Inkling Interview: Liselle Sambury
Happy Friday Everyone!
I hope you all are faring well this April, despite its peculiarities! This is an author who I have always been super interested in learning more about, especially when I saw the announcement of her upcoming debut. I’m so excited for the opportunity to learn more about this author’s process and books--when I saw the publishing announcement I got PUMPED. Please welcome, Liselle Sambury!
Hi Liselle! Thanks so much for your time and Happy New Year! I always like to start these interviews with an easy question: where are you at in your writing journey at the moment, and how did you get there?
Right now, I’m working on revisions for my debut BLOOD LIKE MAGIC. I have more free time than normal right now, so when my editor is looking over my revisions, I’ve also started drafting for the sequel. I wrote what would become my debut during NaNoWriMo in 2017 back when it was an adorable 50,000-word baby. I was living in Northern Ontario at the time and missing Toronto where I grew up, so I wanted to revisit it with a story about witches who lived there, but in the future cause the future is fun.
BLOOD LIKE MAGIC is my third novel, and I had unsuccessfully queried two books before that. A big mistake I made with my second book was querying too early, so I was determined to really take the time to edit this third one. After I finished, I spent about seven months doing edits on my own and with CPs and beta readers. During that time I got into a contest called RevPit which meant I got to work with the wonderful Sione Aeschliman who helped me edit for a month. The day the contest finished in early June of 2018, I started querying.
I will say that this book was my best querying experience, by far. With my first book, I got zero agent requests, and with my second book, it took me getting to the one year mark of querying and editing before I got a bite. With this one, I got a couple of full requests through word of mouth before I even sent a query. It was such a positive change for me and really reinforced the importance of taking the time needed to edit. It’s so easy to rush into querying but agents aren’t going anywhere. Waiting did me a lot more favours than shooting my shot right away ever did. In late July, after almost two months of querying, I signed with Kristy Hunter at the Knight Agency who I ADORE.
We edited for another six months, which was gruelling at the time and I was impatient, but I had learned how important editing was and was willing to do whatever was needed to get my book into the best shape possible. Kristy is a wonderful editorial agent too, so I could feel my book getting better with each round. In January of 2019, we went on submission which was both exciting and horrifying. I always think it’s a thrill to get to that final step of trying to sell your book, but as time goes on and you wonder if it’ll sell at all, the process gets really hard, at least for me.
In April of 2019, after about four months on submission, we got an offer from Sarah McCabe at Simon Pulse. It’s really a dream for me. Sarah was one of the editors that I had my eye on along with Simon and Schuster as a publisher in general during the entire process. The day that Kristy told me about the deal, I basically ran around at work calling and texting the important people in my life to share the news while also saying ‘don’t tell anyone it’s a secret!’ I owe so much to everyone who helped me get to that point and Kristy, of course, for rocking that sale.
I had grown my 50,000-word baby into a 100,000-word fully realized thing (still growing too!) and now it’s going to be published. Working with Sarah has been such a wonderful and positive experience. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an author, and now I’m going to realize that dream. Not everyone can say that. I still feel so privileged to be in this position.
WOW! Thanks so much for sharing. I really relate to your mantra about taking the proper time to revise and edit your work and feel the same way! Speaking of your books, you just mentioned BLOOD LIKE MAGIC before, could you tell us a bit more about it?
BLOOD LIKE MAGIC follows a young Black witch living in Toronto in the year 2099 who after failing to come into her powers is forced to choose between losing her family's magic forever, a heritage steeped in centuries of blood and survival, or murdering her first love, a boy who is supposedly her genetic match. It delves into a LOT of family dynamics and drama, while also exploring the difficulty of finding your place in the world as a teen beyond what people expect from you.
There’s so much about this that makes me happy. This is the kind of story sixteen-year-old me needed and twenty-seven-year-old me absolutely wants. I can’t wait to read!!!
For next projects, I’ve been working on a young adult contemporary fantasy horror that, in my classic style, has a lot of deep family ties and drama, and is set a little in Toronto, but primarily in Northern Ontario where I lived for a couple of years and still visit regularly. I’ve always been a horror movie buff and Jordan Peele has inspired me to create Black horror stories that can impact a wider audience but also really speak to Black experiences. It’s not attached to any publishers at this time, but I always have my fingers crossed.
Anything that can be comped to Jordan Peele already has me intrigued! We’re so excited for you! Now, Liselle, I want to talk specifically about your writing style. What, in a word or two, is your writing style?
Nice! That is an area I always feel I struggle in (I love prose and exposition!), so I always envy those who can master it. More on your writing craft, what is your favorite/least favorite part of the writing process?
I make no secret of my disdain for revising and love of drafting. What I love about drafting is that it’s my time to be unselfconscious about my writing and just have fun. Sometimes I write things that I know are garbage, but I’m allowed to let it be. Or I’ll write scenes that are super fun and ridiculous, and maybe I won’t keep it, but it’s fun to do at the time. Not to mention, I like the feeling of accomplishment I get from writing all those words from nothing.
Ahh! I’m the complete opposite. LOL
Revising is harder for me because it’s the point at which I do have to make it good. It also gets into needing opinions and having to fix things based on feedback when I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to fix. But once everything starts to come together and I can see the book getting better, and it’s just small tweaking, me and revision become besties. We just have a rocky relationship when I realize I have to do big, long, exhausting changes, though they’re always worth it in the end.
One reason I love these interviews is because I get to learn about all sorts of processes and how they work. And the best part is, none of them are wrong! That makes me wonder, as you draft especially, where do you find inspiration for your stories? Does your background shape things at all?
Most of my initial inspiration for stories is completely random but always revolves around a “what if?” I’ll see a movie and wonder “what if it was this way?” or I’ll watch an interaction between strangers on the street and think “what if this was their lives?” I’m constantly being inspired so I’ve always been lucky to not have to look for it. It comes to me, and I jot it down on my iPhone and come back to it later.
Once I have my initial inspiration however, I do find that my background starts to shape the rest of the story, especially when I’m considering my main character. I automatically want to set stories in places that I’ve lived, or want to tackle feelings of diaspora and give people Caribbean-Canadian backgrounds, or jobs similar to ones that I had as a teen. Somehow, I always put at least one piece of my self within the story though it isn’t usually my first bit of inspiration.
I tend to feel the stories we put pieces of ourselves into always feel the most authentic! Speaking of jobs, I always like to ask authors about balance. How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?
Ah, a #5AMwriters club member! I do agree dedicating specific time for writing works well and creates a nice discipline--mine just tends to happen at night! So when you’re up at 5AM and writing, how do you combat writer’s block? Later on, how do you deal with tough critiques of your writing?
Don’t hate me, I don’t get writer’s block
I’ve been lucky in that whenever I’m stuck on how to fix something in my books, I usually solve it fairly quickly. Or if I don’t, I’m still able to work on other parts of my book until I do figure it out.
But, I am a delicate flower when it comes to receiving critiques. Things that I do to deal with that is giving myself some time to wallow. I take a day to feel bad and whine to my partner about all the work I have to do and how hard writing is, but I set a deadline to stop. The max is a week, then I need to get to work. So I have time to feel like feelings without letting it stop me from working. I’ll also remind myself that all the feedback I get is to help the book get better, not to tell me I’m a bad writer. Everything is fixable so long as I want to fix it.
I think that’s a really healthy way to approach tough critiques. One thing I’ve learned to differentiate between constructive vs. destructive feedback. Okay, a fun question: Would you rather have the power to be invisible or fly?
Invisible cause I’m nosy AF and I’m afraid of heights.
LOL. Back to writing a moment - What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?
Don’t be afraid to write your story.
When I was writing BLOOD LIKE MAGIC, I had moments where I wondered if anyone would care about something set in Toronto, if anyone would want a main character who was Black and vulnerable instead of strong in a tough-girl way, or if my trans boy love interest be deemed ‘too different.’ I think it’s one thing to want to take things like the market into account when you decide which stories to work on, but at the end of the day, you have to write what you’re passionate about and what feels uniquely like your book. If you don’t write it, you’ll wish you did, so why not just do it?
Great advice! And I do think we’re grateful that publishing is becoming increasingly open to publishing books that represent a wide array of human experiences. Another fun question: What’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
I’m gonna cheat and do this for my main character in BLOOD LIKE MAGIC because my life is incredibly mundane, which I like, but doesn’t make for good anthems. For Voya, it would be Comeback Kid by Sleigh Bells: it’s got a fun overall beat but talks about how life can be difficult but you can be the ‘comeback kid’ by doing your best and she definitely is.
Ooh, I just listened — very catchy! Okay, now… Bonus Question! You have an all-expenses paid trip where you want with one of your characters--where do you go and who do you bring and why, why, why?
I don’t know that Voya would want to hang out with me, after all, I put her through! But, I think both of us would enjoy going to Japan and spending the entire time doing cooking classes and eating food in cute restaurants. We both have a lot of investment in food as a passion. I love all of my characters but she’s the only one where I think we would have enough in common for me to want to spend an extended period of time with her. Like, we would go to the Ramen museum and have the time of our lives. I think she would forgive me in exchange for that.
That sounds so fun! And YUM, Ramen sounds so good at the moment (is that weird at 9AM)?
Liselle, in the midst of all that’s going on, thanks so, so much for your time and insight. I know that there readers who are going to hold BLOOD LIKE MAGIC close to their hearts and treasure it.
Want to know more about Liselle and her upcoming books? There are several ways to connect with her:
Check out her YouTube channel!
Visit her website!
You can also add BLOOD LIKE MAGIC on GoodReads now!