Author Interview: Taking Court with Sarah J. Maas

May 28, 2015

Last week we sent our book blogger Charlie to interview best-selling author, and Harry Potter fan, Sarah J. Maas. Read on to find out what Sarah had to say about the first novel in her new trilogy, A Court of Thorns and Roses.  

 

We all love Throne of Glass, but you’ve ventured on to new turf with A Court of Thorns and Roses. Is it exciting to be writing in a new world?

It’s actually awesome because the world of ACoTaR is so different, so when I get stuck in one world I can just go to the other. It’s just really cool to have a whole new set of characters to play with, new romances – I love romance. I like writing the action scenes and the world building, but whenever I’m drafting a book I’ll be like, “When are people gonna hook up?” and I’ll figure out those points first. Sometimes mid-draft the ship will collapse, and I’ll be like, “Oh, there’s a new ship, and I didn’t see that coming!” I like to listen to my characters, so they tell me they want to go in a different direction, and it’s like, ‘oh, all right, we’re going with that!’ I believe in trusting my gut; some writers stick to outlines, but I’m not an outlining type person. I outline through very extensive music playlists because music is very essential to my writing, so when I’m drafting a book I’ll just start making a playlist of all the songs that inspire me for the scene and then set the mood. So when I’m revising I can cut a track or move it up and down in the playlist, and it helps if I need to go back to a certain scene. I can just listen to those pieces and be in my character’s head.

Do you have a favorite song for writing a fight scene?

I have so many; it’s so hard to pick just one! There’s the Oblivion soundtrack, which was an okay movie, but there’s a really good track in there called “Knife Fight in a Phone Booth” that I’ve been listening to for three days at a time, and it gets me amped up. There’s one really intense emotional note in the middle, and I’m the type of person [who] will listen to the same ten seconds in a six-minute piece of music, and I’ll listen to those seconds of a song over and over.

I feel like to get into the sad moments… the Deathly Hallows [- Part] 2 soundtrack with “Statues” and “Courtyard Apocalypse”… those variations of a theme get me teared up and ready for everyone to die [laughs] and be miserable. I draw the line at killing pets, though! Fleetfoot in Throne of Glass will survive to the end of the series because Hedwig’s death was super traumatic for me. I was like, “Wwhhhhy, whhhhy?!” You don’t see it coming. When I first read it I was like, “No, that didn’t happen. She’s alive.” That was the worst. That hit me harder maybe than anyone else.

ACoTaR draws on a lot of “Beauty and the Beast” themes. Do you have a favorite “Beauty and the Beast” telling?

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite retellings before, and I listed The Beautician and the Beast with Fran Drescher as one of my favorites (laughs). I don’t think that’s what they were looking for. I just love Fran Drescher!

I love this reverse retelling called Lady Hawk, which was an ’80s fantasy film where the woman has been transformed into a hawk, and the curse is on her, and only her true love will break the curse. I love that. But the Beauty and the Beast Disney version is so beautiful; that’s the killer. I still cry, like, every time I see it, and you get to the end where she’s all [as Belle], “Please don’t leave me!” Every time I die.

Are you someone who prefers the Beast to the Prince?

No, I like the prince. He’s so hot with his torn clothes and ripped body! When I was a kid I was like, “He is not that hot, gross,” but now that I’m older I’m like, “He is smoking.” I think that’s why when I wrote ACoTaR I wanted to have the physical romance, so I wanted him to be able to shapeshift. […] There’s not nearly enough romance in Beauty and the Beast, just one kiss at the end. I need a whole movie with the dancing and the tension and the making out!

Is that what inspired the masquerade idea?

Yeah, I wanted there to still be an element of her not seeing his true face. I think I must have been on a Phantom of the Opera kick at the time, so I was like, “Masks are really hot and mysterious.” And I wanted the masks to kind of be like animal shapes to reflect their spirit animal, like their Patronus. With Tamlin, he doesn’t have a specific animal because he can shapeshift into any animal. Obviously, the servants have their bird masks, and Lucien is a fox, sly and crafty.

My next question was going to be “Whom would you like to see cosplayed?”, and I think Lucien is going to be a popular choice. There’s going to be so many foxy Luciens!

Oh my God, that would be so cool. I don’t know how people would get around his metal eye? Maybe a cool eyepatch? Which is another thing I find weirdly hot. If I had an eyepatch I would have mine totally bedazzled. It would be super awesome. Who[m] else would I like to see? Rhys would be something. I think I would be like slightly terrified! I love Rhys’s shapeshift. I think he’s my favorite. Lucien would be the easiest, though, with the fox and the eye and the red hair… now I’m daydreaming! One day. I love it when I see Throne of Glass cosplay. That always blows my mind. I’m just like, “What’s happening? This is an out of body experience.” But I haven’t seen any ACoTaR cosplayers yet, as the book just came out. Now I wonder who[m] I will see first.

If you could shapeshift, what would you be?
A velociraptor. (Cackles) With retractable claws That is actually what I’d love to be – a horrible, man-eating dinosaur that doesn’t give a damn.

Excited for the new Jurassic Park film?
Oh my God, I saw Chris Pratt on his motorcycle with his flock of velociraptors, and was just like, “This is everything I’ve ever wanted in my life.” That is the dream. I would want to be both him and the velociraptor. I don’t know what that says about me? Velociraptors are just so primal and awful… I would like to be that level of cool. Either that or a tiger.

One of the things that ACoTaR reminded me of was “The Tiger’s Wife” story in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, with that transformation and shucking off [of] the fur.

Oh, I own that collection, but I’ve not read that story! Shapeshifters are my favorite.

I loved the descriptions of the castles in ACoTaR. I thought they were so beautiful. Tamlim’s court… I just want to go there. The garden, especially. I just want to walk around it.

Thanks!

Are there any castles or palaces that inspired you, real or fictional?

Oh, man. I actually went to Versailles when I was 21, and it was just so glossy! I was way more into the Petit Trianon, like the little version. And Marie Antoinette’s fake peasant village that she had built. I loved that, where the servants would clean the eggs and then lay them out and play at being peasants. I loved that!

I was just in Scotland last summer on vacation, doing some research, actually, for the ACoTaR sequel, and I saw Eilean Donan Castle, which is situated on three sea lochs, and it’s this castle that you have to access by a bridge from the mainlands, and it is so cool, with these mountains surrounding it. I loved that. That wasn’t directly an influence in ACoTaR. I just love the old castles with bloody history to them. With those narrow staircases where your shoulders are brushing the walls as you go up and up and up. Just driving around the Isle of Skye in Scotland there were all these little castles everywhere. I’d do like distance shots with them in the background.

I went to the Outlander castle. I’m the biggest Outlander fan, so I took a photo in front of that like “Maybe Jamie was standing here!” – I was wigging out after that. Castles are fun. I wish we had like actual castles in America. I just love the history.

I really loved as well the messy family dynamics and the way you flipped the ugly sisters trope on its head. What’s fun about writing that complicated family?

I don’t have sisters, which is probably a good thing because I would have made their lives a living hell. But I do have a younger brother, and we’re very different. So often in YA the family just gets killed off. I mean, I did this with Throne of Glass, like everyone is dead! But with Feyre, I wanted her family to be present, and I wanted it to be messy and not just one note because I don’t think any of us are… the villains aren’t just straight up bad. They have their own stories. Feyre’s sisters, while they were horrible, […] also have their own stories going on at the same time Feyre does and their own emotional journeys. So with Nesta, especially, she actually started out as one of the wicked sisters, but as I wrote the book, and I got to a certain part where things change a bit, I realized that the way she acts isn’t wicked. It’s just like someone who has had a very unfortunate life and is a very proud, stiff person, who can’t necessarily express love in the soft terms that Elain, Feyre’s other sister, can but does it more through her actions and her sense of what she believes to be right and wrong. And for her I think Feyre getting swept away to Prythian […] was just one of those cataclysmic events that made her change a lot. It changed the way she saw things and really shook her up.

Her sisters come back in the later books, and I’d love to write their own spin-off books one day. Nesta was kind of a gift for me in the book, where she wound up being someone completely different than I thought she was, and I loved discovering that randomly. I cried like a baby when I wrote one of her scenes for some reason, and I don’t even know why, but it hit some weird note. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad that it wound up being that way, and I was able to make her a real person instead of a cardboard cut-out of a wicked sister.

They’re all just survivors.

Will we learn more about Feyre’s mother?

A little bit. Feyre’s mother was just not that great of a mom, and I think it’s important to have parents sometimes who just aren’t that great. She just doesn’t care, and she is a decent enough mother, but she’s more concerned about her social life, and she just saw her daughters as commodities to marry off eventually rather than care about their education or anything like that. I think Feyre’s relationship with her father is much more complicated. With her mother she just kind of resents her, but her memories of her mother are so muddled because she died when she was so young. But her father she saw just implode and refuse to fight for them, which has led her down the path she takes. Everything that happens is because of that. But we will see what happens. Maybe in the middle of the night I will have an epiphany about the mom. It’s kinda like the [Dame] Maggie Smith version of The Secret Garden, where the parents were completely in love and totally obsessed with each other and just neglected their child.

Potter fans have quite a cause to be wary of labyrinths and maze quests, and I think yours is even more terrifying! Amarantha has an overseeing presence. Did you have a map in mind for the labyrinth?

No, I didn’t want to make a map because when I wrote the scene I wanted to feel as lost as Feyre did, so I didn’t want to know like where the turns and things were. I wanted to be with Feyre figuring things out. There’s a part where she gets wedged between two walls, and when I wrote that scene my palms were sweating, I was wigging out! I wanted to have that claustrophobic sense of not knowing where the end would be and unable to see above the walls. That was probably actually my favorite scene in the whole book. Speaking of good action music, that was the scene where I was listening to the Kung Fu Panda soundtrack. There’s a track called “The Bridge,” which the last minute and a half [of which] inspired that whole a scene. I would just listen to that music and could see what Feyre was doing, using bones jammed in the walls to glide around corners. So I was just like, “Okay, why is she in a mud pit doing this?”

Magic is quite a dark force, and everyone in the Fae world is using it. Does that make it harder to pin down the bad guys?

Well, there are different types depending on [which] court you’re in, and I think it actually makes it really fun for me to write the characters. Like with Rhys, his magic is very black and white – some people might see it as very evil, but Rhys does something that others might see as merciful. So he sees himself as more of a grey character. And people in the world judge according to what your magic is, so with Tamlin they think that shapeshifting must be good… but maybe in later books you might find out some of the truth behind it!

But also the magic [is] tied to the land and the people [who] run it. I have to have certain rules of what they can and can’t do, and the high lords have their own class. They have their own limitations and elements to their power, so the high lords can all shapeshift into these beasts. When I discovered Rhys’s form, it was one of my favorite scenes… mostly because he is just lounging on a bed. Oh my God, I will die if someone draws that. I don’t think I’ve seen any Rhys fan art yet. Oh my God, please, I will just combust [laughs].

There’s your prompt, guys! Huge thanks to Sarah J. Maas and to Bloomsbury, A Court of Thorns and Roses is out now, so make sure to get a copy and to drawing that fan art!