Author Interview: Emma Theriault

Ever since I saw the pitch for Emma’s debut, REBEL ROSE — an exploration of what happens to Belle and the Beast in the context of the French Revolution — I’ve been bursting with excitement!

Emma was kind enough to chat with me about her debut, her experience with querying and having a novel on submission, as well as writing a book for Disney!

Welcome, Emma! To start, could you tell me about the book that got you your agent? 

Emma Theriault: BY SEA OR SWORD was an epic young adult fantasy about the daughter of a disgraced pirate, a privileged boy drawn to the sea, a woman cursed with magic, a tyrannical immortal king and an awakening darkness. It was on sub for a long time and had several close calls, but ultimately didn’t sell.

Can you tell me a bit about your querying journey? For example, was the project that got you your agent the first book you queried?

ET: BSOS was the second book I wrote, and the first one I queried way back in 2015. I knew I wanted to query it (as opposed to my first book, which I finished and knew I’d never query!) but I am a perfectionist to my core so I’d very likely still be working on it were it not for my now-agent sliding into my DMs and asking if I was ever going to have a book ready for her. That lit a fire in me, and I had a friend read the whole book (up until that point only about 50% of it had been critiqued) and tell me if I could reasonably send it or if it needed work. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity, so when she said it was good, I jumped at the chance and very quickly cobbled a query together with the help of a few friends and sent it off!

Was there a time in your querying journey when you felt like giving up?

ET: I had a relatively painless querying experience, followed by an immensely difficult submission experience. I wouldn’t say I ever came close to giving up (I am stubborn) but morale got very low for a long time. Sub is a beast, and it’s hard to know it will be worth it when you’re in the thick of it.

How did you get the strength to keep trying?

ET: Despite my bouts with impostor syndrome, I was ultimately able to convince myself that my agent didn’t sign me out of pity, and the glowing rejections we received weren’t lies. When hope failed, it was my stubbornness that kept me going. That, and supportive writer friends. I think it’s important to talk to people who have been in the same place as you, who know what it’s like to struggle while querying, or while on sub, or while under contract, etc.

Do you have any advice for querying authors?

ET: Write another book! Take it from me, someone whose book died on sub, you’re going to want a Plan B when things aren’t looking so rosy. The best thing you can do is accept that the book you’ve just spent years of your life perfecting might not end up being the one. And don’t let that realization break you.

What’s something you know now as an agented author that you wish you knew before?

ET: I thought the biggest hurdle was getting an agent, I was absolutely wrong. Every stage of a writing career has hurdles. They don’t ever go away, they just change. Get really good at jumping them.

Do you have any wisdom to share for authors who are on submission?

ET: Every emotion you’re feeling is valid! And you absolutely need to find friends who have been there or who are there with you for venting, commiserating, and eventually celebrating.

When and why did you start writing?

ET: I’ve always loved writing, and I went to a specialized arts high school to study literary arts. But for whatever reason, I never allowed myself to imagine actually pursuing it. In the depths of my mind, I envisioned attempting to get published as a ‘someday’ kind of thing. It wasn’t until I started working in the YA section of a bookstore when I was twenty that I realized the books around me were written by people I admired but also related to. They made me think I could do it too.

What inspires you?

ET: Everything. History (my biggest inspiration, I was a history major in university), books, movies, weird Wikipedia journeys, dumb jokes my boyfriend tells me that explode whole plots into my mind (my current WIP), reddit threads about historical conspiracy theories (my last WIP), travelling, etc.

Your debut, REBEL ROSE, is a story about the Disney princess, Belle (I am so super excited for this book). Can you tell us about the process for getting to work on a Disney story? 

ET: Thank you! In fall 2018 I got a very exciting email from my agent asking if I’d like to audition for the project. I was technically still on sub with BSOS (though I knew it would die there) and working on something new, but I jumped at the chance to write a story about Belle. I had two weeks to write three chapters and ended up throwing a prologue in there too (it’s for Disney, after all). It was another couple of weeks before I heard that my editor loved it and was taking it to acquisitions, and then another week or so before I found out that I was chosen. Ironically enough, BSOS (the book that got me my agent) also went to its final acquisitions meeting on the same day as the Disney acquisitions meeting. Felt like a full-circle moment in my publishing journey.

How much creative leeway were you given with Belle’s story?

ET: Lots, actually! I even changed the pitch for my audition, which was a risky move despite it paying off in the end. With IP projects, the amount of control an author has varies. I have an amazing editor who really let me flex my former history major muscles. We brainstormed before I sat down to write an outline and collaborated throughout the process, but ultimately I was allowed to explore. She was always supportive, even when I changed things post-outline (which happened a lot).

What kind of research did you do for REBEL ROSE? 

ET: Aside from watching Beauty and the Beast on repeat for months, I read a lot of books about the French Revolution and virtually toured Versailles more times than I can count. I also read a lot of contemporary accounts of life in France, letters between nobles, diary entries, French furniture trends, clothing styles and influences, etc. And there are digitized collections of political and philosophical pamphlets written during the French Revolution online so I found those very helpful as well. The best thing I did was go on a very well timed trip to France and Austria last spring to visit my boyfriend’s family. It was entirely coincidental but I’m so glad I got to walk the streets of Paris like Belle does at the beginning of REBEL ROSE and tour castles in France and Austria (especially the ‘Napoleon Rooms’ at the Louvre). This does not bode well for my wallet should I continue to write historical fiction.

Do you have any resources you’d like to share for any historical fiction writers out there?

ET: Aside from the obvious resources like primary sources, books, academic databases, etc, my absolute favourite and most used resource is the Online Etymology Dictionary. 

Favorite period film?

ET: Oh there are too many to pick just one! Anything Jane Austen but I love the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice the most. In no particular order: Belle, The Favourite, Little Women, Cold Mountain, Atonement, Elizabeth, Dunkirk, Gangs of New York, Band of Brothers, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and tons more I’m forgetting.

If you were turned into an object in the Beast’s castle, what would you be and why?

ET: I think I’d end up as a pencil because it would be important to me that we recorded what happened to us both for posterity’s sake and to maybe figure out how to break the curse before Belle came along. 

Do you have any thoughts about writing active, strong-willed female characters in a time period that really restricted them?

ET: Luckily for me, the blueprint of Belle’s character was well established by the animated film. I simply took her existing characteristics (stubborn, compassionate, intelligent, outspoken) and imagined how they would be received among Parisian nobility. History gave us many examples of strong-willed contemporaries that Belle would have read and looked up to, such as Émilie du Chatelet, Olympe des Gouges, and others.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? 

ET: I fall somewhere between, leaning heavily towards being a plotter. I outline my books but I leave plenty of room for discovery writing as I go, and the things that come to me mid-draft are often the things I end up loving the most.

If you read writing craft books, do you have any to recommend?

ET: I actually haven’t read many craft books. I sort of shy away from prescriptive advice about writing because what I do tends to work for me but likely wouldn’t work for others. The one thing I try to think about when I’m writing is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet. I like it because it doesn’t feel overly restrictive.

Who would your dream co-author be? 

ET: I think co-writing would be very challenging and I’m not sure I could ever do it. But Victoria Aveyard is a good friend of mine and we bonded over our mutual love of LOTR and GOT so I think our styles and ideas would mesh well. In fact, I’m sure the two of us could produce a better final season than the one we got.

What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?

ET: I’ve been leaning HEAVILY on my nostalgic favourites during this uncertain time, like ELLA ENCHANTED and EMILY OF NEW MOON. I’ve also been devouring historical romances at a rate of about one per day. Some recent reads I’ve enjoyed include GIRL, SERPENT, THORN by Melissa Bashardoust, CATHERINE HOUSE by Elisabeth Thomas, and BURN OUR BODIES DOWN by Rory Power.

What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?

ET: All of it! But I cannot imagine how it would feel to be on the set of a big screen or television adaptation of your book. Leigh Bardugo’s pictures from the Shadow and Bone Netflix set are so magical! 

What’s the hardest part about being a writer?

ET: Understanding that the words on the page are the only things you can control (and even they rebel against you occasionally). 

What’s the best part? 

ET: The sensation you get when you’re so caught up in the world you created that it feels less like you’re writing and more like you’re transcribing from some unreachable place.

Thank you so much for your time! Merci beaucoup!! 

ET: Avec plaisir, thank you for having me!

Click here to pre-order Emma’s debut, REBEL ROSE, out November 10!

About Emma:

Emma Theriault was born and raised in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, and thus has a penchant for gothic revival architecture and a constant craving for Beavertails. She has been everything from an enthusiastic bookseller (who once sold a book to Prime Minister Trudeau) to a purveyor of whitewater rafting adventures in the Interior of British Columbia. When not writing books about curses and blood magic, she can be found eating burritos, hiking with her boyfriend or cuddling with her cats, Gatsby and Harriet.

Follow her on Twitter: @eltheriault

Follow her on Instagram: @emmalynn