I am so, so excited about my guest today! Sarah Harian is the author of the newly released spec-fic New Adult (Yes, you read that correctly!) novel, THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE, which released from InterMix/Penguin this past Tuesday.
As much as I love my contemp romances, it was fabulous to read something a little different in the category…especially when that something was creepy, gory, full of moral relativism, and so compelling that I was definitely sneaking it at questionable times we shall not discuss in front of my boss. I knew then I was gonna have to beg the author to make an appearance on my blog, under the guise of celebrating her release but really more to let me publicly fangirl (something I’d been privately doing at all her thoughtful, insightful comments on #NALitChat anyway – being that it’s a Friday, I’m definitely throwing in a #FF for @sarahharian right now). And so, here she is – Sarah Harian!
THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE was pretty freaking excellent…and creepy and twisted as all hell. Nicely done! What kind of writing setting/soundtrack gets you in the mood to write something like that?
It’s funny, because music is usually such a massive part of my writing process. I write a lot of fantasy, and have a ton of movie/trailer score composers on my playlists, particularly James Newton Howard, Steve Jablonsky, and Two Steps from Hell. With Wicked, the tone of the book was completely different than my other projects and their playlists, so I ended up drafting a lot of it in silence (totally morbid, right?). The sequel, A Vault of Sins, is a little less in-your-face-gore-fest, and I listened to the score of Ender’s Game (Steve Jablonsky) for the entire drafting process of that book.
I can’t write to anything with lyrics because I am that easily distracted, but my Tumblr (chaostheoryseries.tumblr.com) has a playlist of songs that have inspired me for this series including artists The Jezebels, Brand New, Great Northern, and Florence and the Machine.
I’ve indicated very subtly on only the fewest of occasions that I’m somewhat looking forward to your next Chaos Theory publication, “Our Broken Sky,” which you’ve described as an “insanely sexy New Adult lesbian novella.” (I don’t even have a question here; I just like talking about it. Kidding! Ish. Anyway.) Obviously in addition to genre, LGBTQ is another sorely lacking aspect in NA. What would you say to encourage authors to freaking write more of it already?
Most people in this business, or at least those caught up with their research, know that books featuring LGBTQ characters across all genres and categories are lacking, particularly novels with queer female and trans characters. Lately I feel that agents and publishers have more openly requested books with these characters, and while this is a small victory, it worries me a little bit. I think that it is dangerous to view LGBTQ fiction as a ‘trend’ and only write LGBTQ fiction because industry professionals are looking for it, because many people still confuse LGBTQ fiction with novels about being gay. This industry needs more novels with queer characters where their sexuality doesn’t define them and their queerness is only one aspect of who they are. Writers—particularly straight writers—absolutely need to keep this in mind when writing LGBTQ fiction so that we don’t end up flooding the market with stigmatized and stereotyped characters.
That being said, YES. Authors need to start creating more LGBTQ characters because literature shapes the minds within our society. The more these characters are written and written well, the less we have to worry about things like stereotyped queer characters in media.
I love the “Deviant Darlings” series you did on your blog last month, celebrating some BAMF ladies in fiction, include a particular favorite of mine. What’s a girl gotta do to make the cut?
A girl just has to “lack traditional heroic qualities”. Sometimes this means that she’s extraordinarily selfish (Leah from Dirty Red), flirts with the lines of sexual morality (Maise from Unteachable), purposefully makes bad decisions without learning from them (Jule from The Waking Dark), or just likes killing people (Fancy and Kit from Slice of Cherry). A Deviant Darling must have likeable qualities about them too, though. This is what distinguishes them from being a straight-up villain.
You’ve traditionally published a spec-fic NA, which is basically unheard of. Can you sum up how that happened, and what do you think the trick is to making a non-contemporary NA work for the overwhelmingly contemp-driven market?
I mostly have to thank my agent Kathleen Rushall for that little accomplishment. To be honest, when I signed with her, I had read maybe one New Adult novel. I knew what the category was though because I remembered reading about the St. Martin’s Press contest on Absolute Write. Kathleen encouraged me to rewrite Wicked for the New Adult category because she felt like I was holding back with the potential edginess of the book, and the YA market was also saturated with urban scifi books at the time.
We had interest in the book after only two weeks of it being on submission (in the past I’ve been on sub for periods of six months or longer, so I was shocked by how quickly everything fell into place).
I personally think the main thing that makes publishers interested in a New Adult book, regardless of it being contemporary or speculative, are the characters and their actions/decisions throughout the course of the novel. The Wicked We Have Done has speculative elements, yes. It’s based in a society that mirrors ours very much with the exception that scientists believe they’ve uncovered the formula for a moral compass, and are using their knowledge to weed out psychopaths. But this isn’t what the novel is about. The novel is about Evalyn discovering the true meanings of morality and justice and her coming of age regarding those aspects of her life. Those kinds of compelling and relatable self-discoveries are really what make a New Adult novel interesting and sellable in my opinion.
Along the same lines, where would you guess the category will go from where? Where would you want it to go?
I don’t know where this category will go because I’m horrible at predicting things (for the record, I don’t play the lottery or slot machines). But I can say that I have a ton of friends, some who are still in college, who only read YA novels because of how much they love their quick-paced style and accessibility. Sure, there are adult novels with these traits as well, but who wants to fish through the massive category that is adult fiction to find them? Having a New Adult category gives readers an opportunity to find and access books that are fast-paced and engaging like YA, but have content geared toward them, regardless of genre. And I hope it eventually becomes this versus just college-themed chick lit.
NA is still pretty new to traditional publishing, period. What advantages have you found (particularly as a digital-first author) to working with Penguin that you might not have had going at it on your own?
I’ll start off by saying that I am in no way meaning to talk badly about self-publishers. Sometimes, it’s the correct path for authors and their career. But it’s not right for me. The Wicked We Have Done saw over ten beta readers before and during the process of revising for my agent. That’s multiple sets of eyes over countless drafts. When I had to revise for my editor, Laura, she asked for sweeping revisions that ended up making my book so much stronger than it was, even after all of those reads from trusted critique partners. She caught weaknesses and plot holes that no previous reader had brought my attention to.
Yes, I am aware that self-publishers can hire (and should hire) editors to help them. But here’s the difference: my agent and my editor have stock in my novel. Their careers are directly linked to my success. It is invaluable to have these people on my team when I’m publishing—not just to sell more copies, but to create the best damn book that I’m capable of and be an influence within the category of New Adult. Writing is about so much more than the money to me.
Being a digital-first author is awesome because the period between the book selling and releasing is about ten months versus the normal 18+ months the process normally takes. Readers don’t have to wait forever for the book to release, and neither do I. It’s a win-win.
My sources (okay, your website) tell me you used to write fanfiction. What kind, and more importantly, what kind of fanfiction would you love to see written about the Chaos Theory universe?
I can’t get over the fact that you brought this up, because fanfiction plays a rather big role in A Vault of Sins (I caught your interest now, haven’t I!?). If we’re not talking canon, then I’d love to see Evalyn/Valerie fanfiction (really, are you surprised by that answer?) because they’re both so brazen and strong-willed and I could totally see bickering leading to awesome angry-sex.
I was a Harry Potter fic writer on FictionAlley.org and a Draco/Hermione shipper. I still have my stories on a floppy disk and have no way of getting them off said floppy disk.
And, of course, because this is my blog, and I live to make people empty their wallets, I have to ask–got any great book recs for us?
None of them are out yet (which means that you need to pre-order them… duh) but Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman, 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen, Pretending to be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, and Please Don’t Tell by Laura Tims.
Bio: Sarah Harian grew up in the foothills of Yosemite and received her B.A. and M.F.A. from Fresno State University. When not writing, she is usually hiking some mountain or another in the Sierras, playing video games with her husband, or rough-housing with her dog.
So, in case you weren’t sure, other than the fact that I am insanely jealous of the fact that she’s already read Winterkill, Pretending to Be Erica, and Please Don’t Tell (I can’t get mad about 17 First Kisses – I’ve read it too, and it is indeed excellent), she’s pretty freaking awesome, isn’t she?
Wanna buy her books? (Obviously you do.) Let me make that easy for you:
THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE – Amazon * B&N * Kobo * iTunes * GooglePlay
A VAULT OF SINS (pre-order) – Amazon * B&N
Got any questions or comments for Sarah? Leave ’em below!