At 19, most teenagers are struggling to choose a college major, a group of friends, a summer job – an identity.
Crystal Lake resident Sarah Natale Mondello, on the other hand, is busy adding “published author” to her already crowded résumé
“Writing has definitely been my passion since I was little. Before I could even hold a pencil, I was memorizing pages of books and making scribbles that were actually stories and reading them to my parents,” said Mondello, a sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, double majoring in creative writing and public relations. “I have always wanted to be a New York Times best-selling author. My parents fostered in me a love of books, which essentially led to my love of writing.”
Mondello, who writes under the pen name Sarah Natale, recently celebrated the publication of her first book through Kellan Publishing titled “The Kiss of Death,” which was awarded the 2014 Helen Wright Scholarship in creative writing from the Woodstock Fine Arts Association. In June 2015, “The Kiss of Death” was released to online distributors. In July, the book hit the bookshelves of the Crystal Lake Barnes & Noble, where it is on display as recommended reading by the manager, Dave Knapp.
“Local author Sarah Natale’s debut novel promises great things to come! Well worth the read!” Knapp’s recommendation reads.
Mondello will perform a reading from her book and sign copies from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 18 at Barnes & Noble, 5380 Northwest Highway, Crystal Lake.
She said it took hard work, dedication and determination to overcome many obstacles before her book became a reality.
“I have spent years researching the publishing industry,” Mondello said. “After spending the summer prior to my freshman year of college submitting my manuscript to literary agents left and right to no avail, rejections became the norm.”
It was only after she decided to step away from submitting her manuscript that she stumbled on a small publisher seeking the type of book she had written.
“Upon submission, Kellan Publishing asked to see more of my work,” Mondello said. “I had met an opportunity, and I was prepared. That was key.”
On Christmas Eve of 2014, Mondello received her first contract.
“I couldn’t have asked for a finer Christmas gift,” Mondello said.
Shortly after, Mondello commissioned her former art teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peg Pappa, to illustrate the book jacket.
“Peg’s art captured the essence of my story,” Mondello said. “It was a meeting of creative minds to add a visual dimension, especially in the somber bridge scene on the back cover – the turning point in the story.”
The historical fiction novella follows the story of Elizabeth, a young woman in mid-14th century London, who finds herself in a struggle for survival and young love amid a backdrop of deadly plague.
When asked where she drew her inspiration for the story, Mondello credits her creative writing teacher, Jerry Thiel, at Crystal Lake Central High School for assigning the project that gave her the opportunity to bring the pages of “The Kiss of Death” to life.
When describing his role in Mondello’s story, Thiel beamed.
“I didn’t teach Sarah,” Thiel said. “I just got out of her way.”
On the first day of class, Thiel announced the final project would be to write a seven to 10 page historical fiction short story. Thiel’s assignment rapidly turned into a serious research project for Mondello.
“From that moment, I knew the era of history that I wanted to write about. Needless to say, mine was a bit more – 41 pages total,” Mondello said. “I went above and beyond the assignment, as I prefer a challenge. I always aim big.”
Mondello said she hadn’t originally thought of herself as an historical fiction writer, but in doing the research for her book, she found she was passionate about the subject.
“The plague drives the plot of ‘The Kiss of Death.’ I chose the outbreak of 1348 because I wanted a challenge. There is less readily known about the time period without extensive research, as opposed to the 17th century outbreak, where information is easier to find. Plus, I found that the medieval era – the dark ages of Europe – had more avenues for story conflict than the bustling ingenuity of the Renaissance. I used the medical knowledge of the time; that it was so counterproductive made it so interesting,” Mondello said. “I wanted to add layers – the concept of class, nobility versus peasantry; a love interest; and religion – with a twist at the end. My readers have a really strong reaction to my story, so that means as an author I have accomplished what I set out to do.”
Mondello strives to be a successful writer of young adult novels but does not want to limit herself to one specific genre.
“I have two bookshelves full of notebooks filled with a collection of journals, short stories, series, chapter books, novels and screenplays,” Mondello said. “I’m willing to go wherever my writing wants to take me. It’s that entrepreneurship spirit, and I’m prepared to do the work to get there. I am highly motivated and passionate about my love of the craft.”
“The characters are screaming to be written,” Mondello said. “They want their story told.”
Sarah Natale Mondello has several unpublished novels completed but has a specific direction in mind for her next published book. She said she’s eager to work on her next project which may be a sequel to “The Kiss of Death,” this time a full-length novel.
“My working title is ‘The Kiss of Life,’ ” Mondello said. “If that goes well, then possibly a third to complete a trilogy.”
Mondello said she would love to bring out all of her old research and dive back into the time period. She wants to revisit the characters and build upon their lives in order to return readers to the world they’ve grown to love. She said that is why the idea of a series is so appealing to readers and authors alike.
“As an author, it’s hard to say goodbye to your characters,” Mondello said. “I want to say hello again.”
Sarah Natale book signing
WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 18
WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 5380 Northwest Highway, Crystal Lake
COST & INFO: Sarah Natale of Crystal Lake will be signing copies of her debut book, "The Kiss of Death." Natale will give a reading and presentation, followed by a Q&A session. Copies will be available for purchase. Free. Information: 815-444-0824 or www.sarahnatale.com.
About Sarah Natale Mondello
Mondello of Crystal Lake will be a sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the fall double majoring in creative writing and public relations. She works as an on-campus writing tutor and writes for her university newspaper and two university magazines and has served as a volunteer writing judge for the Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Series Drake Emerging Writer Award for applicants’ first book of literary nonfiction. She also is an active member of the Public Relations Student Society of America.