Posts Tagged sarah jean horwitz

Author Interview – Sarah Jean Horwitz and THE DEMON SWORD ASPERIDES

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Jean Horwitz about her upcoming Middle Grade fantasy, THE DEMON SWORD ASPERIDES.
I’m a huge fan of Sarah Jean’s previous work – including the CARMER AND GRIT series and THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, so I jumped at the chance to get an early peek at her latest.
It was exactly as fun and magical as I hoped it would be. I loved it. I think you will too.


Tell us a little bit about your latest book, The Demon Sword Asperides.

The Demon Sword Asperides is a fantasy adventure about a two-thousand-year-old talking demon sword who tricks Nack, a young aspiring knight, into wielding the sword’s power in exchange for Nack’s soul. The two embark on a quest to restore Nack’s honor with his clan but find themselves forced into a battle against a recently resurrected evil sorcerer – a sorcerer who just happens to be Asperides’s former master.

The Demon Sword Asperides has already gotten starred reviews. Kirkus called it “…quirky and fun but also nuanced and complex” and Booklist said it’s …endlessly inventive and terrifically funny….” Can you tell us a little bit about how this story came to be? What was your initial inspiration? And how did the story grow and change as you wrote it?

The idea for the story came to me watching a Chinese fantasy show on Netflix. In the show, two young heroes find themselves stuck in cave fighting a murderous giant tortoise (as one does). The protagonist dives under the tortoise’s shell and proceeds to take a tour of its inner workings (it’s a really big tortoise), where, among other things, he discovers a very obviously evil, no good, very bad sword. Like, the sword is whispering and hissing at him with the voices of the dead! Its power clearly makes him feel ill! It is oozing black smoke! And yet, our hero is like, “Yeah, seems legit,” and plucks the sword from inside the tortoise and harnesses its dark magic to help kill the tortoise monster. Then he just trucks around with this very obviously evil sword and like…no one really comments on it? It’s astonishing. Like, “Ah, I see you have been compelled to grip your creepy ancient sword so hard you draw blood. That seems fine!”

And I just thought it was so funny that everyone in the show was ignoring how obviously bad news this sword was. Then, to make my spouse laugh, I started doing a funny voice whenever the sword would appear on screen (especially when it was accompanied by those creepy indecipherable whispers). And then I started thinking…wait, but really, what does the sword think about all of this? It’s obviously somewhat sentient. How did it occupy itself, stuck in that cave for hundreds of years? What does it think of its new wielder?

The sword ends up being a manifestation of a different mystical material on the show, and the plot obviously diverges from there, but the idea stuck with me. And so the demon sword Asperides was born.

Nack Furnival, for this part, is a direct transplant from another story I worked on a few years ago. He was an aspiring mythic hero in that book, desperate to try and get into a hero academy – so not that different from an aspiring knight! That story wasn’t working, but I loved Nack, so I plucked him out of that story and put him in Asperides.

I originally thought I would write this idea as a short story for adults, but the minute I realized that Nack would be a great addition to it, I also realized it had to be a middle grade novel.

There is so much to love in this book. One of my favorite things was the names for the entities Nack and company encountered. Gasper-cats, angel blades, were-cats, whirlpools, no-crows, plague lizards, sleeping sand – the list is endless. Can you tell us how you came up with some of these and if you have a favorite (or two)?

It always tickles me when people like my names for things, because the names are something that I either have an idea for right away and love (like gasper-cats) or never really have an idea for and just put a funny placeholder in and somehow the placeholder never changes (two words: plague. lizards.) And sometimes there’s no obvious difference in reaction to the names I put thought into versus the ones I think are so bad they’re funny, which just goes to show! Ha.

A few origin stories of my favorites: Gasper-cats come from the old wives’ tale that cats will sit on your chest while you sleep and steal your breath. I came up with angel blades because demon swords obviously need a counterpart, don’t they? And an “angel blade” sounded like something a virtuous storybook knight would definitely wield.

Whirlpool is just a word that already exists, so I’m afraid I can’t take credit for that one!

Sarah Jean Horwitz author of The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit Book OneOne of the things I love the most about your books is your world building. Do you have any tips for writers who are trying to create their own unique worlds?

I am not usually an “In a world where…” writer, and by that I mean I don’t usually come up with a concept for a story world first. For all my published novels, I always thought of the characters first and built the fantasy world around them and their character’s arc/journey. I look at my character and think about what they want, what they need, and what circumstances have to exist in the world for them to be the way they are. So, assuming I have the idea for a demon sword and a young protagonist and an evil sorcerer, I ask myself some basic questions. What are the swords used for and how? What sort of world is this that thirteen-year-olds are carrying around swords? What other kinds of magic are people using and how are those kinds of magic judged by their society? Once I have answers to those basic questions, I have a decent foundation for a fantasy story world and can add details from there.

This seemed like a book the author enjoyed writing. What did you have the most fun with? Were any parts surprisingly difficult?

I did have fun writing this book! I had the most fun writing Cleoline’s point of view, probably because it’s the most over-the-top. There is a dinner scene with Cleoline, her landlord Waldo the Wise, and the evil sorcerer Amyral Venir that is probably one of my all-time favorite scenes that I’ve written, and nothing too substantial even happens in it! I just think it’s funny.

I have the most difficulty with fight scenes and keeping track of where everyone is, what they’re doing, which hand they’re holding their sword in…and then you have to be entertaining and build suspense and manage the pace to keep the reader excited, too! You may notice I have a lot of fight scenes that fade to black…

What would you like readers to carry with them after they finish reading The Demon Sword Asperides?

I will just be thrilled if people enjoy the book and it brings a little fun, joy, and tenderness into their lives, even if just for a little while. We could all use some of that these days.


THE DEMON SWORD ASPERIDES is out July 11, 2023. You can enter to win a copy over at Goodreads through July 10.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your process with us Sarah Jean. Want to learn more about Sarah Jean and her work? Visit her website.


Meet The Dark Lord Clementine by Author Sarah Jean Horwitz

I love many elements of reading and writing middle grade literature, but one of my favorites is how creative and genius the titles are! And The Dark Lord Clementine is no exception.

Let me introduce you to the girl herself. *the bugle blares

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Isn’t she amazing?!!

Here’s a little more information about Clementine’s world before we meet her wonderful creator.

The new face of big evil is a little . . . small.

Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day the Dark Lord Elithor is cursed by a mysterious rival.

Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. As Clementine forms her first friendships, discovers more about her own magic than she ever dared to explore, and is called upon to break her father’s code of good and evil, she starts to question the very life she’s been fighting for. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be dark after all?

Clementine is being published by Algonquin Young Readers and will meet bookshelves everywhere on October 1, 2019.

Let’s give a warm hello to the author of this wonderful book, Sarah Jean Horwitz.

It’s wonderful to have you visit us, Sarah. Now I was fortunate enough to read an ARC of this book, so I know Clementine is a strong and bold middle grade character  – loved her! – but she also has vulnerabilities that might surprise readers.

Clementine has had a very unusual and sheltered upbringing under her father, the Dark Lord Elithor. (Yes, readers, you read that correctly. He’s an Evil Overlord!)

Her upbringing is one aspect of her world that I felt very intrigued by. It drew me in.

She’s been raised with some pretty negative and unhealthy habits when it comes to interacting with others. She hasn’t learned how to trust people or foster any sort of compassion, kindness, or community. She’s been taught that she’s better than everyone else, and that the only way to survive in the world is to make people fear her. And so Clementine has a lot of privilege to acknowledge, a lot of unhealthy habits to unlearn, and a lot of healing to do as she discovers there’s a different way to be in the world.

What is your favorite part of Clementine’s world, why, and why do you think readers will relate to it?

My favorite part of Clementine’s world is the bureaucratization of the pretty traditional, Western fairytale and epic fantasy-inspired story world. For example, there’s an official Council of Evil Overlords that gives Clementine’s father his Dark Lord designation, and there’s open acknowledgement in the book of professional classifications of Heroes, Good Witches, etc. I love playing with tropes and (gently!) poking fun at genres I enjoy, and the idea of all this administration, standardization, and red tape functioning in a fairytale setting just tickles me. I hope readers will recognize all the fantasy tropes I’m playing with and get a chuckle out of it, too.

I also hope to draw a bit of attention to the ways in which evil is firmly embedded in our own institutions, and how we sometimes take that – and the suffering of others – for granted. When the oppression and pain of others is built into a system that benefits us, just as Clementine benefits from being a Dark Lord’s daughter, it can be easy to turn a blind eye, or to accept this as just “the way things are.” But just as Clementine realizes that her status quo situation is not normal and rejects the lies she’s been taught about how the world works…so must we.

This is so important! I’m glad you touched upon it.

Favorite thing about Clementine is and why? What’s your least favorite?

My favorite thing about Clementine is that despite her isolated childhood, the emotional abuse she’s been subjected to by her father, and the terrible lessons she’s internalized over the years about her place in the world…she is still able to make room in her heart for beauty, love, and forgiveness.

See . . . love her.🖤

She has to work at it, but she gets there, and she finds out a lot about herself along the way. That takes a tremendous amount of strength. Of course, my least favorite parts of Clementine are the behaviors she learned from the Dark Lord and relies on heavily in the beginning of the book – her tendency to use bullying, intimidation and snobbery to try and get her way. Fortunately, she learns those aren’t exactly the best ways to make friends!

If you were Clementine’s sidekick what sort of things would you do? Talk about?

I’m pretty scared of heights, but just once, I’d like to hitch a ride on a broomstick. That seems like an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. I’d probably make Clementine talk about her feelings a lot, because she’s got a lot of issues to unpack…which would probably annoy her enough to get me magically transfigured into something unfortunate!

Bahhh! So true.

One question for our reading-writers out there – The book is written from different and alternating perspectives. How did you go about organizing all the information you knew readers would need to keep reading?

I make detailed outlines before I start writing any project, so that helps. Sometimes I color-code them by point of view to keep things straight. Then as I revise, I try to read as if I’m just another reader who knows nothing about the book, and that helps me see if I’ve planted enough information in the correct order. Of course, lot of stuff still slips through the cracks, and so my great critique partners and editor will point out any slip-ups I missed.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?

I learned that my sense of humor is even darker than I realized (seriously – a few jokes got cut from the book because they were just a bit too much!) and that I tend to write about characters with chosen families. I also learned a lot about the medical consequences of getting sideswiped across the face by a unicorn horn! Yikes.

*Oh, the visuals.*

What do you hope young readers take with them from Clementine’s journey?

As cheesy as it sounds, when I think of Clementine’s journey, I think of that famous Tennyson quote, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” It’s often quoted out of context and used to talk about romantic relationships, but the poem is actually about the death of one of Tennyson’s close friends. And I just think the sentiment from those two lines is very applicable to this book. Clementine puts her heart on the line (literally, at one point!) and takes a risk by trusting people and building new relationships. And it doesn’t 100% work out! She gets hurt, and she hurts people, and none of it is perfect. But the rich rewards of opening her heart to love are worth the possible disappointments. I hope that’s something readers remember.

Sounds perfect! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing Clementine’s wonderfully fantastical story with our Mixed-Up Files readers. 

Sarah Jean Horwitz grew up next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy-tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. She currently lives near Boston. Find her at

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Dear Readers, are you ready for The Dark Lord Clementine?

Interview and Giveaway with Sarah Jean Horwitz – Author of The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit Book One

Today we welcome Sarah Jean Horwitz, whose debut middle grade novel, The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One, comes out April 25th from Algonquin Young Readers.

The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One is 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.

The Wingsnatchers is such a wonderful middle grade read. What are your favorite things about middle-grade fiction (as a reader and as a writer)?

One of the things I love about middle grade fiction – and fantasy in particular – is the unadulterated sense of magic and wonder. I don’t mean to say that the middle grade fictional universe is an uncomplicated one; on the contrary, this is the age when most kids are getting quite acquainted with the complexity of their own worlds, and the best stories know this. But there is an absence of outright cynicism, and that’s always a refreshing pond to dive into for a little while – both as a reader and a writer.

What inspired you to write The Wingsnatchers?

I knew for some time that I wanted to write a faerie-centric urban fantasy, but I never really had an idea with teeth to it until one day – as early as 2011, I think – a very specific image fell into my head: a boy in a shabby top hat and a faerie with a mechanical wing sitting on the brim. I was still in school at the time and working on other projects, so I put the two of them on the back burner, but I think I knew, even then, that this was the story to stick with. I just had to know more about them.

One of the things I love most about The Wingsnatchers is the world-building. Both the steampunk world of Carmer and the fairy kingdom of Grit come to life on the page in vivid detail. Can you tell us a little bit about your process in creating such a colorful and lively fantasy world?

Despite how integral the steampunk aesthetic is to the book now, it happened mostly by accident! The story is set (super!) roughly in an alternate 1880’s-1890’s, but that wasn’t always the case. When I started, it was way earlier – think mid-to-late 1700’s – and that wasn’t sitting quite right. Then, when my research into the Industrial Revolution went a bit too far down the rabbit hole and well into the 1800’s, I came across the early history of electric lighting – which, of course, became a central element of the plot and the story world. Building a Victorian-inspired setting from there, especially with a focus on the stage magic and vaudeville scenes, was just plain fun.

I was also, obviously, heavily inspired by Boston and its public parks. My personal map of the Oldtown Arboretum in the book is literally a traced-over and heavily rearranged version of the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain in Boston. I would walk by the Boston Public Garden at night and imagine the globes of the streetlamps powered by faerie lights. I love this city and its unique blend of old and new so much. I hope the fictional Skemantis is a fitting tribute.

Also, some of the coolest elements of the story world actually exist! The Moto-Manse, for example, is based on a Burning Man exhibition I found on Pinterest called the Neverwas Haul. It’s a thing!

Carmer and Grit are such wonderful heroes – and so perfect together. What drew you to writing these characters and what are your favorite things about each of them?

Thank you! Carmer and Grit were inspired by some of my favorite mystery-solving duos – all the way back from the original Holmes and Watson to today’s Joan and Sherlock on the show Elementary, Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural, and even Hiccup and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. I’m a firm believer in “platonic soulmates” – the one person out there who gets you, man, even if on paper, you may not have much in common. Carmer and Grit literally come from different worlds, but that doesn’t stop them from being a great team. In fact, it makes them better! I wanted to write a story about friends whose differences bring out the best in each other.

I love Carmer’s wry sense of humor and his determination to do the right thing, even if it’s uncomfortable or disadvantageous to him personally. I love Grit’s passion and impulsiveness – even when it gets her into trouble – and her frankness. I wish I could be as no-nonsense as she is!

There are so many interesting secondary characters in the book – from automata cats, to talking puppets, to the wonderful Antoine the Amazifier. Do you have a favorite?

The cats are my favorite, because my best friend hates them. Ha! Okay, let me explain: I was always convinced they were fun and creepy and different, even if they were pretty ridiculous, and she was like, “No, girl, just no,” but I kept them anyway. And I trust her opinion more than anyone’s in the world, but I kept them in anyway. And then not only did the book get published, but those creepy cats made it all the way to the cover! So that will be forever entertaining to me.

Your steampunk world is full of magic and science. Did you do any research while writing The Wingsnatchers? If so, what did you learn?

I did quite a bit of research! And then a lot of it got chucked out the window in service of the story, because magic is cool and I wanted to let magic be cool. Carmer would most definitely not approve. My major areas of research were the history of electric light and Victorian era stage magic and magicians. I obviously wasn’t concerned with writing a true historical fantasy, but I did try to play off the general “look and feel” and some of the driving social anxieties of the time.

The Wingsnatchers is Book One in the Carmer and Grit series. Can you give us any hints about what’s coming next and do you have any book recommendations for fans while we wait impatiently for the book two?

Well, I joked in my debut author group the other day that I was torn between two titles for book two: “Youths Flying Airships and Making Questionable Decisions” or “Everyone is a Little Bit Traumatized From the Events of Book One.” Does that count as a hint?

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend the wonderful The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, which just won the Newbery Medal. It is the perfect blend of magical and honest and complex-but-not-cynical.

Sarah Jean Horowitz author of The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit Book OneSarah Jean Horwitz is the author of the middle grade fantasy novel CARMER AND GRIT, BOOK ONE: THE WINGSNATCHERS and a member of the Boston Teen Author Festival organizing team. She loves storytelling in all its forms and holds a B.A. in Visual & Media Arts with a concentration in screenwriting from Emerson College. You can find her reading, writing, and occasionally dancing around like a loon throughout the Boston, MA area.


You can reach Sarah through her website or at one of these social media links:

Twitter: @sunshinejhwitz

Instagram: @sunshinejh

Facebook: sarahjeanbooks


Sarah is giving away one Advanced Reader Copy of The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One (US entries only, please).

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Patricia Bailey is the author of  the  middle-grade historical novel The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan (April 2017). She blogs here and at her website patriciabaileyauthorcom.