Pen Friends ~ As a 2016 PitchWars mentee, I’m giddy to tell you that my fellow 2016 PW tribe member, and YA debut author, Astrid Scholte‘s incredible, fast-paced, and highly anticipated fantasy, FOUR DEAD QUEENS will be out in the world in February! Her story of perseverance and hard work is inspiring. Enjoy the interview!
SP: Hi Astrid! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE for you to share with our readers a bit of your inspiring (never-giving up) writing journey. Who are you and how long have you have been writing?
AS: Thanks so much for having me! Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an author, writing my first “novel” at age 5. Another love of mine was drawing so I thought a picture book illustrator would be the dream job. Back then, I thought I could illustrate my own books. It wasn’t until much later that I found out most authors don’t also illustrate their work.
While my passion for writing was there from a young age, I pursued a career in 3D animation and visual effects as I also had a love for the magic of movie making. I studied 3D animation at university and have worked (and still do!) in the film, TV and animation industry for the past 10+ years. Working in film production is a taxing job, with long hours, so my writing took a back-seat for a few years. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally finished a novel. It was a YA paranormal romance and I thought for sure it would get published!
I attempted to be published here in Australia, where you can submit to publishers directly. After getting close with one publisher (or what felt like close at the time as they gave a detailed, positive rejection) I decided to query agents in the USA. Over 100 rejections later, with only one full request, I realized that like many of the characters in YA paranormal novels, the genre was also dead.
That year, I attempted Nanowrimo for the first time and wrote 50K words of what would become my second completed YA novel, an elemental YA fantasy. This time, I went straight to the USA, as I’d been told that speculative fiction was a difficult sell in Australia. I amassed around 80 rejections, but has 12 full requests and some positive feedback. The common feedback I kept hearing was that YA fantasy was over saturated and mine wouldn’t stand out in the market.
So I decided to try one more time. (In truth, I’m sure I would’ve kept going!) I wanted to combine all the things I loved about YA and fiction, including twists, morally gray characters, forbidden romance, secrets and murder mysteries. I also wanted to query as quickly as possible as I’d spent years on failed manuscripts. This book was Four Dead Queens and it ended up getting into PitchWars in 2016, landing me an agent a week after the competition ended, and a publishing deal less than two weeks after going on submission! Luckily I didn’t give up!
Overall, it took me 10 years of writing seriously and 5 years of attempting to get an agent and publisher before I got my offer.
SP: Your debut, Four Dead Queen, will come out Feb 2019.
Here is a blurb:
Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.
With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.
SP: Can you tell us a bit more about how this idea came about?
AS: It actually came to me in a dream. I was sitting in a horse-drawn carriage when a futuristic silver car drove by. I wondered what kind of world would exist with two such contrasting technologies and how this would impact the people who lived there. I also had this image of four queens sitting back-to-back in a golden palace, discussing a murder.
SP: Since Four Dead Queens was not your first book, how long did it take you to write it and how was writing this book different than your others?
AS: Four Dead Queens only took about 4 months to write (while working full time) before I got into PitchWars and then another 2 months to revise in PW and then 2 weeks of revisions with my agent before going out on submission. I’ve always been a quick writer, but the difference this time was having help from other professionals, whether it was my mentors in PitchWars (go TeamPusheen!) or my agent or editor. It was also the most fun book to write, and I think that shows on the page.
SP: You’ve had a very fascinating career so far. Working in film (even with James Cameron/Avatar!), TV and animation (not to mention you’re an incredible artist) – How has all of this added to your writing career?
AS: Thank you! I think this creative background helps as I’m a visual writer and attempt to recreate what I see in my head on the page. Working in visual effects and animation has fueled my creativity and helped build the strange and, hopefully!, wondrous worlds in my books. I want reading my books to feel akin to watching a movie: cinematic, fast-paced, action-packed and with different narrative structures to keep the reader on their feet.
SP: As I mentioned above, you’re an artist and have even painted your own fictional characters (see here) – How do you balance all of your personal life/interests, job, and writing books? In other words, how do you stay focused?
AS: That is a very good question! 2018 has been an incredibly busy year and difficult to balance my day job, writing, painting and other hobbies. I find that I don’t watch too much TV anymore, as this is now my nightly writing time. As for remaining focused, I’m probably too focused! Most of my waking, and sleeping, hours are spent thinking about my characters, the worlds and how I can aid the reader to be more immersed in my stories. I love when books exist off the page and this is something I’ve tried to create with 4DQ with the paintings and other visual material.
SP: Since you are someone who did not give up until you reached your dream, do you have any tips for weary querying authors out there?
AS: Querying can be soul destroying and I certainly had thoughts of giving up when I was querying my first two novels. Unfortunately, there’s no trick to querying, it really is having the right book at the right time to find a home with the right agent. Which is not very helpful! All I can say is write the best book you can, one that you love, and it will find the right home. Also, don’t be afraid to give up on a manuscript–no writing is ever wasted and you might that find your next book is “the one.”
SP: Congrats again on not only selling your book rights to Putnam Penguin, but overseas as well! First, how did you celebrate the news? Second, what has your publishing journey been like so far?
AS: After reading the email from my agent (most news is relayed by email due to my timezone difficulties with NY) I ran around the house screaming. My two cats were terrified! After that, I called my mum and she thought something was wrong because I was hyperventilating and couldn’t get a word out. That night, I went out for dinner with my boyfriend. I also bought a charm for my bracelet to commemorate the occasion.
My publishing journey has been so surreal. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m so lucky, and eternally grateful, that Penguin Random House have backed my book as much as they have. The team there are wonderful and treat me like a queen. Haha. The emotional side of publishing is much more of a rollercoaster with highs and lows, and it’s difficult to not get overwhelmed by it all. I think I’m lucky that I’ve worked in very stressful work environments before as I’ve learned to deal with multiple deadlines pretty well.
The best part of my publishing journey has definitely been hearing from readers that they love the book. When a reader connects with 4DQ the way I hoped they would, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. And the book community is wonderful. I’m so lucky to be a part of it and hope I can give back in the future the way authors have supported me during my debut.
SP: Marketing– All debuts are a bit nervous about marketing their first book. What are some tips you have learned? What still makes you nervous?
AS: The one thing I’ve learned is that your followers want to hear about your book. I often worried that I spoke too much about my book, but these are the posts people really respond to. As long as you’re not constantly asking people to buy it! I think creating extra content like the videos and paintings have really helped with my marketing as it’s a way to talk about the book without saying the same thing over and over.
That said, every time I post something on Twitter and Instagram, I do worry that no one will like or comment etc. Ultimately, I post because I want to engage with my followers, not just to promote my book in a vacuum. Asking questions in posts helps with engagement, as does asking writers about their process or what they’re currently working on. It’s about creating a community rather than posting to an ad board.
SP: Now to lighten things up:
Favorite fictional crush? Damon Salvatore.
Best recent read? I’m loving Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco. I adore her characters, the period settings, and, of course, the murder mysteries!
Favorite childhood book? His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
Fav drink/food while writing? Peppermint tea.
Dream Vacation spot? Disney Parks! I’m obsessed with all things Disney and love all the theme parks. It would be hard to chose between DisneySea, Disneyland or Animal Kingdom. Can I go to all three? 🙂
SP: Thank you, Astrid! The SP gang and I are super excited for you and wish you the best of luck!!!