Dampened by Doubt until Someone Believed: Kiana Krystle
Danny the Doubt Devil
Let me tell you about Danny the Doubt Devil.
He isn't that Devil, but he sure is evil.
In your mind. In your ear.
Hell, he even haunts you in your sleep!
Sewing his seeds, spitting his poison, spinning his insidious web of all you've feared is true.
Nobody wants this. Nobody likes this.
Muahahahaha, give it up! Quit!
You'll never do this!
"Ahhh, what is that light?!" Danny shrieks, crouching in fear.
You look up wearily, fearing what you'll see...
But there's nothing to fear at all.
Your angel is here.
"Come, my dear. Your time is near." The angel practically sings, holding out a holy hand.
You grab ahold and the two of you shoot off into the air until Danny is nothing more than a speck on the ground. The dread, doom, and despair fall away replaced with a celestial hope that reawakens your writerly soul.
And once you reach those pearly gates, you sing and shout:
Kiana Krystle has arrived without a doubt.
1, Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your journey from querying to publication?
Haha, this is a story no one saw coming. I have actually never publicly shared this information before, so I am glad you asked. I started querying in July 2020 and was represented by March 2021. However, my journey was not average by any means. In fact, I actually received my book deal before I was even agented.
When I first began querying, I used the website Manuscript Wish List to find agents who would potentially be interested in my book. While doing so, I came across the editor, Ashley Hearn, who I immediately thought would be a perfect match, seeing that she was looking for books reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films. At the time, a lot of the feedback I received for my book was “LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA (my original title) feels like a fairytale meets a Studio Ghibli film,” which is exactly what Ashely was looking for. Since I was so new to the industry, I had no idea that Ashely had worked on books like CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE (for Pitch Wars) or WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT (one of my favorite books). I thought she was an agent! However, there was no email address on Manuscript Wish List for me to query Ashely. And so, I found Ashley on Twitter and sent her a DM.
Essentially, I asked if Ashley was still an agent and if she was open to queries. She reported that she was never an agent, but in fact, an acquiring editor at a new imprint distributed by Penguin Random House. And, to my surprise, due to my aesthetics and constant talk of LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA online, Ashley did agree my novel concept was everything she was looking for. She asked me to send her my full manuscript. I had never received a full request before. In fact, it was my first week querying!
I was shocked and taken aback. Most importantly, I had huge imposter syndrome because I wasn’t even agented and an editor wanted to read my novel. (Which, by the way, only underwent two weeks of edits due to the amount of positive feedback I received). I knew my book probably needed more work, but I wasn’t sure how to improve it since 90% of my feedback was praise. Mind you, I had around 20 beta readers. Because of this, I felt like I needed an agent to really help me understand how to polish my draft. And so, I declined Ashely’s offer and decided to try to find an agent first.
Off into the trenches I went, and to my surprise, IT WAS HELL. I had assumed I’d be swept up in no time based on previous praise, but I was wrong. I quickly burnt through the first 20 agents I submitted to. Something wasn’t working and I didn’t know what. However, I did manage to have success at events like #SFFpit and #PitMad, raking in around 5-10 requests each time. And, of course, Ashley was one of those likes. With so many rejections under my belt, I decided to give it a chance. The worst that could happen was I got another rejection. And so, I sent Ashley Hearn my full.
At the same time, I also had about eight fulls or so. I sent my book out and the waiting game began. It wasn’t until the rejections rolled in that I finally started to understand why my novel wasn’t working. I studied literary fiction in college, and because of that, my writing had a literary bend that took away from the commercial quality of YA. I was told it wasn’t “marketable” or “high concept” like the YA that sold, despite the huge online community I was cultivating around my novel. Also, it was about angels, which I didn’t realize were technically “out of trend.” My world came crashing down. The craft I studied was all I knew. I didn’t know how to make my writing more commercial. Most importantly, I didn’t want to remove angels from my book. Part of me was torn, believing my book would never see the light of day due to publishing trends. However, another part of me believed it would be wildly successful because of the Twitter community I had built around my novel. In less than a year, I had over 1,000 followers interested in seeing my book. And so, after a heart-wrenching rejection, I decided to pull all of my fulls and self-publish my novel. I knew my story deserved to see the world, even if publishing told me otherwise.
That moment changed everything for me.
Ashley Hearn had my full manuscript for about eight months. I had assumed based on the timeline, that she had already passed. However, when I went to pull my full, she told me to hold off. She was reading my manuscript and loving it.
Two weeks later, she offered me a book deal.
I couldn’t believe it. It felt like the moment Cinderella’s dress was ripped to shreds and her fairy godmother swooped in and made her beautiful again. Ashley told me that my book did in fact need an entire rewrite to make it more marketable, but I was 100% willing to put in the work. She had a vision for my book that took my story to a place I never even imagined. And, most importantly, she didn’t think “angels were out of trend” like agents did. Instead, she saw my vision as revolutionary and labeled it cottagecore paranormal. I took that title and made it my brand. After that, 2,000 new followers joined my journey to publication.
I truly believe Ashely is my fairy godmother and I could not have asked for a better editor. She brings out the best version of my writing and has made me an immensely stronger author. She is the reason I feel confident enough in my craft to mentor Pitch Wars 2021. I will forever be grateful she saw something in me when no one else did. Most importantly, I am beyond blessed for the time and energy she has offered to nurture me as a creative. I would not be who I am today without her. It is so rare to find people who bring out the best in you, and as a lover of angels, I truly believe Ashely Hearn is my angel.
With an offer of publication on the table, I ended up receiving eight offers of representation out of ten queries I sent. My agent ended up being none other than Naomi Davis, who has been an incredibly fierce champion for me since the day we met. We immediately bonded over our history and passion for ballet, and I sent them all of the ballet scenes in my book to look over because of our excitement. On top of enjoying my novel concept, I believe our shared love of ballet is what really sold us on one another. Not to mention, I had previously met Naomi at a panel for my fellowship at Bookends Literary, and immediately fell in love. I thought they were the most passionate, intelligent, and caring person I’d ever met in the industry. Naomi has shown me an outpour of support ever since we connected. Whenever we speak it feels like sunshine. I could not be in better hands or ask for a better agent. I adore Naomi and Ashely with everything in me, and would not be the author or business woman I am today without them.
2. Your YA debut, DANCE OF THE STARLIT SEA, follows Lila in her exile where she falls upon one of the devil’s servants disguised as an angel. Annnnddddddd...your deal was announced with the word...paranormal! More specifically, a cottagore paranormal. Where did the seed of this idea begin? Do you foresee any paranormal trends in the future?
As you can see above, I owe my entire “cottagecore paranormal” brand to Ashely Hearn! She is the one who coined the term that established me.
When I was writing LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA (my original title), I didn’t know there was a whole genre of angels and demons that fell under the category of “paranormal.” My aesthetic has always been soft, feminine, and sparkling. Whenever I read about angels on my Tumblr page, they would always be depicted as these divine, beautiful, ethereal creatures. It was never my intention to put a spin on the paranormal. Rather, I wrote what I knew and it was shoehorned into a much gritter existing genre. Because of this, my take on the paranormal seems fresh, but the truth is I was simply just being myself and bringing a world alive that has always lived in my head.
I see my version of angels as a Sofia Coppola movie or a Lana Del Rey song. I’ve always wanted to capture that dream-like, hazy, ephemeral quality in my work. I had never read any books about angels besides my own, and I wasn’t trying to fit into a category that already had its moment. Rather, LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA started as a series of dreams about me drowning and being pulled to the surface by an angel to a beautiful, enchanting new world. The book is dedicated to my grandmother, who is the one who convinced me to believe in angels in the first place. I had always thought I was being 100% authentic and original in my ideas, rather than putting an unconventional, feminine twist on a genre much darker than I had intended. The Devil has always been a metaphor for my demons: depression, anxiety, trauma, and wrath. Whereas, the angel Damien was written as a love letter to myself—a figure to comfort me through my own pain. (This is where the “literary” quality of my work came from. It was all quite metaphorical before my edits made the story more plot-driven). Because of this, my take on angels is rather sweet—therefore seen as the delicate “cottagecore paranormal” everyone sees it as.
Though it was never my intention to write a paranormal book, I do hope with the debut of my novel, angels and paranormal will make a comeback. I had a wonderfully successful book deal announcement, which makes it clear that the world is ready for angels again! I can’t wait to see how the genre continues to evolve.
3. A little birdie told me that you can work magic with a mood board. What is your creative process? Does it change as you go into revisions?
My creative process is 100% aesthetic-driven. Most of my ideas stem from wanting to create worlds, stories, and characters based on beautiful images. A lot of people compliment my prose and descriptions and ask, “how did you come up with this?” And the answer is simple: Tumblr and Pinterest. I used to be a fashion designer before a writer, and we were trained to always put together mood boards for our collections to gather inspiration. I never lost that habit and I can’t create without it.
As for my creative process as a whole, I am a notorious pantser. My stories come to me in dreams or daydreams, and when I write, it feels like an out-of-body experience (as if something is taking over and telling me the story as I type). However, ever since working with an editor, I believe it is necessary to outline based on a set story structure before writing. I will always love to pants for fun, but when it comes to business, I love the 3 Act Story Structure by Abbie Emmons.
4. Angels, devils, cottages by the sea, the vibes of your novel are sure to wash away readers in its lush, alluring tide. Are there any authors who have inspired your writing?
YES. I have a holy trinity. Stephanie Garber. Laini Taylor. And Lana Popovic Harper (WHO JUST RECENTLY HIT THE NYT BEST SELLERS LIST). I have been waiting for Lana to hit the charts ever since WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE debuted (which is wildly underrated). It is the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, and I have always held my standard of writing to that novel. It is my dream to be able to craft prose and stories as beautifully as Lana does. Additionally, Laini Taylor has such a lush, poetic tone that I can only hope to imitate. It is my absolute dream to win the Printz Award just like she did for STRANGE THE DREAMER. The writer I get compared to the most though is Stephanie Garber, who is my idol. She is the reason I decided to become an author (specifically a YA author), and reading CARAVAL changed my life forever. I had never been so enraptured by writing before. I truly think Stephanie unlocked the magic within me through her own words.
5. Time is the thing we always want more of but most of the time this wish is never answered. However, you are not only writing a book, but also a literary agency fellow and a PW mentor. And, ‘m also assuming you probably have some sort of day job. How do you do it? What are some ways in which you manage your time?
HAHA, I am laughing that you asked this question. I never sleep. In fact, I think I’m nocturnal. My bedtime is around 4:30 AM and I start my workday around 9 AM each day. I am probably the worst person to ask for advice since I am a Type A, Slytherin, 3 on the enneagram who is always on the verge of burnout. The idea of success fuels me and writing is my life. I truly believe I have the career I do because I put every ounce of myself into it. There is nothing I love more than reading, writing, and helping other authors’ dreams come true. It is the most fulfilling passion I have, which is why it is my dream to be an author as well as an editor (publishing please hire me). I think what keeps me going is knowing I chose to pursue what I love most in the world. A lot of people doubted me when I said I wanted to be a writer, so I dedicated myself to proving those people wrong. I knew if this was going to be my career that I would have to make a name for myself, which is why I go above and beyond with every creative venture I pursue. My favorite quote is “dreams don’t work unless you do,” and I follow it every day.
6. What is your writerly form of self-care?
I basically have an entire writing ritual which is what allows me to work on writing from 10 PM until 3 AM on deadline. First of all, I have to have an aesthetic space. I cannot write if the setting isn’t beautiful. I pretty much have a shrine to DANCE OF THE STARLIT SEA with mood boards, character art, dolls my writing group sent me, seashells, and positive comments readers have left me. I buy myself flowers specifically to write and always light a candle that reminds me of my WIP. I also cleanse my desk area with palo santo before writing and surround myself with crystals. Next, I put on a facemask, brew myself tea, and write until I can’t function.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
7. Your book birthday is being catered by Devilishly Delicious Charcuterie Boards. Which board(s) do you pick?
8. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
The most horrible thing I’ve ever done as a writer (which will probably get me crucified) was revising my book in two weeks before querying then believe I never needed to revise a single thing once rejections came in because that’s how much I loved my book! I know now that it DEFINITELY needed edits, but I was too blinded by my love for it to see how it could be any better than it was.
ALWAYS REVISE!!! Even if this was the draft that landed me my book deal, do not be like me. If you are too attached to your story to change it, take a step back before trying to approach revision.
To be clear, I am now rewriting the book entirely haha. It sold on proposal, meaning I agreed to redo the book completely, and I am grateful for it because now I love it even more than I once did.
9. The cottagecore bread recipe on the last page of your book is…
Strawberry focaccia bread with cinnamon sugar: http://www.happyandharried.com/2014/06/09/strawberry-focaccia-bread-with-cinnamon-sugar/
Kiana Krystle is an Asian-American author with a love for lush, whimsical prose and fairytales. She previously held an editorial internship at North Star Editions and a literary fellowship at BookEnds Literary. She is currently a Pitch Wars mentor for the class of 2021. When she’s not writing, Kiana is either at the beach, crystal shopping, performing moon rituals, picking flowers, playing princess, or having picnics. She loves all things cottagecore, sea-themed, and romance. Kiana’s debut novel DANCE OF THE STARLIT SEA is scheduled for publication in Spring 2023 by Peachtree Teen, and she is represented by Naomi Davis. You can connect with Kiana on social media @kiana_krystle on Instagram and Twitter.