Tuesday 2 June 2015

Author Interview: Sarah J Maas

On the Saturday of MCM Comic Con this year I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Sarah J Maas in person. She is so lovely and funny and I could have talked to her for hours – unfortunately, she’s rather booked up at the moment!

Sorry it’s taken me ages to get this up; I had to transcribe it from my Dictaphone app on my iPod and it took FOREVER. But without further ado, here’s what we chatted about:

How do you juggle writing both Celaena’s and Feyre’s stories as well as The Starkillers Cycle at the same time? Do you dedicate days/weeks to each, or write them alongside each other?

So right now, my life is deadline hell and I’m, like, the kind of writer where I need to be working on either ACOTAR or Throne of Glass – I can’t be, like, working on one of them in the morning and then the other in the afternoon. Feyre’s voice and Celaena’s voice and all the others characters are so different and the worlds are so different that I need to be emotionally in their heads and in their world. It’s really hard for me to switch gears.

But Starkillers has always been a project to blow off steam and have fun so that is something that’s in a different pocket of my brain, almost. I don’t feel as much pressure, perhaps, to be as amazingly awesome in what I’m writing in that. So Starkillers is just for fun and because it’s just for fun it exists in a different part of my imagination, I guess. Sometimes I’ll be working on one of the Throne of Glass or ACOTAR books and afterwards when im all done for the day and I still feel like writing, I work on Starkillers stuff. Maybe it’s ‘cos ACOTAR and Throne of Glass are fantasy and Starkillers is like sci-fi/space opera so it’s literally a different genre and it’s weird. Writer’s brains are great.

But on a day to day basis, it’s definitely a lot to handle. I mean, right now, I’m finishing up the last, last, last edits on Queen of Shadows ­– just like final word tweaks and checking for typos; the very final round before it goes off to the printer, so I’ve got that. I’ve just finished with the first round of edits on the ACOTAR sequel so I’ll be getting my second round when I get back from tour and I am writing the fifth Throne of Glass book. Yeah. And then going on all these tours and stuff so there’s the writing life and then the author who gets to go on tour and do all this cool stuff so I’ve definitely had to learn as I go, like, how to balance those things. I’m still learning how to balance all of that with having a normal life; spending time with my husband, so maybe I’ll never figure it out, but right now I take it on a day by day, week by week basis – ‘What do I have to work on today’ –work through. But it’s fun, I get to do what I love so I can’t really complain about any of it! Five or ten years ago I never would have thought any of this would be possible.

Celaena’s character arc over the series so far has been huge – she’s not the same person as she was in TOG; she’s even more complex and relatable. Is there a character arc in fiction that has really stuck with you?

Oh, man. There are so, so many. Outside of books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I mean, she went from the  scared cheerleader who has all these horrible things happening to her to this Queen of Badassery and self-sacrifice and vulnerability and that arc  has always stuck with me.

Also Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. I love the book and I love the movie. She’s got such an interesting arc: selfish little girl  becoming a conniving, clever woman who’s willing to do some sometimes quite awful things, but it’s usually to do with herself and her survival, but also for those that she loves. Scarlet was the first heroine who I read about that wasn’t goody-two-shoes and didn’t always do the right thing. That really resonated with me as, not like I’m a bad person, but we all do messed up stuff and it was nice to see a heroine that wasn’t perfect and was someone that I could still connect with on that level.

Sailor Moon, too. She had the similar arc, the magical girl arc, of having responsibilities  thrust onto you and rising to meet them – that realistic journey of ‘I don’t wanna do this’  and it doesn’t go so well but you become who you’re meant to be. And maybe get a really hot guy!

What effect did Throne of Glass’s origins on fictionpress.com have on the process of becoming traditionally published?

There was no real impact on the story, but it was more about the impact on me as a writer. Posting my work for strangers all over the world to read actually gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to learn about receiving feedback, good and critical. So then when Throne of Glass came out, of course it always sucks to get a crappy review, but I was used to that and that public scrutiny – having strangers say nice things and awful things about me – I kind of grew up with that as I started posting on Fiction Press when I was 16. Then Throne of Glass was published when I was 26. So in those 10 years I learned a lot about, basically, keeping your mouth shut. You know, readers are entitled to their own opinions and once the book is done it’s not my book anymore. It belongs to the reader and I am allowed to be sad about a review but it’s not my place to ever tell someone they’re wrong about how they feel. That really helped me when it came time to do the real thing.

We got a glimpse into Celaena’s life before Throne of Glass in The Assassin’s Blade, but did you already know the details of her past or were they cultivated for the novellas?

I knew a bunch of them. I knew that Sam died and that she was betrayed by Arobyn. A lot of the other stuff like The Assassin and the Desert just happened because I knew from writing the very first drafts that Celaena and Rolfe the Pirate Lord had this encounter, but I never fleshed out what exactly happened. I knew that she had trounced him and he hated her forever, and that she loved to brag about the time that she ruined the Pirate Lord’s life. When I actually sat down to write that story, I figured out what the hell happened with her and Rolfe. Then I realised that there would be consequences for that and then The Assassin and the Desert happened. It was kind of a combination of kernels that had been planted in the back of my mind for years and then when it came time to finally write the novellas, so many characters and more things happened. So those were slightly planned out.

I did have flashback scenes in one of the earlier drafts in Throne of Glass that my editor told me to cut as they didn’t really amount to anything in the book. Then when I wrote the novellas, I was like, oh, I even have some rough scenes. I looked at all of them and thought about what interests me the most  and I based the novellas on that, but most of it was brand new stuff.

Having already garnered legions of fans with the Throne of Glass series, was ACOTAR  easier to release into the world?

In some ways no and yes. It’s easier in the sense that I’m not as terrified by any of the other things going on. When Throne of Glass came out, doing events – I didn’t know what to expect; I’d never even really been to book events before! – all that extra stuff freaked me out then, but at this point with ACOTAR I know what to expect. You could throw me in front of a crowd of any size and I’d figure it out. This is coming from someone who wouldn’t speak in class at all! I hated public speaking but I think I realised that when I’m talking about books and stuff that I love like fandoms and things, it doesn’t scare me at all. There’s such a steep learning curve when your debut book comes out.

And there’s also all that stuff on the opposite end of that. ACOTAR is a brand new series and launching that, learning whether fans only like Throne of Glass and they have no interest in anything else or do they want to read more from me as a writer? That was the big thing that kept me awake at night so it was amazing that it debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List; that was a huge weight off my shoulders and I was really hoping that it would do well. My readers have been so incredibly supportive and enthusiastic and it was really wonderful to have that support when I was scared out of my mind that it would totally tank. Any book that comes out you worry about how it will do and you worry about what your readers will think. I really hoped that readers would love Feyre and the new cast of characters as much as they love the Throne of Glass ones. Maybe it’s too early to say so, but I think that most of the reactions have been really positive

A Court of Thorn and Roses takes a lot of inspiration from Beauty and the Beast. What about that tale called for a reimagining for you?

It’s such a romantic story and I’m a romantic at heart. I had always wanted to do a beauty and the Beast retelling – I love fairytales so I always wanted to do that. I didn’t really sit down to write one. I got the idea for ACOTAR – it was basically the first scene in the book where Feyre’s hunting in the wood and when I asked myself why is she so poor? Why is her family starving? My brain somehow made the leap to thinking about the original Beauty and the Beast tale where Beauty’s family was a merchant class family who fell into poverty and I thought this would be my chance to retell this story that I love! And why not bring in some other fairytales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Tamlin and blend them all together.

I love Beauty and the Beast and I love shapeshifters, obviously, and with the Beast figure, why not have a shapeshifting Faerie Lord so they could have the sexy times! Obviously if he’s a beast that’s a different kind of book, but it was kind of the right time for that retelling.

I really loved the faeries mythology in ACOTAR. Did you do lots of research into other stories and legends of faeries?

It was kind of a mixture of things. I was obsessed with faeries growing up so I knew a lot fo the mythology already but I knew that if I was going to make a brand new fantasy world then I wasn’t going to have it be just European faeries. Why not draw in like monsters and faeries from other cultures as well. The serpentine monsters that show up, those are from Hindu mythology. I didn’t want it to just be contained; why not draw inspiration from all over the globe! What’s the fun of being in just one place? And some I just made up son the spot, too. I wanted to draw from faeries mythology but put my own twist on it. I would say that ACOTAR is more like an original fantasy novels with nods to Beauty and the Beast and East of the Sun, West of the Moon and my own mythology and creatures from other cultures.

I tended to get lost in Wikipedia – those Wikipedia time-sucks that four hours later you’re on some subject you didn’t even know how you got there. Love those days! I’d be just, oh God, what I have done?! It’s amazing; I’d learn really random things so it’s interesting where I wind up.

@sisterspooky: What’s your opinion of fan art and fan fiction based on your novels?

Oh my God. I started writing fan fiction and that’s how I learned to write. I wrote Sailor Moon/Harry potter crossover fanfic and so I am a big supporter of fanfiction. Especially for young writers to find their voice and learn about writing so I love it. It find it weirdly full-circle when people write fanfic about my stories. And fanart, fanart keeps me going. Whenever I come across a piece of fanart, it really inspires me. I save it all in a folder on my computer and I go through it sometimes if I’m having a rough day. People are amazing and my fans are incredible and there are people out there waiting for my books so it makes all the hard work worth it

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Sarah. And a huge thanks to Emma at Bloomsbury for asking me if I fancied it – you’re the best!

A Court of Thorns and Roses is out now and it’s one of my favourite so far this year so go read it!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Sophie - I know how much hard work it is to transcribe in-person interviews. Hope you enjoyed it all!


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