PRETTY DEAD QUEENS
Author: Alexa Donne
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Publishing date: October 4th, 2022
Seaview High’s homecoming queen is dead . . . and she’s not the first. From the critically acclaimed author of The Ivies comes a nonstop thriller about a decades-old mystery, a copycat killing, and the teen who won’t stop until she discovers the truth.
After the death of her mom (screw cancer), seventeen-year-old Cecelia Ellis goes to live with her estranged grandmother, a celebrated author whose Victorian mansion is as creepy as the murder mysteries she writes. On the surface, life is utterly ordinary in the California coastal town . . . until the homecoming queen is murdered. And she’s not Seaview’s first pretty dead queen.
With a copycat killer on the loose, Cecelia throws herself into the investigation, determined to crack the case like the heroines in her grandmother’s books. But the more Cecelia digs into the town’s secrets, the more she worries that her own mystery might not have a storybook ending.
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Alexa Donne is the author of sci-fi romance retellings Brightly Burning and The Stars We Steal, as well as the young adult thrillers The Ivies and the forthcoming Pretty Dead Queens, both published by Crown/Random House. A graduate of Boston University, she works in TV marketing and has done pro bono college admissions mentoring since 2014. A true INFJ, in her “free” time she mentors with WriteGirl, runs the Author Mentor Match program, and manages one of the most popular writing advice channels on YouTube. She lives in Los Angeles and you can find her in most places @alexadonne.
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | YouTube | TikTok
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, Netgalley and the author for giving me a copy of the book. Check out the other posts on the tour here.
Q1: Hi there Alexa! I am so happy to have you here with us! Before we begin, do share some interesting facts about yourself with us!
Ans: I was a high school foreign exchange student to Germany—lived there my entire junior year of high school. I was in an international youth chorus in Atlanta as a teenager and I can still sing a bunch of Christmas carols in other languages because of it! I love disaster movies, and actually took a course on natural disasters in college. So I can tell you a lot about the real science behind movies like Dante’s Peak and The Day After Tomorrow. I also am a huge nerd who spent years working on fancons, which is part of why there’s one in Pretty Dead Queens!
Q2: I haven’t gotten around to reading the novel yet, but I do think the premise is very interesting! What was the inspiration for the novel?
Ans: It’s one part Murder, She Wrote, one part The Keepers on Netflix, and my love of the small town secrets trope thrown into a blender. I worked backwards from the idea of “what if Jessica Fletcher was your grandmother?” and it merged with my wanting to write a retro high school murder thread (that’s The Keepers inspo), plus my love for books, publishing, and meta. I also love taking popular adult thriller tropes and transposing them for YA. The challenge is in finding ways to keep them dark and twisted, but making sure the characters and set-ups work for YA. So in Pretty Dead Queens, I was inspired to combine the small town secrets trope with returning to a small town to solve an old mystery trope, using the angle of there being a possible copycat killer aping either their favorite book, or the original murder from 1970.
Q3: I noticed that some of your novels are not of the same genre (For example, Brightly Burning). What are the genres that you write, and what others do you wish to write in the future?
Ans: So yeah, I started off writing YA sci-fi romance retellings of classics—Brightly Burning is Jane Eyre in
space, and The Stars We Steal is Persuasion in space. I came to those through my love of the books themselves, of course, and romance generally, but also shows like Battlestar Galactica. I’m also from a fandom/fanfiction background, and so remixing two of my favorite books for a modern YA audience and giving them some sci-fi flair was a natural fit and a lot of fun. Both of those stories had mystery arcs in them, which whetted my appetite for the genre.
Similarly, I adore tropes and big, bold, twisty stories—the bulk of my personal reading is thrillers (and non-fiction). So once I had the spark of an idea for a juicy mystery, I took off running. I have so many ideas for dark, messed up stories that I plan to stay in thrillers for the near future, including branching out into adult. There are so many thriller tropes that can’t transpose to YA, and themes I want to explore that make sense for 38-year-olds but not 18-year-olds.
Q4: The cover for this novel is really beautiful! What was the cover design process like?
Ans: I feel so lucky with how seamlessly the process has gone with Penguin Random House, and that I get to work with cover designer Casey Moses. She’s phenomenal and never fails to send me a cover I love. Process wise, it always starts with my editor asking me for any ideas I have, covers I particularly like and/or dislike, any themes or symbols from the book that come to mind, important physical descriptions of key characters… really anything I’d like to share. I always share my Pinterest mood board with the designer, as well as some covers/vibes I like, and some general thoughts. But honestly? Casey always comes up with something brilliant I could have never thought of! She reads the book and comes up with symbols/imagery that is so sharp and on point, but that never would have occurred to me, like the pencils speared through paper for The Ivies or the trophy case for Pretty Dead Queens (with a lipstick scrawl font inspired by a moment in the book).
They always sent me an early-ish comp cover after it’s gone through several rounds in-house. So I don’t see the very earliest ideas, but see something fairly polished. But in the case of both my books, they’re mock-ups before a photoshoot. For Pretty Dead Queens, I actually got to see the pitch deck for the cover concept, front and back, though what we ultimately ended up with changed slightly (so it’s pretty cool to see the evolution).
So yeah: they did a photoshoot for Pretty Dead Queens! I feel so unbelievably lucky to have gotten custom photo shoots for both my books so far. Casey works with incredibly talented local photographers to set up the shots she has in mind. For Pretty Dead Queens, we worked with Maggie Holmgren. She and Casey set up a trophy case shoot, filling it with all sorts of props, and then Casey used Photoshop to tweak the colors, add the crown and crack to the picture frame, plus adding a stock image of a girl. On the first round, she was blonde and looked too nice. I asked them to swap it for a slightly haughtier looking brunette to match the victim.
We did some back and forth on the colors for the cover, for both the background and the title font. PRH always bears in mind not just how the cover will look on the final, physical book, but how it will work as a digital thumbnail image on bookish websites. Earlier drafts of the cover were more zoomed out so you could see more of the trophy case, but ultimately we ended up with a tighter crop to the photo frame, crown, and Homecoming sash to help the title font really pop. I had hoped for a pink cover font, but white worked far better… but Casey did her magic to make the Homecoming sash pink, and the font for my name, plus ultimately the spine of the book. I LOVE the full jacket wrap because we get to see the wide shot of the trophy case on the back cover.
It’s so cool, especially how everything is in the school colors from the book, and they even managed an accidental Easter egg. It just so happened one of the trophies they found for the shoot was from 2002… the year I graduated high school! Another cool point of the process was getting to see the options for the case options, ie: the design of the “naked book.” I was able to look over the different color combinations/foil options for the spine. I bypassed shiny pink foil for the spine and went for the VERY COOL embossed cover option. I always wanted one, and Casey came up with a great design in the school colors with the logo for the high school/mascot from the book. I couldn’t resist!
Q5: Lastly, what do you hope readers will take away from this novel?
Ans: Overall my goal with every thriller I write: that the readers have a great time. That the book is a ride, a vibe, the perfect vacation or plane read. Selfishly I do hope the end shocks and surprises people. I had so much fun with the twist on this one. Beyond that, I hope that Cecelia’s overall arc with grief resonates with those who need it. I wrapped it in a fun, soapy package, but ultimately this was a grief book for me.
And that’s all for this post! Are you intrigued by this book? I know I am! Let me know in the comments if you’ll pick it up soon!
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