Heya, book nerds!
REIGN OF THE FALLEN was published in January 2018 by Razorbill Books (Penguin).
Check out the chilling synopsis:
Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised—the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.
A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead—and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?
In addition to weaving YA fantasy stories, this Richmond, VA native also writes picture books. Her previously published YA fantasy, FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, follows a witch’s apprentice as she tries to discover what ancient evil beneath the sea is luring villagers to their death (published by Sky Pony Press).
Q&A with Sarah Glenn Marsh,
Author of REIGN OF THE FALLEN
MEG LATORRE: Thanks so much for joining us today! To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you begin your journey as a writer? What do you do in your free time?
SARAH GLENN MARSH: Hi there! I’m Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, REIGN OF THE FALLEN, and several forthcoming picture books including SELFIE SEBASTIAN and A CAMPFIRE TAIL. I started writing when I was really little—small storybooks in an attempt to convince my parents to adopt a dog for me, and went on to develop my skills by constantly playing Elendor—a collaborative, real-time Lord of the Rings roleplaying game that was all about writing stories with original characters based in Tolkien’s world—throughout my teens and early twenties. It taught me a ton about setting, character, and how to create fun story problems. At university, I earned my Master of Science in early childhood education and loved reading to students of all ages throughout my student teaching experiences.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, while I was searching for jobs, that I began to pursue publication seriously with a big push and heaps of support from my husband, who has always believed in me (even when I don’t!). In my free time, my favorite things to do are play video games (hi, fellow Fallout 4 fans!) and spend time with my zoo—my four rescue dogs, three birds, and my many fish.
MEG: What inspired the story of REIGN OF THE FALLEN?
SARAH: The idea for REIGN OF THE FALLEN was inspired by my grandmother’s stay in the hospital; thankfully, she’s fine now, but the situation got me thinking: how far would someone be willing to go to bring a loved one back from the dead? What sort of sacrifices would someone make in order to bring an important person back into their lives, and what consequences might that decision have? Those questions led me to the Greek mythological hero Orpheus, who attempts to rescue his wife from the underworld and is told by Hades that he can take her back to the living world as long as he doesn’t look at her until they’re both out of his realm. Spoiler alert: he takes a peek and loses her forever. Drawing from that mythology, as well as researching rituals surrounding death from around the world, helped me to start building the world of REIGN OF THE FALLEN, where the Dead must wear shrouds in the living world or else become monsters; where change of even the smallest sort is outlawed because the Dead fear it; where entering the spirit world demands a painful sacrifice of any living person who dares to go there.
MEG: Raising nobles from the dead is a super intriguing world-building element in your story. Why do nobles want to be brought back from the Deadlands? Do they continue to rule and carry on as they did prior to death? What bodies do they inhabit (if any)?
SARAH: The nobles want to be brought back so that they can continue to rule exactly as they did before, to stay with their families, and to have their power and wealth—status symbols that don’t exist in the spirit world. They are brought back by necromancers to their original bodies, which are masked and shrouded, so it doesn’t really matter how much they’ve decayed!
MEG: What, would you say, is one of the coolest aspects of this book?
SARAH: One of my favorite aspects of REIGN is that the spirits use the Victorian language of flowers (flower symbolism) to communicate messages from their world, the Deadlands, to the living world by making flowers bloom in cemeteries. Necromancers check the cemeteries and interpret + pass along the messages. I love the idea of spirits influencing our world this way, by making things grow, and the language/symbolism behind flowers has always fascinated me personally.
MEG: What was the writing of REIGN OF THE FALLEN like? How long were you working on the manuscript? Did you encounter any challenges (plot, characters, world-building, or otherwise) during the editing process?
SARAH: I’m not one of those people who works in multiple drafts; instead, I’m a perfectionist who edits as she goes! I worked on the world building for REIGN for months before actually writing the story. I had things mapped out to the point that once I started to draft, it only took me about two months to complete the 90,0000-ish manuscript and have it pretty much edited and ready to query. I’d say the most challenging thing about drafting this book was that Odessa goes to a really dark place in this novel, and I had to go there with her and not hold back so as to do her story justice.
MEG: Is there a single scene or aspect of the book that you love or that sticks out to you?
SARAH: I have two favorite scenes, which I can’t really discuss because of spoilers, but I’ll say that they are: 1) the archery scene and 2) the last Deadlands visit Odessa makes in the story.
As for an aspect of the book that I love, I really enjoy the eye color magic system in the book. I wanted a system of magic that felt organic. In REIGN, each person’s eye color allows them to see a unique aspect of the world (for instance: healers see ailments inside the body and all have hazel eyes), and this determines what type of magic they can do. I like this because their magic is something they are born with, so it feels more natural, and it’s also something they can’t change—which fits in nicely with themes in the book!
MEG: How has the reception of REIGN OF THE FALLEN been thus far?
SARAH: I try not to look, in all honesty, for my mental health. :) However, it did receive a *star* from School Library Journal, which was the proudest moment of my life. I ran to show my Nana, who I was with at the time, and she was so thrilled. It was a really special moment. My mom ran out to the store and got champagne, my husband was so happy—it was just the best day, getting that validation from a publication I respect. I’ve also had some wonderful messages from friends and strangers alike who have enjoyed the book, and I deeply appreciate every single one of them!
MEG: As you know, many readers are also writers. Could you give us a glimpse into your writing process? Do you have a daily routine or rituals you swear by?
SARAH: I do have a routine! I work best in the mornings, so I turn off all social media and put my phone face-down just out of reach (I still want to be able to hear it in case of emergencies). I sit in my dining room, at the table, and since I’ve done this so often, my brain is trained to know that when I sit down in there with the laptop, it’s Work Time! I can usually get in 2-3K on a focused day when I need to be drafting if I sit in there, only getting up to take walking breaks, have lunch, etc. What I like to do is draft during the day, and then at night after dinner, while we’re relaxing with a TV show or something, I’ll read over what I’ve written and edit the crap out of it right away. The next day, while I have my coffee but before I start drafting, I’ll read over what I wrote the day before one more time for good measure, and this helps me to more easily pick up the thread of where I left off the previous day.
MEG: For the aspiring authors reading this, what was the traditional publishing process like? In what areas were you, as the author, actively involved? How long was the process from start to finish?
SARAH: REIGN sold fairly quickly, and once I spoke to my editor on the phone, I immediately knew Razorbill was the right home for my books and the type of stories I like to tell. It just fits me. I had a little involvement in giving input on the cover and helped come up with my own preorder campaign, but mostly the nature of my involvement in the publishing process remained on the story! The process took about two years from the time I got the book deal to actual publication day—in fact, exactly two months shy of two years! I think that’s pretty standard, although it may not seem that way since different publishers like to announce their deals at various times in the process.
MEG: Do you have any recommendations for writers currently seeking literary representation?
SARAH: Yes! If you’re getting a lot of requests and the results are always rejections, it’s an issue with your pages. If you aren’t getting many requests, you need to amp up your query letter. Make sure your query has comp titles (no more than two-three years old) so you can demonstrate to agents that you understand where your story fits in the current market. Also, try posting your query letter on websites like Agent Query Connect, which has a query critiquing forum! You’ll learn a lot from users there, and if you critique for others on the site—which I would encourage you to do—you’ll learn a lot about what makes a good query from that as well. Lastly, remember that agents are mostly kind, well-meaning, overworked humans who may take a while to get back to you, and have patience with them/always be polite. On the flip side, some agents are not the best for you and your career, so when you start to receive offers of rep, make sure you ask the tough questions when you get on the phone with prospective agents. Do your research and vet the agents’ sales records, making sure they sell to the types of places where you’d like to see your work. Be informed and have your own best interests at heart—don’t just jump on the first offer that comes along, because while it could be great, doing so could also end in heartbreak and set your career back.
MEG: What is one thing you wish you knew before starting your journey as a writer?
SARAH: You are your own best advocate. Not your agent, not your editor (no matter how much they love you!). Never be afraid to speak up and express your needs along the journey, at any stage.
MEG: In your experience, what is the best thing about being a writer?
MEG: Do you have other manuscripts coming down the pipeline that we can keep an eye out for?
SARAH: Most definitely! Namely, the REIGN OF THE FALLEN sequel (title to be announced soon!) will be out next year. This spring, in March and May, my first two picture books (SELFIE SEBASTIAN and A CAMPFIRE TAIL, respectively) will be released, and I’m really excited about those as well!
Thanks so much again to Sarah for joining us today!
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If you’d like to purchase REIGN OF THE FALLEN, copies of the book are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound. And, if you’ve read REIGN OF THE FALLEN and loved it, be sure to leave a review!