Meet Allison Saft.
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Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, Rae! Thank you so much for having me! I’m the author of Down Comes the Night, which is out in early 2021 with Wednesday Books. It’s a blend of YA fantasy and Gothic romance about two sworn enemies who must work together when a snowstorm traps them in a mysterious, crumbling estate. I’m inspired by real-world history and politics, vivid settings, and, honestly, anime. I was born in Philadelphia, but I’ve lived in Austin, New Orleans, and most recently, the California Bay Area. When I’m not writing, I’m usually hiking the redwoods, experimenting with new recipes, or practicing aerial silks.
Do you think your background in English Literature enhances or weakens your writing? Perhaps both?
When working within the conventions of a historical literary movement like the Gothic, I think a background in English Literature can be a huge boon! Gothic literature is more than just a flickering-candlelight aesthetic; understanding the economic and cultural factors that led to its popularity in the 19th century has been instrumental in telling a story that stays true to its roots while appealing to 21st-century readers.
I could see potential drawbacks to a literature background, too! When we treat novels as objects of study—as literary contraptions, as one professor of mine used to say—it can suck the joy out of them. Writing fiction, at least in the drafting stage, is a very emotional, intuitive, sometimes even spiritual practice for me; too much analysis can kill a project in its early stages. For what it’s worth, though, I think you can get roped into believing that all your academic friends will judge you if you write genre fic—or worse, young adult genre fic! But if you don’t respect what you’re working on, it won’t be any good. Besides, any friends who consider genre fic lesser aren’t worth listening to (and are missing out, honestly).
What kickstarted your writing journey and resulted in your debut, Down Comes the Night?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid in some form or another (mostly fanfiction…), but what really kickstarted my writing journey was a mentorship program called Author Mentor Match. Deadlines always motivate me, so I planned to rewrite a trunked project during NaNoWriMo 2017 and submit it to AMM in March 2018. By late November, I finished my rewrite. I printed it out, read it through, and immediately threw it in the garbage. It was entirely soulless—the book I thought I was supposed to write rather than a book I really cared about.
I didn’t have any other ideas, so I moped for about a week. Then I thought, well, what do I have to lose? Why not write something fun? Something that would capture the magic writing once had when I was a teenager with no ambitions for my work beyond entertaining my friends. Something romantic and dramatic and full of all the tropes I loved. I finished a draft of Down Comes the Night in about six weeks. I ended up getting into AMM with it, and the guidance, support, and feedback from my mentor and peers were invaluable as I revised and queried the book. I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and I still count on them today!
Name two things about Gothic literature that fascinate you.
Its relationship to the past—how it, by turns, expresses a longing to return to an unrecoverable time and stages hauntings from that which refuses to be left behind.
Its (sometimes hilariously) intense fixation on the emotional experience of the protagonist.
As a writer, what has been your biggest struggle when drafting, revising, and editing?
Drafting: I’m a fast drafter—meaning I like to hurtle through a skeletal “draft zero” before I double back and fill in the details. Finishing that draft zero means I’m usually pretty sure a plot works in execution, but it also means the book reads almost like a screenplay. In those really early drafts, it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine how a project will come together thematically and emotionally.
Revising: Since I draft the way I do, my first revision pass is basically… actually writing the book! That’s the hardest part, although it’s the most rewarding. From there, it’s all about ironing out the details, large and small. Revising Down Comes the Night nearly killed me a few times. It has an element of mystery, and it was hard to get right. Planning out the reveals, streamlining the investigation, cutting unnecessary red herring characters, making sure everyone’s motives were clear… Tears were shed!
Editing: The hardest thing about editing is learning to let go. I struggled with this during line edits for Down Comes the Night, and I’m struggling again during copyedits. I could tinker forever with line-level prose, but there comes a point when you have to cut yourself off and accept that you’ve done the best you can. That the book will just be different, not better, and you may do more harm than good if you start messing with things that don’t need messing with.
What makes the ideal monster?
I think a lot about “monster romances” and what makes them work. What does it mean for a character to be monstrous? What does it mean for a (physically) non-monstrous character to identify with the monster? To me, it’s notable that some of the most successful (in my opinion) monster romances are between human women who are marginalized in some way and monsters who are similarly, often wrongly, reviled. In Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, it’s significant that Miryem is Jewish—as significant as it is that her monstrous love interest, the Staryk King, rules over a fae-like people who are hated because they supposedly strike ruthless bargains and impoverish the kingdom in their endless quest for gold. It’s significant that the heroine of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a mute woman named Elisa Esposito in love with a creature stolen from a river in Brazil.
However, I also think there are monsters who are purely reprehensible. Those that embody the ugliness in society or are clearly some cultural fear made flesh. I like them, too.
- In terms of crumbly mansions, is there a real life mansion that you’ve visited or wanted to visit?
I’ve only ever been to the Newport mansions, which are stunning and ridiculous and the very opposite of crumbly. I’ve always wanted to see the real Allerdale Hall from Crimson Peak—but it turns out they built the entire set in the studio, which is wild to me!
What is the root of romance for you?
To me, a good romance has sizzling tension and also answers the question “why are these characters good for each other?” in a way that’s thematically satisfying.When I’m writing romance, I consider what the characters want and need individually—and how each character’s wants and needs both complement and complicate the other’s. I always try to write parallel character arcs for my romantic leads. Oftentimes, they both need the same thing; they’ve just developed different ways of coping with that lack and told themselves different stories about what exactly will make them happy.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
While Down Comes the Night doesn’t come out until next year, there are some really exciting books coming out in 2020! I can tell you from experience that Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald and The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman are absolutely fantastic. Some of my most-anticipated reads are Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Barshardoust, The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska, The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson, and A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe.