Author of The Half-Class, and the highly-anticipated Thieves’ Gambit coming in Fall 2023…with a film adaptation in the works!
Imagine being a young booklover working in a library, and spending your downtime daydreaming about interesting ways to fund your globetrotting adventures. Then, one day you decide, Hey, maybe I should try to write books to pay for my future travels. So far, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, so what? This is almost every wannabe writer’s story!” Well, hold onto your literary hats because what I’m about to tell you next is going to reignite your belief in writer fairytales! Kayvion Lewis, only 23, followed through on her daydream, and the result is that she now has two published books out and a film adaptation in the works for her second novel, Thieves’ Gambit! Go back and reread that she’s only 23-years-old! That’s crazy! Inspiring! Hopeful! Exciting! You just want to high-five her and say, Way to go, girl! as if she’s your cousin or daughter or best friend, even though you’ve never met her!
Grab a latte, and check out my interview with this humble, adorable, rising star. Trust me, Kayvion’s popularity is going to explode very soon, and we’ll all be able to say we “knew her” way back when…
LW: Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers, tell them a little about yourself, where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing?
KL: What’s up writers! So, I’m Kayvion. I’m 23, I’ve lived in Shreveport, Louisiana my whole life, except for a brief stint in New Orleans for a semester of college. I have too many cats, a gang of peculiar but genuine best friends, and often daydream about running away to a full-time kung fu school.
I’ve been writing for about 3 ½ years as now. (Yes, I know the exact day I started writing.)
LW: When did you first realize you might be a writer?
KL: I was NOT one of those people who knew they wanted to be a writer as a kid, something I’m grateful for in hindsight—writing can be stressful! When I was 19, I worked at a library with a woman who’s become one of my best friends, and we used to have this joke that one day I’d quit to go travel the world on over-the-top adventures. She’d ask how I would pay for that, and I’d joke that I was going to write high-octane adventure books that would fund my real-life travels. One sunny day in September 2018, it hit me that maybe I should actually try to be a writer. I started my first book that day.
“I think the key to finishing books isn’t finding confidence, but accepting that it’s okay to feel insecure about your work, and do it anyway.”~Kayvion Lewis
LW: Many people, myself included, spend a lot of years daydreaming about writing a novel. You completed yours at such a young age. Can you talk about what gave you enough confidence to believe you could write a full-length manuscript in your early twenties when so many of us don’t have that courage when we’re twice your age?
KL: Confidence? Me? Hahahaha. I think the key to finishing books isn’t finding confidence, but accepting that it’s okay to feel insecure about your work, and do it anyway.
When I started writing my first book, my only intention was to have fun, and to write the story I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it. It’s so easy for us to get overwhelmed thinking about querying and submission and what will my critique partners think? You have to put all that aside when you’re creating. That’s the only way not to get overwhelmed. Write only for the sake of writing, and only for yourself, at least at the start. I think that’s why I was about to jump into it so easily. At the start it was just me having fun with a Word document.
LW: Some people hate this question, but where did you get the idea for Thieves’ Gambit?
KL: This sounds so cliché, but it’s true: I got the idea for Thieves’ Gambit from a dream. I woke up immediately and started googling, because I was convinced someone had written this book before. No one had, so I got writing it, adding splashes of the globe-trotting adventure I’d always wanted to go on.
LW: Can you talk a little about your writing process? (Do you write at the same time each day? Where do you do your writing? How long does it take you to complete a book?)
KL: I try to write every day, either in the morning or evening. Sometimes I write a lot, sometimes less. When I’m drafting, I’m usually lax with myself when I first start a project, but give myself deadlines and word-per-day goals as I get further along. My favorite places to draft are my car, public libraries, and my dad’s couch. Usually, it takes me about a day to outline a project, a month and a half to finish a first draft, then about two weeks to revise independently before I’m ready to send it to someone.
“In total, landing an agent took me about 2 years, during which I wrote over 10 books.”~Kayvion Lewis
LW: Do you write with music, or do you need it quiet while you work?
KL: I listen to music! However, I can’t listen to the same thing for different projects, so I have to change it up when I start something new. For example, when I was drafting Thieves’ Gambit, I listened to an hour-long loop of Glassy Sky, the OP for Tokyo Ghoul. For the project I’m drafting now, I listen to a playlist of 1930s-1950s oldies with rain sounds. (Haha, kinda weird, huh?)
LW: Do you outline your stories before you begin writing them?
KL: Yes, but they’re very thin outlines. Usually, a page or two of handwritten bullet-points listing the things I want to happen. About 40% into drafting, I usually start going completely off the rails of my outline and have to make a new one.
LW: Did you hire a professional editor or use a particularly helpful editing program before you submitted your manuscript?
KL: No, no professional editor or editing program. I’ve enlisted the advice of some amazing critique partners and beta readers though. My agent is also a former editor, so before we went on submission with Thieves’ Gambit there was someone with an editorial eye looking at the manuscript.
LW: Many of my readers are yet unpublished writers. Can you talk about how you went about getting an agent for your first novel?
KL: I actually signed with my agent for my second book, not my debut. My first book, The Half-Class, I sold to an indie press all by myself. About a year later, I applied for Author Mentor Match’s 2021 round, using Thieves’ Gambit as the manuscript I wanted mentorship for. I was selected by the amazing Nic Stone as a mentee—still one of the luckiest and most astounding things that’s ever happened to me. She connected me with Chelsea, who ended up offering rep for Thieves’ Gambit!
Before signing with Chelsea, I queried a handful of other books to varying degrees of success, racking up over 100 rejections. I wasn’t one of those people who got an agent quickly or had several offers of rep. In total, landing an agent took me about 2 years, during which I wrote over 10 books.
LW: Wait, you say you wrote 10 books in two years? I’m going to need some clarification on how you cranked out that volume of work!!
KL: I found that I have a sort-of fast writing pace? When drafting without distractions, my comfort zone is to write about 1500-2000 words a day (takes about 2-ish hours), which adds up to about a book every month and a half or two months. For the first two years of my writing life, I did this more or less non-stop so that’s how I ended up with so many books under my belt. A lot of those manuscripts have never been properly revised, however. Some of them were never edited at all. I’d put some books on the shelf as soon as I finished the first draft then started something new. Now that I have to slow down and dedicate time to revision and other parts of the process, my writing speed has slowed significantly. Last year I only completed one book, and this year I’m on schedule to have finished drafting two.
LW: Can you tell us about your experience getting a novel published for the first time? Lionsgate gained the rights to Thieves’ Gambit after a bidding war. With the book not even being released yet, can you talk about how that all went down? (As much as you’re comfortable sharing).
KL: My first published book, The Half-Class, actually came out with an indie press in September 2021. They accept submissions directly from authors, so I sent them a query, which turned into a full request and then an offer of publication in May 2020. It was a pretty straightforward process that time around. I didn’t have any other queries or full manuscripts out, and there was certainly no auction or bidding war. The Half-Class is a character-driven, personal little book, and I was grateful to find a house that understood enough to want to publish it. The most exciting part of that process was when the book was selected for a limited edition run in the FaeCrate book box! I love The Half-Class and I’m grateful it has a home, but I knew the limitations of releasing with a smaller press, and I wanted to go bigger with whatever I got published next.
My experience with Thieves’ Gambit has been a lot more glamourous. When we thought the book was ready, my agent sent the book out to 13 editors, I believe? (13 has been a lucky number for Thieves’ Gambit. When I signed with Chelsea I became her 13th client, and we closed our deal on Friday the 13th.) Less than 48 hours later we had interest and started setting up calls. I ended up talking with 8 editors. About two weeks later we set up an auction—which the iconic Stacey Barney at Penguin ended up winning! (She was actually the first editor who showed interest.)
Simultaneously, at the end of my first week of editor calls, my agent sent my book to a team of Film/TV agents at CAA. They got back to us after the weekend offering to rep me on the adaptation side. The same day, they started sending the book out parties they thought would be interested. All the film stuff is long and complicated enough to be an entire blog post, but to condense, after we closed our publisher auction we started getting offers to buy adaptation rights from different studios/producing teams, and thus began another two weeks of zoom calls, in which I tried not to embarrass myself in front of Hollywood people who all had unique visions for how to adapt my book. I actually happened to be on vacation at the time, so there was a lot of scrambling to get back to the hotel in time for meetings. All that culminated just a couple weeks ago with the bidding war, which Lionsgate partnered with Temple Hill Entertainment, Hodson Exports, and Steven Caple Jr won! It’s been a whirlwind of a summer…
LW: How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?
KL: I usually ignore reviews these days, but when I do come across a negative one, if it stings, I just go read a positive one. When working with my agent and editors, I always remind myself that their criticism is supposed to make me better. Most importantly, I remind myself that I am not my books. Someone being hard on my book is not them being hard on me. You’ve gotta have that level of separation between you and your work.
LW: Who are your favorite authors? (This can include who inspired you in the early days, all the way up to what you’re currently reading).
KL: In the novel world, new favorites include Liselle Sambury and C.K. Polk. Sambury’s Blood Like Magic and Polk’s The Midnight Bargain are the two best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve been obsessing over them ever since. I’m making my way through Philip K. Dick’s bibliography, and I had a feeling he was going to become one of my all-time favorites since I finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep last year. His dystopias are so hopeless and scarily relatable. I wish I could write sci-fi like that. From the manga world, I think Yoshihiro Togashi is one of the most subtle yet profound writers whose work I’ve ever gotten to experience, and I would kill for just an ounce of his talent.
LW: What are you currently working on?
KL: Most of my attention is on revising THIEVES’ GAMBIT right now and getting started on book 2. However, I might be secretly drafting a middle-grade fantasy in my free time, but you didn’t hear that from me.
LW: Is there anything else you want my readers (and your future readers) to know about you, your work, your passions, etc.?
KL: I’m so beyond grateful for the interest and success THIEVES’ GAMBIT has already had. I wanted to write a book about a Black girl on an adventure, just having fun, and for a while I was so afraid that no one would want to buy that or read it. For once, I’m ecstatic to be proven wrong.
Thank you so much to the wonderful Kayvion Lewis for participating in this interview! Hers is not the norm for new writers, but when we hear success stories like this, boy, is it ever inspiring and super exciting!