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Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace discusses combining her favorite genres into her new YA fantasy novel, Belladonna.

Adalyn Grace is the New York Times bestselling author of All the Stars and Teeth, which was named "2020's biggest YA fantasy" by Entertainment Weekly, and the sequel, All the Tides of Fate. Prior to becoming an author, Adalyn spent four years working in live theatre, acted as the managing editor of a nonprofit newspaper, and studied storytelling as an intern on Nickelodeon Animation's popular series The Legend of Korra.

Local to San Diego, Adalyn spends her nonwriting days watching too much anime and playing video games with her two dorky dogs. She invites you to visit her on Instagram @authoradalyngrace or her website, AdalynGraceAuthor.com.

Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

Adalyn Grace

In this post, Adalyn discusses combining her favorite genres into her new YA fantasy novel, Belladonna, what she hopes readers get from the experience, and more!

Name: Adalyn Grace
Book title: Belladonna
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: August 30, 2022
Genre/category: YA Fantasy
Previous titles: All the Stars and Teeth; All the Tides of Fate
Elevator pitch for the book: Orphaned as a baby, 19-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.

Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

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What prompted you to write this book?

Pure, selfish indulgence. When I was young, my favorite books were A Series of Unfortunate Events and ones with elements of the paranormal, like Twilight and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I’ve also always loved the fantastical, and period pieces with sweeping romances and dazzling ballgowns.

This book was very much an escape for me during the early days of the pandemic, and so I filled it with everything I personally loved most in stories. I like to pitch Belladonna as Bridgerton meets Knives Out. It’s as much of a romance as it is a murder-mystery, and is filled with equal parts ritzy ballgowns and elements of the macabre (given the main character’s ability to see spirits and communicate with Death himself).

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I came up with the initial spark of the idea for Belladonna nearly a decade ago, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I put the pen to paper and wrote the opening prologue. While my debut novel was being shopped around to publishers, I drafted a very early and very messy version of Belladonna.

In this version Death wasn’t even a character, and there was hardly any romance. It was very much a discovery draft I wrote to distract myself while trying to sell my other book, and I learned a ton about the story and what I wanted it to one day become.

When we eventually sold Belladonna in September of 2020, we sold on a proposal based on the synopsis and three sample chapters. From there, I had to write and edit the rest of the story from scratch in about a year, completely reinventing it and adding in much more romance, Death’s character, and strengthening the murder mystery arc.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

While I took many creative liberties with the book, the setting and time period are loosely based on Victorian era England. I did a great deal of research around courting practices, how debuting and seasons work, food, dresses, hair, everything. I also learned a great deal about poison, and poisonous plants specifically.

This is a little silly, but one of the most surprising things to me was the tea they drank during this time. With the popularity of Earl Gray, I had assumed that it’d been around forever and that it was surely what they drank during the Victorian Era.

However, the most popular tea during these years was actually Oolong. Earl Gray was around, though I don’t believe it actually took off in popularity until the early 1900s. The more you know!

Adalyn Grace: On Writing for Escape

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I originally sold this book as a standalone, with an entirely different ending that was much darker and more bittersweet. But when the time came to actually write the ending, there were threads that felt unfinished and characters I really wanted to spend more time exploring.

I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing ahead of time, and just sent my team an entirely different cliffhanger ending when I submitted my second draft. I quietly waited to see how they would react, haha.

Fortunately, it worked in my favor and now we have the upcoming sequel, Foxglove, which wasn’t originally planned from the start but feels very natural and ultimately like the right call!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Overall, I hope that Belladonna will let people shut off their brains for a little bit and escape. That’s what I used this story for when I drafted it, and I hope that readers will be able to do the same.

It’s an unnerving time right now, and I wrote this story as pure indulgence, leaning into everything I loved. There’s a sweeping romance, masquerade balls, horseback rides over Gothic moors, banter, and what I hope readers find to be a very gripping mystery in a lush world.

I hope that this book provides readers with an escape, and a few hours where they can just relax and disappear into a different world.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

I’m totally going to cheat because just one is too hard! My biggest piece of advice is to write what you love, because there’s a good chance that others out there will love it, too. It’s never worth trying to follow trends, because they come and go far too quickly to keep on top of.

Beyond that, one other piece of advice I want to share is to take yourself seriously. It can be easy to downplay our writing and our stories, but it takes an incredible amount of time, discipline, and dedication to finish writing a book.

We all know those people who would “write a book if only they had the time,” and we bite our tongues because we know that we didn’t have the time, either—we made it. There are a thousand other things you could be doing, but you are setting the time aside to write your story, which is a huge feat.

Take yourself seriously and never downplay your work.

Build Your Novel Scene by Scene

If you want to learn how to write a story, but aren’t quite ready yet to hunker down and write 10,000 words or so a week, this is the course for you. Build Your Novel Scene by Scene will offer you the impetus, the guidance, the support, and the deadline you need to finally stop talking, start writing, and, ultimately, complete that novel you always said you wanted to write.

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