I am pleased to have Sarah King do an author interview in celebration of her new book Of Ash and Shadow. A young adult fantasy that dives into the world of the Fae.
Here are some amazing things she has to say about the new book, her writing process, and herself. Check out the interview below.
Can you tell us a little bit about your book and what makes it unique?
The Fae stole everything from Wyn. Her home. Her family. Her soul. Now they want Her help. A murderer for hire, but this mission––kill the Shadow Queen, the boogeyman of the realm––is a suicide mission. At best! If she doesn’t say yes, they’ll steal more of the small family she’s piecemealed together since dragging her ass out of Faerie three years ago. Guided by a vaguely familiar dark elf, Wyn must traverse the Shadow Court, a barren wasteland with toxic air populated by nightmarish creatures. Faerie warps everything it touches. And helping them? Means giving them the last part of herself. Her humanity.
I think what makes Of Ash & Shadow unique is the voice. It seems to be what others, who have read it so far, have commented on the most aside from certain plot points (not gonna spoil them haha). It’s something that came about with this book after I got a revise and resubmit from a publisher.
The R&R prompted me to learn more about voice and writing in general, with some more in-depth courses provided by the Margie Lawson Academy. After I’d worked through all the lecture packets available, I rewrote the entire book incorporating both what I learned and the suggestions given in the R&R. I ended up producing almost the story as it is today––obviously, there were still edits to be done at the time – which has, I think, a very unique voice.
My brother calls it Noir, I just call it gritty and dark. The closest thing I can compare my voice to is a deep beat, as if someone were banging their fist on their chest in a harsh and unnerving rhythm. The anthem for this book, the song I listened to the most while writing, was In the End by Black Veil Brides. It has a similar backbeat.
The resonance from the beat playing in my chest/head while writing, became this amalgamation of staccato sentences and then a very lyrical viewpoint which is a mix of Wyn and me, seeing as voice within a story is always a mixture of the character and the writer. I ended up really enjoying the juxtaposition of those different kinds of sentences and then filtering them all through my desire to make the world and the characters as real as possible.
It ended up becoming Dark Fantasy, because, in my opinion, to show the world as realistically as possible, I didn’t want to shy away from the true horror and despair of what happened to Earth and Faerie when the barrier fell. The same went for Wyn’s background. I felt like it would be an injustice to her character to water her story down in any way.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
My stories always tend to spring into my mind as the first chapter of the novel. Whatever scene I see, that’s how the book begins. So, this story came to life as what is still the opening chapter, however, it originally began with Wyn driving her dagger through a fae’s heart. After my R&R, I pushed the scene back just a bit to settle the reader into the world more. Once I had the opening chapter written, I thought about where the story was going––unfortunately I didn’t plot it out, like I normally would, and got about five chapters in before I got super stuck.
I think what kept me writing was Wyn. I loved her voice and I liked how flawed she was at the beginning of the book. I felt for her, but I also sort of recognized some of the issues she was going through. Not because she and I have suffered the same, but living with anxiety, I felt like I had a little more comprehension of her attitude and what was upsetting her so much.
I also found I was inspired by the thread that was showing up in the book about choices. About the choices we make, the choices we have taken away, and sometimes how we can be blinded by pain or fear or the situation and make the wrong choices.
At the time that I was writing this story, I had just started taking medication to help with my own anxiety and I realized many of the choices I made pre-medication were fueled by my anxiety. They weren’t choices at all. I needed to reevaluate a lot of the things that scared me to decide whether I was actually afraid of those things or if I had been misled/prejudiced against things by my own mind. Part of me recognized that Wyn was going through the same issues, in her own way, and so I think for me and for her, writing her story was a bit of a catharsis.
What was the most fun part of writing this book?
The fight scenes, the banter between Wyn and Keir, and this is gonna sound silly but trying to make the most logical, smart choices for my characters.
Obviously, being a writer I am also a reader. And oftentimes I read stories and part of my brain is sitting there going––this will never work––or––that’s an illogical way to get out of that situation––or––that was too easy––and that bothers me a great deal. So I always try to make sure the situations that Wyn and Keir get themselves into aren’t easy to get out of; the way out of them means getting hurt or having to make the hard decision or not relying on convenience. They say kill your darlings, while I may not actually murder them, I am not going to make winning easy, in any way. Like I said earlier, I like to keep things on the realistic side, even though I write Fantasy and the rules are slightly different.
Fight scenes are some of my favorite things to write as well. I really like to lean into them instead of shying away. I also enjoy showing sword fights instead of magical fights, though there are those as well in the story. It was fun to research them and also to learn what different weapons could do and not do. I try to show various types of weapons in the book––falchions, long swords, short swords, daggers, whips, etc––instead of just relying on everyone having a long sword, which actually isn’t good for every type of fighting. Not to mention, choosing the type of weapon each character preferred. Wyn likes to fight with daggers, which is a terrible choice when you really consider it. They’re up close weapons, not made to go against massive swords, which means she’s always putting herself at risk using them. But, that’s her character. She has little regard for her own safety and I tried to reflect that in her choice of weapon.
And of course, banter. It’s my favorite to write. I’m a sarcastic person with my friends and family, and so getting to write two very sarcastic, kind of a-hole characters was fun. I could put every caustic response into the story and bounce them back and forth between the characters, which helped add some levity to what turned out to be a dark story.
Let’s talk a little about you as a writer. What inspired you to start writing stories?
Nineteen years ago if you asked my family where they thought I’d end up and then told them I was going to be a writer, they’d have laughed in your face. As a young kid I hated writing and reading, mainly, because I disliked being told what to do by the schools. In reality, I loved both, so long as I could do them on my own terms. Thankfully, at around 9, my mother started reading Harry Potter to me and I found my love of books, which then turned into a love of writing. I ended up having a dream, the night before the start of my Freshman year of high school, that I woke up needing to write down. The story was horrendous, but it was the first book I ever attempted to write and from then on, I couldn’t stop.
That story pushed me forward down a path to study writing in both undergrad and graduate school and really find my passion in life. Before writing I had no idea what I was going to do. I felt very rudderless in this world because I loved animals but was terrible at math and science. Trying to become a vet would have been a tremendous uphill battle and I wasn’t sure I loved animals enough to wage it. That left me with no other ideas on what I might do when I got older. I’m so glad I started writing, because it helped me find my way in life.
It’s a wonderful thing to be so into a story, you decide to write a novel, but it’s not always easy to sit down and do the work. Can you share a technique or routine you relied on to write when you didn’t particularly feel like it?
Oh man, I’m the horrible person who just surfs facebook when I don’t want to write. I struggle so much with this, but eventually I hit a point where I know I HAVE to keep writing. So, for me, I put a little music on, something that helps inspire the story, and I really just sit there and force myself to do the work. I’m sorry that doesn’t sound like great advice. I think sometimes, though, you just kind of have to tell yourself to stop being a baby and get it over with.
And it can be like pulling teeth. There were days that I wrote maybe a paragraph, and it took all day to write that paragraph, but, eventually, the scene would end and I’d get to the scene I actually wanted to write. Later, I’d go back and edit the chapter that gave me so much trouble to make it better than the crap I put down to just get past it. I think that’s where the struggle lies––the chapter you’re writing is necessary, but you know the next chapter is more fun to write, so it makes it hard to concentrate on the current one. But in the end, you just have to get it down on the page. Even if it’s the worst chapter you’ve ever written, because it’s easier to edit a bad chapter than not do it, skip ahead, and have to come back to a blank chapter with still no motivation to work on it.
Do you prefer to plot out the whole story before starting to work, or are you a pantser and make it up as you go along?
100% plotter. I used to pants my stories and I always ended up having the worst timeline mistakes. I would jump through time like no one’s business haha. And it was all because I didn’t know what was going on in those in-between times so I’d just jump around like okay this works, this comes next…even if it’s been like three weeks time haha. When I got to graduate school I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I outlined my thesis completely. It ended up working out, I had far less inconsistencies like that. When I got to OAAS I tried to revert to being a pantser––just to, stubbornly, see if I could pants now that I understood plotting better. How wrong I was. I got five chapters in and stalled hard, so I sat down with some of my closest friends and they helped me plot out the middle of the book. Without their help, this book would probably never have been written. Or it wouldn’t have made any sense when it did.
Now onto some fun stuff. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Morning person, though that’s since leaving college. I used to be a night owl. Now I can barely stay awake past 9:30pm. I am often called a grandma by my boyfriend…and my own mother. Everyone sort of laughs when they hear how early I go to bed, but on the other side of that, I wake up at 5:30am. Somewhere between senior parties, finals, and starting my first job post-graduation, I switched from staying up till 2am to falling asleep at sunset and waking up before the sunrise.
Who is your favorite author?
Nalini Singh, hands down. One of my best friends, Xandra, introduced me to her in college and she’s been an auto-pre-order ever since. Her voice is impeccable, one of the voices I study. Not to mention her stories, the detailed and intricate plots. She writes paranormal romance, but her stories, while heavily reliant on the romance, also read like urban fantasies. Every novel she writes has me on the edge of my seat, heart racing, mind wondering how the story is going to evolve from that point.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you pick and what would you do there?
I’ve been to Italy, so I won’t say there though I do want to return. I don’t know if I have a specific place, because what I want to do, I want to do it across many cities in the world such as Dublin, Prague, Tokyo, Marrakech, etc. What I really want to do is go and not be a tourist, but be a local. I want to sit and people watch at coffee shops, and really understand what it’s like to just live there. The intricacies and fun of just day to day life. Of course, I wanna see all the historical landmarks and natural tourist traps, but a fun trip I’d love is to just go and be.
What TV show did you religiously watch as a kid?
This is so tough haha I watched so much as a kid. Religiously…Crocodile Hunter. I used to like animals far more than people and CH was probably the closest I came to finding a show where I loved the human host and the animals equally. You cannot go wrong watching anything to do with Steve Irwin. Cartoon-wise, probably Rocket Power or Rugrats. Winx and W.I.T.C.H. too. All That! and Are You Afraid of the Dark. I love Avatar the Last Airbender, but I was a little older when that debuted so I don’t think I’d call myself a kid when I was binging that haha.
Dogs or cats or fish?
Dogs. Currently, we have two at home. Both rescues. I got our eldest, Dodger, when he was 10 months and a hellion. He’s 7 now and still quite a spoiled brat, but he makes up for it in personality and adorableness. Our little girl, Nikita, or Kita for short, is almost 2, and we got her last July when she was about 9-10 months. She has put us through many trials haha having come from a bad home, but she’s come a long way and we adore her. Cats, in my opinion, are a yes, though my boyfriend would tell you we will never get one. I’m slowly trying to wear him down on the subject haha.
What is your preference in warm weather: sandals or bare feet?
Bare feet. I live in Florida, but grew up in Connecticut and I was that person who was either barefoot or in sandals nearly year round. Even in the winter, you’d catch me in sandals most days. I could care less for shoes, I much prefer to just have nothing on my feet.
How would you spend a rainy Saturday morning?
A perfect rainy Saturday morning would have to be waking up after 6am––my dogs usually have me up at 5:30 cause they’re jerks––with the coffee already made, the aroma wafting through our home. All four of us, Joey, the dogs, and myself curled up in bed enjoying cuddles, our coffee, probably watching some reruns of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Community or reading while Joey surfs Reddit. The simpler, the better.