Saturday, November 14, 2015

Interview with Sarah Stafford Author of The Handmaiden of Death

Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

A:  My father’s job took us to Europe quite frequently, giving me the unique opportunity to explore old ruins, castles, and palaces – experiences that heavily influenced my early years. As a result, I became fascinated by the past and the indescribable sense of ‘otherness’ one experiences when visiting such places. My mother’s proclivity for old horror movies further added to my growing interest in all things dark and macabre – an obsession that remains with me to this day.

What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?

A:  Vampires have always fascinated me because they represent the darkness lurking inside all of us while at the same time embodying the eternal struggle between life and death.

What inspired you to write this book?

A: My book was inspired by a story I wrote in high school about a teenage girl whose parents were murdered by drug dealers. Initially, the story began with Amber being rescued after her apartment is set on fire in an effort to cover up her family’s murder, but that scenario opened the door to too many legalistic and technical issues that I simply didn’t feel prepared to tackle at the time. I shelved the story for many years but couldn’t stop imagining how my characters might feel or react in particular situations. I finally revisited the story in my late twenties, jotting down notes and ideas, until five years ago – when I sat down at the keyboard and never looked back.

Please tell us about your latest release.

A: The last two installments of the Dark Angel Trilogy are scheduled for release in both e-book and paperback format in October, 2016.

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

A: Yes, I use a combination of those techniques when thinking up character names. In the case of the main character, I wanted a contemporary girls’ name referencing eye color but all the options were simply too dated – i.e. Violet, Hazel, Beryl, etc. – so I finally decided on Amber. In the case of my protagonist, my choices were leaning toward very British, stoic-sounding names such as Edward, William, and Richard (I was writing in the pre-Twilight days) however, changes to his back story resulted in a name that represented his past as well as his defining characteristic: Fortis is Latin for ‘strong.’

Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

A: Absolutely! Fortis was by far the most difficult to write because I didn’t want him to come off as arrogant and snobbish. He needed to be the typical strong-and-silent-type, distant but not inaccessible, confident but not aloof, strong but gentle in a paternalistic sort of way.

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

A: I’d have to say that Amber’s four friends were by far the most enjoyable characters to write. They sprung to life from a combination of my own high school friends as well as current acquaintances.

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

A: Yes, I always create a profile for each character that I gradually ‘flesh out’ during the brainstorming process, including traits and defining characteristics, while allowing any subtle quirks and flaws to present themselves during the actual writing, itself.

What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

A: My favorite scene takes place toward the end of the book and involves Amber sneaking off to meet Fortis in a very public place and the confrontation that ensues. It was arguably the most technically challenging to write in the sense that it needed to be quick, in-the-moment, and not bogged down by heavy description.

Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?

A: I’m a history major who genuinely enjoys doing research. During the developmental stages of writing The Handmaiden of Death, I spent considerable time combing through online archives and dusty old libraries for accurate information on the legal issues pertaining to my story as well as my character’s back-story, discovering numerous interesting facts that I put to good use.

What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?

A: I downloaded the entire manual of standardized procedures used by Children’s Protective Services agents in the state of Michigan.

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

A: Perhaps the only major difference was creating a microcosm of sorts around the main character and protagonist in which their version of reality was somewhat less gritty and raw than what most typical people experience on a daily basis.

With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?

A: Aside from the final book, each installment of the Dark Angel Trilogy can be read as an independent story.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?

A: Each character in the story embodies different aspects of myself to varying degrees, although I’d have to say Amber is closest to me personality-wise at that age.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

A: I haven’t dealt with ‘writer’s block’ in the traditional sense because I’ve been more or less living inside my characters’ heads for quite some time. My closest equation to writer’s block would be occasionally having difficulty deciding where in the scene to begin/end or how to describe a setting while keeping my narrative concise and succinct. I handle situations like these by stepping away from the keyboard and taking a short break so I’m able to come back and approach the problem with a clear head.

Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?

A: I’m an extremely visual person, and because of this, I tend to work alone and in an area where I can minimize distractions as well as help get myself in the right mindset for writing whatever scene I’m working on that particular day. For example, I tend to write darker scenes at night and lighter, happier scenes during the day.

Do you write in different genres?

A: Yes, I’ve written some dark erotica short stories and horror that doesn’t involve supernatural beings.

Do you find it difficult to write in multiple genres?

A: I’m comfortable writing anything that leans toward the darker aspects of life, however, I can’t say I’d ever consider tackling a cozy mystery or a piece of commercial women’s fiction.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

A: There’s an ongoing argument in the writing community that only authors who’ve received large advances from major publishers can legitimately refer to themselves as ‘authors’ and ‘writers.’ I feel this is incredibly jaded and believe that anyone who feels truly passionate about sharing his/her story with the world is a writer – regardless of whether they’ve been tapped by one of the Big Five.

What are your guilty pleasures in life?

A: Starbucks, Halloween decorations, and things that sparkle.

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

A: I’ve been an avid enthusiast of the Renaissance faire scene since I was a little girl. I taught myself how to sew after my father said, “If you want another costume, you’re going to have to make it yourself.” Since then, I’ve made numerous pieces of elaborate, historically-accurate garb which I enjoy wearing each summer at the local festival in Holly, Michigan.
What was the last amazing book you read?

A: I’ve only now just gotten around to reading the entire Harry Potter series from start to finish and absolutely loved it.

I tend to refrain from reading current books while I am working on my own novels in order to avoid any hint of plagiarism or cross-inspiration. I’m planning on reading the Hunger Games series once I’ve finished my current writing projects.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

A: In a big, soft armchair with a cup of tea.

What can readers expect next from you?

A: Once I’ve released the final installment of the Dark Angel Trilogy, I’ve got plans for a non-supernatural YA horror novel also set in my home state of Michigan.

Where can readers find you on the web?

A: Readers can find me on all major media platforms:
Facebook (/authorsarahstafford)
Twitter (@DetroitGothic)
Goodreads (Sarah Stafford)
Tumblr (
Pinterest (/sarahstafford13)
Or, they can also visit my site at where they can find links to purchase by book(s) as well as read my blog.

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

A: Excerpt (Chapter One)
            Amber awakened with her breath frozen to the car window. The long, dark street was full of abandoned houses, their yards overgrown and strewn with garbage like so much discarded hope. “Mom, where are we?”
            “Where’s Bryce?”
            “None of your business,” Lynn replied. “You never did learn not to stick your nose where it don’t belong.”
            The sixteen-year-old rolled her eyes and distracted herself by carving her name in the frost when a sharp, metallic sound pierced the silence. Bryce burst from a nearby house and raced toward them screaming for Lynn to start the car. Gunshots rang out in rapid succession.  Her mom scrambled into the driver’s seat.
            “Get down!”
            Amber threw herself on the floor.
            Bullets shattered the windows, sending shards of glass raining down on her like hail. The gunfire ceased. Unfamiliar voices and footsteps echoed around her. She kept still and listened to the feverish rattling of her heartbeat. Then, the steps drew away and the voices faded. Doors slammed followed by the growl of a truck engine turning over. Gravel ricocheted off the sides of the car, tires squealed, and soon, the night was once again silent. She waited a few seconds before poking her head over the back seat.
            Red taillights danced into the distance.
            She drew a breath and hoisted herself off the floor. Frigid air gushed through the windows, stinging her eyes and nose. Something clung to her hands and whatever it was, it was hot, moist, and sticky.
             “M-Mom . . . ?”
            Her mother lay slumped over the steering wheel, her lifeless, glassy eyes reflecting the city lights. Amber jolted backward and grasped the handle. She rattled it, but it wouldn’t budge. She reeled back and landed a good, hard kick. The door flew open with a horrendous bang that reverberated up and down the long, empty street. She leapt out. Bryce’s body was sprawled across sidewalk. Blood seeped from a hole in his head and trickled to the ground where it formed a dark, steaming pool.
            Somewhere off in the distance, a dog barked.
            The sound startled her, reminding her just how alone and exposed she was standing there out in the open. Snowflakes danced through the air and landed on her face and clothes. She glanced from the stains on her hands, to the bullet-riddled car, to the bodies of the two people who’d been her only family.
            “That could’ve been me,” she whispered.


Excerpt from THE HANDMAIDEN OF DEATH, Part I, Chapter One, reprinted by permission of Carpe Noctem Press, copyright © 2015 by Sarah Stafford. All rights reserved. No commercial reproduction allowed.

The Handmaiden of Death

ISBN-13: 978-0-692-55268-1

Publisher: Carpe Noctem Press

About the Book:

Sixteen-year-old Amber Marsden must fight for survival after a botched drug deal leaves her orphaned on the frozen streets of present day Detroit. Her hope for rescue fades until she mysteriously awakens in the opulent abode of prominent businessman Fortis Lombardi, who offers the wayward teen a place to stay and the chance for a new life. 

Over time, Amber discovers that her wealthy guardian has been harboring a dark secret that could change the course of her life, forever.... 

The Handmaiden of Death is a fast-paced, darkly spellbinding foray into the human psyche that will captivate fans of the vampire genre seeking a story with a lot less sparkle and a lot more bite. 

Available at Amazon

About the Author:

Sarah Stafford is a Michigan native with lifelong ties to the Detroit area. Sarah credits her abiding interest in the macabre from spending her childhood summers exploring castles and delving into the works of authors such as Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Bram Stoker. She earned her BA in History from Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, has lived abroad and traveled across much of the US, Europe, and Asia.

Visit her official website at

No comments: