Interview with author of Sea Witch...Sarah Henning!

I'm very excited to announce I'll be interviewing Sarah Henning today, author of the fabulous Sea Witch duology!

Sea Witch was my first read of 2019 and I absolutely LOVED it - I definitely started my reading year off right. 😻 If you need any convincing to read it, you can read my review here! 

1. What inspired you to write a retelling from the villain's point of view?
Like many little girls, I loved the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, but when, as an adult, I read the original, I found it fascinating because it was SO different from the story I thought I knew. I was suddenly very drawn to the witch, who is a more neutral character in the original tale. She’s a feared woman, yes, but she’s not necessarily a villain in the traditional sense. This mermaid comes to her, and the witch basically grills this love-struck girl on why she’d want to give up her family, friends, and possibly her life for a boy who doesn’t even know her name—but then the witch helps her anyway. I wanted to explore what kind of person would help that mermaid despite being wise to what was truly on the line.

Me: Ooh! I've never actually read the original tale...I'll definitely have to! 

2. I adored the characters. They were so complex and multidimensional! Were the characters' voices strong as you were writing?
Oh, thank you—I appreciate it. They actually were very strong and particular about what they wanted to say. And, honestly, I really appreciate it when characters pipe up and make themselves known right away. They don’t always do that!

3. Many writers have said that they want their characters to play a particular role but then the characters do something completely different! Did any of the characters' roles in the story change from how you originally intended them to be?
I typically “meet” my characters on the page, rather than going in with an idea of what I need them to be. I find it beneficial because if I don’t go in with preconceived notions they’re less likely to become more of a plot device and less of a character. Usually, once I know who they are, I can use their characteristics to build the plot around them rather than shoe-horning them into the plot.

4. Do you think you'll write more retellings in the future? I'd personally love it if you did!
Oh, thank you! Yes, I do have another almost-retelling in the works called The Princess Will Save You, which is the first in a new duology inspired by The Princess Bride. It’s out in summer 2020 and is about a princess who sets out to rescue her stable boy true love when he’s kidnapped by pirates.

5. Sea Witch is a phenomenal book – the fact that it's a debut makes it even more impressive! How did you celebrate the publication of Sea Witch? I hope there was cake involved!
Thank you! We did celebrate with cake! I did the launch at my local independent bookstore, The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, and they ordered a cake with the Sea Witch cover on it. I didn’t get to have a bite—too busy signing books and talking to people—but my then-three-year-old daughter was instantly obsessed with the cake and while I was off doing author things, she kept badgering my husband to cut her a piece that was just the eyes from the cover. He kept telling her he couldn’t cut straight from the middle of the cake but she asked so many times he finally relented and sliced out the eyes for her. So now my daughter is a witch, obviously.

Me: That's adorable!

6. The aspect of Sea Witch that first gripped me was the compelling writing style. I'm currently in the process of editing my first draft. Have you got any tips for aspiring authors on how to have an engaging writing voice?
Voice is something that’s tricky but important. For me, as I’m writing, I typically identify passages that really nail the voice and feel I want and when I’m feeling a little “off” I’ll go back and read the earmarked passages for voice. Similarly, at the beginning of each writing session, I’ll go back and read the last thing I wrote the day before, editing as I go. This gives me a cleaner draft and helps me with continuity in voice and tension.

7. Do you plot your books or do you prefer just seeing where the story takes you?
I do plot, but not rigidly. I also plot much more now than I did a few years ago. My writing time is very limited because I have a full-time job and two kids, and I need to make the most of each session. If those pesky characters do something I didn’t have plotted, I always roll with it because I feel like my brain isn’t going to steer me wrong and I’m taking a detour for a reason. I would much rather explore something that could be possibly better than what I’d initially dreamed up than try to force myself to stay on a specific path.

Me: That's great advice!

8. How did you know when you wanted to be an author?
I knew I wanted to be an author before I knew how to write actual words. I was the little kid who stapled together a bunch of construction paper drawings and called it a book. I went into journalism because that seemed less pie-in-the-sky than being an author but I never could escape the fact that I wanted to write fiction. Dreams don’t die even when you have a full-time job, kids, and a mortgage!

9. Were there any books in particular that shaped you as a writer? What are your childhood favourites in terms of books?
I read a lot of classics as a young teen— Three Musketeers, Little Women, every Austen book. I also raided my parents’ Kurt Vonnegut collection. That said, I think the books I read after I got out of college affected me more as a writer. It was in my first years as a working adult that I had the most time in my life to read and I read widely, not just all of the YA standards— Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc.—but also all “chick lit” like Bergdorf Blondes and all the Sophie Kinsella, women’s fiction like The Lovely Bones, and a ton of mystery and thrillers from Lisa Gardner, Lee Child, Jesse Kellerman, Dan Brown. I think that the books that affect my fantasy writing the most are actually classified as historical fiction—Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series, which is my favorite series no one seems to have heard of. They’re set before the Revolutionary War and follow a pseudo-James Bond who is a nerdy orphan and totally awesome.

10. I understand if you can't share any details just yet, but will there be future Sea Witch books or other exciting writing projects in the works?
Funny that you should mention that because the sort-of-surprise sequel to Sea Witch comes out August 6 th! It’s called Sea Witch Rising and picks up where the epilogue leaves off. It’s set against the opening days of World War I and follows not only Evie as the sea witch but also the twin sister of the little mermaid who goes above to catch her prince. I actually think of this one as more of a retelling than Sea Witch because it truly has the classic set up of The Little Mermaid…until literally everything goes wrong.

I also have my first YA contemporary coming out January 7 th. It’s called Throw Like a Girl and is about a down-spiraling softball player who is recruited to play the not-so-back-up quarterback on her ex-boyfriend’s football team. Quite different from Sea Witch but if you like strong girls and cinnamon roll boys, it’s the book for you.

And then as I mentioned the first in my new fantasy duology comes out next summer, The Princess Will Save You.

Hardback or paperback?
Whatever I can get my hands on! But these days I probably prefer hardback.  

Contemporary or fantasy?
Tie. I love both so much!

Electronic device or notebook to write?
Electronic device—I wrote the majority of the first draft of Sea Witch in the Notes app on my iPhone! Also, my handwriting is atrocious. I do maintain a notebook per manuscript but almost everything in them end up written up eventually as notes in my Scrivener document or in the Notes app just so that I can actually read it all later. Ha.

Series or stand-alone?
Standalones with series potential.

Audiobooks or physical books/ebooks?
Physical books.
Sea Witch
Sea Witch (Sea Witch, #1)

Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.
Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch. 
A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.
But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.
Sea Witch Rising
Sea Witch Rising (Sea Witch #2)

“The Little Mermaid” takes a twisted turn in this thrilling sequel to villainess origin story Sea Witch, as the forces of land and sea clash in an epic battle for freedom, redemption, and true love. 
Runa will not let her twin sister die. Alia traded her voice to the Sea Witch for a shot at happiness with a prince who doesn’t love her. And his rejection will literally kill her—unless Runa intervenes.
Under the sea, Evie craves her own freedom—but liberation from her role as Sea Witch will require an exchange she may not be willing to make. With their hearts’ desires at odds, what will Runa and Evie be willing to sacrifice to save their worlds? 
Told from alternating perspectives, this epic fairy tale retelling is a romantic and heart-wrenching story about the complications of sisterhood, the uncompromising nature of magic, and the cost of redemption.
 Thank you so much for answering my questions, Sarah! It was brilliant being able to ask you these questions!