When Liselle Sambury (ArtSci ’13) set out to pursue a career in linguistics, she never expected to end up with a marketing job in Northern Ontario with a book deal and a burgeoning fiction-writing career.
With a deal for two books in hand, Sambury’s young adult (YA) teen witch book is set to be published in 2021, with the second following a year after.
This isn’t her first brush with fiction-writing. “In my first year [at Queen’s], I finished my very first book, but then it didn’t really end up going anywhere,” Sambury told The Journal in an interview.
She started that untitled project at 16 years old and sent it to literary agents, only to be faced with rejection.
Her second book, written in 2014 while the author was studying at Durham College after Queen’s, also didn’t get published.
In large part, Sambury says, this is due to her under-editing of her own work at the time.
When she started to write her third book in 2017, Sambury didn’t waste time: she wrote it all in one month as part of “NaNoWriMo,” or National Novel Writing Month, which is in November.
The author says she isolated herself socially to do so, still working at her marketing job but not going out after or seeing her friends.
“I had decided when I was going to write this book that I was going to edit it to death, because the mistake I made with my second and first book was that I really hadn’t done a good job of editing it before I let agents see it, so then I got a lot of rejection because it wasn’t ready yet,” Sambury said.
“With the third book, I was very determined to make it as ready as humanly possible before I let any industry professional look at it.”
She sent it to writer friends, seeking their edits and comments. This led her to ultimately add an additional 20,000 words to her already-80,000-word manuscript.
Luckily, her month of solitude and endless rounds of editing paid off: Sambury scored herself a book deal earlier this year.
Simon Pulse, Simon and Schuster’s YA section, acquired the rights to her untitled book, which Sambury is calling #blackwitchesbook in the meantime.
#Blackwitchesbook follows Voya, a 16-year-old witch who has to choose between her family and murdering her first love.
When asked why she writes for young adults, Sambury says it comes from writing something she would’ve liked to read in her youth.
“I like to write black girls in magical settings […] getting the chance to be the hero and have fun and adventure. When I was growing up, black girls in books were slaves or best friends,” said Sambury.
However, she does say she’s seen some improvement in recent YA novels’ diversity: “I think there’s a lot of work that people have done in the young adult [fiction] industry to bring a lot more fun fantasy stories with black leads.”
There’s also a certain degree of responsibility Sambury feels writing for young adults. When considering her readership, she tried to be as inclusive and accurate to individual experiences as she possibly can.
“I’m a [cisgender heterosexual] person, so when I have a trans character in a book, I take a lot of care to consult with trans people, because I want to make sure that if a trans teen is reading it, they don’t feel like I’ve misrepresented them in some way.”
More than anything, she wants to inspire her readers to chase their dreams.
“I definitely want black girls to read it and think, ‘I can be anything, I don’t have to just be the best friend of the slave or sidekick, I can really be anything,’ and see themselves as a hero.”
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