Author Guest Post

Behind the Book: The Beast is an Animal

February 28, 2017
Peternelle van Arsdale
Author of The Beast is an Animal

I didn’t write The Beast is an Animal. At least, it didn’t feel like writing: It felt like evolution. Writing the prologue was the spark that started it all. After that the novel grew and morphed and became what it was supposed to be—an animal that I couldn’t have envisioned, but nonetheless makes complete sense. The novel as it exists now wasn’t at all a foregone conclusion when I first wrote the prologue, and yet it feels like it couldn’t possibly have been any other way.

I’ve been a book editor for nearly all of my adult life, and for most of that time I would have told you I had no interest in being an author myself. I loved editing (still do) and consider it a skill set separate from writing. I felt it was my calling to respond to what an author had written and to help them transform that into the best possible version of itself. And I knew how terribly difficult it is not only to write a novel, but also to survive the book publishing process with one’s spirit intact. Despite the efforts of publishers, editors, marketers, jacket designers, salespeople, and publicists, I was all too familiar with my authors’ heartbreak when things didn’t work out the way everyone had hoped. Who would willingly subject themselves to that? No, I said to myself—better to help others get their books published. That was certainly no hardship for me. Like I said, I love to edit. More to the point, I didn’t have an idea for a book.

Then I started having ideas. A couple of them went nowhere, and they have been double-deleted from every hard drive on which they once existed. But one idea turned into The Beast is an Animal. Once the prologue quivered with life, there was no rest for me until my beast had fully evolved. That took years. During that time, months would go by when duty (meaning the need to make mortgage payments) called, and I was busy ghostwriting and editing other authors’ work. The novel would also call to me during those times, and it was true agony not to be able to answer its call. But in increments of a week here, a day there—and thanks to the extraordinary experience of being edited by others—my idea became the novel it needed to be. Not the novel I’d always wanted to write, but the novel I’d always wanted to read.

The Beast is an Animal is inspired by the dark, classic fairytales I grew up reading, but I like to think it’s taken on a life of its own. I breathed into it all the fear, heartache, and hope that many of us feel so deeply as we try to parse who we are and whether we’re good or bad. The answer to that mystery plagues my protagonist throughout the novel, in both world-threatening and personal ways. She looks around her and sees monsters—but even more terrible, she looks within herself and sees a monster. My hope is that as she finds her way, readers will be entertained, frightened, and maybe even a little comforted when they catch a glimpse of the monsters within themselves.

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