Jun. 10 2020
She’s got star power. Alex Aster is a singer / songwriter and debut author of the new YA novel, Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch. (She wrote the first and second book in the series in three weeks, NBD.) Inspired by the Colombian folktales her grandmother used to tell her, Curse of the Night Witch has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, was featured on Good Morning America, and is one of Seventeen’s “Most Anticipated YA Books of Summer 2020.”
We asked Alex about how she went from being a 14-year-old with a 100,000 word manuscript to a published author with a second book on the way.
P.S. — No, you’re not seeing double… Alex is the identical twin of Newsette CEO Daniella Pierson.
How long have you been writing books?
I started writing my first book when I was 13, and tried to get an agent when I was 14. I got a book on how to get agents from Barnes & Noble, and I was super-serious about it. It wasn’t just like, “Oh I wrote a book and it’s 10 pages.” It was a long, 100,000-word book and I really tried.
When did you end up getting your first agent?
I went to UPenn and was an English major with a concentration in creative writing. I wrote a book for my senior thesis that actually got me an agent. I skipped my graduation because that day, I had to get back to agent queries. I was lucky enough to have multiple offers, and I wanted to interview everyone and make a good decision. I thought at that point that all my dreams had come true.
What happened after you got an agent?
So that first attempt was actually an adult book—a thriller—and I spent all summer revising it with [my agent]… but it wasn’t selling, so I ended up pulling it. But honestly, it was for the best. I was 21 [and] writing an adult book where the main characters were 28. Even though it’s only a few years apart, it’s still such a different mindset and I don’t think it was the best writing I’ve ever done… So I wrote another book, and then another book. And the second book was Emblem Island.
How did writing Emblem Island compare to writing your other unpublished books?
I wrote it in three weeks. All the other books that I had written felt super-forced, but I wanted to be an author so badly that I just kept going. I would write these stories that didn’t feel genuine, but I just wanted a book deal; it was my dream for so long. [Emblem Island] was the only book I’ve written that was fully formed as soon as it came into my head. I was in front of a keyboard and I just could not stop writing. I feel like this book is truly the book I was meant to publish first.
How did your grandmother inspire the book?
I’m Colombian, and my grandmother is a riot… She’s 4’8” and she only speaks Spanish, and every night she would take my twin sister, Danny, and I into our room, and sit on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a million blankets, and she would tell us these stories that had been passed down for generations in an oral tradition. None of them had ever been written down, and they were these scary, Grimms’ Fairy Tale-like cautionary tales. One of my favorites was about a girl who had earned a star on her forehead for following the rules, while her sister who broke the rules got horns… The idea that these markings could be a blessing or a curse really formed the basis for the world of Emblem Island.
What inspired you to donate all pre-sales to charity?
I never could have predicted that I’d be publishing during a pandemic and the current Black Lives Matter protests… It just didn’t feel right to be promoting a product without giving back… So I’m donating all of my profits from pre-orders and first-week sales to Books for Kids, The Conscious Kid, Black Visions Collective and Feeding America. I’ve been so lucky and it felt wrong to have all this visibility without finding a way to give back.
What’s something you wish more people knew about getting a book published?
It’s a long process, and it’s so subjective, and there are so many rejections. It’s also such a slow process… I sold my book two years ago and it’s just now coming out.