Hello and welcome back to my Author Spotlight series where I interview authors about the publishing and writing process and their favorite places to write.
Liselle Sambury is a Trinidadian-Canadian author whose debut Young Adult novel, “Blood Like Magic,” will be released on June 15th, 2021. When Sambury isn’t writing, she is running her YouTube channel, dedicated to demystifying the author life by sharing tips for writers and details of her publishing journey. I had the opportunity to interview Sambury about her debut book, as well as the “Blood Like Magic” sequel and her third book, “Butcherbirds.” Sambury’s debut book is a Black witch fantasy that combines a strong family bond and LGBTQ+ representation with a hate to love romance. “Blood Like Magic” follows Voya who is given the horrifying task to sacrifice her first love to save her family’s magic for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers. To pass, Voya needs to find the perfect guy to fall in love with before she can kill him. But as infuriating as Luc is, Voya can’t help falling for him, leaving her to choose between saving her first love and her family heritage.
What was the inspiration behind “Blood Like Magic”?
I wrote “Blood Like Magic” in November 2017 during NaNoWriMo when I was living the farthest away from home that I’ve ever been as an adult and feeling really homesick for Toronto. I knew I wanted to set something there and I had gotten stuck on the idea of a family of Black witches and this image in my head of a girl lounging in a bath of blood. From there, setting it in the future was kind of a fun add-on because I thought it would be cool, but now I’m really glad that I did it.
Out of every food that Voya makes, which is your favorite to make or eat yourself?
I love this! I absolutely love to eat pholourie with tamarind sauce, I am obsessed. Whenever I go to a West Indian restaurant, I have to get it. In terms of things that I make myself, I’ve become very proud of my macaroni pie and its perfect amount of stiffness, so that’s a big go-to. I also don’t usually make paratha roti from scratch because it’s an effort, but that’s also delicious.
When writing, do you start with character or with your plot? Are you a “plotter” or a “panster”?
In my current process, I always start with character. I read a craft book called “Story Genius” which really revolutionized how I thought about story. Now, I always begin with a character and what they want and I develop the rest of the plot around that. I do usually have a plot idea when I get started, but I make sure that it flows from the character and not the other way around. I always plot my books because otherwise I would end up with a huge mess. I prefer to know where I’m going and sometimes I will change things on the fly if something isn’t working.
In “Blood Like Magic,” you have an amazing cast of characters, all of them with unique relationships with each other. How did you practice making those connections seem real and different for each set of characters?
I guess you could call my multiple revisions practice in a way because I really figured a lot out as I wrote and edited the book. I really thought about what each character’s personality and their wants and goals are and wrote them from there. In some cases, I also had to revise who I thought they were because what I put down on the page ended up being different than what I intended. As for realism, I really just do my best to think of each character as a real person and to imagine how they would react to things. Like Voya’s Aunt Maise is a hot-tempered person who also cares a lot about her niece, so she reacts to things in a way that’s kind of snappy, but you can tell the intention is coming from a good place. To me, characterization is all about seeing the world through their eyes.
With your YouTube channel that has followed your publishing journey, what do you think is the most important thing for writers to know if they follow the traditional path of publishing?
I would say “it’s not all bad.” I feel like in the interest of helping writers prepare for the realities of the publishing industry, sometimes the negatives end up being what’s promoted the most. Certainly, there’s a lot of work to be done but there are also people who have been doing that work to make it a better environment. I think it’s great to know what you’re getting into, but I also wouldn’t want someone to give up on their dream of traditional publishing before they even try.
What was your favorite scene to write in “Blood Like Magic”?
I really love the final scene in the book. As an author, I’m generally a big fan of the denouement and that wrap up at the end of a book because I love finishing on that final image or final line. When I read, I love closing a book and just running over that last piece in my head. “Blood Like Magic’s” ending in particular, to me, just feels like it wraps the story up in one way while opening up for the sequel in another, and that was fun to write.
Which character put you outside your writing comfort zone but still had you learning new things at every turn?
Honestly, I would say my main character Voya. We’ve really been on a journey. It took a lot of finessing for me to get her voice right and her goals aligned the way I wanted them to be. When I first wrote her, she was very passive and I struggled to make her more active. I also lead with plot first instead of character and it was in this book where I learned to do it the other way around. I even went all the way into edits with my publisher before I realized I didn’t have her goals quite right. Every step of the way, I learned more about her and about craft, and I feel like it shows because writing my sequel felt very much like slipping into a familiar voice.
What would you want your Calling to be and what do you think it’d actually be?
I’m with Voya, I would wish for something easy! But in reality, I guess I would probably have to do something related to writing as my task, which I think would actually go well considering that’s an area I’m confident in. But I would definitely be super worried about failing anyway.
What is your favorite place to write pre- and post-pandemic?
It’s stayed the same both pre- and post-pandemic in that I prefer to write at my desk in both cases. Sometimes I will feel lazy and want to write on the couch, but I have the best focus and do the best work at a desk.
Do you have any hidden Easter Eggs in your book for readers to keep an eye out for?
There is a Toronto location that I’ve adapted slightly for the book. I say it used to be something else, but really it used to be a different thing. I’ve put in the correct intersection, so I wonder if people will guess it. There are quite a few Toronto locations but that one is the most hidden. Also, anyone who knows the story behind what my mom wanted to name me and what I was actually named will notice a little tidbit in there.
What new releases are you looking forward to for the summer?
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I’m reading “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley. I’m really taking my time with it and am super invested in the mystery. There are also actually a few Canada references in that book which is cool.
If you were to give Voya and Luc each a song to describe them separately and together, what would the songs be?
I actually have a playlist, so this is perfect. For Voya I would pick “Oh My God” by Ida Maria because it’s very much about not feeling in control and how other people see you and it also features a lot of frantic, raw feelings. For Luc, I would pick “Say Anything” by Cartel because I feel like, for him, it would speak to how pessimistic he can be about his future but also at the same time, him telling himself that he’s going to prove himself one day. For the two of them together, I would pick “Past Lives” by BØRNS because I feel like so much of how their relationship is wrapped up in the people who came before them. They only come together because of Voya’s ancestor’s task in the first place. But I also feel like that song is also saying we’re better than our past lives, which I also like for them.
Will we see more of Voya and Luc in your second book? What are we able to know about your 3rd release, “Butcherbirds”?
You will! They both continue to be wrapped up in each other’s business in the sequel. I won’t say more than that because I feel like it’s so easy to spoil with the second book because of how the first ends. About “Butcherbirds,” I can say that if you loved the complicated family drama in “Blood Like Magic,” you can expect more in “Butcherbirds” just at a more intimate level. It follows a seventeen-year-old medium and her single mother who inherit a mansion in northern Ontario, an investigative journalist in the future trying to find out what happened to her and it’s definitely got a more atmospheric and sinister vibe.
If you could write one type of scene forever, what would it be?
I love dramatic reveal scenes. I have put one in the “Blood Like Magic” sequel that I adore so much. I just think those are so much fun because a truth comes out and you get to see how all the characters react to it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read what you want to write and stay up to date. I think having knowledge of what is out there is really helpful, not only in better understanding the publishing landscape but also to catch yourself if you’re falling into a story that it seems like everyone has already done. Especially in traditional publishing, when you’re trying to sell a book, there’s a lot of value in knowing which stories are like yours but also how yours is different and new.
What does having your book published mean to you?
It’s a dream come true, honestly. I always dreamed of being an author and for most of the time that I’ve been writing, right up until I sold, it didn’t feel like it would ever happen. I also feel like I’m doing right by the teenaged version of myself who would have loved a book like this. I hope that it can be that joy to teens who are out there now.
You can find Liselle Sambury on Twitter and Instagram @lisellesambury. Her website also has links to pre-order “Blood Like Magic,” but as always, check out your local independent bookstore or use Indiebound to find the closest independent bookstore near you. You can support your local independent bookstores through Bookshop.org if you’re in the United States or BookManager if you’re in Canada.
All my thanks to Liselle Sambury for answering my questions and writing an amazing book! I can’t wait to read the sequel to “Blood Like Magic” and “Butcherbirds.” I also want to extend my thanks to Jenny Lu for setting up this interview and acting as a liaison between Liselle and I. Without her, this interview wouldn’t exist and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to interview these amazing authors.