Welcome to Debut of the Week, our new series celebrating some of the most exciting new voices in YA! This week we welcome Anna Bright, author of The Beholder, an alt historical fantasy about Selah, daughter of the leader of Potomac, whose future is riding on her ability to make the perfect marriage. But when her attempt to do so goes spectacularly, publicly awry, her conniving stepmother lays down an ultimatum: Selah will cross the Atlantic on a tour of potential spouses, coming home betrothed or not at all.
Here’s Bright on her teen self, her new book, and how she celebrated when she sold it…
Please describe yourself at the age your protagonist is in the book.
Anna Bright: When I was eighteen, I was… terrified. I left a tiny school where I felt safe, where I got along well with all my teachers (my peers still felt like kind of a mystery sometimes), and moved to Atlanta, to go to Georgia Tech. I was a liberal arts major at a university that was something like 4/5 engineers and 2/3 male and 3 hours from home, to join a class literally over 100 times larger than the one I’d graduated from.
It was the best thing I ever did.
I met nerds who loved what they studied. I met people comfortable with who they were, whoever that was. I worked myself to the bone, joined too many clubs, studied until I thought my eyes would fall out, slept five hours a night, took on two part-time jobs, got my heart broken approximately eight times, cried eighty billion tears, made tons and tons of buddies and a fair number of friends still very dear to me.
I recommend doing something that uncomfortable to absolutely everyone. You will find out exactly how brave you really are, which is probably much braver than you think.
Please tell us about your debut in one sentence.
Selah’s wicked stepmother sends her away from home Cinderella-meets-The Odyssey-style and tells her to come home engaged or not at all—but so, so much more is going on.
What was the spark that became this book?
I was blow-drying my hair and daydreaming about fairy tales and about Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, which I’d basically devoured like the bread basket at an Italian restaurant. And then I started thinking about love and how external pressure affects the way we fall for people and falling in love at the end of the world… and then I got the idea to write a there-and-back-again romance, The Bachelorette–style, with a fairy tale retold at every location. And once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop.
What were the books you had to read throughout your life in order to write it?
Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (and, in general, fairy tale and mythology compilations) were my bread and butter when I was a kid. I became fascinated with fairy tales and with all their oddity and antiquity. The rules that governed them and the values those rules illuminated were strange and ancient—kindness and hospitality were rewarded, and outright malevolence earned punishment, but sometimes tricksters won in the end, too. Their patterns and the figures that populated them became familiar to me. Later, I would discover fairy tale retellings, and once I learned fairy tale patterns could be layered with human impulses and idiosyncrasies, I was done for.
How did you celebrate when you sold your first book?
I was on a road trip, heading to a wedding with four friends—including my husband and my critique partner—when we officially sold my book. I will never forget reading the email out loud in the car to everyone and all of us whooping and screaming and the way I wanted to cry, I was so happy. I ate so much Blue Bell ice cream and danced so hard that weekend.
Please recommend a new YA book you love.
I just finished I Wanna Be Where You Are, by Kristina Forest, and just loved it. Ballet? Road trips? Childhood best friends to enemies to lovers? I was sold before I’d ever picked it up and totally adored reading it.
The Beholder is on sale now.