Sara B. Larson, acclaimed author of Defy, returned on November 5th with her new novel, Sisters of Shadow and Light! I am highly anticipating this book, and Sara herself was kind enough to answer all my questions about her new novel, writing, and more!
Hey Sara! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Of course! I live in Utah with my husband and 4 kids. I love the mountains, hiking, and boating, but I secretly want to retire to a warm beach someday. I’ve always loved writing and reading, so I feel very lucky to be able to make a living doing my dream job!
For readers who haven’t heard of it yet, what can we expect from Sisters of Shadow and Light?
It’s a story about two sisters, trapped behind a sentient, magical hedge, living in an abandoned citadel with their emotionally damaged mother. One sister has magical powers gifted to her by their father–who disappeared the night she was born. The girls have an unbreakable bond…but it will be pushed to the limits when the hedge lets a stranger in for the first time and series of events is set off that quickly tears their quiet, lonely world apart.
Sisterhood is a central theme in your book. What made you want to write about this particular bond?
I am the oldest of five girls, and I am super close to my sisters. We get lots of comments on how tight-knit we are as a family, actually. We are still normal–we have disagreements and you can only imagine what my dad endured when it was “that time of the month” for six women (don’t forget my mom!)–but ultimately we always forgive, move on, and love each other and because of that, we are all still best friends. I’ve always wanted to write about that special bond, because it’s such a huge part of my life, and now as I’m watching my daughters forge their own bond, it became more important to me than ever.
Who do you think you would be better friends with – Zuhra or Inara?
Boy, that’s a hard choice! I love them both for different reasons. My first instinct is to say Zuhra because she’s the oldest and so am I, so we understand that feeling of responsibility to take care of our younger siblings. But in real life, almost all of my closest friends (outside of my sisters) are middle or youngest children, so maybe I’m way off!
What inspired you when building the world of Sisters of Shadow and Light?
The first thing that inspired me was an image I saw of a huge castle/citadel like building on the edge of a cliff with a waterfall coming out from beneath it to crash to the earth far, far below. The citadel in SOSAL is very similar to the image I saw, but it is built against the side of a mountain in my book. That was the first piece that came together for the world building. I had also been fascinated with beautiful images of unique doors and abandoned rooms and hedges so massive it felt as though you could get trapped behind them permanently–and all of that shaped the world building as well.
If you could have the power of any of the Paladins, whose would you choose?
There are a lot of really cool powers that they have so it’s hard to choose! I don’t want to spoil some of the surprises of the story, but hopefully it won’t be revealing too much to say I would pick the ability to heal. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the price of a healing intense enough to save a life would be difficult to bear if you did it very often.
Do you have any author role models – and if so, who?
Yes, absolutely! There is the obvious – J.K. Rowling, of course! (In fact, I made a total geek of myself when the host at The Ivy in London told us he was seating us at the table next to the one where she eats once a month. I think my son wearing his HP robes to The Cursed Child tipped him off to our fandom.) But I also think Stephanie Garber, Sarah J. Maas, Kathryn Purdie, Mary Pearson, Leigh Bardugo, and Laini Taylor are incredibly talented women. I have to fight off imposter syndrome when I read their books! There are many more I could name, but those are the first few that popped up.
What makes a five-star read for you?
If I can’t put it down, no matter how crazy my kids are acting or how late I am on a deadline–and if it’s so well written that my “internal editor” stays silent–then it is a five-star read for sure. A few books that did that for me recently are Finale by Stephanie Garber, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor, and Bone Crier’s Moon that comes out in March from Kathryn Purdie.
When writing Sisters of Shadow and Light, what is one thing you found difficult?
It’s a very big world and plot, and my goal as an author is to try and make each book I write better than the last one. So sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the scope of what I was trying to accomplish and just hoping and praying I was doing this story and these sisters justice! Also, the longer I’ve been published, the louder my “internal editor” gets, which makes it harder and harder to write that first draft of a book. A first draft, by nature, is imperfect and messy at times, and I found it pretty hard to ignore the voice in my head telling me “this isn’t good enough, you need to make this better” and just get the story out. I’m so glad I was able to persevere and finish it, because I love these sisters and I can’t wait to share them with all of you!
Can you tell us what came first in the process of writing Sisters of Shadow and Light? Did you start with the world, the characters or an idea?
It started with Inara and Zuhra first. I saw a picture of a girl with glowing blue eyes and it ignited this little idea I’d had sparking inside for a while. I’d been wanting to write a story about sisters for a long time, and when I saw another image for a girl who looked like she could be the first girl’s sister–BAM! Then I saw the image of the citadel on the cliff that I mentioned before, and from there, the rest of it blossomed into the story you now have!
For all the aspiring authors out there, what advice can you give on writing a book and getting published?
My advice is two-fold: First, to never give up. I honestly believe if you never give up, you will eventually get published. Even if it’s ten years or even fifteen or twenty down the road. If you want it badly enough, it will happen. But, second, is that you also need to put the work in. Read widely and voraciously. Know what’s out there and what you can offer that’s different or unique or a fun spin. Write, write, write, and then revise, revise, revise! Go to conferences, find critique partners, do your homework. There are so many resources out there to help you learn how to elevate your writing and how to query agents and get published. Make sure you do it all!
And finally – how are you feeling about the release of Sisters of Shadow and Light – and how soon it is?!
I am beyond excited! This book feels very personal to me, so for that reason alone, I am so happy it is finally going to be published–but also nervous! It’s always nerve-wracking to put yourself out there, no matter how many times you’ve done it. I also worked really hard to try and make this the best book I’ve written yet, so hopefully my fans will love it and maybe I’ll even have some new readers find me!