Interview with Liselle Sambury, author of Blood Like Magic, a Futuristic Black Girl Magic YA
Blood Like Magic is a powerful debut novel by Liselle Sambury about a Black witch community in Canada several years in the future. It's got magic, strong familial bonds, sci-fi tech, and a romance I'm adoring. It's dark and yet lovely. It's about falling in love and trying to save your family and maybe, just maybe, having to murder the love of your life. #nobigdeal.
I was lucky enough to get an advance reader copy of the book and will have a review up soon, but in the meantime I was also lucky enough to score an interview with Sambury, a Trinidadian-Canadian author raised in Toronto.
Over email, she shared that she began writing Blood Like Magic while away from her hometown, and it was partially inspired by a desire to celebrate her city. She also spoke to some of the other inspirations for the novel.
"Growing up, I always wanted to see myself as part of the fantasy stories that I loved, and this book would give me the chance to have a Black girl be the hero," Sambury said. "Then I set it in the future because as a sci-fi fan, that just seemed like it would be so cool."
The book, a young adult novel centering around a Black teenage girl, is Sambury's chance to add her own voice to the growing (but still underrepresented) number of diverse stories in kidlit. Throughout university Sambury wrote mostly adult literary short stories, but said she realized she preferred novel-length YA, especially since those were the books she was reading at the time.
"I was also really excited about the idea of Black teens getting to see themselves as the hero in a fantasy novel," she said. "When I was a teenager, I loved fantasy, but never got to see the Black girl as the hero of them. Often Black girls weren’t included at all. It’s very different now, which I’m so glad for."
Since Sambury is a YA author, I wanted to get her take on why writing for teens is so important. Obviously it's something I feel passionate about as well, but I loved her response: "I think books can create these worlds for young readers that can not only entertain but can also provide ways for teens to feel seen and represented by the stories—whether that’s reading about a character that looks like you, or who is going through something that you’re going through," she said.
I know there were books that I read that made me realize that I wasn’t alone. I think that’s so important for young people to have because I think it can affect self-esteem and sense of self for the better going forward into adulthood. - Liselle Sambury
Sambury has been writing since she was 13, when she dealt with school bullies and found an outlet in writing. A writing club she joined in high school helped her gain confidence, and she said, "That stood out as a really pinnacle moment for me in realizing that my stories could elicit positive reactions from readers and that people wanted to hear them."
In addition to writing, Sambury runs a YouTube channel where she shares about her writing journey for her nearly 3.5k subscribers.
She started her channel in part to learn more about video production, and in part to join a community of authors on YouTube (known as AuthorTube) who share about their writing, give publishing tips, and in general try to help others make sense of the struggle that can be traditional publication.
Sambury suggests aspiring authors follow in her YouTuber footsteps only if they actually have an interest in videos, saying that because the producing and editing process can be so intensive, it only makes sense to start if it's a passion.
"But if it’s something someone is interested in, and nervous about trying, I would encourage them to go for it," she added. "I do think it’s a wonderful community to get involved in."
Blood Like Magic contains several content warning for issues ranging from whipping in the context of slavery to child neglect. It can be a tough book to read given the unflinching view of these topics, and Sambury explained both her motivation for including these topics and the ways in which she tried to ensure she was doing so sensitively.
"I spent time paying attention to people who did live that experience in social media, I did research, and I had sensitivity readers look over the work," she said. "I think people have different sorts of motivations when discussing more sensitive topics like racism or disordered eating. For me, I’m trying to present an experience of what it is like to be someone dealing with that, and I’m hoping that a reader can see themselves in the representation. Sometimes there are also associated stereotypes or negative connotations that I’m trying to challenge as well."
Sambury encouraged aspiring writers to take breaks when necessary, saying that the hustle culture and constant encouragement never to quit can be detrimental.
"There are times in life when you may need to put aside writing for a bit, and that’s okay," she said. "And when and if you feel up to it again, then you can get back to writing. In my opinion, this industry is all about perseverance. You keep writing the next book, and the next, and the next. But if you never give yourself a break, especially when you know you need it, that can also be detrimental. Keep going if you can but be kind to yourself if you need time away."
One of the final questions I asked Sambury was one of my favorites: I asked her to share some favorite books she's read recently, and I'd like to close this interview with that quote.
"I loved Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson which I thought did an amazing job of capturing the realities of grooming while also addressing the many different things Black girls deal with growing up," she said. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is another wonderful one, and it drew me in with the beautiful found family and all the twists and turns of the plot. I also loved Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour which is this story of a girl trying to find a place to belong but it’s also simultaneously this beautiful written sort of ghost story."
I've been reading and loving Blood Like Magic and would highly recommend it if you're into witchy things, futuristic settings with cool tech inventions, family stories, and just in general excellent writing and storytelling. If you do end up picking it up, let me know and share your thoughts with me in the comments or on Twitter!