Sarah J. Maas on Writing Her First Adult Fantasy

Posted by Sharon on February 28, 2020
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Sarah J. Maas is an author who almost needs no introduction, at least in the world of young and new adult fiction. She's a multiple New York Times–bestselling author, multiple Goodreads Choice Award nominee (and four-time winner), and known by her many fans for her pulse-pounding, epic young adult fantasy novels.  

Maas' Throne of Glass series, completed with Kingdom of Ash in 2018, retells the story of Cinderella as a fearsome assassin (yes, really). She also gives a dark twist to the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale in A Court of Thorns and Roses, which invites readers into the kingdom of Faerie alongside determined heroine Feyre. 

Though she's straddled the boundaries of genre and audience before, Maas is now releasing her first book that's decidedly for adultsAn urban paranormal fantasy featuring demons, fallen angels, and the sizzling romance that's a Sarah J. Maas signature, House of Earth and Blood kicks off the brand-new Crescent City series.

Maas spoke with Goodreads about persistent heroines, writing for a new audience of grown-ups, and the recent read she just couldn't put down.


Goodreads: House of Earth and Blood is your first fantasy series for adults. Was there a moment when you decided specifically to write for that audience, or did the idea for the book come first and the audience naturally followed?

Sarah J. Maas: The idea for it actually came first! Bryce [the novel's protagonist] just walked into my head one day, and I knew that she was in her 20s, which puts her story firmly in the adult realm.

So it wasn’t really a conscious decision for this book to be adult, but rather just the story and characters that came to me.

GR: For new readers unfamiliar with your previous books, what five adjectives would you use to describe your writing?

SJM: Epic, romantic, action-packed, emotional, fun.

GR: What was it like to write an epic adult fantasy? Did you have to change parts of your process or voice?

SJM: It wasn’t much different from writing my YA, to be honest.

I think there's this misconception out there that writing YA is "easier" than writing adult fiction, and I completely disagree with that. There are so many excellent YA fantasy novels out there with complex world-building and character growth that are on the same level as any adult fantasy I’ve read. 

Despite now being able to get away with more swearing, writing House of Earth and Blood was pretty much done in the same process and voice as my YA books.

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GR: Are there some "signature Sarah J. Maas moves" that your fans can expect to find in this book? What do you think might surprise them?

SJM: Ha! I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think my readers have come to expect a few twists and turns in my books—which Crescent City definitely has plenty of!

GR: One theme that runs through many of your books is a heroine who finds within herself the will to survive and overcome difficult situations. Can you tell us a bit about what this theme means to you personally and how it relates to House of Earth and Blood?

SJM: I could probably write about 100 pages in response and never quite convey all that I want to say about this question and what it means to me personally.

Talking about how I relate to my heroines’ struggles is something I’m just starting to be able to do publicly, but I will say that a lot of pieces of my own journey have made their way into my work over the years—not specific events, exactly, but the feelings and emotional journeys my heroines have gone through.

Bryce’s journey in this book is one that was fairly close to my heart in a lot of ways. Each book I write allows me to face and explore more parts of myself.

GR: You're also known for your intricate world-building. What are some of the influences that inform how you go about setting up a fictional society? 

SJM: There are so many influences—but one of the biggest is traveling. I love to travel and see new places and meet new people, and I like to think that every place I’ve been has inspired some part of these fictional worlds.

I often find that the memories I have of a place—scents, sounds, even the feeling of the light or the wind—allows me to add similar details in my work and help bring the world alive.

GR: House of Earth and Blood kicks off the Crescent City series. Can you give us any hints about the next book? Will we be revisiting Bryce and Hunt?

SJM: The next book will pick up where House of Earth and Blood finished—and though I definitely can’t give any hints yet (I’m still drafting it!), it will definitely continue Bryce and Hunt’s story.

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GR: Are there other authors who've crossed over from writing YA to writing adult fiction who've inspired you? 

SJM: I’m really honored to be in such an incredible group of writers who are now switching to adult fiction, but one of the authors I truly admire did it the opposite way: Christina Lauren went from writing fantastic (and steamy!) romance to writing really marvelous YA fiction, and their graceful transition—and the balance they’ve found between writing YA and adult—has been such a source of inspiration for me.

GR: For fans of your work, what other sweeping romantic or urban fantasy books would you recommend?

SJM: There are too many to list, but to name a few off the top of my head: Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, and J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

GR: Finally, we always like to ask authors what books they've recently read and loved. Are there any titles that you can't stop recommending to your friends and family right now?

SJM: I’m the mom of a 20-month-old baby, so my reading time has plummeted since my son was born, but one book I read recently and absolutely adored was Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove. It’s really compelling and fresh fantasy, with a spitfire heroine whom I just adored.


Need more Sarah J. Maas in your life? Check out her exclusive Kindle Notes and Highlights for Throne of Glass.
 

Sarah J. MaasHouse of Earth and Blood will be available in the U.S. on March 3. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews for more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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message 1: by Jasper (new)

Jasper Oostveen Having an adult protagonist does not automatically make a novel an adult book. As I see it it depends on the themes, the scope, the difficulty, the wording of adult aspects of life and (sometimes) the writing style or voice. I liked the Throne of Glass series and I have high hopes for this book and like the story preview, but I am really hoping for a more adult book, so I hope that will come true.


message 2: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Dalton Jasper wrote: "Having an adult protagonist does not automatically make a novel an adult book. As I see it it depends on the themes, the scope, the difficulty, the wording of adult aspects of life and (sometimes) ..."

What would you consider the criteria for an adult book then?


message 3: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty I can't wait for this. I can barely contain my excitement. I'll be stalking my post man Tuesday morning.


message 4: by Margrieta (new)

Margrieta It would be a nice change I guess, something different. I hope SJ Mass doesn't dissapoint with her new book. 💓 And I'm sure she won't.


message 5: by Books With Chi (new)

Books With Chi Love love love her books, but....idk why this one is considered adult and not her other novels. *cough cough* Court of mist and fury *cough cough* Such explicit scenes lol. Throne of glass too, but not as detailed as in this book.


message 6: by Renata (new)

Renata I’ve heard nothing but good reviews so far, so I’m super excited to finally read it. I’m sure I’ll love this book since I’ve loved all her previous work.


message 7: by Paige (new)

Paige Harder Thanks Goodreads for this interview! I'm so glad SJM shared other authors, I'm always looking for new series!


message 8: by Kadrina (new)

Kadrina Uuuh... May want to change the title of the article. Maybe I am just a dirty bird but without knowing who Ms. Maas was, I thought it was another type of "fantasy" book.


message 9: by Julia (new)

Julia Benassi Thanks for this amazing interview! I'm reading this book as soon as it arrives 💓 And the notes by Sarah about Throne of Glass were awesome!


message 10: by Rel (new)

Rel Carroll I am very much looking forward to reading Maas’ newest novel, and it sounds like the content will be her spectacular-signature genre-mix: epic fantasy meets harlequin romance! As for adult vs. YA, age classifications are based on the age of the protagonist, not necessarily content. (Although, I personally consider ACOTAR to be “new adult.”)


Megan (The Gemini) I can't wait for this!!


Virginja ↢ 99% imp “[House of hearth and blood] was pretty much done in the same process and voice as my YA books” she says.
Does acknowledge that fact that you put steamy and extremely smutty characters in a series marketed as YA? Does that mean you think the sexual content of adult books is okay for YA?
At this point I don’t really know what to think about SJM but that she is should not write for young audience any more. An author that answers this way to this type of question is unworthy of her fame.


message 13: by :) (new)

:) Big Fan of Sarah J Maas. Throne of glass protagonist as a fearsome Cinderella assassin that threw me off. I guess it shows how I really immersed in that story as its own. Big
Waiting for the new book


message 14: by Luvsbooks (new)

Luvsbooks Thank you for this Q and A. I'm a huge fan and cannot wait for her new book, regardless of the genre. I never thought of ACOTAR series as young adult, I just know that I loved it. Very interested to see why this is definitely adult, unless it's language. Don't care either way, just cannot wait to immerse myself back into Sara J. Maas fantasy! ❤️


message 15: by Leo1962 (new)

Leo1962 Well I must be a child at heart because I have loved her previous two series (waiting for more ACOTAR as it ended with a great cliff-hanger).

I didn’t feel I was reading something aimed at the younger generation...just fabulous books with well-drawn characters and stories that have made me laugh and cry.

Can’t wait to jump into the new series.


message 16: by Kristin Katsuye (new)

Kristin Katsuye Glad to hear this character is in her 20’s. Being an adult under 30 who still reads YA I like being able to have older characters closer to my age but not quite full adult mode.


message 17: by Novelist Dienne (new)

Novelist Dienne Jasper wrote: "Having an adult protagonist does not automatically make a novel an adult book. As I see it it depends on the themes, the scope, the difficulty, the wording of adult aspects of life and (sometimes) ..."

Exactly. In her other "YA (though lots of people will argue it's New Adult)" series the (ACOTAR) the protagonist is in her early twenties throughout the series but I think certain publishers and book sellers don't know how to market books that without accidentally turning away or attracting the wrong demographic. Unless someone looks it up on the spot in store (almost impossible with the slow internet for fear of customers finding a better online price) they probably won't know if they're truly the target audience simply because a book was shoved into the YA section or the Adult section when it's simply in between.


message 18: by Novelist Dienne (new)

Novelist Dienne Virginja ↢ 99% imp wrote: "“[House of hearth and blood] was pretty much done in the same process and voice as my YA books” she says.
Does acknowledge that fact that you put steamy and extremely smutty characters in a series ..."


Unfortunately I think it has to do with the publishers. I feel like if she was an independent publisher she most likely wouldn't advertise it as YA. But that's the risk authors take when you go the traditional publishing route. Her books maybe selling like hot cakes but that doesn't mean the publishers automatically let their authors have inputs, not every Author has a good relationship with their publishers like George R.R. Martian does. Even back then he still had to prove himself. 🤷🏾‍♀️🤷🏾‍♀️


message 19: by Crissi (new)

Crissi Books With Chi wrote: "Love love love her books, but....idk why this one is considered adult and not her other novels. *cough cough* Court of mist and fury *cough cough* Such explicit scenes lol. Throne of glass too, but..."
Her "court" books were absolutely adult...and I loved that! I hope these books are much like the Court books.


message 20: by Adriana (new)

Adriana Rao Despite having an adult heroine, I don't see this book as an "adult book," it just uses a bit heavier language, but I've YA books with language like that, so the way I see it, House of Earth and Blood falls on the border between a YA and an adult novel.


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily I’ve been noticing authors transitioning from YA to adult novels. I’m thinking about the similarities with Eoin Colfer, Leigh Bardugo, and now Sarah Maas.


message 22: by iamCLICHE (new)

iamCLICHE Books With Chi wrote: "Love love love her books, but....idk why this one is considered adult and not her other novels. *cough cough* Court of mist and fury *cough cough* Such explicit scenes lol. Throne of glass too, but..."

that is very true. we were given a very... vivid picture of Feyre and Rhysand doing... stuff...


message 23: by Amy (new)

Amy Books With Chi wrote: "Love love love her books, but....idk why this one is considered adult and not her other novels. *cough cough* Court of mist and fury *cough cough* Such explicit scenes lol. Throne of glass too, but..."

Agreed. When I looked it up on Audible it said 11-13, lol. I was not too sure I wanted my 11 year old reading about graphic fellatio, lol.


message 24: by Suz (last edited Apr 13, 2020 12:36AM) (new)

Suz I never considered her previous books to be YA. It was easy to forget how young her protagonists were (which is my preference but doesn't speak well of the character writing), and they are all quite explicit sexually.

I don't think she ever wrote YA, I think she was marketed as YA because YA sells a lot. But I don't think she ever wrote YA.

ETA: I enjoyed the first Crescent City book, as I have enjoyed her Throne of Glass and Court of Thorns and Roses books.


message 25: by Tandi-Anne (new)

Tandi-Anne Claassen Read this novel, was absolutely amazing. I cried, screamed and wanted to join the adventure, really felt like I was in the story. Can't wait for the follow up. Sarah j mass is my favourite fantasy author


message 26: by curtis :) (new)

curtis :) the fact that this the first of her books that the publishers decided should be marked as an adult novel-


message 27: by Amanda (new)

Amanda I loved this book and can't wait for the next to be released. I hope this series is years in the making and I look forward to learning more about the other groups and their life in the City.


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