Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.
Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.
With shades of The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, this richly imagined fantasy from debut author Sarah Ahiers is a story of love, lies, and the ultimate vengeance.
Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
Well, I live in Minnesota with a lot of dogs and pocket pets. I just recently earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University, and I’ve been writing heavily since my freshman year of high school, which is when I started to write fanfiction (this was pre-internet fanfiction, too. Old school style)
2. Awesome how you've been writing for so long. Where did you get the idea for your story?
I wanted to explore a society where murder was not only allowed for a certain sect of people, but also welcomed. And I wanted to write a story where a character’s grief follows her for the entire book and doesn’t just go away when she meets a new boy.
3. In ASSASSIN’S HEART, you’ve got nine families of assassins. What did you do to make them all unique and what was your world building process like in general?
Four of the Families feature fairly prominently in the book, so they were pretty easy to develop when I considered how they would help or hinder Lea in her journey and why they would do that. The other Families I just mostly brainstormed about, trying to think where they would live, how they would be different from the other Families, how their ranks and their relationships would contribute to their identities.
And world building in general I tend to pants, which is strange because I’m not a pantser in general. But I tend to let the world come to me organically while I’m writing the draft, to see what my subconscious comes up with. Then I go back and do some heavier brainstorming and research.
4. That must have really helped to have four families kind of set in your mind. Lea is filled with a desire for revenge. That’s not always a characteristic that would make her a sympathetic character. How did you balance this important driving emotion with other feelings and characteristics to make Lea a sympathetic person we could get behind?
Not only is she driven by vengeance, but she’s also a murderer, so I knew I had a bit of an uphill battle. But I knew as long as the reader rooted for her and wanted to see her succeed, they would overlook her mistakes or some of her more negative traits. One big thing I did which I think helped the most in capturing reader sympathy was taking my time before bad things happen. I give the reader a chapter or two to get to know Lea, her family, her life before she loses all these things. So by then, the reader is invested in those aspects of Lea’s life, so when they’re taken away, the reader is on Lea’s side in her desire for vengeance.
5. That sounds like a good strategy to introduce us to Lea's life so we understand why she changes to who she is in the story. What was working with your editor like and what’s something that surprised about the process?
I really like my editor. We’ve actually gotten to meet in person a few times because she has family in MN,
So I would say I was pleasantly surprised by how well I took to my edits.
6. That's really cool that you got to meet her. Your agent is Mollie Glick. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?
Oh, my agent story was a bit of a crazy one. I started to query Assassin’s Heart in November of 2013. I was going to query for a month, then stop and pick back up in mid-January. But after the holidays I got an offer of rep. Then 6 more. And while having a lot of offers is exciting, it’s also very stressful, especially when all of the agents are excellent in their own right and you would sign with any of them.
But Mollie was great on our phone call (all the agents were, really) and her sales were great. And a few of the other agents who also offered, mentioned how amazing Mollie was and that was enough of a sign for me, anyway.
So I signed with Mollie, we did a quick small revision in over two weeks, then went on sub. And Assassin’s Heart sold in a pre-empt two weeks after that. So it was a whirlwind of craziness.
7. Wow! That's great you got some many offers, even if it was stressful. You’re working on your MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. How has that helped you in writing or editing your book?
I actually just graduated a few weeks ago! And the MFA was the best decision I’ve ever made. The biggest thing it’s done for me is help me find a community and mentors that are truly invested in me and my writing. I actually workshopped a bit of Assassin’s Heart at my first MFA residency, the day before I got my first offer. Everyone was so supportive.
8. Congrats on graduating! How are you planning to market your book? Are you networking and working with other debut authors?
I’m a member of the Sweet Sixteens which has been FABULOUS! It’s wonderful going through the process of launching a debut with a bunch of other writers who are facing the same thing as you. I’ve also been doing a pretty expansive mailing campaign for public libraries and am working on some more social media (I have an Assassin’s Heart Quiz that will place you in one of the Nine Families)
9. What are you working on now?
Well, a couple of things. Waiting for edits for my second book with HarperTeen. I also have a MG fantasy that was my MFA Creative Thesis I’m about halfway through (about a boy whose family is turned into crows and he must find a witch to change them back) as well as another YA fantasy I worked on during my MFA. I’m excited to finish or revise all of these. 2016 is going to be an exciting year for me, with a lot of great work.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sarah. You can find Sarah at:
Sarah has generously offered a copy of ASSASSIN'S HEART for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through February 13th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for U.S. and Canada.
Here's what's coming up:
On Wednesday I have my new and first agent spotlight interview with agent Beth Campbell and a query critique giveaway.
On Friday I'm participating in the Favorites Book Giveaway Hop.
Next Monday I have a guest post by debut YA author Heidi Heilig and a giveaway of her YA fantasy time travel THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE.
The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Janet Taylor and a giveaway of her YA time travel INTO THE DIM.
The Monday after that I have a guest post by debut author Kim Savage and a giveaway of her YA thriller AFTER THE WOODS.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!