Author Spotlight: Addie Thorley talks An Affair of Poisons
I'm so happy to feature Addie Thorley on today's blog! After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in journalism, Addie decided “hard news” didn’t contain enough magic and kissing, so she flung herself into the land of fiction and never looked back. Her debut YA fantasy, An Affair of Poisons, released just this month from Page Street Publishing.
If dark, French-inspired fantasy is your thing, you need to add An Affair of Poisons to your TBR list right now! Check out the synopsis below!
No one looks kindly on the killer of a king.
After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible―until his path collides with Mirabelle’s.
She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?
And now, here's my chat with Addie!
Hi, Addie! Welcome and congrats on An Affair of Poisons. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Megan! Thanks so much for having me! An Affair of Poisons is a reimagining of a notorious historical event that took place in France at the end of the 17th century called, L'affaire des poisons. It all started when members of the nobility began hiring witches and poisoners to get rid of their bothersome husbands and rivals at court. It turned into a huge scandal that reached clear to the king’s inner circle. To me, it sounded like something straight out of a novel—I couldn’t believe it actually happened—and I knew I wanted to dive in deeper and put my own spin on it.
What’s your best tip when it comes to interlacing actual ‘history’ into historical fantasy?
I think it’s important to make sure the history doesn’t bog down the plot and pacing. Obviously it’s important to do research and have a good base of knowledge, but don’t be afraid to deviate slightly for the sake of the story. At the end of the day, it’s a novel, not a history text book, so our job as writers, first and foremost, is to tell the best, most-compelling tale we can. Most readers don’t care about every tiny detail (and they’ll get bored if you include them all!) so while you may need to know these things in order to write the book, be very judicious about what actually makes it onto the page. Include enough history to accurately portray the period and historical events, of course, but don’t feel married to the minutia.
Did Mirabelle’s voice come easily to you? What was your favorite thing about writing her?
Mirabelle was a slightly tricky character for me to write! I adored being in her head and writing from her perspective, but she’s serious, level-headed, and scientifically minded…things I am decidedly not. I’m much more like the other narrator Josse, who’s loud and brash and emotional. I think that’s why I loved writing Mira so much, though. It was fun to view life through a different lens. I especially loved the research involved with writing her character—it was absolutely fascinating to learn about poisons and alchemy, and by the time I finished the book, I felt like Mira’s love for alchemy had bled into me.
How did you approach your world building for An Affair of Poisons? Do you keep a Story Bible?
First of all, something you need to know about me: I LOVE world building. It’s one of my favorite aspects of writing. It’s so fun and exhilarating to shape and create an entire world. So much possibility! But also a lot of responsibility. I had never been to Paris when I wrote this book, so I wanted to make sure I got the city “right.” I spent a ton of time studying 17th century maps to make sure I nailed the layout of Paris. Then I delved into the specifics: the clothing, food, speech, customs, etc.
I do keep a story bible! It’s not usually very pretty (mostly illegible scribbles in a spiral notebook) but I find it helpful to try to stay organized. One nifty trick I’ve learned along the way: Before I start writing, I dedicate a page in my world building bible to names of potential side characters, towns, rivers, etc. That way I don’t have to ruin my momentum by stopping to research/make something up.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Drafting is definitely the most difficult for me. Editing is where the magic happens—the characters become three dimensional, the plot threads come together, and the writing goes from clunky to lyrical. But the initial shoveling of sand to one day build a castle is a total slog for me. Probably because I’m not the best plotter (real talk: I’m a horrible pantser who is trying to reform!) I often throw out HUGE chunks of words while writing a first draft, like 30-40k words at a times, usually several times. And I always get stuck in the muddy middle. Oh, how I hate the middle! Save the Cat has been a total life saver in this regard. It’s technically a screen writing book, but it works wonders for novels as well. It provides a rough outline, in the form of a beat sheet, that helps you pin point the most important moments in the book and keep the pacing on track. It’s just enough framework to (sort of) keep me on track. But not so much that it freaks out my inner pantser.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing An Affair of Poisons teach you?
I completely agree with this! Every story is such a learning experience! I think the biggest lessons I learned are to embrace revision and to try to be patient. (Easier said than done, I know!) When Poisons first went on submission to publishers, we had a lot of early interest that turned into several Revise and Resubmits. (When an editor gives you notes and agrees to take another look.) Each time I dove into these edits (some of which required HUGE changes), I was certain that this would be IT. The editor would love this version of the story and I would get my book deal.
Except they didn’t. I was doing these massive revisions, and the editors were still passing for one reason or another. It was extremely frustrating. I felt like I was doing all of this work for nothing. But you know what? Each revision brought the book a little bit closer to the version that did sell. If I hadn’t been willing to make those changes, the story would have never reached its full potential. It needed that time, and all of those revisions, to marinate. Looking back now, I’m SO GLAD the first versions of Poisons didn’t sell. It wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. So if you’re currently banging your head against the publishing wall, try to take a deep breath, then roll up your sleeves and make big changes. I promise the effort won’t be in vain, whether or not that book sells.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I just finished Enchantée by my fellow French historical fantasy compatriot, Gita Trelease, and it’s absolutely MAGICAL! She perfectly captures Paris in the tumultuous months leading up to the Revolution, and I about died from the gorgeousness of her prose. You can smell the perfumed halls of Versailles and feel the grime from the streets of Paris beneath your nails.
I also can’t stop thinking about Last Girl Lied To by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. Thrillers are my favorite genre to read, and Laurie has woven an intense and intoxicating web full of lies and deception that will keep you guessing until the end. Also, she is the queen of complex and “unlikable” girls.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is to separate the art of writing from the business of publishing. This can be a brutal career, where success isn’t necessarily based on merit. So much of it comes down to subjectivity, and if you let bad reviews or query rejections determine your worth as a human and a writer, it can quickly drag you down. Learn to love writing for what it is—for how it makes you feel, for the reasons you began writing in the first place—and come to the page with those happy, positive feelings. Write the best book you possibly can, constantly strive to improve, and then accept that the rest is up to luck and timing.
Many thanks go out to Addie for taking the time to tell us more about An Affair of Poisons, the inspiration behind it, and why she's grateful for all the big revisions the book went through on its way to publication. Be to sure to add this rich, and multi-layered YA to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more information, follow Addie on Twitter, and visit her beautiful author website at addiethorley.com.
And, as always,