Victoria Aveyard discusses her novel, Red Queen, and creating a dystopian world different from all others.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
I’ve always loved stories since I was you know, consciously aware of what they were. My parents are huge fans of TV and movies, so those really kicked off the storytelling urge in me. And of course, when I was mentally capable of writing, I started writing down admittedly horrible stories of my own. My mom’s an English teacher and my dad’s a history teacher – creative writing was the natural intersection of these two subjects. For me, it was a constant hobby, passion, and then career choice. I applied to a bunch of screenwriting programs for college and ended up going to USC’s film school. From there, I wrote movies and TV shows, and, upon graduation, decided to see if I could finish a novel. Red Queen’s first draft came out of the next six or seven months. In retrospect, there’s a pretty clear path there, but it never felt like one while I was on it. There was no journey to being a writer in my head – I always was one from the word go.
In Red Queen you have a pretty cool premise with the Reds and the Silvers. How did you come up with the idea for them?
I had this image of a teenage girl who can control lightning and I built the story out of that idea. Basically, what kind of world was required to make this moment possible? Obviously, superpowers. And because I wanted to play with that trope, I decided to swing away from X-Men/Harry Potter. Instead of the superhumans being on the fringe, either hidden or oppressed, they’re going to be the ones in charge, and not necessarily for the good. As the story took shape, I was really enamored with the visual of different colored bloods. It’s very striking and unique, not to mention a great plot point. There’s a lot you can do with such an interesting, albeit easily hidden, divergence.
Red Queen essentially takes traditional dystopian tropes and flips them around. Was that something you set out to do or something that happened naturally? What inspired to tell this story?
The idea of Mare’s character is what really jumpstarted the story itself, but the drive to write a young adult novel and do what I did with it comes from George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. He’s an absolute master when it comes to trope-twisting, and I hoped to do at least one iota of what he’s done for the fantasy genre. So from the very beginning, I knew I wanted to lean into certain tropes, bend some, and totally break others. A lot of YA has some very set boundaries you need to respect, just as GRRM does with fantasy, but he finds some amazing ways to both acknowledge and hurdle these things. I tried my best to do the same with a few staples of the genre. It’s also just a lot of fun to zig where you’re “supposed” to zag.
What was easier to write: the banter or the serious parts? What was more fun
I never, never, set out to write banter. It just happens in conversations as I write them. There’s no plotting “this is a dramatic scene, this is a light scene” going on in my outlines. And I’m admittedly not a comedy writer, so banter is in no way my strong suit. Out of the serious parts, the battle set pieces are my absolute favorite to write. Let me break some bones.
The characters are fantastic! Did they appear fully formed or was there a lot of teasing out who they were and what their journey would be?
More than anyone, Mare came out of the writing, simply because of the medium. It’s first person, we’re in her head the entire time, so as obstacles were thrown her way, she “reacted” to them based on the set parameters of who I thought she was. She definitely surprised me on multiple occasions. It’s kind of freaky when characters go off-script because, you know, I’m writing them. Some characters came in fully formed, however, simply because I had to know who they were for the plot. But even they changed as well, and are still changing as I’m getting into book 3.
The plot is full of intrigue and royal family drama. Can you tell us one of your favorite scenes to write? What was the most challenging scene?
My favorite scene, one I wrote quite early on and used as sort of a carrot to get me through the rough bits, was the end-of-second-act twist. That was in my head from page 1 and it was so much fun to work on. It’s sort of the eye of the storm. Eerily calm, seeing clearly for the first time, with absolute chaos closing in. As for the most challenging, one doesn’t really stick out in particular, but I know the majority of act 2 was a slog. It always is for me, since I write knowing act 1 and 3 so well. The bridging of the two is always a pain in the butt.
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
-My cat Oliver was eaten by a coyote after I left for college. Still torn up about it.
-I’m the designated bug-killer in the house.
-I love road trips.
-I was born and raised in Massachusetts but I’ve never touched a pair of skis.
-My favorite North American animal is the American bison.
Do you have things you need in order to write (i.e. coffee, cupcakes, music)?
A cup of coffee is ideal, and I have certain playlists depending on what project I’m working on. Honestly, the thing I really need is time. I can’t sink into writing mode unless I know I have a clear day. Then I can just motor and not think about anything else while I’m at work.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
There was this nook in the study of my old house that was awesome, especially during snowstorms. Now I just kind of write wherever. I guess, in a fantasy, a mountain lodge desk with a poofy chair and views of Grand Teton.
What is easier to write: The first line or the last line?
Last line for sure. At that point you’ve got so much momentum behind you that it’s hard not to write it.
What one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
I grew up in sort of a golden age of YA – I got into Twilight my senior year of high school and had Harry Potter with me every step of the way. But Hunger Games didn’t get on my radar until a few years into college, and that would have been amazing for 13/14 year old me. An unapologetic, strong, kickass female character would’ve been so welcome to me and most of my friends who were, at that point, starved of strong female heroines outside Hermione and Princess Leia.
What are you working on now?
Book 3 is currently in the drafting stages, and book 2 has already gone through a round of edits. It’s very exciting to see things coming together, but also very, very scary. And I’ve got another fantasy idea bouncing around that I’m really in love with, but haven’t really been able to put much work into. Yet.
Red Queen is available now and will be our February Book Hype discussion book.