Monday, 8 September 2014

An Interview With Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas

In an interview with Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas, they discuss such things as each others books, the importance of flawed characters and whether or not they bend spines...

I interviewed Sarah and Leigh at Seven Stories in Newcastle and just wanted to take a moment to explain how amazing and inspiring these two women are. Both authors took time to chat with each person who came over to them and offered and posed for pictures. They didn’t just sign the books with their signatures and pass them on, but wrote messages and quotes inside, a different thing in each, no matter how many books they had to sign (their poor hands!) and I had A LOT of books! Hardbacks and paperbacks of each author, each different cover, even the ARCs and a poster or two, but they didn’t put a limit on how much they’d sign and said they’d sign any and as much as wanted.

I adored Sarah’s idea of having her own book that the fans could sign! It really made you feel that she really did care about what you thought about her books and valued your interest.

Both were so SO lovely to talk to, and very funny! The girl behind me in the queue (someone id only met once before- when I recommended her the books, what a coincidence!) was nervous as she hadn’t any idea what to do or say but came out smiling and talking about how nice they were. My dad came along, wanting to see what all my fuss over these books was about and is now storming through Shadow and Bone, I think he must’ve enjoyed himself! Adults love YA too!

I don’t think either ever didn’t have a smile on their face, if you get the chance to meet either of these guys, I suggest you GRAB it with both hands!


After introductions, me, Leigh and Sarah sat down to discuss their New York Times bestselling books and their writing.

It always so hard for authors to pick their favourite characters from their own books, so, who is your favourite character in each others books?

Leigh: Nehemia is my favourite character from Sarah’s series.

Sarah: I’m gonna say Mal, he’s so hot. *laughs* He’s so hot! Oh my god, my body temperature actually just got hotter, my pits just got really sweaty.

Leigh: *laughs* she’s so classy!

Sarah: I’m from America! That’s how we do things there!

Would you rather be a Sun Summoner, a Darkling, a Privteer, Tracker, Heartrender, Healer, Squaller, Inferni, Tidemaker, Durast or Alkemi?

Sarah: I wanna be a Sun Summoner!!

Leigh: I can see that. I guess, if I could be as good a privateer as Sturmhond, I would be a privateer, but otherwise, I’d be a heartrender. Then I could be like, I don’t like you, I’m gonna put you to sleep…*reaches out hand*

Sarah: That was slightly terrifying with your rings and your nails.  I can totally see that too.

So, on the other hand, would you rather be human, fae, witch, human with magic or a human assassin?

Sarah: Witch. I want the iron teeth and the nails, and I want to be able to…well I don’t want to rip out someone’s throat with my teeth! But the ability would be good.

Leigh: I’m gonna pick fae… they’re really attractive.

How important and influential is music in your writing?

Sarah: Music literally inspired this entire series for me. Music still inspires every scene, ever character, every moment. Especially movie scores, classical music. I have to have music on (when writing) or else the silence swallows me whole.

So, do you have different playlists for different moods, different characters etc?

Sarah: Yeah, I keep really extensive, detailed playlists for all of my books. I have all of my music ordered in order of the scenes in the books, so if anything gets cut or moved ill take the song out or move it in the playlist, so it helps me when revising to be able to slip into a scene or a mood because I can play the song and get into my characters heads.

Leigh: I never used to listen to music when I was writing, and that really changed when I got into book 2. When I wrote book 1 I would never write to music, for whatever reason. Now I really use it to get into the right frame of mind. The cool thing is that I’ve had people make fan-mixes and playlists on Tumblr so ill go in and if I don’t know them ill take them. Recently, I was driving up the coast to go to a writing retreat, and I was listening to them all, and this one song came on that I’d never heard of and I was like oh my gosh! And I listened to that song when I was writing the Darklings prequel story. I just listened to it on repeat the entire time. So, I’ve actually discovered a lot of music through readers, which is cool.


So when and how did Winter’s Prayer come around, Leigh? ( Leigh’s song she wrote for her book series)

Leigh: Oh, gosh! Honestly, it was when I was writing Shadow and Bone, I was driving around in the car and I had this folk melody that my parents used to play stuck in my head. I was stuck in traffic so I just started coming up with words for it. I put my cell phone on voice memo and recorded myself singing to first two verses. (the verses) stayed exactly the same all the way through and I just added a third verse. I am lucky enough to have guys from my band, guys who used to be in the band who all did a lot of favours. The whole song was recorded in my friends living room, it sounds like there’s a choir in the background but it’s actually my friends wife and her friend. They were singing words from the book. I’m lucky to know such talented, nice people!

You have both started new series’, and we’ve heard many times your inspiration for your first series’ ( Sarah- Cinderella with an assassin and Leigh- walking down a dark corridor at night imaging there’s something there) so what inspires these books? Was it another fairy tale or experience?

Sarah: A Court of Thorns and Roses, big surprise, was inspired by music. By actually listening to the Princess Mononoke soundtrack. ( A Studio Ghibli film- check it out!) It’s one of my favourite movies ever. A bloody warrior riding a wolf just speaks to my soul. And then I became inspired by Beauty and the Beast and East of the Sun, West of the Moon and the legend of Tamlin. I love fairy tale retellings and mash-ups. It actually wound up going away from those things; it started off as a retelling of the more original fairy tales, but then moved away. Kinda, like Throne of Glass has done.

Leigh: I really love rag-tag, band of misfits stories, like Oceans Eleven, The Dirty Dozen and Inglourious Basterds. I wanted to write, basically, a heist story, so that’s where the inspiration for The Dregs story came from. And its exactly that. Its this group of outcasts and misfits from the lowest of the low, this gang, from a slum called The Barrel. They’re tasked with an impossible heist that is essentially a suicide mission. If you’ve read Ruin and Rising you can tell I like friends who are facing impossible odds, so that’s basically what I was going for with this. I also wanted to write a cast of semi-despicable characters, which was fun to do.

Sarah: Like The Goonies?

Leigh: Yeah, but they’re more thuggish than The Goonies. I don’t think the goonies would pluck someone’s eyes out. If you took the Fratelli’s, made them a lot more attractive but kept that zaniness of The Goonies, then it’d be more like The Dregs.

How important is it for your characters to be flawed?

Sarah: It makes it fun and exciting and unpredictable. The readers have more to relate to. None of us are perfect.

Leigh: I dunno about you, but, I am pretty perfect.

Sarah: You are pretty flawless.

Leigh: It’s true. You know it’s funny because I’ve seen criticism levelled at Sarah’s work and at my work that could be mirror images of each other. They’ll say “Celaena’s so vain and cocky!” And then they’re like “Alina’s so insecure! She’s so whiny!” Every time you see someone saying a characters too this or too that, those are the things that make a character. And these are things that guys get away with all the time. I think out heroines would be pretty boring if they were perfect all the time.

How important is it for your ‘bad’ characters (E.g Manon and The Darkling) to still have good qualities?

Sarah: What was that quote that says something like a good villain see’s themselves as the hero of the story? In order to write a good villain, you need to think of them as a person with motivations and backgrounds. (to Leigh) I mean like the Darkling, you have hoards of fans that are obsessed with him. I liked the Darkling, I thought he was hot, but he is a really atrocious person, he’s a monster! But you made him sexy and approachable; he obviously had something about him that readers connected with.

Leigh: Yeah, I think you should always be able to make your villains case, otherwise, why would people follow them? The people who enter out lives that are the most dangerous don’t usually come in twirling a moustache *rubs hands menacingly* saying “I’m an evil genius.” They’re people who are charismatic, charming and appealing, who speak to some part of us that makes us want to follow them, that makes us attracted to them. It was important to me that my heroes not be all good and my villains not be all bad. Sarah actually writes her villains PoV chapters, so she’s really in their heads!

Sarah: Yeah, that’s the witch narrative (Manon), she’s on the bad side, she’s a villain. I like adding her voice to the story, it was something that I connected with and wanted to add to broaden the world and offer a different glimpse of the two sides of what’s happening.

Leigh: We both have pretty despicable kings in our stories so sometimes evil is used as shorthand for really, really, bad. Sometimes people want to be let off the hook, and say “Well is this person good or bad?” “Am I supposed to like Celaena?” It’s not one or the other; you’re just supposed to be in the story and make your own choices.

What it your opinion on the attitude that adults shouldn’t read YA?

Sarah: People have too many opinions! I’m happy if people are reading anything, I don’t care what the hell they’re reading! I am happy if someone is picking up a book and investing in it.

Leigh: Agreed. These articles pop-up every couple of months and I think it’s a really good thing to watch out for because you don’t see those articles crop up about the things that men and boys buy in bulk which may be not the most edifying, they’re book that are going to cure cancer, but they don’t receive the same amount of criticism as young adults or romance and the reason is because people get really wigged out when ladies are really into things. Anytime someone tells you to be ashamed, I think its good idea to find out why they’re pointing the finger.

How important do you think the links between authors and other authors and authors and fans are today, with the ease of contacting via twitter, tumblr etc.?

Sarah: It’s the coolest, I got into writing at a young age because I realised my favourite thing about writing was getting to share it with readers. So getting to talk to fans, see which characters they love, getting invested, it makes a lot of the hard work worth it. Its surreal still, sometimes it feels like none of it happened and that the fact that people care about the characters and love them, blows my mind.

Leigh: I think it’s always a surprise when someone says “I loved your book.” And I don’t know why. It’s always a lovely feeling. That passion can be a wonderful thing and it can be a scary thing. If people aren’t happy with a choice you made, they’re gonna let you know! So I think you’re always walking a line between public and private when you’re working as an author. And I love seeing all the art, the edits and the mixes. It’s sort of a culture that didn’t exist before.

Sarah: I was just thinking, if I’d had that when I was a kid, that would’ve been the coolest thing to tweet at my favourite authors.

Leigh: I always wonder if I would or if I’d just lurk in the background. I still get a kick out of when Anne Rice tweets. Ill be like “Oh, look!”, I mean its her assistant, but still. I was very antisocial. I don’t know if the internet would’ve made me any more social. I would’ve had this very angry blog somewhere.

Was it always fantasy?

Sarah: Fantasy, sci-fi, I grew up with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings.

Leigh: For me it was always Dune and Labyrinth and Legend. Those were the touchstones for me.

Okay, quick fire round! Hardbacks or paperbacks?

Leigh: Hardbacks

Sarah: Paperbacks

Do you bend the spine?

Sarah: Break it!

Leigh: My books looked trashed, but I love that, it means they’re well loved.

Sarah: That’s why I love paperbacks, you can just *makes spine bending motion*

Leigh: I am very mighty!

Do you dog ear too?

Sarah: Yes!

Leigh: Yes!

Which Hogwarts house would you be in?

Sarah: Slytherin

Leigh: Slythindor, haha, I cant decide! Slytherin!

Good or Evil?

Leigh: *dramatically* What is good, what is evil?

Sarah: Gray, in-between.

Cats or dogs?

Sarah: Dogs

Leigh: Dogs

Current TV obsession?

Leigh: Orange is the New Black

Sarah: Um, oh! Outlander.

Do you judge a book by its cover?

Leigh: *grudgingly* yeah…

Sarah: Unfortunately.

Would you rather be a Jedi, a Hobbit, a Wizard or a Disney Princess?

Sarah: Jedi!

Leigh: Wizard.

What fictional world would you like to live in?

Leigh: Either the world or JK Rowling or the world of Diana Wynne Jones. Like from Howls Moving Castle.

Sarah: Yeah, I was thinking of like a (Hayao) Miyazaki film, like Howls Moving Castle, where everything is beautiful and shiny and you always find a way to save the day.

Finally, do you guys have any advice for YA readers, whether they’re aspiring writers or just aspiring to do something with their lives?

Sarah: Don’t let anyone shame you for what you read or what you love in general. Many people are gonna tell you not to xyz things. Do you what you love, and screw the rest.

Leigh: I guess I would just say, there’s no expiration date on your talent, so…

Sarah: Aww! *crying noises*

Leigh: Yes, cry! I think there’s sometimes the idea that if you don’t do something by this date or by this time, that every decision you make is gonna be the end of the road, and its not like that, life’s not like that. As long as you have a story to tell, the world will wanna hear it.

Thank you so much Sarah and Leigh for allowing me to interview you and thank you to Emily Drabble from the Guardian Teens and Nina Douglas from Indigo for helping organise the interview!

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