Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Bestselling YA writer Kevin Sands reveals the toughest literary rejection he ever received

The author of Call of the Wraith takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Kevin Sands is author of the middle-grade novel Call of the Wraith. (Thomas Zitnansky/Simon and Schuster)

In Call of the Wraiththe fourth book of Kevin Sands' Blackthorn Key series, protagonist Christopher Rowe wakes up without any of his memories. Shipwrecked in Devonshire, the locals tell him he was possessed by an evil and rescued by a witch. After his friends track him down, Christopher struggles to remember his apothecary skills in time to help save children who are disappearing in the village.

Below, Sands takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, answering eight questions from eight writers.

1. Gordon Korman asks, "What do you do when your ideas all feel recycled and/or stale?"

Push through it. Try to stop thinking about the book as a whole, and instead just work to make every chapter, every scene, every single sentence as good as it can be. Contrary to popular perception, the magic is never really in the idea. It's in the execution of it.

2. Harold R. Johnson asks, "When did you realize that you were a writer?"

After my second book was published. One book could be a fluke — two, that's no accident! It really wasn't until Mark of the Plague was on bookshelves that it hit me: This is what I do.

3. Emma Hooper asks, "Do you like doing publicity and events for your book promotion? What bits do you like? Which don't you?"

I love doing events. You have to remember, my job is to sit alone all day in a room and have conversations in my head with people that don't exist. So meeting actual readers is a treat — they are, after all, the reason I do this. The one thing I don't like is the process of travelling: sitting for hours in airports, planes, cabs. So tedious.

4. Susan Juby asks, "What is the most painful literary rejection you ever received?"

The first manuscript I ever submitted, I got an email from an agent telling me how much she loved my book, and could we speak about it? I spent the better part of a week on a cloud. When we finally got on the phone, she gushed for several minutes about how amazing my story was — then explained she couldn't take it on because she felt it was too similar to a recently published book I'd never heard of. I can take a no. It was the yes-but-no that really got me.

5. Gail Bowen asks, "If you could live in the world created by another writer, what fictional world would you choose, and why?"

Is saying Hogwarts too easy? Probably... so I'll say Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber series. I'd skip all the backstabbing and political intrigue and find instead a nice world in Shadow to set up shop. Then, when I wanted something different, I could move on, and just keep exploring forever.

6. Vikki VanSickle asks, "Who are your first readers and how does your relationship with them work?"

I have a longtime friend and fellow writer who's been reading my stuff since before I was published. She has a different sensibility than me, so I always find her feedback valuable. Since publishing, I've added my editor and my agent. They're the only ones I've let see my garbage early drafts.

7. Emily Schultz asks, "What's a favourite character name from your recent work, and a favourite in someone else's novel?"

In Call of the Wraith, I named a ship's captain Roger Haddock. Though he's based on a real historical figure (Sir Richard Haddock), I called him this because a) the name Haddock makes me laugh and b) it reminds me of my favourite childhood series, The Adventures of Tintin. For someone else's novel, I'll choose a name from Michael Moorcock's The King of the Swords: Voilodion Ghagnasdiak. Imagine his poor teachers taking attendance.

8. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What's the best response you've ever had from a reader?"

Every time a reader lets me know that my books have found a place in their heart — the same place that my favourite books live in mine — I know I've accomplished everything I set out to do.

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