Anya Josephs’ debut novel, Queen Of All, is a queer YA fantasy about finding one’s self. Bestselling author Tamora Pierce said it is, “Engaging, fascinating, unputdownable–seriously, I didn’t!” I recently got to chat with Anya about her book, her short fiction, her path to publishing, and more!
Tell us a bit about Queen Of All?
Queen of All is a classic young-adult fantasy, full of the drama of coming-of-age and finding yourself, reflected through the lens of a coming-out story. Magic discovery narratives are so often retellings of the LGBTQ experience of feeling different than those around you, of discovering and struggling to accept who you are, and this book is my attempt to put that metaphor at the center of the story.
What inspired your book?
The inspiration for Queen of All came from my love for the YA fantasy stories I grew up with, and from the pervasive sense that something was missing within that world. I was a kid (maybe eight or nine?) when I came up with the character of Jena, in a game of make-believe that I played with a friend and my brother, and I think twelve or so when I started writing it down. In some ways, the story became its own inspiration--as I've grown up and turned this story into a whole book, it's grown up with me, and I've always turned back to that original spark of imagination.
I love that Jena starts out as the opposite of the ‘chosen one’ kind of character. How did you create your protagonist?
Funnily enough, Jena was originally a 'chosen one' kind of character, because those were the stories that existed in fantasy when I was growing up. But as things progressed--as I developed the story, as my own writing and knowledge about the world increased--I realized she had to be a different kind of person. Jena isn't based on myself, but she is inspired by what it felt like to be the sort of kid who had more fantasy novels than friends: to feel like an outsider, like there was something wrong with you that you couldn't name. The classic hero's journey begins with the hero doubting themselves, the "refusal of the call," but moving past that is an early plot point. I wanted to explore what it would mean for a hero to truly not be able to believe or accept herself as the center of her own story, and what it would mean for her to become the main character of her own life.
You have an impressive number of pieces in various anthologies & magazines. How did you break into short works of fiction and non-fiction?
I started writing short fiction during a low time in the process of creating this novel. I've always dabbled in shorter stuff, writing non-fiction for various side hustles, short stories for workshops, but I'd never pursued publishing or even really polishing any of it. But about five years ago, I got to a point with querying Queen of All where I was pretty sure it would never be published. I set it aside and picked up some short fiction prompts instead, and happened to get lucky with an acceptance on my first submission. That really encouraged me to keep creating and sending out short fiction, and it's been a wonderful way to build my career and polish my craft.
How was the process of writing Queen Of All different from your short fiction?
Well, it definitely took a lot longer! Short fiction often feels quite deliberate to me: I get an idea, usually a single snippet or moment or even one line, and I build a story around that to evoke the feeling or theme I'm trying to get across. Writing Queen of All felt more like throwing myself repeatedly at a brick wall and waiting to see what would fall out. Writing a novel is exponentially harder than a piece of short fiction, and Queen of All is the most important piece I've ever written in terms of how personal it feels. A more challenging and much more chaotic process!
What was the path for publishing Queen Of All?
I started querying agents when I finished revisions in, I think, 2016, probably my senior year of undergrad. I sent what felt like hundreds of queries, all rejections. I revised, rewrote, unsuccessfully. Honestly, probably I just hadn't put enough out there--when I went back and counted, I had sent all of 32 queries--but it felt endless and frankly, somewhat hopeless. I'd put the manuscript aside to work on other projects--short fiction, a novel for adults--when a friend suggested I try a Twitter pitch contest. There, I got some interest from agents and, especially, small presses, and after careful consideration ended up accepting a small press's offer.
What was the path for publishing Queen Of All?
Focus on finding community with other writers. Not just workshops (though those can be great), but find groups on Discord, on Facebook, in-person in your area. Find people to sit down and write with, virtually or otherwise, people who will read your work and give you feedback or read your work and tell you it's great when that's what you need, people who will celebrate with you and encourage you through this difficult industry.
Where can people order Queen Of All?
Anywhere books are sold! I often link people to aer.io, which allows readers to buy books directly from me: https://shop.aer.io/AnyasBooks. But your local bookstore can order it in for you, or it's available from any online retailer! Where’s the best place to follow you?
I'm not very active on social media these days, but people can find me at my website (www.anyajosephs.com), Twitter (@anya_writes), Insta (@anya_leigh), or Facebook (/anyaleighjosephs). Come say hi!