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A publisher's rejection spurred friendship of these two authors, BYU alumna. Here's how

SALT LAKE CITY — While interning for a local publishing house, Tricia Levenseller, now a young adult fantasy author, read a manuscript submission by Charlie Holmberg called “Followed by Frost.”

Levenseller loved the book, but the press turned it down. A few years later, Levenseller attended a writer’s conference where she noticed Holmberg’s name on the list of visiting authors, and she remembered how much she’d enjoyed Holmberg’s book.

Turns out, Holmberg had published her first novel, “The Paper Magician” with Amazon’s publishing company 47 North, which later also published “Followed by Frost.” Levenseller introduced herself to Holmberg that day at the writer’s conference and a friendship blossomed. After Levenseller also became successful in her publishing career, the pair became writing partners as well.

A graduate of Brigham Young University and Orem resident, Levenseller is known for her young adult adventure fantasy with a heavy dose of romance, as featured in her “Daughter of the Pirate King” duology and her newest Viking-inspired book “Warrior of the Wild” (Feiwel & Friends, 336 pages, ages 13-18).

Also a BYU alumna, Holmberg, who lives in Utah County, is the Whitney Award-winning, Wall Street Journal best-selling author of “The Paper Magician” series and just released the first book in her new “Numina” trilogy titled, “Smoke and Summons” (47 North, 329 pages).

Tricia Levenseller

Holmberg said in an interview that Levenseller writes the kind of books she loves to read.

"Warrior of the Wild" is by Tricia Levenseller.
"Warrior of the Wild" is by Tricia Levenseller.

“She has a unique story setting — you’re not reading something you’ve read before,” Holmberg said. “But there’s a really strong romance that doesn’t make you feel like you have to go talk to Jesus after you read the book. That’s my kind of book — high fantasy, interesting story lines, with lots of romance.”

Levenseller majored in English language at BYU because she thought she wanted to be an editor. She first wrote a book so she could edit it for her high school senior project — and hasn’t stopped writing books since. She tried several times to write young adult contemporary novels — following what she called the bad writing advice to “write what you know” — but could never finish a draft. Finally, she realized no one “knows” dragons or magic, but that didn’t stop people from using their imaginations. So, she wrote her first young adult fantasy novel one summer in between semesters of college.

She queried that book and quickly got an agent, but several years and books went by and nothing ever sold.

“At this point I’d been rejected by all the editors in New York twice,” Levenseller said. “It was so sad and depressing. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it felt like it was when it was happening.”

Then, Levenseller wrote “Daughter of the Pirate King” and her agent told her, “I don’t like pirates.” That’s when she realized it was time for new representation. So, she queried again and landed her current agent, “who is all about pirates.”

“After being rejected by every editor except for my current editor at Feiwel & Friends, I finally got a book contract,” Levenseller said. “I’m still with them three books later, so it has a happy ending.”

Only 23 years old when she got that book deal, Levenseller worked as a nanny for a couple years after college to pay rent, and then quit to write full time.

After finishing her “Daughter of the Pirate King” duology, Levenseller said she was “swashbuckled out” and needed a break from writing sword fights, but she wanted to stay on brand and write another action adventure novel.

That’s when Gimli, the dwarf from “Lord of the Rings,” popped into her mind holding a big battle-ax, and thus the idea for “Warrior of the Wild” was born.

“After I came up with that idea, I was like, ‘OK, but why a battle-ax?’” Levenseller said. “Because battles-axes are really impractical. They’re very heavy. They’re hard to swing. They’re slower. There’d have to be a reason why they’d use battle-axes as their primary weapon.”

This spurned the inspiration for the hardened world within “Warrior of the Wild,” filled with monsters with tough exoskeletons that can only be pierced with the full swing of an ax.

"Warrior of the Wild" tells the story of Rasmira, the daughter of her village's leader, who has trained all her life to be a great warrior. But her sex and her position in the village produce jealous rivalries among the young men she trains with, and they play a horrible trick on her that gets her cast out from her village. Now, she must survive in the rough, barren, monster-filled wild. And the only way she can ever go home is if she kills her people's cruel, heartless god, Peruxolo.

Levenseller said she actually ended up drawing on some of her experiences as a teenager to write Rasmira’s character. Rasmira was an accomplished warrior but struggled to recognize her own value outside of her skill. Levenseller said she was well-liked by teachers in high school because she got good grades, but she had to learn to find her own self-confidence. Rasmira goes on a similar journey in “Warrior of the Wild.”

“If there’s anything that anyone takes away from this book,” she said, “it’s that everybody is worthy of love and being loved and it’s not something you have to earn; it’s something that should just be given.”

Charlie Holmberg

Levenseller said what she admires most about Holmberg’s books are her magic systems, and Holmberg is always able to help Levenseller expand her own work's magical elements. Levenseller, meanwhile, enjoys encouraging Holmberg to up the romantic tension in her novels.

“She’s always like, ‘You need to fix your romance,’” Holmberg said.

Levenseller even helped increase the attraction between the two main characters in Holmberg’s newest book, “Smoke and Summons.”

"Smoke and Summons" is by Charlie Holmberg.
"Smoke and Summons" is by Charlie Holmberg.
Amazon Publishing

“Smoke and Summons” came about when Holmberg was on vacation and her agent put a damper on things by calling her up and telling her she ought to write another series. Holmberg had only written standalone books since the “Paper Magician” series, and even then the additional books weren’t something she’d planned on but came more “by accident,” she said.

“So, when my agent’s like, ‘You have to write a series on purpose,’ my problem is I can’t think of an idea big enough,” Holmberg said.

A little stressed out, Holmberg started pulling from her Pinterest boards and idea folders.

“Anything that sounded kind of interesting, I put it into a giant pile, lit it on fire and the book happened,” she said. “It’s just a big Frankenstein-ing of novels.”

Holmberg said she “smashed together” ideas from an old unpublished novel of hers along with other unused ideas for magic systems she had stored away, and in the end she came up with a story big enough to span across three books.

Holmberg’s quirky pitch for “Smoke and Summons” is that it’s “fidget spinners meets Pokémon.” Sandis is a slave forced to summon otherworldly creatures into her own body to perform the will of a wicked man. One day, she makes her escape and crosses paths with Rone, a mercenary thief who possesses a rare magical artifact that grants him immortality for just one minute every day. Together, they have to outrun her captors and stop them from calling forth a monster that could destroy their world.

“Smoke and Summons” ends on a major cliffhanger, as does its sequel, “Myth and Mortals,” which comes out April 16. Holmberg said she’s already had stars taken off her reviews on Amazon from people who said they loved the book but were mad about the ending. Luckily, since Amazon publishes faster than more traditional companies, avid readers only have to wait a few months for the next book. Even the third book, “Siege and Sacrifice,” comes out this year, on Sept. 17.

“I wrote one right after the other,” Holmberg said. “But it’s not too bad, because I really don’t have any other hobbies.”

All in all, Holmberg is glad her agent pushed her to challenge herself and write something bigger.

“It’s the best book I’ve ever written,” she said. “Just read it!”

If you go …

What: Tricia Levenseller and Charlie Holmberg book signing

When: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m.

Where: Provo Library, 500 N. University Ave., Provo


Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "Warrior of the Wild" from The King's English.