Hi guys! I hope you are having an awesome August! Today, Sarah Jean Horwitz is here to talk about her Carmer and Grit series, a Middle Grade duology that combines fantasy and steampunk together. I won both books in a giveaway hosted by Sarah, and I am super excited to read them, especially after reading her epic interview! I hope you enjoy!
About the Book
A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.
Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.
In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I love writing because I love storytelling, and writing happens to be a pretty great way to share your stories with the world. I took some creative writing classes and wrote terrible fan fiction in high school, but it wasn’t until I took my first screenwriting class in college that I really fell in love with writing. Screenwriting has a very specific format and structure, and I found that very attractive as a new writer, as opposed to the terrifying abyss that appeared in my mind when someone said, “Write a story!” I took screenwriting classes throughout college and found that education to be very helpful when I turned my hand to children’s books.
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
The Harry Potter books were my favorite books for much of my life and still hold a very special place in my heart. Harry Potter has probably influenced me as a writer the most – something I think readers can tell, with all the Harry Potter references sprinkled through my books! I’ve been reading a fair bit of YA fantasy since high school and college. Maggie Stiefvater is a favorite of mine. I’ve often though to myself, “When I grow up, I want to write fantasy as good as Maggie Stiefvater’s!”
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I write part-time and also have a day job as an administrative assistant at a real estate company. When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching TV, hanging out with my partner, reading, and circus arts. Most recently I’ve been practicing handstands and trapeze.
4. The first novel in your Carmer and Grit series—The Wingsnatchers—follows aspiring inventor Carmer and faerie princess Grit as they investigate the recent disappearances of many faeries, only to discover that a mad and deadly scientist is behind them. Since Carmer and Grit infuses magic and steampunk together, could you describe to us your world-building process for your series? What drew you to steampunk as an author and a reader?
I always joke that the steampunk element of my books is the most accidental element, and it really is. The very first idea that I ever had for Carmer and Grit was a mental image of a boy in a top hat with a fairy with a mechanical wing sitting on the brim. Naturally, I had to at least partly build the story world around the existence of that mechanical wing. This led to research on clockwork, automatons, and the Industrial Revolution. When I also made the decision to pair fairy light and electric light in the plot, that of course took me straight to Thomas Edison and the late 1800s and the first power stations. And suddenly, bam! I found myself with an alternate Victorian era setting and a plot that heavily incorporated steam power and futuristic technology. And so: accidental steampunk! It just so happens that I love the aesthetic of that literary traditional as well, so I had great fun incorporating a lot of that imagery into the books.
5. Are you more like Carmer or Grit? What traits do you share with both of your main characters?
It’s rather a copout to say that I’m a little bit of both of them, but I really am. I think my internal monologue is closer to Carmer’s, and I share his social anxiety and slightly pessimistic outlook on the human condition. But I’m far from a tech expert or even an enthusiast, so that inventive streak is all his own! As for Grit, I think I share her temper, her stubborn streak, and her playfulness.
6. In your bio, you say that your love of storytelling was cultivated in part by your mother’s fractured fairy tales. What is your favorite fractured fairy tale? Were there any fairy tales that influenced or inspired Carmer and Grit, and if so, what are they?
When I was a little girl and demanded to be read the same fairytales night after night for my bedtime story – think The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, lots of princess stuff – my mother used to get so bored reading the same stories over and over again that she started adding her own artistic and comedic flourishes to the stories to keep herself (and me!) entertained. Her version of Sleeping Beauty always made me laugh – when everyone in the palace wakes up from their hundred-year sleep, the line for the bathroom goes out the door, because everyone has to pee after being asleep so long! Clearly, we had highbrow tastes.
Carmer and Grit is more inspired by actual fairies than fairytales – I borrow most heavily from Celtic mythology on that front – but no doubt the influence crept in somewhere. Grit is still a princess, after all.
7. How have your experiences in theater, film, and screenwriting influenced your books and you as a writer?
Growing up as a community theatre kid, and then as a film and screenwriting student, meant I was constantly exposed to different kinds of storytelling. So when I sit down to write, I’m not just drawing on my experiences from the books I’ve read, but also TV shows and films I like, my experience as an actor, and my screenwriting practice using my writing to communicate strong visuals. As an actor and a performer, I know that if my dialogue sounds awkward or cheesy when I read it out loud, then it probably is! That’s just on example. Most importantly, I think screenwriting taught me how to structure a story very tightly in as few words as possible – a skill that has come in very handy writing children’s books!
8. Would you rather be an inventor or a magician? How would you combine magic and the machine if you had the power to?
My heart says magician, but my head says inventor (with a thorough knowledge of patent law and plenty of capital.) Haha. Magicians are working artists, and I know from experience that being a working artist is no easy feat!
9. What were some of the challenges you faced writing a sequel to The Wingsnatchers, and how did you overcome them? Was your writing process different for The Crooked Castle?
“Second book syndrome,” as it is not-so-affectionately referred to in some writing circles, is so real! There are new expectations from your publisher, your readers, and yourself. The Crooked Castle was the first book I ever wrote with a deadline from a publisher, and I definitely felt the pressure of that working experience! And just as you’ve changed since the first book, so have your characters. They’ve grown with you, and any new adventure they tackle has to reflect that growth.
Most of all, my writing process was faster. I wrote The Wingsnatchers on and off over the course of over two years. I wrote The Crooked Castle in about eight months.
10. How would you “sort” your characters into Hogwarts houses?
Carmer is a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings. Grit is a Gryffindor through and through. Kitty and the Amazifier both straddle the Hufflepuff/Gryffindor line, I think, though the Amazifier gets a bit trickier with his intellectual pursuits. Bressel is the most Hufflepuff that ever Hufflepuffed. Madame Euphemia, Gideon Sharpe, Queen Ombrienne, and the Mechanist are all Slytherins.
11. Can we expect more from Carmer and Grit in the future? What stories are you currently working on?
I have ideas for one or two more Carmer and Grit books, but as of right now, there are no concrete plans for more adventures for them. Right now I am working on a new middle grade fantasy called The Dark Lord Clementine and Her Silent Farm, which is about a young girl growing up in a fairytale-like world as the daughter of an official Evil Overlord, and her reticence to take over the family business of causing death and destruction!
12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
Good critique partners and mentors are indispensible. You know you’ve got a winner when someone criticizes your writing and you think, “Wow, that’s so great! Why didn’t I think of that?” When getting critical feedback becomes a stage of the process you look forward to, that’s when you know you’ve got a great relationship. That feedback will make your stories the best they can be.
Thank you so much, Sarah, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to get to know more about you and your books!
About the Author
Sarah Jean Horwitz is the author of the middle grade fantasy series CARMER AND GRIT. She loves storytelling in all its forms and holds a B.A. in Visual & Media Arts with a concentration in screenwriting from Emerson College. Her other passions include feminism, circus arts, extensive thematic playlists, tattoos, and making people eat their vegetables. She works as an administrative assistant and lives with her partner near Cambridge, MA.
Have you read any books in the Carmer and Grit series? Do you like MG steampunk?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!