Author Interview with Sara Snider

Hi everyone! The lovely Sara Snider and I got together the other day (on Facebook – sadly Hong Kong to Sweden is not an easy distance to cross) to chat about her books and her writing, since she has just released A Shadowed Spirit, the sequel to The Thirteenth Tower. It made for a more relaxed, informal interview than what I normally do, which I actually really enjoyed – we talk about Sara’s books, but also about how she uses Myers-Brigg when working on her characters, genre hopping, and her awesome live-writing project, Hazel and Holly. Hope you enjoy!

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CJJ: Hey Sara, so this is fun – and different! Live chatting! Ok so can you give me a quick introduction on the Tree and Tower series, for anyone who’s not come across your stuff before?

SS: This is fun and different! Ok, the Tree and Tower series is basically about a young woman searching for answers. Her search invariably leads her into the forest, but her answers don’t always come in the way that she thinks.

CJJ: And book 2 in the series, A Shadowed Spirit, has recently come out, congratulations! That’s exciting. (I just finished it, for you guys reading this, and it was awesome, go check it out). So what pushed you to write a sequel to The Thirteenth Tower, as I know you hadn’t necessarily planned a sequel originally?

SS: Ok, first, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. That means a lot to me. As for why I wrote it, it’s because after the first one was done and people started to read it, they started saying things like, “I’m looking forward to the sequel.” Not, “Is there going to be a sequel?” So I figured I’d better get on that sooner rather than later.

I was always open to the possibility of a sequel, but I hadn’t actively planned on one until then. I do think the first book in the Tree and Tower series stands alone, but there are gaps, and I’m not sure how much of that was “I’ll leave that for a future sequel” and how much was just my own tendency to leave some things unexplained for readers to interpret on their own

CJJ: What about a third book, is that in the works? And how do you write books by the way, do you outline or do you pants?

SS: Yeah there’s going to be a third book – I’m currently working on the first draft. I’m struggling with it because I’m a total pantser. But… for this one, pantsing isn’t working, and I’m going need to plan a bit, and that’s hard for me. I’ve actually gone back and started re-writing the beginning (basically moving events I had late in the book happening sooner).

Part of me feels like I should leave rewriting for the editing process, but it was creating a wall for me in figuring out what happens next. As a pantser, what happened previously plays a big part in what happens next, and if that’s not right I feel like I’m in a weird limbo. So, yeah, doing some hefty re-writing right now.

CJJ: I definitely agree with that: I can’t continue on very far if I know the earlier part of the story is broken. (and I also really like re-writing, so I’m always up for a bit of editing.) Ok so let’s talk about your characters. What’s your process like when creating a new character?

SS: Characters kind of create themselves to a large extent. Addigan popped fully formed (full name and everything, which is really rare for me) into my head. Others sometimes take bit more work.

Jash, for example (he’s a bit of a rogue character who’s teamed up with Addigan), I developed his personality a bit more by putting him through the Myers-Briggs personality test, as his default personality was a bit flat for me.

Doing that illuminated some personality quirks I hadn’t considered, but it also didn’t change the personality he initially formed with in my head. It just further accentuated what someone like him might act like.

CJJ: That’s interesting, I think you’ve mentioned using Myers-Briggs before on your blog. Is it something you use regularly?

SS: I wrote a blog post about it, and this was the first time I had used the test. The blog post talks about Jash, and I also used it on Enon to see if his personality was believable (which it was, according to the test, which was pretty awesome to see).

CJJ: I bet! Would be a bit of a bummer if he hadn’t come out as believable. I really liked Enon by the way 🙂 I take it he’s an introvert? Actually, first could you quickly explain who he is for those who haven’t come across him yet?

Glad you liked him. For those who don’t know: Enon’s a rather quiet, sullen character who joins up with Siyan on team protagonist (with Addigan and Jash on the antagonist side). He’s not to everyone’s taste though, but I knew that when I wrote him (so it makes it extra special when people do like him). Yeah, he’s totally an introvert. ISTJ personality type, if I recall correctly. Which, interestingly, is the exact opposite of my type, other than the introversion part (which is definitely me). I think I’m an INFP.

And I’m not totally obsessed with personality types, but I do think it’s interesting. J

CJJ: Yeah I agree, I love analysing people and personalities! I actually have a little theory about characters, which I don’t think I’ve floated to another writer yet. For me, all my characters are me. I embellish, highlight, or add on aspects, so none of them are exact copies of me, but I can see myself in each and every one (even the not so flattering and not so nice ones – yeesh). Hence the theory, that I’m the sum of all my characters (of course I have many to come still). Do you think that about your characters too, or are they completely separate from you? Like different people?

SS: No, I actually do think that about my characters. I mean they’re not me, but I can totally see parts of myself in all of them. It’s like each one represents a particular aspect of myself in their own way. I talked about this with my sister-in-law and she just looked at me and said, “So, what you’re saying is you’re schizophrenic?” hehe. She was joking, but it was kind of funny. 🙂

CJJ: Haha, to be fair I think all of use writers are a little nuts. So, if you think back to The Thirteenth Tower and A Shadowed Spirit, in what order do ideas come to you? Do you start with a concept for a world, a character, a scene….

SS: I think it’s mostly premise based, if that makes sense. For The Thirteenth Tower, I had an idea for the beginning and end, and then the premise of the strange things happening and what was causing it. And so everything stemmed from that. For A Shadowed Spirit, almost all the ideas came for that one as I wrote it. I had a goal for Siyan, and I had Addigan and what she was trying to do. Everything else came as I wrote it.

The idea for book 3 is basically the consequence of events from the first two books. I looked at what happened in each one and thought, “What do the Magisters think about *that*?” And so that’s given me the premise. I’m still working on the events that follow it.

CJJ: I kind of wish I could start stories from a premise, I sometimes think it would make life a bit easier, or at least more straightforward. I always have to start with characters, though. I’ve tried to create a story from a premise and it never works. Not sure why!

SS: Which is probably why you have the best characters.

CJJ: aw thank you. I do think that’s also why so far my books don’t fit into a straight forward category. the one I finished recently is another mish-mash of genres, and I think I’m going to have to sift through Amazon categories to figure where it belongs! Do you think you’ll always write fantasy, or any plans to genre hop?

And what’s in store after Book 3 is finished? I know you have the Hazel and Holly story going on, any plans for after that?

SS: Genre mish-mashes are awesome in my opinion, but, yeah, a bit of a pain to market. 😉

I sometimes think about writing a science fiction story of some sort. The idea of it intimidates me, because science. But I find, for example, black holes terribly fascinating, and I think it would be fun to write a story that incorporates them somehow.

After book three, I have a vague idea for a creepy archivist I want to pursue. For this one, I don’t have a premise for a story, it’s the character, so that’s a first I guess. The character is pretty vague though. He’s an archivist and he does unsavory things like dig up bodies and collect bones. That’s all I have at the moment.

HazelHolly_FC_FNL_BNGCJJ: I’m liking the sound of this guy already – creeps and weirdoes are right up my street! Tell me also about your Hazel and Holly project (for those of you who haven’t come across this before, Sara is writing a serial ‘live’ on her blog, posting a new episode each week.)

SS: Hazel and Holly are basically two witch sisters trying to find their necromancer father who’s trapped their dead mother’s soul in a gaes. They’re trying to find him so he can undo it.

As for when it will be done, I have no idea. I was aiming to finish the first draft of it by the end of this month, but… it’s long. It doesn’t want to end! I’m at 90k words now, estimating (maybe) it’ll finish up around 130k (which will make it the longest story I’ve ever written). Maybe it’s the serialized nature of it, but I’m finding it difficult to wrap things up.

CJJ: Wow, that is HUGE! How have you found the experience of writing in public like that, basically letting people see your first draft?

SS: It’s pretty scary, actually, and it wouldn’t work at all for me for some stories (like the Tree and Tower series, that just wouldn’t work). I think what’s made it work for me with this one was I went into it thinking it was just a story I’d have fun with. Yes, there will be small errors, and potentially crappy writing, but I accepted that and figured just write to have fun!

For the most part, I think it’s worked fairly well. Those who read it seem to be enjoying it, so I suppose that’s something.

CJJ: Absolutely! Well this is all great, thank you so much for the chat Sara!

SS: Thank you, Celine!

A Shadowed Spirit:

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She used to be called Emelyn. She used to be nobody. Now she is Siyan—a creature of magic known as an And’estar. But Siyan doesn’t understand what that means, just as she can’t control the power that has woken within her.

Addigan worked her entire life to master the Art of magic and become a respected Magister, only to fail her final test. Scarred and desperate to prove her worth, Addigan pursues rumors of trees of power and a mysterious people called And’estar.

When Siyan heads into the dense and dangerous forest searching for answers, she doesn’t realize Addigan is coming for her. In this twisting chase of hunter against hunted, Addigan must choose how far she is willing to go to prove herself. And Siyan must let go of everything she knows—and everything she loves—if she is to gain control over her power. Even if it kills her.

In a journey that follows the intertwined lives of two women, A Shadowed Spirit is a mystical tale that redefines the boundaries between life and death, dreams and reality, and what one is willing to sacrifice to achieve the happiness she seeks.

A Shadowed Spirit is now available to buy at the following places:

Amazon US     Amazon UK    Apple    Kobo

About the Author:

Sara-headshotSara C. Snider was born and raised in northern California before making the move to Sweden at age 25. She is a published author of two fantasy novels—The Thirteenth Tower and A Shadowed Spirit—and the dark fantasy novella, The Forgotten Web, which won best novella in the 2015 Lyra Contest. She has a bachelor’s degree in Archives and Information Science that is largely being ignored as she pursues writing full-time.

Sara’s writing is heavily influenced by nature where she likes to explore the relationship between man and a greater wild world. Her stories sometimes venture into the surreal and metaphysical, while other times remaining quirky and light-hearted.

Website: http://saracsnider.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaraCSnider

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SaraCSnider

An interview with Sara Snider… and the drinking habits of laundresses

Today I have a great interview for you guys, featuring Sara Snider. She’ll be talking to us about her book, The Thirteenth Tower, and sharing a wealth of interesting facts from her research — the weight of women’s clothing in the 19th century and the drinking habits of laundresses, for starters.

This interview is part of a series of posts where I talk to writers about the interesting things they dig up during their research process. If you know of an indie writer who you’d be interested in seeing featured in this kind of interview, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

Right, without further ado, here’s the interview, hope you guys enjoy it!

ThirteenthTowerCoverThanks for taking part in the interview Sara! Could you please start by telling us a bit about your book?

The Thirteenth Tower is a fantasy novel about Emelyn–a seventeen year-old orphaned girl–who joins up with a pair of Magisters (wizards, basically) on their journey northwards to stop a menacing creature of magic. The Magisters promise to tell Emelyn of her parents, but, of course, it’s never that simple. The journey north is a bumpy one, with lots of magical happenings and things to discover, much of which is about Emelyn herself.

 

What kind of research did you do to create the world your novel is set in?

When I first started writing the book, I imagined it taking place during a time similar to the Victorian Era. (In actuality, though, the setting is probably closer to the 18th century rather than 19th ). Emelyn also starts out as a servant, so a lot of the research involved these two things. I spent a lot of time reading about Victorian domestic life in general as well as the various types of servants, their wages, duties, etc. It’s a fantasy world, though, so all of this was just to get an idea of a way of life from past days, which could serve as a foundation for me to tweak and build upon.

What was the most interesting thing you found about Victorian domestic life?

Laundry day was a big deal and very disruptive. Servants had to get up earlier than normal to heat the water. Soaps were mostly ineffective, and so clothing had to be scrubbed and boiled. Sheets had to be wrung out by hand, which was physically taxing. If the weather was bad, the laundry would need to be hung indoors to dry, which then meant living in dampness for days. Apparently it was desired to have so many spare bed sheets and undergarments that laundry would only need to be done maybe eight or nine times a year. Wealthier households hired a laundress.

Laundresses, in addition to their pay, expected “perks,” which was usually beer three times a day and gin and water at night. I’m not sure why this delights me. (It delights me too! Then again I’d want beer and gin too if I had to handle people’s undergarments all day)

Photo from Wikipedia

Crinolines, or hoop skirts, (all the rage in the 1850s) tended to catch fire and were a “fairly common” cause of death among women. Household guides recommended keeping a heavy woolen table cover or piano shawl nearby to quickly extinguish such fires. Thankfully, these skirts fell out of fashion about a decade later. But, honestly, I’m kind of amazed and baffled it took that long.

Additionally, women’s clothing was heavy. By the end of the 19th century, a fashionable woman typically wore about 37 pounds (17 kg) of clothing. That’s more than three bags of the cat food I typically buy. Seriously, I’m trying to imagine strapping three of those bags to my body and then go gallivanting around. Combine this with the fact that women were often malnourished (certain foods were considered “unfeminine” as was having a healthy appetite) and it’s no wonder that women were prone to fainting.

The part about women’s clothing is incredible, both the weight and the fact that it was fairly common for women to catch fire and burn to death. All I can say is thank god we get to wear trousers nowadays!

Taking a specific item you researched, could you tell us what pushed you to research it and how you weaved it into your story? 

Well, along with all the Victorian domesticity, I also briefly researched weapon fighting–with a staff, specifically. There are no swords in the book. All weapons are staves (well, there is one spear, but that’s really just a staff with a pointy end).

One interesting tidbit I took from this research was the practicality of such weapons. Everyone has access to a stick or club, which can’t always be said of swords or other weapons. I worked that detail into the story when another character—Corran—is telling Emelyn about how his dad taught him to fight with a staff, and his reasons for doing so.

That’s quite unusual to have a fantasy novel without swords — fantasy is usually pretty sword heavy. Did you deliberately decide not to feature any swords?

It was a deliberate decision to leave swords out, because, like you say, fantasy is typically quite sword heavy and I always wanted to write a story that was perhaps a little bit different from other fantasy books out there. In saying that, though, I do think the lack of swords fit the story (and wasn’t just me being contrary for the sake of it). We have the Magisters, who use staves primarily to help them with their magic. Then there’s Emelyn, who, as a housemaid, doesn’t have a weapon at all. For Corran, having him use a staff seemed to fit with his carpentry background and pragmatic father. Of course, this doesn’t mean that swords don’t exist in the world, because they do, and will even make an appearance in the sequel, along with a couple other types of weapons.

Did you come across any useful websites or books when looking into all that you mentioned above?

I like to buy books on the subjects I research, so that I can have them for future reference. For this project, here’s a list of books I read: (You can click on the book covers and it will open the relevant amazon page)

The Complete ServantInside the Victorian Home Victorian EnglandFighting with blades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forager Handbook

Oh, and I nearly forgot the book about foraging, since a lot of the story is spent wandering in a forest: The Forager Handbook: A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain, by Miles Irving

And then, of course, there’s the Latin dictionary and grammar books that I used to help create plant names (one of the characters is a bit of a botanist), but I feel like I need to stop with the books because it’s getting out of hand. Those books I already had, though, from when I took a couple Latin courses during my university studies.

 

That’s a fantastic reading list, thanks for sharing all that! So how do you go about starting a new book, does the research inform the story or does the story guide the research?

The story definitely guides the research. Whenever I come across something I feel I don’t know enough to write about, that’s when the research starts. Most of the research I do is for inspiration, though. To try and get enough information about a time or a thing so that when I create my own version of it, hopefully it’s believable.

Well it definitely works, there’s a great sense of place to The Thirteenth Tower, it’s part of what I enjoyed about it. Thank you again for taking part in this interview Sara, and for sharing all that with us! 

The Thirteenth Tower

ThirteenthTowerCoverIn adversity lies strength beyond imagining.

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

But the answers Emelyn seeks prove to be more elusive than she hoped, and the world outside Fallow more perilous than she imagined. Magical creatures roam the land over, attacking yet another town before coming after Emelyn. The key to her survival—and finding her family—lies deep within her, if only she can conquer her doubts and believe she is more powerful than she ever dreamed.

In a journey that explores facing one’s fears amidst the uncertainties of an unknown world, The Thirteenth Tower is a magical tale of discovery, growth, and of love’s enduring strength.

You can buy The Thirteenth Tower at AmazonApple, or Kobo