Leigh Bardugo’s path to publication took a few twists and turns before her first book, Shadow and Bone (Holt), finally hit the shelves. Born in Jerusalem and raised in Los Angeles, Bardugo graduated from Yale with a degree in English. From there, she worked in journalism and copywriting, including some time spent crafting movie trailers. However, writing was her dream. “I’d always wanted to be a writer. Come hell or high water, I’d finish a book.”
Indeed, she wrote Shadow and Bone, a YA high fantasy inspired by Russian culture and mythology, while in transition from journalism to her next career: Hollywood makeup artist.
She took the makeup job after her father died, looking for something more social. It appealed to her because, like writing, it’s all about “creating illusion and bringing fantasy to life.” Her makeup credits include the 2008 award-winning short film Worth, Project Ethos, and Discovery Channel programs. Along the way, she also started playing in a band, Captain Automatic, which she described as a mix between the Pixies and They Might Be Giants.
Bardugo’s initial inspiration for the series, about a young woman whose ability to manifest light may be the key to saving her nation, came one night while staying with a friend. She was in a dark hallway, when she imagined “something with too many teeth.” That led to the idea of the darkness as a place, something figurative turned literal, and from there to the concept of darkness splitting a country in two—something that had to be fought.
Though always envisioning the story as a trilogy, she wrote Shadow and Bone to be open-ended but not end with a cliffhanger. As she’s quick to point out, she then got “extremely lucky.” Even though high fantasy was reportedly a hard sell—“everyone wanted dystopian”—she almost immediately found an agent, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, then at Nancy Coffey Literary, who was “looking for something different,” and the book sold to Henry Holt less than a month later. Bardugo’s advice to other writers: “Don’t get discouraged. Trends aren’t that important. What matters is story.” Her editor was Noa Wheeler, who was “wonderful to work with. She made the story better.”
The whole experience has been something of a revelation for Bardugo: “I can’t believe how magically it all happened.” She was surprised to find out just how long it took to bring a book to market (about 18 months from deal to publication, in her case), and amazed to discover how pivotal a role the online blogging community plays these days. “There’s an incredible network out there—bloggers and social media, Twitter and Facebook. Advance publicity and ARCs were huge.” Her book launch tour last month (the Fierce Reads tour, along with fellow YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Jennifer Bosworth, and others) was a highlight and gave her a chance to interact with her fans. She also joined the Apocalypsies, a group of fellow YA authors making their debuts.
These days, Bardugo says, she is mainly focused on writing, with an eye toward finishing her Grishka trilogy, of which Shadow and Bone is the first volume. The band is mostly on hiatus due to its members’ various obligations and full-time jobs. And though she still keeps her hand in the makeup artist business, she says it’s tricky to stay involved as a part-timer in Hollywood. Still, she doesn’t regret her decisions. “Makeup wasn’t a calling,” she says. “Writing is a dream which requires sacrifice, and I was willing to do whatever it takes.”
Currently, book two of the trilogy (Siege and Storm) is in revisions, and then comes the untitled conclusion. After that, she has a “little horror project” in mind, and then perhaps a Shadow and Bone spinoff series, set elsewhere in that world. She remains adamant that she was just in the right place at the right time. “There are so many other really deserving books out there. The difference is that I got lucky.”