"I'm always left feeling like a fierce queen after reading Sarah J. Maas's books. Look out world," said a fan of author Sarah J. Maas. Fierce, badass, empowering. Sexy as sh*t. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Maas's YA book series, Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. Oh, did I mention she is writing two separate epic high fantasy series simultaneously? Her latest novel, A Court of Mist and Fury (book two in the series) just came out, and the highly anticipated Empire of Storms (book five in the series) arrives this Fall. I'm literally counting down the days until it does.
I knew Maas's books were something special when words within them resonated for days, then for weeks, then for months after I read them. When the characters she created stayed with me. She writes about friendship, family, fierce females, magic, love — all against the backdrop of a fantasy world reminiscent of Game of Thrones and the Tolkien universe in its magnitude. She portrays the darkness within people, and she shows us the painful process of getting through that darkness and finding the light in others and, most importantly, in ourselves. I sat down with Sarah to talk about her books and controlled my not-so-inner superfan enough to get a glimpse into the mind of the groundbreaking YA author that everyone should get to know ASAP. Here's what she had to say.
POPSUGAR: What do you think readers will love most about A Court of Mist and Fury?
Sarah J. Maas: The world really expands in this book and you get to all these new places and meet all these new characters . . . and I love the new characters! I love all the new female characters that are in the book — that's the other thing that I think readers will really love, is that there are so many more women that come into play in the series. . . . I love that it's ladies helping each other — and all different kinds of women. Another thing I hope readers will love as much as I do is Feyre's journey in this book from such a dark, broken place to one of hard-won joy and hope.
PS: What do you love most about Feyre, and how has writing her been different from other heroines you've written?
SJM: I love that after all that she's been through, she gives herself permission to fall in love again with art and the healing that she goes through in A Court of Mist and Fury. I love that she's a survivor and that she's also incredibly self-sacrificing. She's fighting every day to keep [her family] alive and I do think that there's so many different types of strength, and with Feyre, one of her strengths is that she's willing to put the people she loves in front of her. It's great to write two very different heroines: Feyre is closed off emotionally — it took me years to figure out who she was, whereas Aelin [from the Throne of Glass series] from the start I mostly knew who she was. I got her as a real person. I love jumping between those two heroines.
[On her other heroine, Aelin Galathynius] The relationship between Aelin and Lysandra was one of my favorite journeys to write within the Throne of Glass series, because relationships with other girls for me personally have been such a huge part of my life and I've had multiple friendships that have been really important to me. Learning to see women as allies and to trust other women and to have other women have each other's back is so important. There's no point seeing each other as rivals. . . . They can have each others' backs and be even more badass as a team. I love writing them together. . . . They terrorize all the poor men around them, raising hell together.
PS: What's your writing process?
SJM: I don't keep a huge timeline or map — I keep most of it in my head. It almost feels like braiding at times, where I have all these threads that I'm pulling in so I keep it mostly in my head, but I keep a notebook. I use it for talking to myself in a way. If I'm stuck I'll write down the plot points in the scene where I'm stuck and then I will write down questions to myself like "where is this going?" and sometimes it will free up ideas.
[For A Court of Mist and Fury] I really had to open myself up to these dark places inside of myself. I write in a linear fashion so anytime I edited the book, I would have to start on page one and go through Feyre's journey with her over and over again. I loved that she figures out who she is and discovers her strength. I also love her creative journey [as an artist]. There have been times I have wondered if my writing "magic" was broken and going through that journey with her where she can't paint, that feeling that she goes through, when she first paints again . . . I burst into tears. So there are all these layers of her journey, but the whole creative thing hit me hard.
PS: This book is by far the sexiest YA book (maybe book?) I've ever read. What was your editor's response to your confidence in breaking boundaries in terms of sex and YA, and why do you think that it was important to do so?
SJM: My editor never once said "you need to tone the sex down." I mean I said [to my editor], "there's basically like a sex marathon in A Court of Mist and Fury. . . ." But with all the intimacy in there . . . I wanted it to be part of the healing process for both characters, but I also think, you know, when I was teenager and even younger I read up — and I never would have gone to my parents with sex questions or sex ed in school. Books were the one place — especially romantic fantasy — where I could see these adult relationships play out and I got a sense of what a loving adult relationship could be like.
I think it's important to have positive sexual relationships in books, especially where both parties are in love . . . not for the shock value. That whole "sex marathon" in ACOMAF — there's so much healing and love. I feel really lucky that my editor saw that and saw that we needed positive representations of sex and that it's OK not to just have sex, but to enjoy it, and for young women [to see that]. I firmly believe that young women can be with as many men as they want, we can have as many boyfriends as we want, we can change our minds, there are no limits to what we can do. I've been really grateful that I've been able to show a more real [sexual portrayal] of multiple relationships that [Feyre] has and not the whole fade-to-black thing.
PS: Buffy is my favorite show of all time, and I grew up with her as a role model. You write some of the strongest females in modern lit. They are diverse, flawed, and dimensional (aka they are PEOPLE). Why is it so important that young readers (and readers in general) have these kinds of female characters?
SJM: I don't know what I would be without Buffy. I grew up with Buffy and Sailor Moon and they entered my life around the same time and seeing them from a very young age — there were so many different types of female strength. You had Buffy who was this strong heroine, but she was so much more than that — she wasn't just physically capable. She was vulnerable and she was an unrepentant girlie girl and . . . sex-positive.
For me, writing about these interesting women is just something that I feel is a part of me. It's such a part of who I am . . . and I think now we are lucky enough to have YA be in a renaissance — you have so many female writers writing these incredible stories about so many different types of young women. I'll still have people say to me that they don't read books by women and it's like, what do you say to that? But with my female characters, I actually love them all so much that I have to remind myself to let the men do cool stuff, too. [Editor's note: The men definitely do cool stuff, too . . .]
I love Aelin's flaws so much. It sounds weird, but I love her rage; I love that she feels things and reacts so strongly to stuff. It's empowering because she feels things so deeply, I can explore such a broad range with her. I feel like we don't often get to see young women make those bad choices and react to things in [that way]. I love that I get to go in that direction with her and I get to show those moments [of rage, despair, fury]. I don't differentiate between the male protagonist and female protagonist — they're just people. But I do love writing about ladies kicking ass. I grew up in a time where there were so few of them, and I love that we are seeing more now.
PS: Who are some of your favorite badass literary heroines?
SJM: [Author] Tamora Pierce, who is queen of all the heroines ever with her Alanna books — and what I loved about Alanna again is that she had multiple boyfriends; the books are really sex positive, safe sex. Garth Nix's Sabriel, Robin McKinley wrote this book called The Hero and the Crown, which is about a princess who basically goes off to be a dragon slayer. . . . And every woman in Harry Potter. TV and books wise, Furiosa from Mad Max; the Alien franchise is my obsession, so Ellen Ripley is my spirit animal.
PS: What do you think the biggest misconception is about YA, especially YA fantasy and romance, that you've come across?
SJM: There's so many. I get a lot of adults saying, "I shouldn't be reading YA . . ." and I'm like, YA is for everyone. It's accessible for everyone, and there's also a misconception that YA is inane nonsense, that it's not well written, that it's not meaningful, and even other writers in other genres put down YA for not being "serious."
The books that I read as a teenager, they changed my life. And some of those books got me through really hard times, and I don't understand why anyone would put down other genres because in this day in age there's so many other distractions to keep you from reading; the fact that anyone picks up a book is a miracle in and of itself. I'm a huge adult romance reader and people crap on the romance genre all the time, meanwhile these women are writing sex-positive stories with women owning their fates and getting their happily-ever-afters. . . . The romance book industry is huge for a reason.