We Are the Fire by Sam Taylor | Debut Friday
Hey everyone! Welcome to Debut Friday!
For today’s feature, I chatted with Sam Taylor, the author of "We Are the Fire", a YA Dark Fantasy standalone that will be released on February 16, 2021.
Read ahead to see what Sam has to say about her publishing journey, her debut novel and her best advice for aspiring debut authors!
1. First off, congratulations on being published! How does it feel to be in the final steps of becoming a published author?
Sam: It's still a bit surreal, if I'm being honest, especially since this is a dream I've chased for years. It feels more real now that there's a cover, and--at the time I'm writing this--soon digital ARCs will be available and people I don't know will be reading my words and talking about them online and... oh that's scary, what have I gotten myself into?? But I'm so happy and grateful that this little story of mine, filled with fire-magic and teens fighting back, gets to be a real book. Sometimes I have to slow down and remind myself that I did it, I'm getting a book published, I'm getting this book published. I did the thing I set out to do, I persisted through all the setbacks, and next February I'll have a book to hold in my hands with my name on the cover. It's going to be amazing.
2. From what I've heard, the publishing process was not an easy journey. What was the hardest part of the process for you and what did you learn from it?
Sam: My journey is a little unorthodox because I landed my book deal before my agent. In 2018, I'd been struggling in the query trenches for over three years, sending out one manuscript after the other. There were a few times I seemed close to having that agent offer of representation, but it never quite worked out. I was becoming very discouraged, especially when agents weren't showing a lot of interest in Fire, because so many of my critique partners and beta readers had been wildly enthusiastic about this book, and it was a story that I did not want to give up on. I thought to myself, "Readers love this book. Maybe readers can help me get it published." So I put it on the Swoon Reads website. With Swoon Reads (an imprint of Macmillan), writers can upload their completed YA manuscripts of any genre and collect feedback, ratings, and reviews from readers. Stories that receive a lot of positive ratings and reviews can catch the attention of editors at the imprint. That's exactly what happened for me. I put my story on the website in July. In November, I received an email from editor Emily Settle saying she wanted to talk with me about my book. I think the hardest part of the journey was simply sticking with it. After years of rejection, I seriously doubted my abilities as a writer and questioned whether my publishing dream would ever happen. But I persisted, taking opportunities even if they were off the beaten path, and eventually my publishing dream came true. I even have an agent now, thanks to a connection from one of my fellow Swoon Reads authors: I'm represented by the amazing Alli Hellegers of Stimola Literary Studio. So, I keep telling writers that persistence is key, and to take every good opportunity available to them, because they never know which one will lead them to the agents and editors who click with their stories and can champion them to the world.
3. Did you have any finished manuscripts before you started on "We Are the Fire"?
Sam: We Are the Fire is the third manuscript I'd completed and queried. I was invested in and excited about every story I'd created (a writer has to be, if they're going to stick through the months/years of drafting and revising!), but there was always something different about this one. It ignited a passion in me the previous stories hadn't achieved, for all that I'd loved them. So, it feels right that this book is the one that launches my career as a published author.
4. What's the one thing you wished you knew about the publishing process?
Sam: I wish I'd understood better how subjective the whole process is--and how, once a writer achieves a certain skill level in their storytelling, so much depends on luck and timing. I knew that, I had fellow writer friends talk about it so many times. But it still wasn't a concept I properly internalized, and that lack really got me down when I struggled with querying and finding a home for my fiery fantasy story. I wish I'd spent less time second-guessing and doubting my voice and my storytelling, and more time focusing on what I do have to offer the publishing industry and building on those unique talents. In an industry that is so subjective and depends so much on individual tastes and timing and what else is already on an agent's or publisher's list... it can be really challenging to find your champions. And that's not necessarily a reflection on a writer's skills, at all. Even now that I have a book releasing next year, there's still so much out of my hands (marketing, sales, reviewers' and readers' reactions). I think writers have to work at letting go of others' subjectivity and everything we can't control in publishing, and keep coming back to what IS in our hands: Our storytelling. When we focus on that, we'll keep producing our best work, and when we persist in putting that work out there, it will find its way into the hands of readers who need it.
5. Let’s talk about your debut novel! What was the main inspiration behind "We Are the Fire"?
Sam: After grad school, I worked at a job with some people who turned out to be very corrupt. I was often at a loss of how to fix matters at work, or even what was the right thing to do. It was a thoroughly frustrating experience, and I turned to writing in the evenings as a way to vent out my anger. I wanted to watch something burn--that's how the fire magic came in. But I also needed a story that captured the dilemma of wanting to make situations better, but not knowing how to do that. Or the struggle of every option coming with steep cost--because the necessary choice often isn't easy, and doesn't always come without price. I wanted to show unlikely allies coming together, as I experienced during my own situation at work. I wanted to show these teens learning how to overcome all the odds stacked against them--to leave some hope for anyone who finds themselves in seemingly impossible circumstances. In this book, Pran also struggles with chronic pain. I struggle with chronic pain myself. It's better now, but it was particularly bad while I first worked on this book. Mine obviously doesn't have a magical cause the way Pran's does--I'm still trying to understand the source of mine. While writing this book I also dealt with the frustration of searching for answers and remedies for the pain, and just getting doctors to take me seriously. That was something I wanted to carry over into this book as well, a character who struggled similarly while fighting for his freedom.
6. How did the title "We Are the Fire" came along?
Sam: My amazing editor, Emily Settle, came up with it! Titles are not my forte, but Emily excels at them. This is why you get a smart editor, folks! During the offer call, she mentioned the team at Swoon Reads wanted to change the title of my book, because it was a bit of a tongue-twister. (They... weren't wrong.) As we finished revising this manuscript together, she suggested a couple new titles. We Are the Fire leapt out at me; that was exactly the kind of title I'd been looking for all along. “It was partially inspired by the song ‘Missile’ by Dorothy,” Emily told me, “which IMHO would make an absolutely rad theme song for your book.” And she's right there, too!
7. Describe "We Are the Fire" in 5 words in one sentence.
Sam: Fire-wielding teens reclaim their lives.
8. Alongside your debut novel. what other 2021 YA debut novels you're most excited for?
Sam: There are so many!! 2021 is bringing some seriously awesome novels into the world. Prepare yourselves. I could talk for hours about all the books I'm excited for next year, but off the top of my head: Wings of Ebony by J. Elle, Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury, and Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart (So. Much. Black. Girl. Magic!!!!); These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy (based on Russian firebird folklore); The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance (Scandinavian-inspired fantasy); Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley (F/F romance! Witches!!!); The Heathens of Muskox Hollow by Carly Heath (queer teens in 1904 Norway); Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone (gothic fantasy about monsters and magic); Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price (Jane Austen with murder); American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar (teen artist and forbidden love!); Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson (gender-bent Phantom of the Opera retelling); and Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore (genderqueer teen cast as the lead in the school play). I'll stop there, very reluctantly. Keep your eyes open for the 2021 debuts, and keep your wallet handy!
9. As a debut author, what is your best advice to those who wants to become a published author someday?
Sam: Find. Your. People. Find the ones who will give you considerate but honest critique on your stories--you must have that feedback for your writing to improve! And publishing is a really strange beast; find people who know it and get it. Find people who understand when to celebrate with you, even the little things. Find people who can guide you through the ups and downs. Find people you can safely vent your frustrations and jealousies to. (And please be sure to do that venting offline! Don't become a Writer Behaving Badly On The Internet.) I would not be where I am right now, I would not have made it this far into publishing, without the support of good-hearted and insightful people who picked me up when I was down, who saw the good in my writing when I couldn't, and who've guided me through some sticky situations. And be this support to other writers, too! Your writing community can make all the difference in a journey that is long, unpredictable, and can take so many twists and turns, before and after the book deal. You need a good team to ride it all out.
10. And my last question! For the readers who are still hesitating to pick up "We Are the Fire", why do you think they should give it a go?
Sam: Fire magic. Lovers at odds. Ash-gray morals. Twisted alchemy. Ride-or-die friendships. Magical STEM girls. Chronic pain rep. Fantastical folklore. Cute little messenger bird. One outstanding loaf of cinnamon bread. And teens who get stuff done. Ought to be a little something for everyone there, right?
Thank you so much for reading for reading today's feature!
A huge shout-out to Sam for being a part of Debut Friday!
You can follow her on her Instagram (@jsamtaylorauthor).
And don't forget to add "We Are the Fire" to your Goodreads!
You can click here to add it.