Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Interview with Sara B. Larson, author of DEFY

I am excited about today’s interview for a bunch of reasons! Sara B. Larson is not only a friend, and an editor mate, but also a debut author, and you will be able to say you knew her from the beginning. Beyond that, her YA fantasy, DEFY, is fantastic, with romance, action, and some heart-stopping intrigue. It has been named to the Winter `14 Indies Next list and was Scholastic’s featured book at the prestigious 2013 Winter Institute.

From Goodreads: Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

Thank you for having me! I’m so glad you enjoyed DEFY! (Especially since I’m such a huge fan of your books. Seriously, they are amazing.)

No, thank you. Mutual author love, right? Okay, on to some questions…

Sara, readers always want to know where the idea for the story came from. What prompted you to write DEFY?

DEFY came from a very difficult period in my life, when I lost someone I loved. I was so upset by his death that I couldn’t write anything, but a friend of mine told me to stop trying to write a book and just write what I was feeling. So that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and wrote a scene, not intending for it to go anywhere…but then I got curious about the characters. This whole fascinating world unraveled itself and I realized Alexa had a very intriguing, difficult, but ultimately amazing story that needed to be told. I threw myself into that writing and from there the story took on its own life. It became a story of survival and moving forward, a story of what true courage and strength is, and a story about the many different kinds of love, and hope (even in the most desperate of situations) and risking everything for the chance of a better future.

I really loved how tough Alexa was, but at the same time, she retains a vulnerable feminine core. How did you strike that balance in her character?

Alexa is a very complex, fascinating character, and I absolutely loved writing her story. She is a very tough, strong, and determined young woman. She’s incredibly talented at fighting—and she’s worked extremely hard to reach that level of skill. Alexa has dealt with some horrible losses and situations in her life, but she’s always done what she had to do to protect herself from the horrific fate orphan girls in Antion face. Instead of just surviving, she earns a place for herself on the prince’s guard. However, that’s not the only side to her personality—the tough, fighting machine. Though she’s pretending to be a boy, buried deep down beneath her façade she’s still very much a girl, and as some events in DEFY occur, her feminine core, as you put it (which I like a lot!), begins to break out a bit more. I’ve never believed that being a girl, with tender emotions and hormones and everything else that comes with it, is a weakness. I think it’s part of what makes us wonderful, beautiful, and strong in our own way. A big part of this story is Alexa’s journey to find the balance between the person she’s portrayed herself to be, and who she truly is, and finding out what real strength and courage is—as her true self. Finding that balance between a tough warrior (which she is) and a vulnerable girl with confusing feelings and emotions (which she also is) was interesting and at times tricky. But I tried to stay true to her voice in my head, especially as she went through the different challenges facing her.  

Without giving away spoilers, do you have a favorite scene from the book? Something you keep turning back to as you revisit the pages?

Oh boy, there are so many scenes in this book that I love. I love writing the scenes where she’s kicking some serious butt, or scenes with fast moving dialogue and action. But there is one that comes to mind that isn’t TOO spoilery. I’m definitely a big sucker for romance; I love a scene with some awesome tension. I’d have to say one of my favorite scenes to write was a certain one in a tent…when she’s literally stuck between two pretty dang attractive men and the awkwardness and tension that arose from that situation. I’m not going to lie, that scene was pretty fun to write.

You’ve had an up and down road on the way to publication. What did you learn from that process that helps you now as an author?

Yes, it was quite the road to get here. I think what I learned is to never give up and to never lose sight of the real reason you’re doing this—because you love to write. Because you can’t NOT write. (At least, that’s how I feel about it.) When bumps in the road come along, I always go back to that. I’m so incredibly blessed to be doing what I love, to have finally made my life-long dream come true, and that is amazing, even if it’s also hard at times. It’s taught me to be grateful for any success I have, no matter how big or small. (It might just be getting another chapter written on a particularly crazy day!)

Finally, what are you working on now? (Please say it’s Book 2!) Can you give us any hints about it?

You’re in luck—I am indeed in revisions with my amazing editor, Lisa Sandell, for the sequel to DEFY. Hmmm, not sure what hints I can give, except that in DEFY, we see a fairly limited view of Alexa’s world, because it’s from her point of view, and she has a pretty limited knowledge of what’s going on. But in the sequel, that view begins to crack open, expanding and bringing in much more information about what’s really going on in Antion, Dansii, and Blevon (the three kingdoms in DEFY), and of course there’s even more fighting, kissing, twists and political intrigue to hopefully keep you flipping pages!

And quick answers here:

Oh man, I’m so bad at these, because I’m so indecisive! Okay, I’ll try.
Beach or Mountains? Ooh, tough because I love them both SO much. But I’m going to go with beach. There’s nothing better than laying out in the sun with a great book and the ocean in the background.

Dessert You Can’t Refuse? A really amazing brownie sundae. Or fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Or anything with caramel. I just really love dessert. (See, I told you I stink at this, ha!)

Craziest Item on Your Bucket List? I’ve always wanted to go to Africa as a volunteer to help with medical aid. But because I didn’t finish my nursing degree I’ve adjusted that dream to at least go on a safari someday, and maybe visit the Congo or Amazon, because jungles fascinate me (in a terrifying sort of way). (Obviously, if you’ve read DEFY.) And maybe I could still volunteer in a different way.

Book on Your Nightstand Right Now? I’m beta reading an amazing book by my very talented friend and agent sister, Kathryn Purdie, and I’ve got two ARCs that I’m dying to start…FIRE & FLOOD and a certain third book in a certain amazing series…!

If you want to learn more about Sara, visit her website here. You can also read more about DEFY on Goodreads here. And if you decide to buy a copy for yourself, please support indie bookstores first!


Jennifer Nielsen is the NYT Bestselling author of The Ascendance Trilogy. The final book, THE SHADOW THRONE, will be released by Scholastic in February 2014. Read about it here or visit Jennifer's website here.


  1. I so loved that Alexa is strong but vulnerable too. Defy is such a great book. So excited for Sara. And her road to publication is so inspiring. She elaborated even more in an interview with me. She's inspiring me to persist and keep writing and hopefully query one of these days.

  2. Fantastic interview. Defy sounds like a really great read. Now I'm off to read about Sara's road to publication. Thanks for this!

  3. DEFY was a beautifully written and absolutely addicting story, with exceptionally complex characters, forbidden romance, and a wonderfully dangerous setting that makes for an unforgettable adventure, that I know I will relive again and again for a very long time!

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