Yesterday, I sat down with Australian novelist Astrid Scholte to learn more about her writing process and the release of her new book, Four Dead Queens!
Her book comes out on February 26th, and you can check it out here.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember a moment when I didn’t want to be a writer! I’ve been writing ever since I learned how, attempting my first “novel” at age 5. While I ended up pursuing a career in 3D animation and visual effects after university, I was still always writing—it was just tricky to find time.
In 2010, I decided to get serious about writing and enrolled in writing courses in Sydney, which was where I was living at the time. I had an idea for a novel that I couldn’t get out of my head but needed help on how to write it. After a few different writing courses, I started on the novel, and for the first time, actually finished it. I was 120K words, which I thought was the standard length for YA fantasy! I loved the process of writing and revising so much, I knew I had to continue. And while that manuscript never got published, I learned so much from the experience.
What do you love the most about writing?
Is it sappy to say the feeling? Because I love the feeling after a good writing session. While I struggle through the first draft (don’t we all???) I enjoy the revision process when the story and characters start to come together. I’m a Pantser, so I don’t know what’s going to happen, or who the characters are, until I start writing. First drafts are a scary process, but somehow it all works out in the end!
What draws you to YA Fantasy? What is your favorite thing about the genre?
Fantasy has always been my first love. I claim that I fell in love with all things fantastic when my parents first took me to Disneyland when I was only one year old. I love the freedom of YA fantasy, you can create whatever world sparks your imagination. And as a reader, I love the escapism it provides. There’s nothing better than losing yourself inside an imaginary world.
What is or has been your biggest writing struggle? How did you learn to overcome that struggle?
Pushing through the doubt and finishing a novel was my biggest struggle. Before 2010, I’d tried and failed to write many other novels. I would always hit a barrier where I wouldn’t know what happened next and therefore wouldn’t conclude the story. I learned that the first sparks of inspiration only last for a little while, perhaps the first 20K words, and then the real hard work begins. I also learned to skip any sections that I was struggling with and then come back later.
A lot of our readers are on the querying journey. What was your querying journey like? Do you have advice for writers in the querying trenches?
I hate to say it, but it was very painful! Before I wrote 4DQ, I’d written two YA fantasies. I sent my first novel straight to Australian publishers (which is something you can do here) before querying in the States. I received over 100 rejections and only 1 full agent request. It was a sobering experience. For my second novel, I received around 80 rejections and 14 full requests. This time I received helpful rejections. The most common feedback was that YA fantasy is a saturated market, and while some agents liked my book, it wouldn’t stand out on bookshelves, or was too similar to something they already represented.
Fast forward to 2016. I decided to write something that combined two of my favorite things, fantasy and murder mysteries. I filled it with all the things I loved in stories, both in books and TV/film: forbidden romance, secrets, hidden alliances, twists, courtly intrigue, Cinnamon Roll boys and sassy girls. This became Four Dead Queens. While the novel was nowhere near ready, I entered Pitch Wars in 2016 and was surprised to get in! From there, I revised for two months for the agent round in November. I was very lucky as I didn’t need to query 4DQ and signed with my agent, Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners, one week after the Pitch Wars agent round.
My advice would be to set a mark for how many queries you send for one project and then move onto the next. Shelving a project is hard, but you will write another book you love, perhaps even more than your current project. Querying is a game of skill and chance. You need to have a good book, but you also need to have the right timing. And unfortunately, timing isn’t something you can control. So keep writing books you love and one day you’ll find the right advocate for it!
If possible, can you tell us about your current work in progress?
I’m currently working on my second book, also a YA sci fi/fantasy standalone that will be out in 2020 with Putnam/Penguin Teen. It’s a story about grief, second chances and the things we do for the ones we love. It’s also an action-packed thriller in a world very different to our own. I love this book and can’t wait to share more with readers!
Finally… tell us about your book!
Four Dead Queens comes out on the 26th of February and is a fast-paced, twisty murder mystery with a cast of predominantly female characters. It was important to me to write a YA fantasy that has unique women in power who are supportive of each other, rather than tearing each other down. Each queen has their own strengths, dreams, beliefs and complicated backstory. I love hearing how early readers love the different characters.
I’m so excited to finally be sharing Four Dead Queens with the world and I hope readers lose themselves in Quadara for a few hours and enjoy the thrill ride! If the reader finishes the novel with a smile on their face, then I have done my job.
Four Dead Queens is available to pre-order through your favorite online or local bookstore. Penguin Teen is giving away some amazing Welcome to Quadara pins for every US pre-order.
You can also collect all seven character cards that I painted by pre-ordering through Good Choice Reading International.
Finally, you can then enter my grand prize if you pre-order any edition or request 4DQ through your library: https://www.astridscholte.com/pre-order-campaign
I hope you enjoy Four Dead Queens! Thank you for having me, Tomi!