Swanky Seventeener Jilly Gagnon recently sat down with Sarah Ahiers, author of ASSASSIN’S HEART (HarperTeen, February 2, 2016).
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
Sarah Ahiers has an MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minnesota with three dogs and a houseful of critters. When she’s not writing she fills her time with good games, good food, good friends, and good family.
Jilly: I was struck by the amazing, in-depth world-building you did in Assassin’s Heart. Did you have any real-life models in mind when you were writing?
Sarah: I was lucky enough to visit Italy when I was in high school orchestra. And it was awesome. The world in Assassin’s Heart is sort of a fantasy version of renaissance Italy. I really drew on my own experiences and memories of that trip for the setting and the feel.
Jilly: Your fight scenes played out like a movie—all the details seemed so vivid! How were you able to depict hand-to-hand combat so realistically?
Sarah: I think it’s probably because I watch a lot of movies! But in regards to craft, I’ve found that picking a single detail to focus on works much better in combat scenes than trying to describe everything that’s going on. So a twist of the wrist tells the reader more than a twist of a wrist, plus where their feet are, plus how they’re spinning their body.
Jilly: What inspired Assassin’s Heart? (Hopefully not a personal revenge plan!)
Sarah: Hah! Two things mashed together. One was wondering what a culture would be like if they not only allowed murder, but welcomed it. And the other was that I was tired of reading books where the main character’s family or close friend (or someone else important to them) dies, and they get over it within a few pages (usually because of a new BF or GF, but not always). I wanted to write a book where the main character’s grief followed her through the entire book, one where she could never again be the same person she was in the beginning.
Jilly: In the world of your book, gods have tangible, earthly powers. Are there any gods whose powers readers didn’t get to see on the page?
Sarah: There are! The travelers have three gods, one of whom keeps them safe from the ghosts through the power of music. The travelers sing and the ghosts can’t find them. It’s how they’re able to travel across the dead plains.
When do you get your best writing done?
Mornings and afternoons. Definitely after I’ve had a shower, though.
Which of the fictional cities in Assassin’s Heart would you rather live in, Lovero or Yvain?
Ooh, tough one. Yvain, I think, because I’ve never been much of a night owl.
What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?
I really loved Monica Hughes’s INVITATION TO THE GAME (it’s kind of like a happier type of dystopian.)
Name one thing you absolutely NEED with you when you sit down to write (i.e., coffee, a sharp dagger, normal stuff)
A water bottle and chapstick. And maybe some nuts to munch on.
If the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow, would you survive?
Oh heck yeah. I’ve had a zombpoc survival plan in place since forever.
Favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
Hands-down, HOLES by Louis Sachar. I think it’s the best book-to-movie adaptation ever.
Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Elle, Vanity Fair, The Toast, The Hairpin, The Huffington Post, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others.
She lives in Boston with her two cats, Captain Gentleman and Zelda. She loves terrible television and well-crafted Manhattans.