March 30, 2023

Behind the Pages: An Interview with Author Sarah Zilkowski

When you work with MDK, you open the door to some of the country’s most talented professionals. Today we are thrilled to introduce you to one of our own, Sarah Zilkowski. In addition to her role as a legal assistant in our Intake team, Sarah is an accomplished author.  

Sarah has published everything from short stories for children to travelogues. But her true passion lies in the dark ages. She has amassed over 10 years of expertise in Anglo-Saxon language, literature, history and culture. She recently published her first novel "Beasts of War" based on her master’s thesis on the Judith poem.  

We spoke to Sarah about her creative process, what makes a good story and, of course, "Beasts of War". Sarah, congratulations on the recent publication of your book. This is a tremendous achievement and we are proud to be your career partner!

“Beasts of War” is available in both paperback and Kindle formats here:

MDK: What do you think makes a good story?

Sarah: I think a good story is one that holds the audience’s attention, has a certain element of suspense or tension and has entertainment value. However, I think a great story is one that creates a sense of connection between the narrator and the audience. If you tell me a story about yourself, I will immediately know more about you as a person than any list of attributes you could give me. I’ll understand insights into who you are and what you care about, and I will find ways to relate to and connect with your experience. I think a great story has the power to create connections across space, time, and cultures.

MDK: Do you have a creative process?

Sarah: Yes, I do, but from what I’ve heard from other authors, mine is a bit unconventional. My idea for writing historical fiction/historical fantasy came in college when I realized there were some incredible stories in Anglo-Saxon literature that were inaccessible to modern readers. I wanted to find a way to bring them to the mainstream and decided to turn poems and excerpts from historical texts into full-length novels.

Before I started writing “Beasts of War”, I sat down with a notebook and came up with more than 40 book ideas all based on my studies in Old English, so I’m never at a loss for what to write about. When it comes to writing a novel, I usually know the beginning, end, and key scenes because my books are based on pre-formed stories. I start by writing up an outline, which I then use to write my first draft. The first draft is where I start to get creative and tell my version of the story. It’s my favorite part- but a lot of logistics and research go into the planning of the book before I ever right the first sentence.  

"I write because I think it’s fun, and, usually, I have a story in me that is very insistent on coming out. In fact, if I go too long without writing, it will get to a point where I absolutely must sit down and write, and the words will practically spill onto the page."

MDK: What is the plot of “Beasts of War”?  

Sarah: It’s a book set in Anglo-Saxon England based on the Judith poem from the Nowell Codex. That poem was adapted from the apocryphal book in the Old Testament by the same name. The basic plot of the story is the same but the Anglo-Saxons adapted it to their own culture. The best description I can give is one that my publisher wrote…

An evil warlord is wreaking havoc across England. His trail of destruction razes the land and decimates people left and right. He must be stopped. At all costs. When young Judith is recruited to vanquish him, she uses her beauty and her charm to get close. But once he’s within her reach, all is not as it seems. His magnetism and alluring promises weaken her. And she begins to question whether she’s on the right side of this war. If she is to escape his pull and save her people from his sinister plans, she’ll need true love and unfaltering friendship to do it. And a little touch of fate wouldn’t hurt either. . .

MDK: What audience would enjoy reading “Beasts of War”?

Sarah: Fans of historical fiction, Anglo-Saxon literature, medieval stories. There’s a bit of a Game of Thrones feel to it as well. Also, Tolkien fans might find it interesting. Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxonist and used his research for his Lord of Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. While our books are different, in many regards we come from the same academic background.

MDK: How long was the creative process for this book?

Sarah: I spent 5 years in college (undergrad and grad) studying Anglo-Saxon literature, and I have continued my research on my own since. Without those first 5 years, “Beasts of War” would not have been written. I even translated the poem it’s based on as an undergrad and wrote my Master’s Thesis on the original Old English text as well.  

After I graduated, I began writing the book in Feb 2014. It was self-published with the help of an independent publishing company in December 2021 and published with Black Rose Writing publishing in December 2022. In total it took 8 years from the start of the first draft to finished product, and another year after to be published by my current publisher.  

MDK: It was a pleasure speaking with you and gaining insight into your inspiration and creative process. Your skill and passion for storytelling is evident, and the dedication to your craft is admirable. Thanks for your time and for sharing your thoughts with us!

Sarah: Of course! Thank you!

This publication is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an opinion of MDK.
Do not rely on this publication without seeking legal counsel.