I had an opportunity to speak recently with writer friend and colleague from the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Audrey Coulthurst, about her new two-book deal with HarperCollins. I also wanted to find a way to communicate with the public about how much Audrey likes horses, so hopefully by the end, her potential readers are clear on that.
Congratulations on your publication news with HarperCollins! What was your path to publication?
Thank you! My path to publication was fairly straightforward. After the first draft of A Hidden Affinity was complete I spent a long time finding critique partners and revising. As part of that I participated in the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writers Retreat. Studying with Malinda Lo and having a group of very talented writers discuss my work was a true gift.
Once I felt the manuscript was as strong as it could be, I entered a couple of online contests and got some agent requests through those. Then I began to query in earnest, and then a few months later my fabulous agent pulled my query out of the slush and offered representation. We made some more revisions and then she sold the book.
I should probably note that while this whole process can be summed up in a few paragraphs, it took a very long time. The first draft of A Hidden Affinity was written in 2010.
A Hidden Affinity is your first book—what’s it about and how were you inspired to write it?
A Hidden Affinity is the story of Princess Denna, who has been preparing for most of her life to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom and one day become queen. But as her forbidden magical gift for fire becomes harder to hide and she starts to fall in love with her fiancé’s rogueish sister, Mare, she has to choose between her duty, her power, and her heart.
My inspiration came from writing the book I always wanted to read. I was a big fantasy reader as a teenager, but never came across a book with a female protagonist who fell in love with another girl. So I wrote it, and threw in some of my other favorite things—horses, magic, music, and the occasional assassination.
Do you see this novel as a coming out story or something else?
Books about coming out are hugely important, but I wanted to tell a different kind of story. Part of the beauty of writing secondary world fantasy is that writers are not obligated to create worlds that have the same social structures or prejudices that are present in ours. In a society that isn’t fundamentally homophobic, coming out is less problematic. Still, both of the main characters do have to come to terms with difficult things about themselves. In Denna’s case, it’s the powerful magical gift she’s been trying to repress, whereas Mare has to learn that loving people is not a weakness.
Please discuss this unending love of yours for horses, and throw in a great horse memory somewhere for effect.
Horses have been a part of my life for a long time, and my first horse was purchased thanks to a change jar. I started begging my parents for a pony at about five years old. They took a mason jar, glued a picture of a horse on it, and told me if I still wanted a horse when I turned 11, we would use the money for that. Eventually the change jar turned into a savings account slowly filled by periodic deposits from the jar. At 11 I was still as horse-crazy as ever, so we bought my first horse, Callie, who was a borderline psychotic Morgan who tried to kill me (and the barn dog) on a regular basis. He taught me a lot about how not to fall off and also when it was better to bail out than try to stay on. He loved blackberries and would come up from the pasture in summer with a purple nose, and was also known to resort to devious means to obtain peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
What are the last three YA books you’ve read?
- FORGIVE ME IF I’VE TOLD YOU THIS BEFORE by Karelia Stetz-Waters
- HONEY GIRL by Lisa Freeman
- SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli
I seek out and read a lot of YA with queer characters, and I’ve been on a contemporary/historical kick lately.
So talk about the main characters—two princesses in love is decidedly un-Disneyesque—what are you aiming for in telling their story?
The real question is what’s stopping Disney! Falling in love with the wrong person is a pretty universal experience, no matter the gender of the people involved.
This is the first in a two-part series, right? Any hints as to the second installment, or are we going to have to wait?
The second book is a secret for now! All I can tell you is that there will be even more magic.
Better magic than horse poop.
Audrey Coulthurst writes YA books that tend to involve magic, horses, and kissing the wrong people. Her debut novel, A HIDDEN AFFINITY, will be published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. When she’s not dreaming up new stories, she can usually be found painting, singing, or on the back of a horse.
Audrey has a Master’s in Writing from Portland State University, is a member of SCBWI, and studied with Malinda Lo as a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Follow her on Twitter at @audwrites or visit her on the web at audreycoulthurst.com.