Story of teen killer just blew up

Sarah J. Maas dabbled in fan fiction at 12, posted the beginnings of a novel online at 16 and has become a bestselling author at 30

Best-selling author Sarah J. Maas, who turned 30 this month, seems to have had a meteoric rise.

Her debut novel, Throne Of Glass, part of a young adult fantasy series of the same name, was published in 2012.

Four years later, her name dominates book charts worldwide.

Maas has released four of the series' planned six books - with a fifth book slated for publication this year - along with accompanying novellas to round off the tale of teenage assassin Celaena Sardothien.

But it has been a long journey - more pluck than luck - of more than a decade for Maas, who was born in New York City and now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband.

Young adult fiction writer Sarah J. Maas. A Court Of Thorns And Roses (above) is inspired by Beauty And The Beast and Queen Of Shadows is the latest book in her Throne Of Glass series, which follows a teenage assassin.

The writing bug bit at age 12 and she started off dabbling in fan fiction - anything from Harry Potter to Japanese anime Fushigi Yuugi. When she turned 16, she posted on the beginnings of an original piece of work, which would later become her sprawling Throne Of Glass series.

"My first real novel came out in 2012, but it's taken a really long climb to get there. We're actually coming up on the 14th anniversary since the idea for Throne Of Glass first sprouted," says Maas. "It's a long journey, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

She first found her footing online as a teenage writer posting stories on the Internet, bent over her computer screen late into the night.

It started off as a reimagining of a beloved fairy tale: Cinderella heads to the ball, not as a servant girl hoping for a dance with the prince, but as an assassin on a mission to kill him.

"I hoped that just one person would read the story. I was hungry for just a bit of feedback, but it kind of just blew up," says Maas.

"I had a flood of responses from people telling me they loved the first few chapters and could I write more? In high school, I was a total nerd. I was pretty invisible and to go from that during the day, and to come home and find reviews from people all over the world, saying my story meant something to them, really kept me going."

She continued updating the story until she was 22. By then, it had received more than 6,000 reviews and had catapulted to the top of FictionPress' most reviewed stories.

Young adult fiction writer Sarah J. Maas. A Court Of Thorns And Roses is inspired by Beauty And The Beast and Queen Of Shadows (above) is the latest book in her Throne Of Glass series, which follows a teenage assassin.

Maas, who had just graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where she majored in creative writing, then set her sights on getting her work published.

In 2008, she took a massive step: She pulled her story off FictionPress.

"That was scary because until that point, the online world that I had built with fans was kind of a key part of my life and my identity. I built who I was and what I wanted to be based on how I interacted with my friends and shared my stories with them," she says.

"I was scared that if I took the story offline, it would all go away. The fans would disappear and what if it never got published? What if it became just kind of a sad story that I'd tell people, about how I was sort of semi-famous on the Internet a long time ago?"

But she adds: "I decided I wanted to be published more than I was afraid of any of the what ifs and any of the things that could go wrong."

She spent about 11/2 years "gutting the entire series", removing characters and plotlines, and adding news ones.

She met with a handful of rejections and, in 2010 - when Maas was just 24 - Throne Of Glass was sold to Bloomsbury.

The publisher would go on to buy the other novels in the series, which was last year optioned for television by Mark Gordon Company, the studio responsible for Grey's Anatomy.

Maas also juggles other projects. She has a second series, A Court Of Thorns And Roses, in the works.

Inspired by Beauty And The Beast, it follows 19-year-old Feyre, who is separated from her family by Tamlin, a faerie who can turn into a beast.

The first book was published last year and is poised to make its leap to the silver screen.

The next book comes out in a few months' time.

She also works on The Starkillers Cycle, an ongoing space opera she uploads on micro- blogging platform Tumblr with fellow writer and friend Susan Dennard.

These, says Maas, were a way to help her get through the publishing process - riddled with long spans of downtime as manuscripts were edited and books printed.

"I sound like a workaholic, but I'm the laziest person in the world, except when it comes to writing," she says. "With homework at school, I'd be like 'Eh, whatever.' But, every night without fail, I'd write, write, write."

Her mother, she recalls, would leave snacks outside her bedroom, which she would find only when she emerged from her room in the wee hours of morning, after a night of writing.

"My parents are my No. 1 fans, which is adorable, but also embarrassing. I wish my family wouldn't read my stuff," says Maas with a laugh. "Especially with A Court Of Thorn And Roses, which has a little more mature content. I've told them they can't read the second book because I won't be able to look them in the eye."

Maas, who gave talks at schools on her visit last week as part of Words Go Round, the Singapore Writers Festival's outreach programme for schools and the community, said she met students in Singapore who told her about their writing projects, from works of fantasy to contemporary fiction.

"These days, there are so many online forums and websites for aspiring writers to share their work that you're not really trapped in a bubble anymore," she says.

"There are people out there who will read your stuff. And that's kind of how I got my confidence as a writer. So it's like a wonderful development that was just beginning when I was a teenager and has now become this full-fledged enormous, environment."

Maas is not the only writer who cut her teeth with fan fiction. Others, such as The Mortal Instruments' Cassandra Clare and Jaida Jones of the epic fantasy Havemercy, have also been involved in fan fiction.

"I've always thought fan fiction is a wonderful way for aspiring writers to learn how to write and to find their own voice. Learning how to play in another writer's sandbox is a great way to build your own set of tools and learn about the ins and outs of writing," says Maas.

"Writing fan fiction was a huge part of me learning how to build a world, take characters and tropes and spin them. It's amazing now that there's Throne Of Glass fanfic out there. That is so full circle."

It is now an exciting time for young adult fantasy. For one thing, there is growing diversity beyond the "traditional European fantasy", says Maas, highlighting Roshani Chokshi's upcoming The Star- Touched Queen, inspired by Indian mythology.

Then, there is the growing prominence of women in fantasy - both as authors and as characters of heft.

"It's not just about writing strong female protagonists as physically capable women. It's about strong writing for women. Writing women who can have different types of strengths. Women who can be physically weak, women who can be pretty and own that beauty, women who can be ugly and are perfectly fine with that," says Maas.

"Different types of women who feel like people, who aren't being pushed into boxes. Every day, we're pushing the envelope and saying, 'We're not this and you can't put us into these boxes.'

"I love that young adult fantasy shows that there are no limits to anything young women can do."

  • A Court Of Thorns And Roses, the first book in the series of the same name, and the latest book in Sarah J. Maas' Throne Of Glass series, Queen Of Shadows, are available from Books Kinokuniya at $17.66 each.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Story of teen killer just blew up'. Subscribe