Author Interview: Sasha Peyton Smith
Sasha Peyton Smith is an author who currently resides in Washington, D.C. I talked to her about her writing process, her upcoming novel and what inspirations she had in creating her story. Her YA historical fantasy novel The Witch Haven comes out this fall! Check the DC Public Library catalog for her book in our collection at that time.
Like any teenager in the early 2000s with a Tumblr account, I wrote a lot of terrible poetry and hid it in folders on my parents’ desktop computer. I started writing in earnest in high school when I was both the copy editor of my school’s literacy magazine and the self-appointed newspaper horoscope writer (they were…questionably accurate). I honestly spent a long time in denial that I wanted to be a writer at all. I thought of myself as a very practical person, but writing didn’t seem like a very practical dream. In college, I majored in biology, but when I wasn’t in lab, I was alone in my room secretly writing fanfiction. Fanfiction gave me my first taste of what it was like to write for an audience, and knowing people wanted to see more of my stories gave me the confidence to try writing something original. Even then, I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to do this as a career. I wrote The Witch Haven mostly in secret during my free time in grad school. At the time, everyone else I knew who was a writer had known they wanted to be a writer their whole lives, and I often felt like I was starting from behind. But I’m glad I took the time to explore all the things that interested me. And now I know authors who are also lawyers, scientists, teachers, etc. There’s no single path to a writing career, and that’s one of my favorite things about it.
How do you get out of a writing slump?
Back when I was first writing The Witch Haven, it was a project just for me, so I could write whenever I felt inspired and take breaks when I didn’t. Now that this is my job, I have to find ways to keep myself motivated and force myself to write, even if the words feel difficult that day. I try to set reasonable goals, even 100 words is still progress, and I often remind myself that the real magic is in the editing. Everyone’s first drafts look terrible, and learning to stop expecting perfection from myself has been huge for my productivity. I also think of reading as part of my job now. It’s easy to forget what words can do when you’re stuck in your own head for so long. Picking up a new book and getting lost in someone else’s world reminds me why I love books in the first place.
I’ve always loved reading young adult fantasy, which is why I chose to write it, but I find it difficult to read in my own genre now. I can’t figure out how to turn my own brain off, I’m always trying to dissect the books I’m reading. I feel like I should be taking notes on them. It’s terrible! Reading outside the genre I write has helped me learn how to enjoy reading again. Lately, I’ve loved reading romances like the Ravenels Series by Lisa Kleypas and adult thrillers like My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell and When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. Even though I read a lot less of it now, YA Fantasy will always be my first and truest love.
There’s a line in the book that reads “to be a witch is to have power in a world where women have none.” The Witch Haven is a book about power and the question of who gets to have it, more than anything. Magic just happens to be a very useful metaphor for power. 1911 was a deeply strange, transitory time regarding what it meant to be a woman in America. The suffragette movement was starting in earnest, but so much of it was still very much rooted in classism and racism. With the Industrial Revolution in full swing, women were working outside the home for the first time en masse, but still had very little in the way of financial or social freedom. To take my main character, and give her literal magic in a world that still wants to keep her small and quiet created an interesting conflict to explore.
I listened to the soundtracks to The Village, Far From the Madding Crowd, and Atonement on a loop while writing this book, but if this book sounds like any one thing, I hope it’s the song Arsonist’s Lullaby by Hozier. Libba Bray’s incredible novel A Great and Terrible Beauty was the first book I ever read where I saw teenage girls get to be complicated and power-hungry. Every single one of her books peels my soul like an orange and makes me discover something new about myself. As for movies, I tried to capture the feeling of films like Crimson Peak, Never Let Me Go, and Rebecca, which all involve the strange claustrophobic feeling of being some place that is supposed to save you, but finding out it’s a prison instead. I also love the tv show The Magicians, which took a lot of the classic magic school tropes and turned them on their head. I’ve always loved media that looks and feels sparkly and exciting, but has an undeniable undercurrent of dread and strangeness.