Sarah, thank you for this interview!
D: I’m sure some readers are surprised about the fact you don’t have any training as a writer. Can you share with us your journey to become and author and publish your work?
S: I think many authors don’t have a lot (or any) formal training, even if writing is an interest early on. For me, I never wanted to be a writer as I grew up. I wanted to be a surgeon or an engineer, and eventually pursued social science. I’ve always been pretty good at expressing myself with words, though, and also am an avid reader who was raised by avid readers.
The idea to write a book came to me relatively suddenly, and I wrote it very quickly. Once I was finished, I was so excited and thought I must be very special, but then I did some research and discovered that I was only one of the thousands of writers out there who were trying to get their books published. I queried agents, realized my first book wasn’t very good, and then wrote a second. That one got me an agent after several more months of querying, and the book was my debut novel, Sanctum. I’ve been full speed ahead ever since.
D: You were at Brown in Providence as a post-doc and lived in different places (Indiana, California, Maryland, Texas, and Toronto). Marked’s setting is Boston, which is one of the things I loved about it because I live in New England… How do the many places you have been to influence your choices for settings?
S: I think sometimes it’s easy and fun to write a setting you know well, and that’s the case for Providence and Rhode Island in general, which was the setting for the “land of the living” parts of the Guards of the Shadowlands series. Same with Boston, though the Boston in the Servants of Fate series is quite different from Boston as it is today! In that future Boston, the Common is a swampy haven for canal pirates who steal organs from accident victims, and most of Boston is a canal city. It was fun dreaming up that modified urban setting!
D: Now I know why you are one of my top authors! Your resume is amazing! BA in Psychology, PhD in Clinical Psychology, Pediatric Psychology Internship Postdoctoral Fellowship, specializing in early childhood… wow! How has this impressive background shaped your writing?
S: Well, thank you! I think in a certain way—pretty analytical—and I write in that way, too. I like to understand formulas and figure things out, and that’s helped me understand story structure. And of course, I know a lot about psychopathology and human behavior, so that does help if I want to write a character with some sort of mental disorder (for example, Galena, the protagonist of Claimed, the sequel to Marked, has undiagnosed PTSD). But I like to think my background helps me write those things without actually sounding clinical, because that’s kinda boring.
D: What do you enjoy more writing, Adult or YA books and why?
S: They’re both fun in their own way. YA is about new experiences, where everything is raw and the protagonist is still developing her identity. Adult fic is more … adult, so there’s more latitude with regard to the life situations and conflicts. Also, frankly, writing sex scenes is super fun 😉 But I truly enjoy writing both YA and adult fic and wouldn’t give up either.
D: The cover of your book, website, all the art surrounding your work is amazing. Can you tell who is about the artists and team behind it and where the inspiration comes from?
There are several different teams, actually! My website is designed by Rob Arnow at Incitement Design. My Guards of the Shadowlands covers were designed by Tony Sahara. My Servants of Fate series covers were designed by Cliff Nielsen. The covers of my other books were designed by the different teams at Simon & Schuster (for Of Metal and Wishes/Of Dreams and Rust) and Penguin (for Scan/Burn).
In terms of the inspiration for the Servants of Fate covers, I just offered some input (I wanted to make sure the “Mark of the Ferry”—the raven and the family motto—were included), and let Cliff and the team at 47North/Amazon Publishing work their magic. I absolutely LOVE the result!
D: What advice would you give to aspiring authors of fantasy/sci-fi like me?
Learn about story structure—I found Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book to be really helpful. Read a lot and think about what works in terms of story and writing—study as you read. And then … write. A lot. But don’t get TOO attached to your words. Tell yourself, “there are more where these came from.” Let yourself sit with feedback instead of rejecting it outright. Be merciless as you revise.
And finally—understand yourself and your goals. There are so many paths to success in this industry, and no one way of doing it right.
D: What are you working on now? Can you give us a sneak peek? an excerpt would be wonderful!
How about a bit of Fated, the last book in the Servants of Fate series? It comes out September 29th of this year. Here’s the first page …
Moros might have been born of darkness, but that didn’t mean he shied away from the light. As he sat on the rocks outside the entrance to the cave, he closed his eyes and lifted his chin, enjoying the brilliant afternoon sun on his face. The breeze carried a faintly bitter metallic tang—fumes that wafted from the sprawling slums and makeshift factories of Beirut, now a megacity with edges that butted up against the long-dry bed of the Al-Kalb River at the base of this peak. Beggars and refugees had pitched their tents on every flat piece of earth along the winding trail up the hillside, poverty spreading up from the metropolis like a fungus. Only here at the highest point did the crowd thin and the noise fade. The last time he sat in this spot, forest had carpeted the slope that now stretched bleak and dusty for miles. The air had carried only the scents of leaves and wood smoke and the wool of nearby grazing sheep.
Then again, that had been centuries ago. He laughed softly, remembering how he’d once believed he had made time his slave. He’d mistakenly thought he would only need to fight each battle once to enjoy victories that stretched long and unending into the future. Now every minute seemed precious.
“Who comes for the grim reaper at the end?” he muttered as he glanced at the dark cave, the earth’s waiting mouth. He stood up and dusted his hands off on his trousers, already knowing the answer. He wasn’t ready to give up yet, though. He might be the personification of doom and the leader of a vast army of Kere, the bringers of death, but he was not prepared to surrender his own life. He had fought too hard for it—and now he was searching for the weapon that would bring him the ultimate victory.
He felt a familiar pricking deep within him. Usually, when Atropos cut the thread of someone’s life, signaling it was time to reap the soul, Moros passed along the duty to one of his Kere with the ease of a fleeting thought. But this time, there was every reason to do the job himself. He sensed the soul nearby, and he wasn’t eager for anyone to know he was here—he had been betrayed so many times that he had no idea who he could trust. He closed his eyes and let the face of the doomed human rise in his mind, one with olive skin and black hair much like his own, unlined and youthful. He could feel the man approaching, his footsteps light and agile on the rocky spill above the cave’s entrance. “I’ll return for you soon,” he whispered.
Moros envisioned his destination—the cavern nestled deep within this peak, down in the earth where the heat alone would have killed any human. Unlike them, he had been created in that heat and pushed into this realm to serve fate, cut from the soul of Night herself.
Now it was time to pay Nyx a little visit—his mother was the key to finding what he needed.
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