After restarting my blog, I stopped doing author interviews. While I loved them, I had trouble getting back into it after such a long hiatus, as well as finding authors I wanted to feature. So when Zenith Publishing reached out and asked if I wanted to work with an author and a LGBTQ+ story I was more than on board.
Which leads me to today’s post: I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Anya Josephs, whose debut novel, Queen of All, comes out June 8th from Zenith Publishing.
Anya has been nothing but sweet and genuine, and I really enjoyed putting this together! I hope you all enjoy this interview (and the giveaway) and plan to read Queen of All when it comes out in June.
About the Author
Anya Josephs (they/she) was raised in North Carolina and is now pursuing a career in social work in New York City. When not working or writing, Anya can be found seeing a lot of plays, reading doorstopper fantasy novels, or worshipping their cat, Sycorax. Anya’s writing can be found in Fantasy Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and Mythaxis, among many others. Queen of All, a fantasy for young adults, is Anya’s first novel, forthcoming from Zenith Press.
Let’s start at the very beginning: You started writing Queen of All when you were 11! I think it’s safe to say most writers would have shelved the story by now. How did you know that this was THE book to stick with?
The thing to know about me is that I am very, very stubborn. I pretty much never give up on anything, and this book was no different! Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have doubts. There were times where I tried to put the book aside and forget about it, work on something else, but it just kept popping back up where I would have one more idea, or something would remind me of it, and I’d go back to it. I think the heart of it was the characters. I felt an obligation to tell this story for them, which might sound silly since they’re not real people, but it felt very real to me.
Have any of the characters changed since you first wrote them at 11?
Enormously so! When I started writing the book as a kid, the characters’ personalities were pretty well-developed (or became so early on), but a lot of the diversity that’s inherent in the book today was implied rather than being on the page. I was reacting to a world where the fantasy protagonists usually felt othered without actually being other. Think of the classics of YA fantasy: you typically have a hero who is bullied, excluded, doesn’t fit in… all while being a thin, able-bodied, cishet person. I gave Jena that sense of otherness that I felt growing up as a plus-sized, chronically ill queer Jewish person in the south, but it did take me quite a few years, and quite a few drafts, to realize where my own sense of being different was coming from. I didn’t even know I was gay when I was 11, so of course Jena didn’t understand her own intense best-friendship with another girl. As my understanding of myself and the world evolved, so did my characters.
How long were you querying before Zenith Publishing picked up your book?
About four years, intermittently? I had to take lots of breaks to protect my mental health, since it’s a difficult process. I think I queried about 35 agents total, but Zenith requested my materials in the first pitch contest I ever did, and they ended up making me an offer directly.
Is there anything that surprised you about the traditional publishing process?
I think the thing I was most surprised by was the emotional intensity of it all! Letting your book out into the world is a really vulnerable process. After years (in my case, decades!) of having your work all to yourself, all of a sudden you’re letting go of it. It’s very strange, and I wasn’t prepared for all of the feelings!
What was your favorite part about working with your editor? Have you ever worked with an editor before?
I’ve worked with an editor plenty of times before for short-form things, like when I was a staff blogger at SPARK, or for short fiction. At Zenith, my favorite part of working with my editor was their thoroughness! One of my weaknesses as a writer is consistency (I tend to leave a lot of plot holes and things like that!) so I really appreciated being able to rely on someone else to catch those things for me!
What did you find hardest about the editing process (either the process with your editor, or the self-edits you did before querying)?
The developmental editing process was very challenging due to timing. I got my edits in mid-March 2020 and I was supposed to return them in May. Because those were the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, my whole routine was completely upended. I couldn’t go to a coffeeshop to work, like I usually do when I need to focus, and it felt close to impossible to maintain the combination of critical thought and creativity that developmental editing requires. Part of that was knowing this might be my last chance to change any of the big-picture things I wanted changed in this book!
Jena, our protagonist, is considerably younger than most YA leads, starting the series at just 14. Is there a reason you chose to keep her young instead of aging her up to typical 16-18?
So, when I started writing this book, and was a YA reader myself, it was much more typical for YA protagonists to be young, or to age over the course of a series. I think the sort of middle-grade/YA transitional age is one where readers really need great books they can see themselves in–I know I did–and also Jena’s concerns and the themes the books deal with are very much in that early-teens age. Jena is just figuring out her sexual orientation, having her first crush, thinking about her future for the first time. I think that feels truer for a fourteen-year-old than an older teen (and allows readers to grow up alongside her, the way I did with some of my favorite books!)
Jena is also plus-sized. What are some of your favorite books or movies with plus-sized characters?
I wish I had more recommendations I could make. Unfortunately, there are very few media representations of plus-sized people that I feel like I can unequivocally recommend. Most, even those with the best intentions, can’t stay away from fatphobic tropes and ideas. I think this is just starting to change: hopefully with QUEEN OF ALL, but also with some other new books this year like FAT CHANCE CHARLIE VEGA and A DARK AND STARLESS FOREST. I hope we’ll continue to see more and more progress in this area.
Do you have a set plan for how many books are going to be in The Jena Cycle?
Yes! It’s planned as a three-book trilogy. Book two is already drafted and book three has a pretty solid outline.
Is there anything we should expect from the second book in the Jena Cycle?
If QUEEN OF ALL is Jena realizing she can be the hero of her own story, Book Two is really about her discovering just what she is capable of when she embraces her own power. It’s going to go to some much darker places than Book One, and reveal some secrets about this world and some of my favorite characters in the series.
Any final comments?
Thanks so much for reading! I have a bunch of events and promos coming up–please follow me on social media to stay in the loop!
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