A Conversation with Sarah Ahiers, author of ASSASSIN’S HEART
The fact is I’ve never been a fan of fantasy novels. Wizards, dragons, magic, talking animals…it’s just never been my thing. I have no problem with these novels; we all just like what we like. Live and let live, I say. But when I saw that I could read an arc of Sarah Ahier’s ASSASSIN’S HEART, I jumped at the chance. I’d first met Sarah on the Query Tracker message boards, where writers discussed and sought help in their quest to get signed by an agent. Sarah was always incredibly helpful and positive there, remaining behind to help even after she was signed by an agency. I figured, knowing what a good person she was, I would give fantasy another chance. And I’m glad I did. Her novel is filled with assassin’s, ghosts, and a Godfather-like family dynamic that I really, really enjoyed. I’m hoping that other books in this world will follow. Below is an interview I conducted with Sarah about her writing, world building, and her chosen assassin skill.
Me: Okay, so introduce yourself to the readers. In 50 words (exactly!), who are you?
Sarah Ahiers: I am a kidlit author living in Minnesota with a houseful of dogs and critters. I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and write mostly fantasy for YA and MG, but also like to write horror and have dabbled in picture books. Bam.
Me: Assassin’s Heart contains such a rich world that you’ve created. It really was my favorite part of the novel. How did you go about constructing your world? How much prep work did you need to do before writing?
SA: So, I’m a hardcore plotter. I like to have a ton of character and theme pre-work, a list of scenes and a query written before I start my first draft. But for world building, I tend to pants it in the beginning. I let a lot of it come to me organically as I’m writing the first draft (some things I know ahead of time, especially if they’re really connected to the plot or character.) I think my brain comes up with interesting things, that way. Like the angry ghosts was a product of this method. I didn’t even know there were ghosts in the world of Assassin’s Heart until I wrote a line where Lea mentioned the angry ghosts on the dead plains and I realized that was something I really wanted to explore more.
Me: Obviously readers see the final product usually without knowledge of the hard work that goes into a novel. In the process of writing the novel were there any missteps along the way? Is this the book you originally envisioned?
SA: This is very close to the original book I envisioned. There was a major character cut in my first edit letter, but outside of that, everything is very close to the original idea and draft. But I took a long time with this book. The first 50k fought me and I had to set it aside for a year. But when I picked it back up, the rest of it was so much easier it made me wonder why I had problems in the first place (the answer was, I was trying to write it too soon after finishing another book. Lesson learned)
Me: An odd and short question – Why YA fantasy?
SA: I live in the real world, so I don’t really want to write about it. And I love to read fantasy and just wonder “what if?”
Me: You’ve created an impressive online presence. I first “met” you on the QueryTracker boards, but I know you’re a blogger and have an active social media life. How do you balance your novel writing time with your online time? What benefits have you found to being so active online? Any drawbacks?
SA: Yay for QT forum! I’m still on there. As for writing and social media, I do very little of either on the weekends, which helps, I think, keep things more balanced. I do have times, though, where I feel like I’ve missed things online because I’ve been unplugged, or where I’ve felt like I’m not working as hard as I could be because I don’t write on the weekends or evenings, but in general, I try not to beat myself up about it. And for blogging, I realized a long time ago that it’s best to try and find something you’re interested in and blog about that in order to keep your interest in your blog going.
Me: Time for the lighting round. Answer with explanations or without. It’s up to you. It’s more a chance for readers to learn things about you they might not learn elsewhere.
As an assassin, Lea is an expert in poisons. So you go nuts and turn into a present day assassin. What is your area of murderous expertise?
SA: I would like to think I’d be a badass with a sword, but honestly, poisons would be safer, I think (though I was never great at chemistry…)
Me: One of the themes of the novel is the importance of family. What fictional family (books, films, TV, etc.) would you like to be a part of?
SA: Oh, the Weasleys from Harry Potter. Magic and a happy family = win.
Me: And now that fictional family you’ve just been adopted by has been wiped out like Lea’s family in your novel. You can now go be mentored to get revenge by any fictional character of your choice. Who are you going to?
SA: Darth Vader. I mean, dude taught those sand people a lesson or two, amiright?
Me: Ghosts play a large role in your novel’s plot and setting. What, if any, supernatural beliefs do you have?
SA: I think I’m a hopeful skeptic. I always try to be skeptical about things, but I’m also very willing to believe in people who have no real reason to lie. So ghosts, and a lot of cryptids, especially, like, orang pendek which has been spotted in the wild by well-known scientists.
Me: Dinner party! You can have one rocker, writer, actor or actress, and miscellaneous person at your party. Wo are you inviting? (All living, please, and yes, you can have other family and friends there.)
SA: Bon Jovi, because I’ve heard he’s a nice dude. Neil Gaiman (natch.) Jennifer Lawrence (because she seems hilarious.) Jensen Ackles (I shouldn’t need to explain that one.)