SASHA LAURENS was raised in San Francisco and Northern California, where she learned to drive on Highway 1’s switchback turns and got accustomed to the best weather in the world. She started taking writing classes at 826 Valencia in high school, and would have minored in Creative Writing at Columbia University, if the minor hadn’t been eliminated. Instead, Sasha studied Russian Literature, and graduated summa cum laude.
Upon graduation she moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, and attempted to write a literary novel, unsurprisingly about Americans living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Returning to New York City, she earned an M.A. in Russian Regional Studies from Columbia University while working at the university. Since 2014, she been pursuing her PhD in political science at the University Michigan, and currently resides in Ann Arbor.
Writing and political science take up almost all of her time, but when she gets a break she loves boxing, watching bad reality tv, and traveling.
A Wicked Magic is her first novel (Razorbill, July 2020).
When did you start writing and what inspired you to start writing?
I started writing before I even knew how to write. As a little kid I would scribble out notebook pages full of “cursive” and then “read” those stories out to anyone who asked—or didn’t.
I took writing classes throughout high school and college, but I was entirely focused on literary fiction, which you typically need an MFA to publish. Around the time I decided I definitely didn’t want to go that route, I picked up my first YA novel on a whim—I can only remember reading one YA book in high school—and made the completely incorrect-yet-common assumption that writing YA would be a piece of cake. I quickly learned that I was absolutely mistaken, but I fell in love with the genre, both as a reader and as a writer. Now I wonder why I spent so many years writing tortured “literary” short stories where nothing happened when I could have just been having fun.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
In the best writing, everything comes together seamlessly to create something bigger than the sum of its parts and it feels like the writer has pulled off a magic trick. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to explain how that happens! One element that matters a lot to me is the sentence-level stuff. I love reading a sentence and feeling like there was no other way it could have been written and achieved the same thing. I want to see language that is beautiful or rude or surprising or colloquial or vivid. I will let a lot of other stuff slide if you can deliver a clause so original it makes me cackle with glee.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Plot, without a doubt. I truly have no idea how people come up with action-adventure fantasies or twisty thrillers. My brain always wants to write a story where the main character sits around thinking (or, let’s be real, crying) for a few dozen pages. But that won’t be much fun to read, even for me. In all my novels, the plot kind of accumulates over time through revision and slowly replaces the sitting-and-thinking scenes.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing A WICKED MAGIC?
The most surprising thing I discovered was how much I identified with both the main characters, Dan and Liss. These girls used to be best friends, but had a falling out; over the course of the book they test-drive a new friendship. Originally, that conflict was inspired by friendships that I’d had that had ended. I was the Dan, blameless and taken advantage of by a friend who didn’t appreciate her, and my ex-friends were the Lisses, self-absorbed and manipulative. But for Liss to be a fully formed character, I needed to establish a reason for everything she did, even if it was being self-absorbed and manipulative. Plus, she’s a POV character, so I had to write from inside her head. As a result, I actually came to identify with her a lot more than I do with Dan. A lot of my personality is reflected in both characters—which means that while I love them both dearly I also find them both a little annoying.
What was the inspiration for the story?
Maggie Stiefvater has said that as she was writing the Raven Cycle, she had a note on her computer that reminded her that the worst thing that could happen to the characters was that they’d stop being friends. Maybe for the Raven kids, but not for everyone—and certainly not for the girls of A WICKED MAGIC!
YA tends to paint a rosy portrait of best friends, but teenage friendships can be challenging, dramatic, obsessive and unhealthy—even moreso than romantic relationships. In some of those friendships, walking away might be better, unless both people can change.
With A WICKED MAGIC, I wanted to look at those friendships that feel magical but might be toxic. On the surface, it looks like Dan and Liss’s friendship fell apart over a romantic rivalry for Liss’s boyfriend, before he was kidnapped by a demon. The truth is a lot more complicated. Their connection is fraught with resentment, anger, hurt and manipulation as well as very deep mutual understanding and love. As they reunite to try to rescue Liss’s boyfriend, they ask themselves, should they become friends again? Can they trust each other? And the answer is, maybe not.
What is the significance of the title A WICKED MAGIC?
A WICKED MAGIC is a reference to the literal magic in the book, which you pretty quickly realize is not exactly a force for good. Alas, it takes Dan and Liss a bit longer to figure that out, and they make a lot of magical mistakes that seem harmless but have grave consequences. That’s a pattern that’s repeated in a few ways on a more metaphorical level. The girls repeatedly make choices in the short term that feel good or great or even just harmless, if not necessarily magical, but are really bad for them in the longer term.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
A WICKED MAGIC has three POV characters—Dan, Liss and Alexa—who need to work together as a witchgang. Yet from the moment the book begins, they are lying to each other, avoiding each other, keeping secrets from each other, and even being deliberately mean to each other. All three girls eventually confront why they’re pushing away their friends—or frenemies—but until that happens, even getting them in the same scenes together was a challenge!
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Unfortunately I can’t be specific right now, but let’s just say there are more messy girls with magic powers and too many feelings where these came from.
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF