Sarah J. Maas — the “J” stands for Janet, you’re welcome — is a veteran world builder. Not only has she single-handedly created universes for her three best-selling fantasy series (including the Throne of Glass juggernaut, which just hit the children’s series list for its 50th week), Maas is also developing Court of Thorns and Roses for Hulu and has co-founded a human family in real life. Its youngest members and a mouthy dog were audible in the background of a phone interview in which the author talked about what it’s like to work in a writers’ room after years of toiling alone.
“I decided I wanted to be heavily involved in the TV show adaptation process because it just seemed like a new creative mountain for me to climb,” Maas said. “It’s a whole different way of telling stories, bringing them to life, and a whole different way of seeing my characters.”
The logistics sound grueling. For four hours a day (including a scant 10-minute break), Maas meets several writers, a showrunner and Ron Moore, the creator of “Outlander” — “I’ve finally reached the point where I’m no longer calling him Mr . Moore,” she laughed — on Zoom. After that, she turns to editing for her third Crescent City novel. By 6:30 pm, she’s putting her children to bed. By 7 pm, Maas said, “I have my PJs on.” (Can you blame her?)
Although Maas still writes her books in Microsoft Word, she is dazzled by the “cool, intense” Disney technology that allows her team to lay out story cards and character arcs digitally. “It was a crash course,” she said. “My 90-year-old grandmother is actually more tech savvy than I am.” In addition to the virtual whiteboard she uses with her team, Maas said, “I actually bought myself a physical whiteboard that I keep next to my desk so I can write things out and see it all in person, right in front of me. Which I’m sure makes me a bit of a dinosaur.”
So what’s it like to welcome outsiders to a realm that was born in her imagination? Maas enjoys getting to see her story through different sets of eyes and focusing on characters and story lines that might not necessarily be the ones she’d paid attention to in the past. When asked about the weirdest thing that’s happened in the writers’ room, Maas didn’t miss a beat: “Aside from my 4-year-old son running back and forth naked in the background?”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”