A JTHS alumni of the class of 2009, Sarah Jean Horwitz recently became an author after publishing her first book, Carmer and Grit: The Wingsnatchers, Book One, this spring. The book is about faeries and magicians and is written for middle schoolers, but can be appreciated at all ages because of its universal theme of finding friends in unlikely places. To repay the years of knowledge that the school and the English teachers imparted to her, Horwitz came in to do presentations for numerous for English department classes.
Before I had the privilege of sitting in on two of her presentations, I was able to personally interview her about the writing process, her life, and her book:
Kalen Luciano: From what I’ve heard, writing a book takes an immense amount of time and effort. How did you come up with an idea that kept you passionate long enough to finish writing your book?
Sarah Jean Horwitz: In 2011, when I was still in college, I had this strangely specific image pop in my head. It was an image of a little boy with a top hat and a faerie sitting on its brim. It really caught my attention and a billion questions came from there. For example, who was the boy? Why did he have a faerie on the brim of his hat? What happened to them and where are they going from here?
Luciano: Being in an English class for most of my school career, teachers constantly tell us that there’s meaning behind everything, including names. How did you decide on the names of your characters?
Horwitz: I’m actually a bit lazy when it comes to choosing names. Of course, they still have some kind of meaning behind them. Carmer, the magician’s apprentice, has that name because it is “charmer” without the “h.” I picked Grit’s name because it had that tough attitude to the name, like her personality. Most of the other names are mostly play on words or something that matches their character. For example, most of the faeries have names similar to objects in nature like Bressel, whose name comes from brussel sprouts.
Luciano: How did you motivate yourself through the hard days of writing? How did you get past the constant critic in your head while you were writing?
Horwitz: The most challenging days for me were when I was planning and outlining the story. I’m a big outliner of everything before I begin writing. Sometimes, I would get stuck on where the story was going if I had too many ideas. To get past this barrier, I would write a little bit of each option to see what was the best. As for the critic in my head, I would do writing challenges such as NaNoWriMo to force myself to write and stop caring about whether it’s good or not. It allows you to accept the fact that your first draft is going to be bad, and that’s okay. I actually both started and ended my book during NaNoWriMo, and even though I didn’t meet the goal, I was able to get that first draft done.
Luciano: Not only is it hard to get yourself motivated to write the book, but I imagine it can be difficult to find time to write, too, because we all live busy lives. How did you personally make time to write?
Horwitz: It can be a bit of a struggle sometimes. I would occasionally wake up early or stay up late to write. Other times, since I am an administrative assistant, it could be very slow at work, and I would take advantage of the time to work on the book. Fortunately, my co-workers are very supportive about my aspirations, so this wasn’t a problem.
Luciano: After you had the book completely written, there’s a lot more steps to take before it actually gets published. Can you describe the publishing process?
Horwitz: It is quite a long and extensive process. Once I finished my book, I started querying agents in May of 2015. By the end of June, of the 30 to 35 applications I sent in, I got two offers, which is actually pretty great considering this is my first time going through the process. Other people wait years for an agent or never even get one. After I got the agent, we spent the summer revising it. From there, the agent began applying to publishers. In September of that same year, and I was fortunate enough to sell my book by the end of October.
Luciano: When this process was all done and you finally had a published copy in your hands, how did you feel?
Horwitz: It was a pretty cool feeling. I didn’t really do much, though, other than take a selfie with it. What really felt amazing was seeing it on the shelf in a bookstore.
Luciano: How has your life changed post-publication?
Horwitz: It’s still too early to see any sales figures, but so far, my life hasn’t changed all that much. I’m still working hard both at my administrative assistant job and my next book. I’m actually almost done with the second book, but I’m always working on another project.
Luciano: You’re already almost done with the second book? When is it coming out? Will there be more books to come?
Horwitz: It’s coming out in the spring of 2018, and I’m not sure if there will be a third one in the series yet, but it’s definitely possible.
After my interview with her, she presented to the AP English students. She went through the writing process and how she turned her idea into a story. This began with the image she had in her mind about the boy and the faerie and how she developed these characters and built the world around them. From here, she had to do some research on magic tricks and electricity, two main components of the book. Then, she explained the importance of structure and how she outlined her story and stayed productive with writing challenges like NaNoWriMo.
After writing the story was the most important step that she admitted she was even reluctant to do in high school: revising. This is the most important step because this is when important themes and motifs can come out in the story and when the story can be cut down in order to make sure that every sentence is important. She briefly covered the publishing process as well.
In the second presentation, Horwitz explained her background and how she was somewhat isolated in middle school, but she had a few close friends. Her trio of friends would love to tell stories any way that they could. They made a lot of homemade movies together, and this pushed her to be a theater kid throughout high school.
When she graduated, she went to Emerson College for film production, but changed this to screenwriting. After she received this degree, she decided to put this knowledge to work by writing her book, focused on the power of friendship, a common theme in both the book and her life.