Photo Credit: Emma Young

Sarah Jean Horwitz was raised in suburban New Jersey where her love of storytelling grew from listening to her mother’s original “fractured fairy tales.” She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Carmer and Grit: The Wingsnatchers is her first novel. You can visit her online at sarahjeanhorwitz.com and on Twitter: @sunshineJHwitz.

Author Q&A

1. Favorite books/authors who inspired you?

Cliché as it may be at this point, the Harry Potter books will always be some of the most important books in my life. They were my “gateway books” into the fantasy genre and obviously, I’ve never looked back! Ursula K. Le Guin, M.T. Anderson, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman and Catherynne Valente are a few other authors I admire. Inspiration for The Wingsnatchers came from all corners: Sherlock Holmes, Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - even How To Train Your Dragon.

2. What’s your writing routine?

I squeeze writing in whenever I can, and this sometimes makes my productivity a bit...seasonal, due to my day job. I’m a receptionist at a real estate company, and when the market slows down in the winter and summer, I can use the down time at work to write. I also outline extensively and prefer to do a lot of my background research before I begin writing, sometimes for months. I find group writing challenges like NaNoWriMo to be incredibly helpful and motivating; half of The Wingsnatchers was written in November 2014.

3. What part of your book was the most fun to write?

The very first scenes where Carmer and Grit are just starting to become friends were my favorite to write. There’s one where Carmer starts blabbering on a bit about how his mechanical inventions work, and he gets embarrassed, but Grit’s like, “No, that’s amazing!” Everyone’s had that moment when they feel like the biggest dork in the world, especially in front of someone new. It’s always a pleasant surprise to find someone who thinks your dorkiness is awesome.

4. Which part was the most difficult?

The magic competition scenes were the most difficult to write, especially the second round, where Grit helps Carmer with her faerie magic. The problem was creating a trick that was technically-maybe-sort-of plausible without real magic, so that Carmer’s master, Antoine the Amazifier, wouldn’t immediately know something was terribly off and demand answers ASAP. But it also had to be incredible enough that it would get them to the final round of the competition. The balance that I eventually struck as I researched Victorian magic was to start with actual popular tricks of the time and take them to the next level with faerie magic.

5. Is there one particular character in your new book that you most relate to? Why?

Naturally, little parts of me crept into both Carmer and Grit. I can relate to Carmer’s shyness and general “nerdiness” - though I am far from being as interested in science as he is! He’s a little less optimistic about the world than Grit, and I think I share that view as well. But I also have a bit of Grit’s rebellious streak, as well as her determination and sense of play.

6. What advice would you give aspiring writers?

This may sound a bit odd, but the most important piece of advice that I rarely hear is this: cultivate the space in your life that allows you to write. I mean the actual, physical space you work in and the real time it takes to do it. This sounds easy, but for some people, it’s the one thing standing between them and a finished novel.

The Wingsnatchers would never have happened if I hadn’t landed the perfect “day job” that gave me the time, the financial security, and the general “brain space” to work on it consistently. So I while I understand the importance of approaching your craft with discipline, I am also a huge supporter of being kind to yourself. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to write. Sometimes, you’re not feeling up to more than watching Netflix in bed. Sometimes you just don’t want to, and that’s fine. But if you can, explore any and all avenues to expand your creative space. When you have the time and the space - both mentally and physically - the words will follow.

7. Cats or dogs?

Dogs! But only because I’m allergic to cats...and I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t have souls capable of love. Sorry, cats.

8. If writing weren’t part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?

I love storytelling in all its forms, and performers are some of the best storytellers I know! So in a perfect world where a 5’3 frizzy-haired girl with little experience could make a consistent living (outside of playing dead bodies on crime shows and frolicking in fields in drug commercials), I’d love to be an actress. Plus, I’d get to play dress-up all the time. 

9. Which author would you most like to spend the day with?

A day is a long time to spend with someone I don’t know that well! (See, there’s the Carmer coming out in me.) I’d love to have a leisurely breakfast with J.K. Rowling at one of my favorite diners. Diners are great. Harry Potter is great. Then, I could spend the rest of the day recovering from looking into the eyes of a goddess and squealing to my friends that I took J.K. Rowling to a diner.

8. What is your secret superpower?

I can identify the songs in the background of commercials and teen dramas with terrifying accuracy.