Interview with Sarah J. Maas

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sarah J. Maas is a YA fantasy author, represented by Tamar Rydzinski of The Laura Dail Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter (@SJMaas) and she blogs. Her fantasy trilogy, Queen of Glass, is currently on submission.

1. When and how did you start writing?
I guess every author says they’ve been writing since they could hold a crayon, so I won’t go on about my early childhood years. It all truly started when I was sixteen, and figured that I should try my hand at writing a fantasy novel. I’d written fan fiction before, and attempted a few “novels” that were little more than rip-offs of published works, but the idea that grabbed me (and later became QUEEN OF GLASS), was different. I couldn’t—and still can’t—explain it, but I just knew that it was special.
After I wrote the first few chapters of QUEEN OF GLASS, I shared it on, a website for writers. During the six years the rough (like, REALLY rough) draft was posted there, it became one of the most popular stories on the site, with close to 7,000 reviews. The overwhelming response and enthusiasm continue to astonish me, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I wouldn’t be in the place I am today without the encouragement of my FictionPress readers. I’m still kinda bummed that I had to take the story off FictionPress, but thrilled at the possibility that my readers might someday get a real copy of QoG!

2. Could you tell me a bit about Queen of Glass, your YA fantasy trilogy?
Uh, it’s awesome? Ha, just kidding (sort of). QUEEN OF GLASS is an epic fantasy retelling of Cinderella, where the “Cinderella” figure is actually an assassin sent to the ball by a wicked empire to murder the royal family.

3. What inspires your writing? Are there any authors who particularly influence your work?
Music. All kinds of music, but especially classical and movie scores. Every scene I’ve written was inspired by some piece or another, and listening to music often helps me sort out plot problems, build character arcs, and connect to the soul of my book.
In terms of influential authors—brace yourself: it’s a long list. For YA, I’d have to say Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Lloyd Alexander, Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling and Tamora Pierce. For adult fantasy, definitely James Clemens, Peter S. Beagle, Anne Bishop, J. R. R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, and Patricia A. McKillip. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but I think you get the point.

4. Were there any parts of the writing process that you really struggled with?
Keeping my word count down. I write long books by default. I can’t help it. During revisions I usually have to cut out at least one or two subplots and characters. “Murder your darlings” has sort of become my motto (and has nothing to do with the fact that my heroine is an assassin).

5. Was the search for an agent difficult or easy for you? Did you have a dream agent in mind that you targeted, or did you query every agent you thought would suit your novel?

It’s difficult to briefly describe my querying experience, because it happened so sporadically. I queried two agents with an earlier draft of QUEEN OF GLASS in spring of 2008, and got rejected (as I deserved, because the manuscript was 240k words long). I wrote another series over that summer, and queried a handful of agents with it in fall of 2008. I received some partial and full requests for it, and a few revision requests, but no offers. After that, I came to a standstill.

I didn’t really like the revision requests that agents had made on that second series, and knew QoG wasn’t in the best shape it could be in. It was ultimately a choice of the heart: I decided to do another major revision of QoG—the project in which I’d invested seven years of my life, and my heart and soul. I cleaned it up, tightened the plotlines, cut out a few more characters, and managed to get the word-count down to 140k (which is still a beast, but better than 240k!).

I made a list of agents who repped fantasy, and took special care to make sure they were also interested in books featuring strong heroines. I think I queried about 16 of them in December of 2008. I got a lot of requests, and a few revision requests from awesome agents, but in January of 2009, after requesting a partial, then immediately requesting a full, my agent, Tamar Rydzinski, called to offer representation. Just hearing her talk about why she loved the series so much made me realize she was The One. She truly understood what the series was about, and had a fantastic vision for its future. I’m blessed to have her in my life.

6. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...
Dorky. Busy. I wrote every second I could, and devoured books when I wasn’t writing. Learning to balance a social life with my writing life was a struggle, but I had some great friends who were fun to be with, and supported my writing endeavors.

7. Complete this sentence: Outside of writing, my life is...
Normal. Completely and utterly normal. I live with my fiancé, who is responsible for keeping my life sane, and we do totally normal and non-fantastical things like going to the beach, hanging out with friends, and exploring Southern California. I also watch too much TV, drink too much coffee, and pester my fiancé too often about getting a dog, or some other sort of fuzzy animal.

8. What are you working on now?
I’m actually working on a ton of stuff right now. In the past year and a half, I’ve written three different YA fantasy series, so I’m hard at work polishing them up. I’m also just starting a new WIP, but it’s too early to talk about it (you know how superstitious we writers are)! I’ll keep you posted, though.


Thank you, Sarah! Remember to check out her blog, and keep updated on Queen of Glass!
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