Saturday Spotlight- Sasha Laurens

Posted August 23, 2020 by stuckint in Uncategorized / 0 Comments

Hello everyone! Today we are so excited to share our exclusive Q&A with Sasha Laurens. A Wicked Magic is Sasha’s debut novel.

About the Book

A Wicked Magic by Sasha Laurens
Published by Razorbill on July 28, 2020
Pages: 368

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The Craft when modern witches must save teens stolen by an ancient demon in this YA fantasy-thriller debut.
Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.
During a spell gone wrong, Liss's boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss's friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?
Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss's orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she's hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.
When another teenager disappears, the girls know it's no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?
Set in the atmospheric wilds of California's northern coast, Sasha Laurens's thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all.

About the Author

Sasha Laurens is originally from Northern California and has lived in New York and St. Petersburg, Russia. When she’s not writing fiction and missing the West Coast, she is pursuing a PhD in political science on protest movements in authoritarian states. Find her on Twitter @sasha_laurens

The Interview

1-  A Wicked Magic reminded me of a few of my favorite shows/books including the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Sawkill Girls. What was the inspiration behind the story?

Sasha: A Wicked Magic is about lonely girls with magic powers-Dan, Liss and Alexa—struggling with broken friendships and how to cope with their pasts. Their stories are a lot more about friendship than it is about magic—and the girls’ friendships are pretty messed up. I wanted to look at the messier side of female friendship, because those relationships are so important to us, yet they often get treated lightly in YA. Usually there’s a spunky best friend character who’s mainly there to encourage the main character to take on the world. In reality, friendship can be just as confusing and  intense as any romantic relationship. With Dan and Liss, I wanted to tell a story about how a friendship can turn toxic and what it takes to recover from that. 

2- Each girl is so different in personality and motivation. Which character did you most identify with? 

Sasha: In the earliest, baby drafts of A Wicked Magic, the relationship between Dan and Liss was inspired by friendships that I’d had that had gone sour. Dan was sort of my stand-in—the poor, innocent victim—and Liss was based on the friends who had done me wrong. I actually worried that I’d have trouble writing from Liss’s perspective, because I guess I might struggle just a tiny bit with holding grudges. 

I was really surprised to discover that I identified with Liss—a lot. We’re both a little obsessive and hold ourselves to a high standard, and no one would accuse either of us of being too nice. Plus, her snarky side made her really fun to write. Liss has gotten mixed reactions from readers. Some people think she’s just horrible, but others see that underneath the bristly exterior, she’s really struggling and doing her best. 
On the other hand, Dan ended up being more challenging to write than I’d expected. She really wants to stick her head in the sand and pretend like nothing bad has ever happened. I definitely felt like I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her to pull it together sometimes!

3- The cover of A Wicked Magic is gorgeous did you get any say in title or cover design? 

Sasha: I love the cover too! And I had absolutely nothing to do with it. My editor asked me if I had mood boards or a Pinterest to share that could inspire the cover, but I had hardly anything to send them. I just don’t use a lot of visual references when I write, and if I do, it’s for very specific stuff that wouldn’t look good on a book cover. I got chills the first time I saw an image of the cover. Dana Li designed it and she did a really excellent job.

4-  Wicked Magic is full of spells and dark folklore. What kind of research did you have to do for the book? 

Sasha: When I first started working on this project, I was reading two book about Russian folklore and folk beliefs, The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia, which is from an academic press series on magic in history, and Russian Folk Belief. A good chunk of the magical elements are inspired by tidbits from those books, including the figure of Kasyan, the demon the girls must defeat. He’s based on folk beliefs about Saint Kasyan (spelled Cassian in the West—a name I didn’t realize was extremely common in YA fantasy until much later!). Some of the traditions about how witches are made and the spells they use also draw on those books.

It might seem weird to take magic based on Russian beliefs from over one hundred years ago and transport them to Northern California, where the book is set, but actually that area was the home of the most southernly Russian settlements in North America until right before the Gold Rush. At some point there existed a draft of A Wicked Magic where all that was explained, but it got cut—for good reason.

5- Since Wicked Magic is a standalone, are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about? 

Sasha: At the moment, I can’t say much, but I will reveal the working title is “Vampire Boarding School”

6- Was A Wicked Magic always planned as a story told from multiple view points? What was it like writing such distinct characters in alternating perspectives? 

Sasha: I always planned A Wicked Magic to be told from at least Dan and Liss’s viewpoints, because I wanted readers to see the baggage of their friendship from both perspectives. Alexa has her own POV because for a fair chunk of the book, her storyline involves secrets that only she could know. The girls all have such defined personalities that switching between their POVs relatively easy for me, writing-wise. They have very different outlooks on the world, and different ways of thinking about themselves and their problems.

Writing from multiple POVs can definitely be tricky on a technical level. You need to constantly keep asking yourself which character deserves to be the POV for this scene, who would be most interesting, who haven’t we spent much time with lately. I wanted to make sure the narrative voices sounded different for each girl. The book is narrated in third person, but I tried to let that narration get inside the girls’ heads wherever I could.

7- Which authors inspire your writing the most? Anyone you would love to co author a book with? Any genres you would love to try writing outside of fantasy?

Sasha: One of the works that inspired A Wicked Magic was Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. I love the way Maggie Stiefvater creates complex characters and settings, but there’s also a sense confidence and freedom in her writing. The language and storytelling in her books feel very specific to her, in a way where you kind of wonder how she gets away with it. When I was working on the very beginnings of A Wicked Magic, I read an interview with her where she said that as she was writing The Raven Cycle, she had a post-it note on her computer that reminded her that for all the characters, the worst thing that could happen was that they’d stop being friends. I read that and I thought that sounded nice for a story, but in real life, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is stop being friends with someone and that’s worth writing about too. That premise—the Raven Cycle, but everyone kind of hates each other and maybe they shouldn’t be friends-went into the ole idea-soup and ended up adding some powerful flavor to the book. 

I absolutely cannot imagine what it would be like to co-author a book and I would not wish the experience of co-authoring with me on anyone. However I could easily imagine myself writing work for adults, especially as I already tend to write for the older end of the YA spectrum. 

8- Did you always want to be a writer? What are some of the books that shaped your love of reading?

Sasha: I always wanted to be a writer but being a published author felt completely out of the realm of possibility. Like, who actually does that? I think because of that, for a long time I had this very romantic idea of writers toiling away in obscurity. When I was younger, some of the authors that got me really excited about writing were the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, David Mitchell and George Saunders. When I was in college I was devoted to The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, which is a phenomenal collection of modern short stories written in different styles. My copy is heavily annotated. George Saunders’s story in that collection, “Sea Oak”, features a sentient but decaying corpse, which is where I got the idea for the decaying corpse in A Wicked Magic.

9- Do you have any reading or writing quirks?

Sasha: I know a lot of writers are very into fancy, precious notebooks, and I absolutely hate those. I find them almost impossible to use, because I end up feeling so precious about the beautiful notebook that I don’t want to write anything bad or sloppy or unpolished in it. But that makes it very hard to write at all. Usually if I get a new notebook, I try to pick one that’s functional and cheap and then either deface it in some way immediately or I skip the first three pages to take the pressure off. I’m also a HUGE fan of writing on little scraps of paper. Post-It notes, the backs of envelopes, the all-important index card are essential to my writing process. I just find it much easier to write freely when I know I can just throw away the piece of paper if I don’t like how it turns out. 

10- When you are not writing (or reading) what do you enjoy doing?

Sasha: I’m getting a PhD in political science, so I actually spend most of my time doing that. My research is about how authoritarian governments respond to protest and in particular, Russia. Writing a dissertation and having a side career as an author at the same time doesn’t leave me a lot of extra time and energy for hobbies. Usually if I’m not working I’m hanging out with friends or watching dumb reality TV because my brain is tired.

Rapid Fire Questions

1- Coffee or tea? Coffee

2- Dogs or cats? Dogs

3- Favorite place to read? Lying on the couch

4- What types of books are in your reading wheelhouse? I love character-driven stories with a good plot. Right now I’m reading a lot of works about queer characters as part of research for my next project.

5- What are some 2020/2021 releases you are excited about? I can’t wait for The Project by Courtney Summers, The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur and A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee.

6- What do you hope readers will take away from Wicked Magic? Take care of your mental health!

7- Lastly, where can our readers learn more about you and your book? www.sashalaurens.com

What About You?

Have you read A Wicked Magic? Do you have questions for Sasha? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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