Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author Sara Raztresen about her writing and her soon-to-be released The Glass Witch, a dazzling fantasy romance that impresses with its originality, intriguing kingdoms, and a tantalizing romance. (Read the review here.)
Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, Christian witch, and graduate of Emerson College’s Popular Fiction and Publishing MFA program. She has had short stories, non-fiction, and poems published across several online literary magazines, and her debut novel, The Glass Witch, explores the personal themes that mark her own life: struggles of cultural identity, religious misinterpretation, and self determination.
As the daughter of an immigrant raised with one foot in two worlds, and a person drawn to all things mystical and strange, Sara draws on her cultural heritage and religious experiences, blending them with the fantasy of her work. Her writing is an attempt to explain the world she sees, deliver the insight she gathers, and discover how all the world’s pieces fit together.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I had a few that I loved. When I was really young, the Little Critter books were my favorite, but as I got to elementary school, it was the Deltora Quest series. That series felt like it was a million books long, but each one was so cool, and the gemstone belt that the main character wore and added to each book was definitely a jumping point to where I am now, with a box of gemstones sitting on my altar. Who doesn’t love a good shiny rock?
Other honorable mentions are absolutely the Warrior Cats series, Junie B. Jones books, and one book of The Last Apprentice that I’d just read out of order because I didn’t realize it was the fourth in the series: Curse of the Bane.
(I still accidentally buy books out of order now and again. It happens to the best of us, but unfortunately, I am not the best of us.)
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
Honestly, it was a pretty natural decision. I always loved books growing up; reading was exciting, with all kinds of stories letting us dive into new worlds that weren’t real and didn’t have to be real. They were just fun, and imagining all the things I was reading about was so cool. My own imagination was constantly in overdrive, as I was an only child with way too many imaginary friends a dad that loved to make up some pretty cool games. He’d turn a boring afternoon at home into an epic battle between an evil wizard and a fairy princess trying to find clues to save her kingdom. It was awesome.
But one day, I was playing around with my dad’s old typewriter and just started writing whatever came into my head. The very first thing I wrote was only a page long; it was about me, at maybe seven or eight years old, walking into the kitchen and finding some giant bug monster standing at the sink, all Franz Kafka The Metamorphasis style. That was it.
I let my dad read it, and he told me I’d done a good job. Had I actually done a good job? No. But it encouraged me to continue, and that’s when I learned that I could make up anything I wanted, imagine anything I had the brain to imagine, and bring it to life with nothing but words on paper.
How does your faith/ethics inform your writing?
So, as a Christian witch, this gets a little complicated. My books are by no means Christian fiction, yet they aren’t without any influence from my spiritual outlook, either.
Magic and faith are a part of my life, and so they’re a part of my writing. Injustice is a part of my world, and so it’s part of my writing. They’re all inherently linked, because as I combine Christian tradition (especially Catholic tradition) and folk magic, older beliefs that have stitched themselves into the world of our ancestors, it puts me in the space of being unafraid to explore what so many people tell us not to explore.
Some of my most heartfelt stories are about the things I just want to write in the clouds for all to see, or shout from the highest point of the world. Especially the people who use a religion like Christianity, one all about the uplifting of the oppressed and downtrodden, to exact more suffering on those very people it’s supposed to protect. These things I want to shout are about more than just religion, but nonetheless, a lot of the things I write about are based off the things I learn in my pursuit of truth and justice: things about my experiences engaging with my ancestors’ traditional southern Slavic culture, or the history we’ve tried to distort and erase to justify abusing one another, or spiritual ideas and experiences that I’ve fallen headfirst into—ones people often don’t, and don’t want to, understand.
Lots of tough philosophical pills wrapped in layer after layer of magic-soaked metaphor. That’s what my writing is, thanks to my odd expression of faith. That’s what produced The Glass Witch and many other books I have floating in my head or scrawled in a Word doc somewhere.
Tell us some more about your book.
The Glass Witch is a high fantasy about a woman caught between two cultures who is unfairly used by one king to try and kill another nation’s king at his own bridal competition.
On a continent where the four seasons are tied to each country’s traveling rulers, a Summer tragedy causes the Winter King to withhold his season from his neighbors—but without Winter, the other seasons can’t turn.
Aveline, a half-Summer, half-Winter pariah, has no place in her country. She’s mocked in Summer as The Glass Witch for her Wintry looks and magic, while Winter travelers always thought her a disturbing mutt. But when her emperor finds her barely surviving the endless Summer, he tells her that the mother she loves is dead—and it’s Winter’s fault. Only Aveline, the Summer woman with a Winter face, can end the seasonal standstill.
Vengeful, Aveline sneaks into Winter as a fake contestant in the king’s bridal competition to kill him, only for a failed Winter assassin to shatter her plans. Aveline is stuck unarmed in the castle, and worse, to stay competing while finding her plan B, she has to court the king in earnest. The question becomes how long can she pretend before her identity is discovered—and the seasons’ fate thrown into question.
What inspired the premise of this book?
As a Slovene-American born with one foot in two cultures, and whose mother was herself two times an immigrant (once from Slovenia to Germany, and once from Germany to America), this story now is a reflection of my and my mother’s experiences.
There’s always a sense of belonging-but-not-quite for my mother, where she’s an American until she has a critique of the country (and then she can go back to where she came from), where she’s a German until someone hears her maiden name (and then she’s just another person from the Balkans here in Germany to do the work no one wants to do), where she’s a Slovenian until someone hears her speak a language she left too soon to learn right (because she must not really be Slovenian, if she doesn’t really know the language). In her words, it’s like being a nomad: never really belonging anywhere, even in places she feels are home.
Likewise, I was born in a split world: outside my house was American, all boasting its freedom and singing the praise of the American Dream and all that. Inside my house was Slovenian, where we baked potica for every Easter, where my oma would come from Europe to stay with us three months out of the year and spoke no English, where we knew a world outside American borders and knew mindsets outside the more, more, more mentality American consumerism encourages. With these two mindsets smashed together, I, over time, became like my mother: too American to be accepted as anything other than a cosplayer of my own culture to Europeans, and too European to be understood by my American peers as I rejected what, to me, looked much more like an American nightmare.
In The Glass Witch, Aveline is half of two opposite cultures, and she can never escape it: not in the home she loved and lost, not in the foreign land she technically has a right to call hers, too.
What do you hope people will take away from this story?
Mainly, I hope people understand the nasty things that happen when you put all your eggs in one cultural basket and forget that your nation isn’t more or less important than any other. Nationalism is no joke, and it’s terrible to see an otherwise healthy pride and love for one’s culture and country fester into something that hurts innocent people—something that leaves no room for dissent and makes it somehow offensive to suggest that a country, no matter how much we love it, is never going to be perfect. Something that throws an international community into chaos because people would rather try and struggle alone than work together.
It’s also something I hope helps people reflect on the way cultures treat not only each other, but the people who are born between them. Ideas of never being x enough because of our y upbringing, ideas of never quite connecting anywhere because people shy away from our differences rather than celebrate our multiple perspectives, they’re real things people deal with. I’m very lucky that my mother’s people, the Slovenians, are generally more accepting of people with Slovenian ancestry no matter where they are, but even then, it’s not always easy—and my experience is certainly not everyone else’s when it comes to any acceptance at all.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I’m inclined to say not easily.
On the one hand, emotions are pretty much the basis for how we understand and process our experience. I’m the kind of goof that cries at literally every T.V. show, no matter what, because the second something sad (or happy, honestly) is happening, I immediately start thinking to myself, imagine how that feels? Imagine what this character must be thinking, why they’re reacting this way? What is causing them to react this way?
Strong emotions can be a sign of empathy, and empathy is something I think any writer should work on, because it’s how they imagine the honest reactions that their characters might go through. I mean, let’s be honest, no matter the genre, there are real concepts (like the struggle of finding place and identity between cultures) that will come up, and there are concepts that a writer may want to write about without having to personally experience. One needs to be able to have that level of empathy to really try and understand what someone else is going through. My parents never divorced or separated, for example, but I can imagine how Walter Jr. feels by watching his reactions in Breaking Bad.
At the same time, depending on what you’re writing, you might not have to put that much feeling into it. Maybe the story is written in a way where a disconnected narrator is telling the story of a whole civilization of people in a very matter-of-fact way that doesn’t require that level of emotional intimacy. That would work. But how long would it work before it got old? I don’t know. One would have to try it. I sure as hell won’t be trying it, though.
How many hours a day do you write?
I give myself three hours right at the start of my day, four days a week. I average about 6,000 words a week that way, which is a fine pace in my eyes.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A little bit of both. Especially if I take time off from writing, I’ll be itching to get back to it, and the words will just stream out. But sometimes, it is exhausting; it’s like juicing a lemon, the discarded husk being my brain after I’ve poured all my creativity out for the morning. But that’s why I write in the morning: if I try to write in the afternoon or evening, after a full day of work and everything else, I don’t get a damn thing done.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on the next book in The Glass Witch series, and I’m looking to continue expanding my audience, platforms, and most importantly, my messages. This book is a little piece of my heart out there in the world, and all the thoughts and ideas seared onto it—a product of a lot of work and passion and education—but even then, it’s not the only medium I use to say what I need to say or share what I want others to know.