Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Livia Blackbourne here to help celebrate the release of her YA fantasy MIDNIGHT THIEF that released on July 8, 2014. I love fantasies and wish I wasn’t too behind to read this before Livia’s interview. I’m definitely hoping to read it this summer and maybe even before I have to give it away. Just reading the reviews makes me really want to read it.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.
Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.
When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.
Hi Livia! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I was a voracious reader growing up. I was always hiding books from my parents, trying to sneak them in instead of taking care of my other responsibilities. I also did a lot of writing in middle and high school. But after I entered college, I stopped having time for reading or writing fiction. It was only after I turned 26 that I had a bit of a quarter life crisis. I realized that I was never going to write that novel unless I made time for it. So I did, and it proved a nice creative outlet while I was working on my dissertation. One thing led to another, and I sold the book!
2. Awesome that you decided to start writing again. I know you also have a PhD in neuroscience (my daughter wants to study this BTW) and wrote much of this while doing your doctorial research. Has your scientific background influenced your writing? How?
I think my neuroscience and psychology background makes me a little better at perspective taking. For example, some readers have pointed out that the villains in my books are well-rounded. Even though they do despicable things, it's clear how they came to be that way, and how they view themselves as heroes. I think my psychology training helped with that.
3. I bet it gives you a lot of insight into people. Share a bit about your world building process and any tips you have about creating a fantasy world.
My world building process was kind of haphazard, and I would recommend that other writers take a more systematic approach than I did. For example, a lot of my early names didn't sound like they were from the same language, even though the characters came from the same city, so that was one thing I had to go back and correct.
A lot of my world building also came after the fact. When my editor bought my book, her biggest point of feedback was that the big plot twist came out of nowhere, and didn't quite fit into the world of the book. So I ended up going back and fleshing out the world so that my plot twist would be less surprising.
As far as tips go, I'd say don't be afraid to go back through during revisions to develop your world. World building, just like plot and characterization, is something that evolves through drafts.
4. That’s a great idea to give yourself the freedom to delve further into world building while
It's funny, when reviews mentioning MIDNIGHT THIEF’s complex morality first popped up, I also wondered what inspired those themes, because I certainly didn't start out trying to write a story that tackled these issues. The story just turned out that way. At first I thought maybe it was because, as a practicing Christian that spent most of her life running in secular circles, I think a lot about morality and moral relativity. And I'm sure it that's part of it, but a lot of the credit also goes to the old USA TV show La Femme Nikita (not the one on CW, which I haven’t watched much of). I was completely obsessed with the show as a high schooler, and they delve really deeply into moral dilemmas that are very similar to the ones that Kyra faces. In MIDNIGHT THIEF, the Assassins Guild works to overthrow the corrupt nobility. But such things are hard to do, and there's often collateral damage. Thus, Kyra has to decide how far she really wants to go in this fight, and whether the ends justifies the means.
5. Tell us about how you obtained representation by your agent and your road to publication.
I finished MIDNIGHT THIEF in late 2011, and at that point I actually planned to self publish it. I'd been reading a lot on changes in the publishing industry and decided I wanted control of my rights while things settled. My critique group was very supportive but suggested that I send out a few queries to test the waters and see what happens. So I did, and instead of being careful about it and sending them out in batches of 10 and adjusting based on feedback, I sent out about 35 in one go because I didn't really care if I failed. As irony would have it, I got an offer of representation rather quickly. I think what swayed me to go the traditional route was that I had really good conversations with agents about their visions for the story, and their ideas for edits were quite good. I realized that I could make MIDNIGHT THIEF a much stronger work if I worked with an editor at a publishing house. Granted, I could have hired an editor freelance and self-published as well, but at the time I was unwilling to spend the money and time to get a good one.
6. That’s a cool story about getting an agent. And one we’d all love to have. What’s surprised you about the year leading up to your book release? What advice do you have for other debut authors just signing a book contract?
I've been pleasantly surprised by what my publisher’s been doing to get the word out about my book. Again, I came from the self-publishing community, where a publishers’ ability and willingness to market books is often disparaged. But I've been able to see firsthand how Disney’s platform has found me new readers through their connections with bookstores, libraries, and book bloggers. Librarians and bloggers have picked up the book through conferences and Netgalley. MIDNIGHT THIEF was also picked up as a top ten summer debut by the American Booksellers Association, which raised its profile greatly among independent bookstores. Even though my book is not a “big book” that’s announced with billboards in Times Square, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much visibility it's gotten even through the normal marketing channels.
7. So awesome it’s on ALA’s list. That sounds like a huge help in getting word out about your book. I noticed you have over 15,000 Twitter followers and follow over 10,000 people. How did you grow your following? What tips do you have on how we should grow our Twitter followings and get more out of being on Twitter?
My biggest asset was my twitter bio. I took care to make it intriguing -- I don't remember what it was back then, but something about a neuroscientist who explores the intersection between psychology and fiction. So my first tip would be to make yourself interesting, and make people curious. The second would be to think about how your twitter feed can help others. What's in it for your followers? People follow you on twitter because you're useful or interesting to them, not because they want to hear about you.
When I first started using twitter, I did a lot of follower churning, which involves following people in the writing world and un-following those who didn't follow back. Nowadays, I think it's of questionable usefulness. You'll end up with a lot of followers that way, but are they actually looking at your feed? So I no longer do that and only follow people who I’m genuinely interested in keeping up with.
8. What are you working on now?
I'm working on the sequel to MIDNIGHT THIEF. It's due September 1.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Livia. You can find Livia at
Disney has generously offered an ARC of MIDNIGHT THIEF for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through July 26th. I’ll announce the winner on July 28th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US and Canada residents.
Here’s what’s coming up:
Next Monday I’m interviewing debut author Stephanie Diaz and giving away a copy of her YA sci-fi story EXTRACTION.
The following Monday I'm interviewing debut author Julia Marie Gibson with a giveaway of her MG fantasy COPPER MAGIC. I really enjoyed the contemporary feel of it too.
Friday that week I’ll be participating in the Beach Reads in August Giveaway Hop. I’ll have lots of great book choices and will also be offering a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
The following Monday I’m interviewing debut author Lori Lee and giving away her YA fantasy Gates of Thread and Stone. I waited for ages for this and it was worth the wait.
And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.
Hope to see you on Monday!