Author Ava Reid discusses how her love for a certain Grimms’ fairytale led her to write her new fantasy novel, Juniper & Thorn.
Ava Reid was born in Manhattan and raised right across the Hudson River in Hoboken, but currently lives in Palo Alto. She has a degree in political science from Barnard College, focusing on religion and ethnonationalism. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.
Photo by Ava Reid
In this post, Ava discusses how her love for a certain Grimms’ fairytale led her to write her new fantasy novel, Juniper & Thorn, her advice for other writers, and more!
Name: Ava Reid
Literary agent: Sarah Landis at Sterling Lord Literistic
Book title: Juniper & Thorn
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: June 21, 2022
Genre/category: Fantasy, Horror
Previous titles: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Elevator pitch for the book: A gothic horror retelling of Grimm’s “The Juniper Tree,” set in Victorian-era Odessa, Ukraine.
What prompted you to write this book?
Juniper is the second book in my contract with my publisher, HarperCollins. I knew it had to be another standalone fantasy and—keeping with the themes of my first book—something focused on folklore, identity, and power.
I’ve always been interested in “The Juniper Tree,” partially, of course, because of its macabre quality, but also because it has very little in the way of typical fairytale tropes: There are no princesses and princes, no witches and wizards, no sprawling quests. It’s a very intimate story about domestic abuse. Because of that, it seemed more suited to a gothic horror novel than an epic fantasy, a novel with a prevailing atmosphere of claustrophobia and oppression. It’s a story about being forced into a narrative against your will, being made to play out the same role over and over again, at someone else’s behest and orchestration.
I’ve also wanted to write a book set in Odessa for a long time. It’s where my maternal family originates, and it’s a fascinating city with a rich and layered history, especially during the Victorian period. It was an epicenter of commerce and immigration within the region, and a place where new ways and lifestyles were quickly (sometimes violently) overtaking old. One of the hallmarks of the gothic genre is the clash between past and present. Drawing on these literary traditions and my own family history was what ultimately created Juniper & Thorn.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
Juniper was written under contract while I was still in the process of publishing and promoting my first novel. Because of that, I was limited in the amount of time I could spend drafting before I had to show something to my editor. I spent a week or two researching, and then I spent about six weeks completing the first draft.
Unlike some of my other books, Juniper did not change much through the revising and editing process. I had a very strong concept from the beginning, and I was certain about the themes that I wanted to explore and the style I wanted to employ. Most of the editing involved fleshing out ideas rather than fundamentally altering them. It was a very different experience from my first book, where I cut and added tens of thousands of words across over a year of various drafts.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
The experience of publishing a second book is very, very different from a debut. I had a much better sense what to expect going in, from editing to publicity and marketing. I approached many situations—such as asking for blurbs or fulfilling interview requests—with a lot more confidence. I also felt much more comfortable asserting my vision for the book during the revision process. There are certain things I might have relented on as a debut, but with a second book I knew it was okay to push back.
One of the more surprising elements of this process was the power of reader expectations. A debut is where you introduce yourself to the world, and a second book is where you can more firmly cement your identity as an author—sometimes entirely upending the precedent set by your debut. Even my editor, I think, was surprised when I turned in an intimate gothic horror novel instead of a second epic fantasy.
It’s taken careful consideration on my own part in figuring out how to pitch this book: appealing to an existing audience, and hopefully also reaching a new one. It’s a fine balancing act that I’m still working on.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
Frankly, how easy it was. There are some books where every single word feels like pulling teeth. And then there are some books that just pour out of you like water. Juniper was definitely the latter. I think it’s because this was a story that was lying inside me for so long, waiting to be pulled to the surface. It also helped that it was a very tight, contained narrative, very different from the sweeping epic fantasy of my debut.
One thing that surprised me was how often my own ideas were validated by research. I can’t count how many times I had a concept in my head—a motif, an image, a plot event—that I discovered was backed up by history. Pretty much a writer’s dream!
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
As with any piece of horror media, I hope that readers will be disturbed and unnerved. I hope that I have created a world with enough depth and richness that they can lose themselves in it. I also hope that I have created a protagonist who evokes strong emotions in the audience: You may root for her, but you also might be afraid of her. And I hope that readers will see, even amidst the macabre and horrific, there is a lot of compassion and love.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
It’s a cliché (although all writing advice is a cliché), but: Write the book that only you can write, the book that you want to read.
Publishing is an industry where you are often forced to advocate for yourself, and you are the only one who can truly protect your vision. It is so much easier to navigate the pitfalls of publishing if you have a strong sense of why you want to tell this particular story. Let that desire and self-knowledge be what guides you.
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