WL native breaks barriers with new young adult book
Growing up in West Linn, Audrey Coulthurst always felt something was missing from the young adult fantasy books she read.
For all of the imagination that poured out of the pages, the love stories were often staid and homogenous — boy falls in love with girl; girl falls in love with boy. Rinse and repeat.
Why, just once, couldn't a girl fall for another girl?
"I was almost 30 before I read a fantasy, particularly young adult, with a protagonist who was a queer girl who fell in love with another girl," Coulthurst, 34, said. "I wished so much as a teen that that book had existed.
"So I said, 'Why not write it?'"
It was a "long, winding road" from point A to point B, but Coulthurst finally granted that wish to her teen self when she published her first young adult (ages 12-18) novel, "Of Fire and Stars," last November. The book follows the story of a princess with a "forbidden magical gift" who is sent to another kingdom to marry a prince, but ends up falling in love with his sister instead.
"I never really thought about publishing my own work," Coulthurst said. "But it was a case of (a story) I wanted as a teen."
Coulthurst was a prolific writer in her early years, and credits several language arts teachers for bolstering her with words of encouragement.
"They'd give us a story assignment for a page, and I'd write 14 pages," Coulthurst said.
She took a hiatus from writing while studying music history in college, but found herself drawn back to the craft after shortly after graduating and moving to Texas.
"I didn't have a job, and I was bored so I started writing," Coulthurst said. "I said, 'I'd love to write a novel before I die.'"
In 2005, she participated in her first "National Novel Writing Month" (NaNoWriMo), during which burgeoning authors are tasked with writing a 50,000- word novel in one month. It was during the 2010 NaNoWriMo that Coulthurst she wrote the first draft for "Of Fire and Stars."
"I let it sit for about a year, and started revising after that," Coulthurst said. "At that point, I didn't really know how to revise a book."
She sought support at a literary retreat and would eventually submit her manuscript to the "Pitch Wars" contest, during which writers compete for mentorships with publishing industry professionals.
"I won a mentorship in the fall of 2013, on the heels of the retreat," Coulthurst said. "I started querying (for an agent) in earnest after that."
She would eventually find an agent, who began shopping "Of Fire and Stars" in early 2015.
"She sold it in the space of a few weeks," Coulthurst said.
Since it released Nov. 22, 2016, the book has received a number of positive reviews from outlets like Publisher's Weekly and NPR Books. Most impactful, however, have been the emails she's received from readers who were personally affected by the book.
"One girl emailed me, she said 'I got it on (the young adult subscription service) OwlCrate, and I wasn't happy — I was very prejudiced,'" Coulthurst said.
The girl went on to say that the book changed her views, and she apologized for not being more empathetic.
"Books can really change hearts and minds," Coulthurst said. "Every book is a window into someone's life and struggles. I think emails like that mean the most for me."
Moving forward, Coulthurst has a deal with her publisher — HarperCollins — for two more books.
"The first is sort of a companion (to "Of Fire and Stars"), but it takes place in a different kingdom," Coulthurst said. "The other is coming out in the fall of next year — it's actually young adult contemporary and takes place in Portland."
Coulthurst co-authored the latter book with another writer, building one of the characters based on her high school memories.
"I took everything I hated about myself in high school and put it into that character," she said. "Lots of things based on things that happened at West Linn High School."
Amidst it all, Coulthurst is happy to be on what has turned out to be a whirlwind of a journey into the publishing world.
"I never really set out with the intention of being a published author," Coulthurst said. "It just kind of happened."