Debut Author Snapshot: Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is now available at Liberty Books stores.
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It takes a lot to make a splash in the congested world of Young Adult dystopian fantasy. But that’s exactly what debut novelist Victoria Aveyard did with her runaway hit Red Queen, which opened at No. 1 on The New York Times Young Adult bestseller list and just won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Debut. Part one of a series, the book centers on 17-year-old Mare Barrow, a resident of a segregated realm where the silver-blooded and supernaturally gifted have enslaved a red-blooded underclass. After discovering silver powers of her own, the red-blooded Mare infiltrates her overlords with plans to right wrongs but gets sucked into a perilous dance of torn loyalties, treachery, and murder. Red Queen swiftly won comparisons to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, and a film—to be directed by Hunger Games star Elizabeth Banks—is in development.

Aveyard, who first came up with the idea for Red Queen as an undergraduate, talks about her influences, expanding the series, and the screenwriting tools that help her fiction.

Goodreads: Congratulations on the huge success you’ve had with Red Queen! Is this the book you always pictured yourself writing?

Victoria Aveyard: Thank you so much! It’s been such a roller coaster so far. It’s funny—I grew up always wanting to write novels but never thought I had either the drive or talent to finish one. The Lord of the Rings was a huge inspiration to me since I was little, and I always have and still aspire to write a huge series somewhere down the line. But it wasn’t until I was a senior in college, having written and finished several screenplays, that I realized I might be able to do a book justice. I’m a very visual writer, so it makes sense that my first encounter with Mare and Red Queen was an image that popped into my head. After I had the brain wave of a girl who electrocutes her executioner with lightning, I knew it was not only something I wanted to write, but a story I would read about or watch on a screen. That’s always my litmus test. Would I pay money to experience this story myself? Yes? Then I’m certainly going to enjoy writing it.

GR: In many ways you’ve had a dream situation. You were in grad school when you first came up with the idea, right?
VA: I was actually an undergrad, studying screenwriting in the film school at the University of Southern California. Because film is not at all an easy profession to break into, even with the fantastic tools USC gives us, everyone was in a bit of a panic come the end of senior year. Through USC I managed to land what’s called a “general meeting” at a Hollywood management company. They were originally interested in my script ideas, and I pitched several films and TV shows before I also decided to tell them about my very brief idea for a young adult novel (that would become Red Queen). They were very receptive and encouraged me to write the novel over anything else. I decided I was going to go all in, and so that I would be able to write full-time, I left Los Angeles and moved home to Massachusetts. About six months later I had a rough but finished manuscript. My management passed this along to New Leaf Literary Agency, and after a lot of editing, the fantastic Suzie Townsend signed me as a client. The rest is history!

GR: You’d mostly written scripts up until this point, right? What was it like plotting and writing an entire novel?

VA: Yes, up until I attempted Red Queen, I had only finished screenplays and television pilots. But luckily my screenwriting education really prepared me for novel writing.

Despite the extreme differences in format, the structure of screenplays and novels, at least the kind I write, are very similar. The three-act, eight-sequence structure translates very easily, and anyone familiar with that approach to story can easily see the seams in anything I write. Of course, a screenplay is usually no more than 120 pages and 20,000 words, whereas my novels tend to be more than 400 pages and more than 120,000 words. There was certainly a learning curve, and I actually overwrote most of the first book. My agent, Suzie, did an amazing job helping me cut about 40,000 words from the first draft of Red Queen. Another thing I took from my screenwriting classes was the note card approach. Namely, writing out sequences, chapters, and scenes on note cards. It really helped to see things laid out at a macro level.

GR: Red Queen is so cinematic, which is probably thanks to your film school training. Are there any particular moments or scenes that were influenced by any of your favorite movies?

VA: The arena battles were obviously influenced by Gladiator. The image of solitary figures facing doom while thousands look on is so stirring. And of course, the world of X-Men was certainly in my head while writing any scenes concerning superhuman powers and abilities. I didn’t get as much high fantasy in as I liked, but the court intrigue and gray morality of Game of Thrones colored almost every word of Red Queen.

GR: And now you have Glass Sword, the second book of the trilogy, coming out in February. What have been some of the challenges of developing the world?

VA: The series has actually been expanded to four books, so I’m halfway finished now! There are definite pros and cons to writing a sequel. Obviously you’re working with characters you already know, not to mention a preestablished world and story arc, so you can dig into the action a lot faster. But because storytelling is an art of escalation, I had to outdo myself and Red Queen, which was very daunting. I hope Glass Sword lives up to expectations, which, based on how well Red Queen was received, could be quite high.

GR: How much of Glass Sword was written by the time Red Queen came out? Did the enthusiastic reception for Red Queen change the way you wrote the story at all?

VA: The entirety of Glass Sword was finished before Red Queen was published. Minor edits were still in play, but the plot and characters were pretty much locked in. So luckily none of the book was influenced by any reader reaction. Now that I’m writing the third installment, I’m doing my best to tune out what readers want so I can write exactly what the story requires.

GR: Are there any screenwriting tactics you think would be helpful to fiction writers?

VA: Some of the most valuable lessons I learned in screenwriting concern pace, structure, and the act of writing itself. For pace, move as fast as you can. Get into scenes as late as possible; leave as soon as possible. Keep momentum rolling. Structure is, again, three-act, eight-sequence, which really helps me get the bones of my story internalized as much as possible. And of course, simply finish what you’re working on. So many writers, myself included, get bogged down in self-editing and trying to make drafts perfect. It’s much more prudent to just forge ahead, even if you need to leave a little note to yourself to come back later. I promise, once you get to the end of the story, it’s so much easier to go back and edit with fresh eyes.

GR: Tell us about some of the most exciting/surreal moments of your journey.

VA: The past year has basically been an exercise in surreal. Hitting the NYT bestseller list was incredible, and I honestly had no idea Red Queen would even list, let alone debut at No. 1. Besides that, I think it’s crazy that readers want my autograph and picture. In the back of my head, I’mAuEkMKjbhgrXOoiFUHtrKOAJhjgUaJgCnHlrn8BFcgbR.jpg always wondering why anyone would want that from me. I’ve also attended some amazing festivals and conventions, making friends with truly fantastic authors along the way. San Diego Comic-Con and YALLFest, as well as trips to signings in Scotland and Germany, are particular highlights. And of course, the Hollywood interest in Red Queen is a dream come true as well.

Interview published in Good Reads. 


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