Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder of People of Color in Publishing—a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before becoming a literary agent. She’s been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” media list, a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree, and featured on Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world. Patrice is the editor of two anthologies published by Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope and Eternally Yours: Fifteen Stories of Paranormal Love. Her debut novel, Where Shadows Reign—the first in a YA fantasy duology—will be published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of Macmillan.
I had the opportunity to interview Patrice, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi y’all, thanks for having me! I’m Patrice, and I’m the editor of the YA paranormal romance anthology, Eternally Yours, which is out 9/20/22, as well as the YA Black Girl Magic anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn, (it was published last year, so it’s out now) and the forthcoming novel, Where Shadows Reign. I’m also a literary agent, and a former book editor, so as I often say, I really love books and I’ve seen the industry from many sides!
How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?
I make books happen! I represent, as a literary agent, a list of bestselling and critically acclaimed and debut authors and illustrators. I love my clients, they’re so talented and dedicated and fun to work with. I was an editor before I was an agent, so as an editor I received books on submission from literary agents, but as a writer, I always really related to and wanted to champion writers even more, so in 2019 I became a literary agent and now I’m the one working with them to develop their work and I sell it to publishers and manage and strategize their careers. When I’m not doing that, I’m talking to myself while at the grocery store (with my headphones on so it seems like I’m on a call haha) to work out plot points, leaving myself voice memos and random notes day and night when inspiration strikes…basically, I’m dreaming of and creating my own stories. I love writing and working with writers, so honestly, I feel like I’m in my dream career every day getting to do both.
What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing and agenting specifically?
My parents. They were really big about me reading and having books with characters who looked like me from a young age. I had a whole library full of Black characters, by Black authors and illustrators growing up. They’re also HUGE science fiction and fantasy fans, my dad also love theory, my mom loves horror…I grew up listening to him discuss and debate Fanon and Malcolm X and Jean-Paul Sartre with friends and my mom insisting I watch the original Freddy and Jason films (absolutely terrifying), back when Freddy vs. Jason came out. My dad also was a martial artist, and with him, I studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, and so much of that is a story. I was also a theater kid. My life was full of stories and storytelling growing up. It is no surprise that I ended up working in book publishing instead of as a lawyer like my mom hoped (it’s fine, now she brags to truly anyone that her daughter is an author). By the time I entered college, I knew I wanted to tell stories featuring characters who are more like me, and I wanted to help get more of those books by others into the world, too. I did internships with literary agencies, in marketing and publicity…anyplace that would have me, I wrote my first manuscripts, I networked so much, and then I didn’t get a job in publishing after I graduated. So, I worked in a different field for about a year, but I couldn’t get my love of books out of my head. Finally, I got an editorial assistant position and around the same time, I signed with my first literary agent who sold A Phoenix First Must Burn. Now, I’ve been working in this industry and writing under contract for the past few years.
How would you describe your upcoming anthology, Eternally Yours? What was the inspiration for this project?
I. LOVE. Paranormal Romance. HUGE fantasy and science fiction reader growing up, but especially gravitated to all things paranormal, urban fantasy, and gothic. Really anything with vampires, haha. My dad got me hooked on Blade, my mom on Underworld, and then I discovered Anne Rice (so happy we’re getting an Interview tv show soon! I am also a fan of the previous films in her universe, no matter how much Queen of the Damned deviates from the book) and Octavia Butler, got into Laurell K. Hamilton during Anita Blake’s best days (IYKYK), Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (I’m nervous-excited for the new tv series!) and from there, worlds opened up.
I mention this in my introduction for Eternally Yours, but what I felt was missing, what I really didn’t develop the words to explain until I got older, was that I wanted more queer characters and more characters of color…in other words, more people like the Black queer woman I am in these worlds. My publisher was in support of that and that’s why Eternally Yours exists…you have an incredibly diverse list of fifteen of today’s bestselling and critically acclaimed authors…I would describe it as THE book I wanted to read growing up (since, at this point, we’ll probably never get a sequel to Sunshine by Robin McKinley). My teen self would be so proud, and I’m so proud of these contributors, they really put in the work to make this anthology amazing.
How would you describe the process of creating an anthology? What goes into picking the contributors?
If you want to really dig into the topic of creating anthologies, I recommend reading this piece by Dahlia Adler (also, buy her books, including her anthology, That Way Madness Lies, it’s all Shakespeare retellings, and I have a story there called “Elsinore” that reimagines Hamlet with a little help from Dracula)
For me, it’s all about working with authors whose work I love and who I know can deliver. Once I figured out the genre (paranormal romance) I got to thinking about authors I’m fans of who want to write paranormal, whose novels either are paranormal or have those elements, and authors who you would never think would write anything paranormal, but I had a feeling they could pull it off. I thank being a former editor for this instinct, I understand writers really well and I pick up on all the things when I read their work. I am so happy with the entire contributor list, but speaking of inspirations, Melissa de la Cruz saying yes meant a ton. I was a HUGE Blue Bloods fan growing up (think Gossip Girl but with angels AND vampires) and, for Eternally Yours, she wrote a short story in the Blue Bloods world. I may have wept tears of joy.
Once everyone was signed on, they sent me pitches of their stories, I—along with the help of the editor at Penguin who acquired this book, Dana Leydig—approved them, they got to drafting and then we gave them notes and they revised again and again and again (thank y’all for putting in the work!!) until we were like, it’s ready to go!
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives/writers?
Write your stories. As a writer starting out, I looked for others for approval and validation way too much. It led to quite a lot of cooks in the kitchen (my brain) and so my books were that disjointed, they were from me but not truly of me. I reached a point where I was like, okay it’s not working like this, with me listening to feedback from everyone, with me trying to be like all these other writers… what do I want to write, what stories do I need in the world… honestly that changed everything for me, it’s how I came up with the idea of all my published and under contract books. Fight for your stories.
My dad once told me that I was very talented but had no discipline and he was right. I wasn’t making time for my art. I wasn’t making sacrifices for my art, and that’s not to say artists need to suffer, we don’t, it’s to say that I was doing so many other things, saying yes to so many other things, but I wasn’t saying yes to myself, to my writing, to the very thing that gives me life. I had to get real with myself and say, do you want this, okay focus on this. That sometimes means waking up at 6am and writing. It sometimes means writing before bed, or not going out with friends or hanging with family to get work done. It means setting boundaries and being clear with people about how important my work is to me. Like, I’m on deadline right now and, with few exceptions, I’m not going anywhere until it’s done.
Try to find your balance, your flow, what works for YOU (not others). Take breaks when you need them. Don’t stress about writing every day, I don’t, and the work gets done—that’s what works for me.
Work on your craft instead of rushing to be published. When I became a better editor, a better reviser, my stories began to shine.
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
Yes! My next project is Where Shadows Reign. It’s the first in a YA fantasy duology. It was originally scheduled to come out this year, but my super supportive publisher moved it back because trying to revise a novel, edit an anthology, be a literary agent, and focus during the start of a pandemic turned out to be a lot to do at the same time (I know, no surprise). We’re setting the pub date, but it’ll likely be late 2023 or 2024, and the book is even stronger due to the extra time. You can add it on Goodreads and follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates!
The book takes place a year after an epic war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them both. It follows three characters: a vampire princess who undertakes a journey to bring her best friend back from the underworld; a young seer who only sees death and, for reasons, accompanies the princess; and a fallen angel who is hellbent on awakening her beloved, their world’s first vampire and the most bloodthirsty one who lived, who is entombed in this underworld.
It’s very gothic and queer and inspired by my love for The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Okay, first, read Eternally Yours and A Phoenix First Must Burn as a large amount of the stories throughout both these anthologies are queer (Phoenix was actually called “delightfully queer” in a rave review), and then read their books!
Third, my clients. Check out books by these authors:
Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (we may or may not call this book MILF book as its secret title…college senior has a hot hookup, oops it’s her friend’s mom, wait…now, they’re falling in now)
And for a few publishing next year, but available for preorder now, check out:
Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (NOLA set, magical families, estranged siblings, intergenerational curses)
Ravensong by Cayla Fay (war god sisters, Buffy vibes, romance, northeastern gothic)
Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela (first crush, a journey to a magical other world, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan)
Dear Medusa by Olivia A. Cole (if you loved Shout or The Poet X, you’ll love this!)
Finally, for a book I deeply love. I acquired this when I was an editor!