Interview with Victoria Aveyard: Writing the Red Queen (Part I)

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It’s always such a joy to speak to authors, because as a fellow author myself, I love to learn about other authors’ writing journeys and how they approach the craft. So when the chance to interview Victoria Aveyard came about, I jumped at it.

The author of the young adult bestselling Red Queen series spoke to me in 2016 about taking that big leap to write her novel and grappling with the fame that came with being the author of a bestselling series.

While we spoke at length during the interview, not everything made it into the article I wrote for The Star, ‘Red Queen’ author Victoria Aveyard on her wild success, so here’s more of our conversation for your reading pleasure.

What inspired you to write Red Queen?

I've always been writing my entire life so once i'm open to the idea of writing a book i just kinda have that part of my brain kicking away and trying to figure something out. The first instance of Red Queen was I had an image of a teenage girl who is about to be executed and instead she kills her exectuioner with lightning and i thought that's interesting, I would really like to write that. So i started building and started telling that story.

What drew you to the YA genre?

I ALWAYS knew that the story would be about a teenage girl and that's what YA is. Your main character is between 14 and 18. So I started writing the book when I was 21 and that age was really close to me and it was really easy for me to pop back into that mindset and thought process ñ that transitional moment in everyone's life when everyone has very strong memories of that age. But for me the reason was the main character was 17.

The Red Queen is a lot about power not just about superheroes or abilities but the war between classes.

This was a really cool thing about the YA adult category. You can do pretty much anything with it. You can have anything from romance to all the way over to supernatural dystopian sci fi you can go anywhere you want.

Your setting is rather unique among the YA as it's both medieval and futuristic-dystopian.  What inspired you to write that setting?

I like really meshing up genres. To me Red queen has a lot of fantasy, dystopian sci fi a little bit historical. It's really cool for me to pull from all these is what you can do with YA. I'm a kitchen sink writer I kinda throw everything that I like.

I write a lot of stuff down. I have maps and graphs and writing histories and people. For Red Queen I had a lot of little chart to keep track of who has what superpowers, who is on what side.

What challenges did you face when writing the book?

When I was writing the first book I had no idea - I thought it was garbage, I thought it was terrible. I didn't have a lot of faith in myself. I really doubted what i was doing. Luckily I had my dad and some friends who were telling me that they just wanted to see what happened in the book as they were reading it as i was writing it so that was a good motivation to finish. But then when I ended I had no idea if anybody would like it or if it was even good. So obviously I was surprised!

Why did you write an alternate ending to Red Queen?

Originally, I thought the book would end a different way, so I wrote that. Then my agent, when she first read the manuscript, she did find issues that I have to work on, and one of the issues that she found was the ending. The ending was just a little bit too crazy and way out of left field and she was right, it was very confusing. And changing the ending kinda changed the trajectory of the whole series. 

You did include it in the next book, didn't you?

Yeah it was in a special edition book. So we included that original ending that I changed and have no bearing on the series. 

Which one do you prefer? The current ending or the one that you wrote before?

The current ending is a lot lot better. And I like it better. It launched into the second book really well.

How did you get published?

I went to college to study screenwriting for writing movies and then towards the end of my college education I've always wanted to write novels so I decided I wanted to try so I started brainstorming and have a little bit of an idea for red queen. I pitched it to my screenwriting manager and he encouraged me to work on this book.

So, I ended up moving home from college and back to my parents' and the next six months I wrote first draft of red queen. And then aftertwards through my management they passed my management they passed it to a literary agent and she looked it over and then they're signing me for the manuscript and then we did a lot of edits and then we ended up (looking for Harper Collins) up we ended up with Harper Collins.

How long did this take?

It took six months to write the first draft of the book. We sold it in April of 2013. We did several more rounds of edits over the next year and the books take a lot to come out. There's a lot of marketing and pre buzz. Red Queen didn't publish in the US until Feb 2015. Two years after I finished writing the first draft we finally got them on shelves.

It must've been nervewrecking to see the book out.

It's nervewrecking but at the same time it's like i've achieved something. I got paid for it. i'm a professional writer which is a complete dream come true for me. It's scary, it's hard but I wouldn't rather be doing anything else.

Everything happened for you quite quickly. You got a book deal, became an NYT bestselling author, had your book optioned for a movie... how did you absorb it all?

(laugh) I just kinda have to take it one step at a time. I wasn't really expecting the books to become a book. I didn't think the manuscript would get me an agent let alone get published. 

Having realistic expectations and then having them blown apart always have worked well for me. and then when I get a little caught up I just have to take a step back and go back into the work. And focus on the stuff that's really important and don't get too caught up in what's going on.

Next Week: From Book to Big Screen (Part 2)