Sydney Paige Richardson, author of THE HALVES OF US, joins iWriterly for an exclusive interview about her debut novel.
Heya, book nerds! I’m SO darn excited to have Sydney join us on the iWriterly blog for a Q&A about her book, which released two days ago on October 9.
Before we get into the discussion, for those of you who haven’t yet heard of THE HALVES OF US, here are the basics:
Title: THE HALVES OF US (The Halves of Us Trilogy #1)
Author: Sydney Paige Richardson
Pub. Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: The Parliament House
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon
Twin Sisters: one destined to rule, one cursed to destroy.
Some say blood is thicker than water. But for twin sisters, Adie and Aura, their connection runs even deeper than blood.
After investigating a surprise attack carried out by dark souls controlled by the Wicked Willow, an evil residing in a neighboring region, Aura uncovers a family secret: she is the fulfillment of a curse placed upon her family centuries ago.
While Aura is destined to destroy their planet, Thindoral, Adie is fated to follow in their mother’s footsteps and become Ruler, but even Adie’s path comes with revelations. Dangerous premonitions plague her dreams, all depicting Thindoral’s demise at the hand of her sister.
As darkness takes control of her mind, Aura must determine whether defying fate and time is the choice that will seal her destruction, or if self-sacrifice will save all she holds dear. Meanwhile, Adie is faced with an impossible decision: save her sister, or protect their world?
Q&A With Sydney Paige Richardson,
Author of THE HALVES OF US
MEG LATORRE: Thanks so much for joining us today! To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you begin your journey as a writer?
SYDNEY PAIGE RICHARDSON: Hi—well, my name is Sydney Paige Richardson. I live in Texas with my husband, Cody, and our three furbabies, Mufasa, Vincent Van Gogh, and Bella. I am a young adult fantasy and sci-fi author. My debut novel, The Halves of Us, just came out on 10/09/2018, and it has been an amazing journey! I am also a photographer (wedding, portraiture, and conceptual art) and work full time for the City Austin in their Resource Recovery department where I write contracts. My writing journey, I think, has taken place my whole life. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer, a ballerina, and a missionary. I never got the calling about mission work (I think as a young girl I just wanted to travel), and I’m a better tap dancer than I am a ballerina—but writing stuck! In elementary school, I wrote my first book about me and best friends in college going on magical adventures, and I think that is when I knew magic would always play a part in my life.
MEG: What inspired the story of THE HALVES OF US? What made you decide to write a story about twins?
SYDNEY: I suffer from night terrors—I have throughout my childhood and into adulthood. In my late teens/early twenties, a friend of mine (a fellow writer) suggested writing them down to help my mind gain some control over them. I started to merge some of the ideas from them together and thus began the first (extremely) rough draft of The Halves of Us. I knew I wanted a sister relationship, because I was struggling with my relationship with my sister at the time (we’re good now!), but I thought it would be stronger if they were twins. I wanted them to look the same to bring more drama with the romance in the book. And the fact that the youngest born of the Ruler becomes the future Ruler—as twins they are just mere minutes apart—that adds some strain to their relationship as they get older.
MEG: THE HALVES OF US is your first traditionally-published book. (Congrats!!) What made you want to pursue traditional publication?
SYDNEY: Thanks! I honestly didn’t know the first thing about publishing when I decided I wanted to be a published author. I had co-created a critique group in my hometown and my partner, Tiffany Biagas-Munn, had done so much research and informed me after all the edits and beta readers, I needed to write a query letter to get an agent in order to get traditionally published. I researched queries for so long and thought I had officially done it—created the best query EVER. Looking back, I still think I sent the query letter too early, but it was a very learning experience! I knew I wanted to have an agent so that I could have someone by my side who had the experience and knowledge of the publishing world. I needed that cheerleader who critiqued my work, made it stronger, and knew what was best for my story.
MEG: What was the process of finding your agent, Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat Literary, like? What drew you to submit your story to Rebecca? If you don’t mind sharing, how long did it take you to sign with her and did you have to do a Revise and Resubmit?
SYDNEY: I started querying in 2014. I sent more queries out into the world than I would care to admit. I researched agents, tried to personalize my query letters, got a few partial requests, some full, but ultimate passes—one who was kind enough to offer some recommendations on things to make my story stronger. I took a break, edited, and put the story through my critique group again. I was researching the MSWL hashtag in late summer of 2015 on Twitter and found Rebecca Angus’ MSWL for strong female characters who aren’t afraid to save the world on their own. I queried her. She requested the full a few weeks later, and then she responded asking for an R&R a few weeks after that. I had honestly never been given that option before, and I immediately got to work. I resubmitted to her in the later in the fall (after asking my critique group to read over my changes), and she asked to have a Skype call. I was super sick at the time—my lymph nodes in my neck were so swollen, I looked like a frog blowing his cheeks/neck out. But she still met with me and by the end of the meeting she signed me. I felt so comfortable with her, she addressed my concerns and questions about the publishing world. We revised my work for months before submitting to editors.
And here is where the story gets a little sad—Rebecca had to take a step away from the agent life for a little bit due to family health reasons and offered her clients (myself included) who had not heard back from any editors to leave our contract with her. She told us she may return in a year or so. I was heartbroken and really didn’t want to leave her, but we hadn’t had many bites between editors and publishers. I decided to wait and see if we heard anything. I got permission from the agency after a few months to enter a few contests/raffles and won critiques from agents and editors who offered advice to make my book stronger. I went back to the editing board. In the end when Rebecca came back, we worked together to get the deal with the indie publishing company The Parliament House last year around this time in 2017. I had been following their work and stories for a while and so stoked when they offered to publish The Halves of Us.
I really couldn’t have done it without Rebecca. And sometimes little hiccups happen in our journey that just help us get to the place we were meant to be.
MEG: For many writers, the submission process (when an agent submits a writer’s manuscript to editors) can seem daunting. How long was submission and what was it like? Did you contribute any suggestions for editors or publishing houses you wanted to work with?
SYDNEY: Oh my goodness the waiting. It really makes your heart sink, waiting and waiting and hearing about passes or partials—and then more passes. As I mentioned above, I think it was even more daunting when Rebecca left the agency. Golden Wheat Literary was kind to keep up with her proposals she had sent out during that time, but I don’t think people realize how busy agents are! They were so generous to keep in contact with all of us and make sure we were updated if any requests came. I did suggest a few editors and publishers I would love to submit to (including The Parliament House), and Rebecca was open to my suggestions! She really did have my back through all this.
MEG: THE HALVES OF US was published with The Parliament House, an independent science fiction and fantasy publisher. What has your experience working with The Parliament House been like? Did you have creative input into things like your jacket copy or book cover?
SYDNEY: I think working with an indie publisher has been a dream come true. The Parliament House has such a talented team that works hard for their authors. My editor (Rebecca—yes there is two! I jokingly call them “Agent Rebecca” and “Editor Rebecca”) helped me make the story even stronger than before. I owe so much to her for helping me dig deeper into the characters and scenes. I think the thing I have really enjoyed is having some creative input, which you don’t always find with all publishers. They included map art work created by my friend Caleb Jackson in my novel, art work I commissioned from a talented artist and author, Cal Spivey, on my bookmarks, and they included my pictures I did from a conceptual shoot about the idea about my novel on the cover! That makes this even more exciting. My art is featured on the cover and in the story itself!
MEG: Marketing is another topic so many aspiring authors have questions (and concerns) about. What marketing support did The Parliament House offer, and what sorts of marketing tasks have you taken on?
SYDNEY: The Parliament House has a marketing director (Samantha Shrider) who has been amazing in offering advice to help us market ourselves and keep us up to date on their marketing efforts. They have a lot of connections with book bloggers and on social media, which has helped get info out about my novel. They had a few Skype meetings with some of the authors to discuss social media, interaction, and ways to increase our online presence which is really the core of marketing these days. That gave me the courage to work on some marketing on my own as well. I personally reached out to a few bloggers I follow and asked to send them eARCs in exchange for reviews and got positive feedback. I also reached out to indie bookstores in the ATX area. I have lots of friends who are teachers, so I am actually planning on visiting schools in the area as well. Also, I reached out to the amazing online writer community on Twitter about eARCs for honest reviews. I think that has helped me tremendously. I am hosting giveaways for my novel all this month, too!
MEG: Going into marketing a little further—of the marketing campaigns you/your publisher have done for THE HALVES OF US, what (would you say) has had the greatest return on investment? (Such as social media marketing, paid campaigns, blog tours, giveaways, etc.)
SYDNEY: I had a lot of excitement about the giveaways that I am hosting—so that has been thrilling on my side. I have spent about $150 total on merchandise (bookmarks, giveaway stuff, etc.), which is lower than I know some people have spent. I didn’t want to go crazy at first until I made sure there was interest (a recommendation from an author friend of mine). I think the blog tour that The Parliament House has set up has generated lots of interest. They have reached out to so many bloggers, more than I had on my radar that have generated new followers for me on social media, too. The comments, shares, and giveaways have really helped—all from the blog tour so far.
MEG: All right, now let’s get back to the juicy stuff—your story! Is this the first book you’ve ever written? If not, how many others have you written in the past?
SYDNEY: I don’t know if you want to count the first book I wrote when I was in second grade—or the short stories and poetry notebooks in high school. I think this is the first official book I have written.
MEG: What drew you to write fantasy/this story, in particular?
SYDNEY: I have always had a vivid imagination. I think that I wanted to write fantasy because anything goes. You can create any world, any kind of people, any rules—anything you want. It’s magical, and I don’t think I could write anything without a little bit of magic in it.
MEG: How many POVs is THE HALVES OF US told from? Both Adie and Aura? Would you say one or the other is the “main” protagonist?
SYDNEY: The book is told in third person, but each chapter is in a specific perspective of the character. Primarily, it is in Adie and Aura’s perspectives, but a few chapters feature their mother and their uncle as the main perspective. In books two and three, there are more perspectives, but I can’t really elaborate because *spoilers*! I kind of want the readers to decide who they think the protagonist is, because while one sister is cursed to destroy, it’s not what she wants, but it impacts her decisions which may make her appear as the antagonist, but there may be something or someone else at play…
MEG: Of the two sisters, who did you enjoy writing about the most and why?
SYDNEY: Oh man, I really enjoyed them both. There are parts of me in each of them. Adie suffers from night terrors like I do and loves whole heartedly, and Aura stands up for what she believes in and fights for what is right. I enjoyed writing the dark scenes with Aura, and writing Adie’s night terror scenes was actually cathartic. Do I have to choose?
MEG: I love the diversion from the chosen one trope in that Aura is destined to destroy the planet. Without giving (too many) spoilers away, how are these prophecies about the two sisters revealed? Did they know about them since birth? How, would you say, have these prophecies impacted their relationship?
SYDNEY: Thanks! I like it too. :] I am going to try and keep this as spoiler free as possible! The tagline I have been using is:
Twin sisters: one destined to rule, one cursed to destroy.
Adie has always known she would rule their world, since she is the youngest born. But these night terrors she has show her world being destroyed by her sister. She keeps that part of the night terrors to herself.
Meanwhile Aura hasn’t always known she is cursed, and she learns in the novel about the curse (spoilers, can’t say much more!). She wants to do anything she can to avoid turning into the darkness she learns she is destined to be—she doesn’t believe she is capable of something so evil. So she keeps the secret from her sister—and from most everyone else.
They had always been so close growing up, but the secrets start to fray their relationship, especially when some things from Adie’s night terrors come true…
MEG: In your opinion, what is the coolest aspect of this book?
SYDNEY: Ahhh! Scene wise—I would say either the Room of Papers or the secret/hidden library.
The Room of Papers is exactly what it sounds like, but scarier. During each student’s final year of Teachings they get locked in this endless room full of stacks of papers. They have to find the one paper that has an image on it that reveals their fate—before the lights go out.
The secret/hidden library scene was so much fun to write, and was actually one of the last big scenes I added before submitting to The Parliaments House. I had a beta reader who felt there was something missing from the scene so they said I needed to go bigger, thus the secret/hidden library was created. It has hidden traps awaiting those who don’t belong inside so that no one can find out its secrets.
MEG: How has the reception of THE HALVES OF US been thus far?
SYDNEY: I have had such great feedback on my world building, and that makes me so excited because I worked so hard to make this world real so you can immerse yourself in the story. That has made this debut release even more thrilling for me. I hit bestselling status on two categories on Amazon on release day—so that made me so happy (I literally screamed and scared my cats). It may seem small to some, but that just helps me know I am on the right track! The reviews are still coming in—and I hope that I can learn from the critiques within them and also give myself a pat on the back for the positive responses.
MEG: What is one thing you wish you knew before starting your journey as a writer? Any advice you’d like to give to aspiring authors?
SYDNEY: I think I wish someone would have told me it was possible to get here. For most of my adolescence, I didn’t think that it would be possible to be a published author. I wish someone would have told me sooner to pursue my dreams and not give up on what little Sydney wanted (sorry I just spoke about myself in third person!).
Advice to aspiring authors: create a critique group, find like-minded people who help you learn and grow as a writer. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Learn from it. Grow from it. And please don’t stop dreaming!
MEG: Do you have other manuscripts coming down the pipeline that we can keep an eye out for?
SYDNEY: Books two and three of The Halves of Us trilogy come out next year! Readers can continue to follow Adie and Aura’s story in both of those.
I have a few WIPs, but my next big project I hope to have to my agent next spring is The Chains that Bind (obviously a working title). It features diverse and LGBTQ characters. It is about a wish gone wrong that thrusts Kit into a magical world called Bolith—home to djinn-kind where war and magic have warped the planet into a dying land. With death on her heels, Kit goes on a quest searching for her chain that will bind her with magic to save her younger brother while she is hunted by djinn and other deathly creatures that roam Bolith. She soon learns that every wish comes with a price—and her payment is past due.
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THANKS SO MUCH TO SYDNEY FOR JOINING US TODAY!
Even before Sydney could hold a pencil in her hand, she was making up stories in her head. She wrote her first book in the second grade, Girls (sorry Lena Dunham), about her and her best friends in college (because college was super cool when you were 8) who went on treasure hunts and fought bad guys with their super powers. My second grade teacher was so impressed with her, she laminated a cover and bound it. That will forever be the moment she dreamed of holding a copy of her own book and placing it on a shelf.
Now all grown up, her head still stays in the fantasy world, fashioning worlds where the power of a star can be harnessed and used for time travel, flying is just as easy as walking here on earth—and her best friends are fairies. Her characters are dark and lost individuals, but your love for them will grow when you realize not everything is black and white. She is represented by Rebecca Angus at Golden Wheat Literary.
She has a three book deal with The Parliament House. Book one of her current trilogy is The Halves of Us.