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Kayvion Lewis on writing her cinematic YA heist thriller Thieves’ Gambit

Kayvion Lewis on writing her cinematic YA heist thriller Thieves’ Gambit

Thieves’ Gambit is a glamorous round-the-world adventure about nine teen thieves from nine different countries who are all invited by a mysterious organization to compete in a competition to crown the world’s greatest thief. Ross Quest, our heroine, is a seventeen-year-old from one of the world’s most infamous thieving families, who enters the gambit in a bid to save her recently kidnapped Mom. She’s playing against couturie of allies and enemies, including but not limited to: an American gambler who’ll put himself in any danger just to distract himself from his past, a Korean tech girl whose not as ditzy as she wants people to think, Ross’s arch-nemesis from Switzerland’s most prestigious thieving family, a Japanese boy with aspirations to become the perfect thief, a trigger-happy Australian with a serious mean streak, an Indian fashionista who wears weapons like jewelry, an ultra-flexible quiet girl from Nicaragua, and of course the hot British guy who’s got to be hiding something…right?

Thieves’ Gambit isn’t just the story I always wanted to read, it’s the whirlwind quest I always wanted to get swept up in. My whole life–or at least since I watched Temple of Doom for the first time–I’ve been longing to travel the world picking fights with secret societies, finagling my way out of high-stakes situations, and making quirky frenemies along the way. Naturally, this was the sort of thing I wanted in my media too. During my teenage years, while I saw lots of brilliantly done romance, dystopian, and fantasy wish-fulfillment YA books on shelves, I never found many books that could scratch the itch that I in particular had. Where were the contemporary action-adventures about kick-butt Black girls? I suppose that’s why I wrote Thieves’ Gambit–the glamourous, action-packed, globetrotting adventure I’ve been thinking about for years. For all the kids like me still waiting for their own real-life adventure to arrive, who want to read one in the meantime.

Find out more about Thieves’ Gambit in the Q&A below.

Q: What did your journey to becoming an author look like? 

Kayvion: About five years ago, when I was nineteen, a friend and I used to have a joke that one day I’d disappear to travel the world on fantastical quests and she’d never see me again. She’d poke back asking how I was going to pay for that. “By writing over-the-top thrillers about my own adventures,” I’d say. Somehow that joke turned into reality, when I opened my laptop and just started typing one day. Being in a library surrounded by books all the time may have helped me realize just how much I’d enjoy crafting my own stories too.

Q: We hear that TG is going to be a film – so exciting – can you share anything about that process, and what you’re looking forward to seeing on big screen the most?

Kayvion: I’m super grateful for all the film interest we’ve had, and that Lionsgate has been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this project, but to be honest I’m shocked that so many people have seen adaptation material in my work. I never thought of Thieves’ Gambit as being a movie while I was writing, I just wanted to write the wild adventure that was in my head. I guess I think cinematically.

My creative team on the film side has been very inquisitive about the world, pulling more and more details about characters and relationships than I knew I had in me. It’s so cool to think that all these details that might be too frivolous to go mention in-depth on the page might be expanded upon in the movie. In addition, I’m also lucky to have Hollywood supporters who are just as excited for my book’s release as my publishers.

Q Who is Rosalyn Quest, our main protagonist? Did she have any particular inspiration from real life, film or other media?

Kayvion: Ross Quest is a master thief and member of one of the most notorious thieving families in the world…But she’s also a lonely seventeen-year-old and a little socially inept when interacting with other people her age. She’s based loosely on my mom, whose legal name is also Rosalyn–though her parents forgot and were accidentally calling her Lisa for 40 years. Like Ross, my mom grew up on the rural island of Andros and left in search of friends and the promise of a fuller life when she was a teenager. (Unlike Ross, my mom wasn’t running away from a clingy family of criminals though, I swear.)

Q: Was it difficult to plot such a complex story – with plenty of red herrings for both the characters and the reader? Can you give us any insight to your process?

Kayvion: It was definitely a process that required patience. The twists and turns didn’t come out flawlessly the first time around. Honestly, my first draft was a bit of a confusing–but entertaining–collection of scenes. The complexity came in layers as I reread and rewrote the book. Basically, after I wrote my mind-dump of a first draft I reread the book asking myself “wouldn’t it have been cooler if this happened?” and then did that instead!

Q: What would you love to tell your 16 year old self – and Rosalyn Quest right now?

Kayvion: Don’t worry too much about the future–it’s nothing like what you’re imagining anyway.

Thieves Gambit was published by Simon & Schuster on 26 September 2023

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