"I was so drawn to her story, I knew I had to write it." Sarah J. Maas explains the genesis of "House of Earth and Blood," her brand-new novel aimed at adults readers.
Sarah J. Maas has been wowing readers with her fierce heroines and the magical folk that both aid and thwart them since the publication in 2012 of Throne of Glass. After a dozen novels aimed at young adults (though plenty of "old adults" read them as well), Maas wrote House of Earth and Blood with more mature readers in mind.
Featuring a young woman who has been scarred by the death of her best friend and then seeks retribution for the killing, House of Earth and Blood builds a complex world peopled by a wide range of mythical beings. But the heart and soul of the story remains with Bryce, who rises from the ashes of her grief to avenge her friend.
On the eve of publication of House of Earth and Blood, I asked Maas about her new novel, her world-building, and her leap into adult fiction.
Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review: Your new novel pulls in people and ideas from a number of different mythologies—the Vanir, angels, chimeras, shifters, Fae. What first came to mind for you when writing House of Earth and Blood—the story of a young woman seeking justice for her best friend’s murder, or this fascinating amalgamation of mythologies?
Sarah J. Maas: It was a combination of both, actually! The scene that inspired this book is the climax of the novel (which I won’t spoil!), and it played out in my head with such clarity that I could see not only Bryce and the characters who are with her in that moment, but also glimpses of the world that they live in. I was so riveted by it that I couldn’t get it out of my head, and spent years daydreaming about it, slowly building and exploring the characters, plot, and their world.
You’ve built such a rich world in your new Crescent City series, I imagine it must be a challenge to keep track of who is in what faction, who the faction leaders are, who has what powers, the complicated web of relationships between them, etc., etc. How do you keep track of it all?
Ha! Honestly, most of it is kept in my head, though I do have a notebook where I write everything down—and a book “bible” with lists of every character, place, and object mentioned in the book. Nothing is too small to keep track of—even things like birthdays, astrological signs, and who has a tattoo have their own pages in the document!
Your previous series were written for young adults. This one is explicitly aimed at adults. Did you know this book would be for adults before you began writing it, or did the book choose its audience while you were writing it?
The book definitely chose its audience while I was writing it. The moment Bryce walked into my head, I knew she was in her mid-twenties, which places her firmly in the adult range. It was such a key part of her character that I couldn’t imagine her any other age, and I was so drawn to her story that I knew I had to write it.
I think I just love all three of those series so much that I can’t stop wanting to tell stories set in those worlds. I can’t quite explain it, but there are still so many characters whose stories I want to tell that many of them are in a holding pattern at this point. I’m just waiting for the chance to write them (if only I had Hermione’s Time-Turner!). So even though it’s definitely a lot of work to juggle three different worlds and casts of characters, I love that I get to have so many different places and stories to explore!
You’ve written more than a dozen novels now. How has your writing process changed from when you first wrote Throne of Glass? And are there things you wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self about the writing life?
I’d say I’ve become a much better self-editor since I first began writing, thanks to working with some incredible editors and critique partners over the years. Initially, I found it very hard to cut/condense scenes or entire characters, but now I’ve developed a much sharper eye for stuff that might not be necessary to the book, and I’ve become way more ruthless about cutting it.
As for what I wish I could tell my younger self about the writing life…oh, man. There are so many things, but I actually don’t think I’d tell my younger self anything. Every wrong turn, every hardship, every moment of doubt—it all led me here, and made me a stronger writer and person. So if I were to tell my younger self anything, it would be to just keep doing what you’re doing, and keep your eyes on the horizon.
What books are at the top of your To Be Read pile right now?
Two of my closest friends recently raved about Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, so as soon as I have a spare moment, that’s going to be the first book I pick up!
Photo by Josh Wasserman
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