BY ANNA JENSEN
I want to be: the president, a princess, an astronaut, an actress, a writer. These are common phrases said by toddlers, who dream big. Often, with age, these dream jobs change.
Junior writing and public relations major and graphic design minor, Sarah Mondello, was one of those little girls — specifically, to be an author. But it wasn’t just a pipe dream.
“I’ve known my whole life I’ve wanted to be a novelist,” Mondello said. “It’s been a lifelong dream. I was writing ever since I could hold a pencil and reading before I knew how to read.”
On June 6, 2015, her debut novella, “The Kiss of Death,” was published. Mondello began working on her novella in a creative writing class during her senior year of high school.
The assignment was to write a historical fiction short story, specifically tied to an era with a known historical issue. Mondello chose the 14th-century plague in London.
“I was really intrigued by the plague era,” Mondello said. “My teacher was very specific in what he wanted, so I was unsure if my idea would fill the criteria, but I was so thrilled when it did.”
The plot follows the protagonist, a young lady named Elizabeth Chauncey, who is struggling to survive the bubonic plague outbreak in medieval England. Encompassed within the story is a bit of romance.
“The plague wiped out one-third of Europe’s population,” Mondello said. “Looking back, that’s really scary, but also strong conflict for a book. I was intrigued by the death and destruction caused by a biological illness.”
Much of Mondello’s story is rooted in history. From the clothing the characters wear, to the medical practices of medieval doctors, to the entertainment they watched, it was all researched.
“During the outbreak, doctors cautioned against bathing for fear that it could spread the disease, which is totally preposterous, but really fascinating to think about,” Mondello said.
Mondello started looking into publishing firms when she realized her story had potential beyond the classroom. She submitted a pitch to Kellan Publishing and, on Christmas Eve of 2014, received a contract for her novella.
“It was the best Christmas gift ever,” Mondello said.
Since the book was published in 2015, Mondello has been traveling to bookstores and book clubs in the suburbs of Chicago to talk about her life as a novelist and read excerpts from her novella. The Q&A she partakes in with readers is her favorite part.
“Now I work as my own publicist,” Mondello said. “ I am setting up my own public speaking engagements, and I’ve been going around to libraries, schools and bookstores and giving educational speeches about the process of novel writing and navigating the industry as a young author.”
Many of her readers ask her questions regarding being an author at such a young age. The book was published when Mondello was 19 years old.
Within the last year, Mondello’s book has been taught in elementary schools. She spent time researching Common Core curriculum and drafting a proposal outlining how her book fulfilled the educational requirements.
“I sat down and researched Common Core education standards and taught myself how to correlate elements of my book to the requirements,” Mondello said. “I created this 20-page guide that has questions for English, biology, art and history classes.”
In January 2017, a teacher contacted Mondello, asking her to speak to her seventh graders.
“She was basically teaching my book in class and had integrated it into part of their curriculum,” Mondello said.
The book can be found under Mondello’s pen name, Sarah Natale. She was named after her great-grandmother, and she wanted her pen name to represent her Italian family history ever since she was young.
“Sarah is the Hebrew word for princess, and Natale is the Italian word for Christmas, so my name literally means the ‘Princess of Christmas,’ and it makes my name special to me,” Mondello said.
Mondello is currently working on a sequel to “The Kiss of Death” and hopes to one day become a full-time author and publicist, helping other young authors share their words with the world.