Queen of her dystopian world

Re­al­ity has ex­ceeded this young writer’s wildest ex­pec­ta­tions.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By EL­IZ­A­BETH TAI star2@ thes­tar. com. my Look out for a re­view of The Glass Sword in our Reads pages soon.

VIC­TO­RIA Ave­yard is liv­ing ev­ery writer’s dream. At the age of 25, the screen­writ­ing grad­u­ate is al­ready a best­selling au­thor, has had her novel, Red Queen, op­tioned for a movie and has writ­ten Eter­nal, a screen­play that, ac­cord­ing to US en­ter­tain­ment trade mag­a­zine Va­ri­ety, has been ac­quired by Sony Pic­tures. Her se­cond novel, Glass

Sword, which was re­leased last month, is al­ready climb­ing book charts around the world.

Ave­yard laughs ner­vously when I sug­gest that her rise – at least in the pub­lish­ing world – is noth­ing short of me­te­oric.

“I just have to take it one step at a time,” she says via tele­phone from her some­times- home in Cal­i­for­nia when asked how she’s deal­ing with her mas­sive suc­cess.

“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,” she adds.

The theme of Red Queen, like with many pop­u­lar young adult ( YA) fic­tion nov­els, is about the strug­gle for power. Specif­i­cally be­tween the Sil­vers, su­per- pow­ered peo­ple with sil­ver blood, and the red- blooded Reds, who are pow­er­less and not too happy about be­ing ruled. And like most YA he­roes and hero­ines, 17- year- old Mare Bar­row is about to tip the bal­ance. Mare is a Red, but when she is at­tacked by a Sil­ver, dis­cov­ers that she can shoot light­ning from her fin­ger­tips. She be­comes the fo­cal point of a Red up­ris­ing, and the ob­ject of cu­rios­ity and fear for the rul­ing Sil­vers.

This tale of a su­per- pow­ered un­der­dog has caught on with read­ers. Read­ers of­ten get on Tum­blr and Twit­ter to pep­per Ave­yard with ques­tions, which she du­ti­fully an­swers. Cu­rios­ity about the movie – which might be di­rected by El­iz­a­beth Banks, ac­cord­ing to The Hol­ly­wood Reporter – is high. (“Do you have a dream cast?” asks a reader on Twit­ter. “No, I don’t,” Ave­yard says to me al­most bash­fully. “I’m not a cast­ing di­rec­tor so I don’t have any. It’s not my job.”)

Ave­yard con­fesses she didn’t ex­pect her man­u­script to even 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 has al­ways worked well for me,” she says, her smile trav­el­ling down the phone line.

For­tu­nately for her, re­al­ity has ex­ceeded her wildest ex­pec­ta­tions.

A fruit­ful de­tour

YA was a nat­u­ral choice for Ave­yard. Not only has she al­ways known that her main char­ac­ter was a teenager, at 21 when she started writ­ing Red Queen, Ave­yard had only just left teen­hood be­hind. She felt close enough to the age to por­tray the “tran­si­tional mo­ment in ev­ery­one’s life when we all have very strong mem­o­ries”.

Also, Ave­yard loves how writ­ers can “go any­where they want” within the genre. “I re­ally like mash­ing up gen­res. To me,

Red Queen has a lot of fan­tasy, dystopian el­e­ments, sci­ence fic­tion, and a lit­tle bit of his­tor­i­cal el­e­ments. It’s re­ally cool for me to pull from all th­ese ar­eas. I’m a kitchen sink writer – I kind of throw in ev­ery­thing that I like,” she says.

The story be­gan with an im­age that flit­ted into Aver­yard’s imag­i­na­tion one day.

“I had an im­age of a teenage girl who is about to be ex­e­cuted and, in­stead, she kills her ex­e­cu­tioner with light­ning. I thought that’s in­ter­est­ing, I would re­ally like to write that. So I started build­ing the world and telling that story,” she says.

In March 2012, Ave­yard, who has al­ways wanted to write a book, pitched the idea of the novel to her screen­writ­ing man­ager. He liked it and en­cour­aged her to work on it. So, fresh af­ter ob­tain­ing her BFA in Screen­writ­ing from the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Ave­yard moved back home to Mas­sachusetts to live with her par­ents and work on her novel full time – a de­ci­sion she’s quite thank­ful she made.

“If I had to ( work a day job and write at the same time) some­thing would have suf­fered – most prob­a­bly my sleep!” she says.

Still, Ave­yard was filled with doubt and had lit­tle faith in what she was do­ing.

“I thought it was garbage. I thought it was ter­ri­ble,” she says, re­fer­ring to

her man­u­script.

What kept her go­ing were her father and friends who urged her to fin­ish as they wanted to know what hap­pened next.

There was also an­other strong mo­ti­va­tor: money.

“I did have col­lege loans loom­ing, and that was a good mo­ti­va­tor!” she says, chuck­ling.

And al­though she fin­ished her book af­ter six months of hard work ( and much metic­u­lous world- build­ing with charts and graphs), she still didn’t know if any­body would ever like it.

“My man­age­ment 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 with Harper Collins,” she says.

Her agency sold the book in April 2013, just four months af­ter Ave­yard fin­ished the first draft. In Fe­bru­ary 2015, af­ter many painstak­ing ed­its, which in­cluded an over­haul of the orig­i­nal end­ing she had penned for the book, it was fi­nally on the shelves in the United States.

Read­ers would be in­ter­ested to know that Ave­yard in­cluded the orig­i­nal end­ing – now an “al­ter­nate end­ing” – in spe­cial edi­tions of the next book in the se­ries, Glass Sword. She prefers the cur­rent end­ing, say­ing that the orig­i­nal end­ing was “way out of left field”.

“Chang­ing the end­ing changed the tra­jec­tory of the whole se­ries,” she says.

Work­ing hard

Red Queen made a splash. In fact, on March 1, 2015, it was No. 1 on The New York

Times YA best­seller list in the first week of its re­lease. US trade mag­a­zine Pub­lish­ers

Weekly trum­peted, “the only ti­tle by a first­time au­thor to ac­com­plish that feat”.

But this ac­tu­ally made Ave­yard ner­vous and worry about the re­cep­tion of the se­cond book.

To al­lay her wor­ries, Ave­yard told her­self: “I can’t con­trol how peo­ple re­act or how the book lands.”

“Then I fo­cused on what I could work on, which is my own writ­ing.”

Cur­rently, she is busy writ­ing her third novel, and while she had just re­leased

Cruel Crown, a col­lec­tion of novel­las based in the Red Queen uni­verse, she has no in­ten­tion of writ­ing any more short works.

“I re­ally liked writ­ing the novel­las but for now I re­ally love to get the rest of the story out there be­fore I sort of wan­der away from it,” she says with a laugh.

When asked if the fourth book will be the last in the se­ries, Ave­yard says she doesn’t know right now.

“I know the main story that I want to tell and how long it’s go­ing to take. I’m not go­ing to add things that don’t need to be added and I’m not go­ing to take out things that don’t need to be taken out.”

Ave­yard says she wants to play in “other sand­boxes” in the fu­ture and has lit­tle projects that she chips away at while writ­ing the books for the Red

Queen se­ries. One of her “lit­tle projects” was Eter­nal, which she wrote while her third book was be­ing edited.

And al­though it’s early stages yet – and in the film in­dus­try noth­ing is a guar­an­tee – Ave­yard says that she has met the writer, di­rec­tor and “a bunch of pro­duc­ers” that are get­ting be­hind the movie.

“Ev­ery­one’s been very in­clu­sive and very clear that they want me in­volved, that they’re happy that I’m around. So far my ex­pe­ri­ence has been re­ally great,” she says.

Be­ing able to work in the same in­dus­try as her moviemak­ing and writ­ing he­roes feels “very cool and very weird”, she says. And al­though she wres­tles with the emo­tional ups and downs of a writer’s life, Ave­yard will not have it any other way.

“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,” she says, her en­thu­si­asm pal­pa­ble.

Cool head: Ave­yard tries to keep level- headed amidst her ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess by fo­cus­ing on her writ­ing. — STEPHANIE GI­RARD

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