was named a romance to look for in 2024 by NPR, and Publisher’s Weekly called Sarah a “writer to watch.” Her novel, which is set in Tucson, follows two 40-somethings as they embark on a competitive bird-watching contest while trying to not fall in love (spoiler alert: things don’t quite go as they planned).
Signed books will be available for purchase.

About the author

Sarah T. Dubb is a writer, public librarian, parent, and activist living the dream with chickens and desert tortoises in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Birding With Benefits is her debut novel. Visit her at SarahTDubb.com, opens a new window.

For how long have you loved birding? When did you begin birdwatching?

I grew up in Tucson, and I’ve always loved the desert and all the creatures that inhabit this amazing area, so in a way I feel like I’ve always known the birds here. But I didn’t start birding—which to me, means paying closer attention and even learning and naming the birds I see—until I was an adult with kids of my own. In 2011, I took an evening class called Birds and Poems at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and it changed my life. In addition to reading and writing about birds, we went on birding field trips and started identifying birds, and I was hooked!

Why do you love birds? How do they inspire you?

When I started paying attention to birds, it gave me a new way to look at the world. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, I could look around and see birds. Waiting at the bus stop? There’s Gila woodpecker building its nest in the boot of a saguaro. Walking out front to check my mailbox? There’s a Northern mockingbird singing (and singing! And singing!) from the top of my mesquite. It was sort of like putting on a special pair of glasses—the whole world looked a little different.

Birds are endlessly entertaining because they’re always up to something, and they’re all so different! A Gamble’s quail is going to behave differently than a red-winged hawk which is going to behave differently from a red-winged blackbird, and you can never really run out of things to learn about them.

You say you started writing fiction during the pandemic. Did you write before that?

Yes, but never fiction!

Writing has always come pretty easy to me, and has always been part of the jobs I’ve had. After college and my first round of graduate school, I worked at an environmental nonprofit, writing articles for the organization’s publications. Later, when I moved back to Tucson with my young family, I worked for several years as a freelance writer, focusing on small businesses and the environment, and when I got involved in community organizing, I always ended up being the person to write the web content and press releases.

Outside of work, I developed a real love for reading and writing creative nonfiction, especially nature writing. I was able to take a few really formative evening workshops here in town with local writers, and playing within that genre was very important for the health of my brain and spirit as most of my time was spent as a stay-at-home mom with small kids.

Are you still pursuing nature writing and creative nonfiction? If so, how do those genres influence your fiction?

I absolutely love that genre, but I don’t currently have the capacity to write nonfiction. That said, my passion for nature writing definitely comes through in my fiction, especially when my characters are hiking through the Catalina mountains. Some readers have said that the Arizona landscape is another character in my book, and I tend to agree!

It seems from your blog post on your website (I’ll link to it) that the idea to write a romance about birding came to you rather suddenly. What was that realization like?

Before 2020, I’d never written fiction. People had suggested that I try my hand at writing a novel, but I truly just didn’t have the urge! But in 2020, through a class I was in for library graduate school, I started reading books in the romance genre. I hadn’t read much romance before, and I just like when I started birding, I was hooked! I love the joy of romance novels! The anticipation, the emotion, the vulnerability. It was everything I needed, especially during a pandemic.

The more I read romance, the more I felt the inklings of the urge to write. I’ve always been a pretty cheerful and optimistic person, and I saw in romance the chance to express that. And the conventions of the genre gave me a roadmap to get me started. I knew I needed a meet-cute, I knew there would be some shenanigans and swoony times along the way, and I knew how the story would end. There is something really fun and exciting about understanding the expectations of a genre, and playing with and around those expectations, tropes, and plot beats. Looking at writing that way made it feel possible.

And when I decided to write, it did come suddenly. It was a little sunburst of possibility, a suggestion to myself that I try something fun and brand new. And I just knew it would involve birding, because it only made sense to write about a passion of mine!

You state that you started again quite a few times. Was that frustrating or did you understand that as part of the writing process?


Over time, I’ve come to understand that I revise, and even completely rewrite, a lot. Like, really a lot. I wrote this book about five different times, if not more. It can certainly be frustrating, because who wouldn’t love to do something perfectly the first time? But I do love the discovery of writing—as I write, I learn, as I learn, I’m ready to write more. I’ve also been working to embrace the fact that my book will keep getting better, so it doesn’t serve me to wade through the muck for too long trying to make it perfect. I’ll get a chance to come back to it, and it will get better each time. I recently turned in a first draft of my next book to my editor, and I said to myself: “Well, this is the worst this book will ever be!”

Of course, when a book is getting published, you do have to stop that process at some point. I reached the point where I was no longer allowed to make changes to Birding with Benefits, and then the mindset switches to an acceptance that it’s time for the book to spread its wings (pun intended!) and find a new life in the minds and imaginations of readers.

Who do you hope this book influences the most and why?

I’ll steal a line from the author’s note at the end of the book:

If you came to this book a romance reader, I hope you leave a birder. And if you came as a birder, I hope you leave a romance reader.

Truly, I hope anyone who reads this book comes away with a sense of discovery. Maybe that will mean noticing a bird on their lunch break at work, maybe it will mean trying out a new genre of a book. If someone closes the book and moves into the world with a little more curiosity than when they started, I’ll be thrilled.

What advice would you give to other writers on the long road to seeing a final, published book?

Really, really (really!) invest some time thinking about goals and dreams, and how you can care for yourself as you traverse the space between those. For me, goals are things I can achieve, things I have some control over. I can challenge myself to write a project that will make me proud. I can get feedback from people and devise a revision plan, I can commit to tackling certain themes I love or addressing crutches in my writing to improve my craft. All of those goals are things I can achieve through my own work.

Dreams are a little different, because while I may wish for them, I can’t control if they happen or not. Some writers dream of being on a bestseller list, or being acclaimed by certain publications or outlets. For me, as a big nerd, being featured on public radio would be a dream. And I can try to make it happen through publicity and all the outlets provided to me (especially as a traditionally published author), but I can’t put my book on their program! It’s actually out of my hands!

I think its easy to concentrate on the dreams, and how we are or aren’t achieving them, and judge our experience and worth based on that. It’s very natural that that is going to happen, but when it does I urge folks to pull back a little and understand what is under their control. When we focus on the dreams, the goal posts are always moving, and nothing will ever feel enough.

Writing is like everything else in life: nothing will feel enough if we don’t feel enough ourselves. It’s cheesy, but it’s true.

Sarah T. Dubb's Favorite Bird Books

List created by PimaLib_SarahTW

I love birds! In fact, I wrote a whole romance novel about bird watching! My novel, Birding with Benefits, follows two 40-somethings as they get to know one other through the course of a six-week long birding contest in Tucson. These are some of my favorite books about birds. Some are guidebooks, some are creative nonfiction, and some are about dinosaurs (which evolved into birds, so it counts!).

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