Sarah Prineas, UI Honors Program
Sarah Prineas thinks that dragons are “wickedly cool.”
So cool, in fact, that she often incorporates them into her writing.
By morning, one can find Prineas, who works half-time as the scholarship coordinator for the UI Honors Program, helping students identify scholarships to pursue their academic dreams. She has also worked as a lecturer in the University College, teaching fantasy, science fiction, and creative writing.
Armed with a doctorate in English from the University of Arizona, Prineas also uses her literary prowess to edit the UI Honors Program’s publications.
In the afternoons, however, Prineas slips into her fantasy-author mode, weaving tales of suspense and intrigue. She does most of her writing on a matte-black stealth MacBook laptop, replete with a dragon sticker, in the cozy kitchen of her Iowa City home.
Her first novel, The Magic Thief, debuts this month, and is the first book in a brand-new fantasy trilogy.
fyi recently caught up with Prineas, who shared how she juggles her role at the University with her writings about magic, dragons, and other forms of fantasy, and what life on a book tour has been like.
Sarah, what drew you to work at The University of Iowa?
My husband and I came to Iowa City in 2001 when he was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and I was the “trailing spouse.” I started working part-time at The University of Iowa as a writing tutor while also teaching an honors seminar each semester for the Honors Program. In 2004, when Honors moved into the new Blank Honors Center, I was hired full-time as a program assistant.
What do you find most rewarding about this position, and how many students have you helped during your tenure?
I’ve worked with hundreds of students on scholarships, and on graduate school, medical school, and law school applications. Working with me, a Rhodes Scholar applicant might, over four months, write 10 drafts of the personal statement essay, while researching academic programs at Oxford, recruiting recommendation letters from eight faculty members, putting together an activities list, and practicing interview strategies.
Every application is different and so is every applicant, so they all require a personalized approach. The one thing these students have in common is that they’re passionate about what they do, which makes them a fun group to work with.
Why is this scholarship resource important to the institution and students?
Our students are competing at the very highest level for prestigious scholarships that can fund their undergraduate or subsequent graduate work. The students themselves benefit from the application process, and the ones who win find many exciting doors opening for them.
Tell us about The Magic Thief. How did you get the idea for this novel?
In December 2005 I was reading the letters to the editor of Cricket, a literary magazine for kids, and a letter asked for more stories with magic and wizards. I wrote the first chapter of the book as a response to that, but was having so much fun with the characters and world that I kept writing, until it was a novel.
The Magic Thief is the first book in a fantasy trilogy about Conn, a scruffy kid with a dark past who survives by picking pockets on the streets of Wellmet. When he picks the wizard Nevery’s pocket he sets off on an adventure involving magic, peril, misery eels, pugilistic displays, evil Devices, the most amazing locus magicalicus in the world, and crossing a mostly frozen river on a night of stars as bright as daggers. He also eats a lot of biscuits and bacon. For more information, see www.magicthief.com.
What has your book tour been like and what are your summer and fall plans for promoting the book?
My publisher, HarperCollins, sent me on a prepublication tour that took me to six cities, where I had “meet and greet” dinners with booksellers, librarians, and teachers. At one dinner I met 30 kids who had read advance copies of the book. Next fall I’ll be touring in the United States and in England to promote the book. I’m doing an “author talk” sponsored by Prairie Lights Books at 1 p.m., Wednesday, July 16, in the Iowa City Public Library.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from reviewers and readers?
So far the reviews have been really good—the book got starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus, and was selected as a spring/summer Top 10 Pick by Book Sense, a national independent booksellers group.
Please tell us a little bit about some of your other outside hobbies, interests, or passions.
For fun I take piano lessons at the Preucil School and go for runs along the Iowa River with my husband. I’m also a member of the Iowa chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and we have a reading group. I’m also part of a local writers group.
How do you juggle your UI career and your writing career?
It isn’t easy! I am very fortunate to have the support of my colleagues in the UI Honors Program, who made it possible for me to reduce to half-time so I’d have time to write. Writing really is a full-time job, but I love working with the students and the vibrant culture of the Honors Program too much to leave it.
by Lois J. Gray