Part 1 of my interview with the lovely Sally Slater, author of the #1 Amazon best selling YA fantasy, Paladin. Find out more about Sally’s writing, Paladin, and her thoughts on creating a strong female protagonist.
Tell us a little about yourself please
By day, I’m a twenty-something professional in marketing and public relations. In the wee hours of the night, I’m a writer of fantasy and an occasional blogger for sites like The Huffington Post. I’m also a CrossFit addict and managed to sneak in a strongman scene into my debut novel, Paladin. If I’m going to write about kickass heroines, I want to be kickass too.
What books did you like to read when you were growing up?
I went through a brief period where I was obsessed with American classics like Pollyanna, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, but for the most part, I only read novels in the fantasy genre. Not surprisingly, my favourite books were those that starred strong female protagonists – books by authors like Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley and Anne McCaffrey. Those were the books that made me believe I could be strong and powerful when I grew up.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Nope! From age nine to 19, I dreamed of starring in musical theatre productions on Broadway. All of my free time was spent in voice lessons and rehearsals.
It took a college professor telling me in no uncertain terms to pursue writing for me to start thinking about writing seriously. I remember exactly what he told me: “If you don’t find a way to write in your career, you’ll be miserable for the rest of my life.” Still, it wasn’t until I discovered Wattpad that I began writing stories in earnest.
Paladin is a young adult fantasy adventure with a healthy dollop of romance. The daughter of a duke, Lady Samantha – “Sam” – of Haywood isn’t interested in following the typical noblewoman’s path. A tragic accident prompts her to run away from her home in Haywood and join the Paladins, the kingdom’s most elite warriors. But there’s a hitch: the Paladins only accept men. Disguised as a boy, Sam trains under a young Paladin who once saved her life but has yet to recognize her, along with a half-demon boy named Braeden. The story is very much a journey of self-discovery as Sam learns how to balance her dreams of fighting with her identity as a woman.
How did the idea for Paladin originate?
I always hear stories about authors who have had stories floating around in their heads for years or decades before they put their pen to paper. Paladin wasn’t like that for me. The ideas behind Paladin are really what pulled the story together. As a reader, I have always wanted to see more multidimensional female protagonists in the fantasy genre. And instead of waiting around for somebody else to write one, I decided to write on myself.
Did you always have a clear idea about Sam’s character and what you wanted her to represent? In creating her were you reacting against things you’ve read / seen in terms of the portrayal of young women? Or did she just “turn out that way?”
Yes, Sam’s character was clear to me from the beginning. My goal was to create a heroine that was realistic but still inspiring—a smart, strong lady who was fallible. I made her intelligent and physically strong because those are the traits I personally value, but I wanted to balance that with emotional vulnerability. That isn’t to say she’s a pushover. Frankly, I’m sick of all the female protagonists who for whatever reason can’t be decisive, whether it’s about their love lives or something else. While some readers might see Paladin as having a love triangle, I really don’t. Yes, there are two men who she spends a lot of time with, so she could conceivably fall in love with either one of them. But she only ever develops romantic feelings towards one—and doesn’t allow that romance to rule her life.
How difficult was it to walk the line between romance and action in the novel? Did you find yourself getting carried away with either and having to rein in those arcs at any point?
One of my guilty pleasures is smutty romance—the kind with shirtless men on the covers and X-rated scenes. My mother has an entire romance library (1,000+ books) so I blame her for my deviance. The books were there so of course I had to read them…and then I got addicted.
So while the majority of books I’ve read are in the fantasy genre, all the romance I’ve read affects how I think about writing. When you’re writing a YA book and all you’ve read is adult romance, it’s hard! Romance scenes come really easily to me, but I have to make sure I don’t cross over into adult romance territory. I also didn’t want romance to be the main plot – Paladin is about Sam finding herself – so I definitely had to resist the impulse to throw in more heavy romance scenes.
How much planning did you do for the novel? How long did it take to write?
I started off writing Paladin with zero planning – and learned that was a huge mistake about 15 chapters in, when I got stuck with the plot. I had to go back and take a few months off to focus on putting together a thorough outline before I could continue with writing. I also ended up doing a fair amount of research on the medieval era (the time period during which Paladin is loosely based) and fighting methods.
The first draft took me about a year-and-half. Getting it fully revised, edited and published took another two-and-a-half years, with a few starts and stops along the way.
Do you have a favourite writing spot?
I live in a stereotypical New York City apartment, which means it’s teeny tiny. I don’t have a proper writing desk or anything like that. Most of the time I write in my bedroom, flopped diagonally on the bed. It’s not the most romantic place to write, but it’s comfortable!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t be scared to share your writing. The easiest way to get better is to let people read and respond to your work. I think a lot of new writers are scared of criticism, but criticism is an essential part of writing, especially in the early stages of developing a book.
Next Week: Part 2 of my interview with Sally. We discuss her writing journey on Wattpad and get her tips on using it effectively.