Inkling Interview: Ryan Douglass
Months ago, when I was pretty new to Twitter’s #writingcommunity, there were some authors (and particularly authors of color) who really caught my attention. For the first time in my life, I saw pertinent discussions about race in literature happening in a nuanced, honest way and at the forefront of many of these conversations was this week’s guest. I so admire his truth, and he has truly been a friend and a source of support in recent months. I knew I wanted to learn more about his journey and share it with others aspiring to do what he has. So, without further ado: Ryan Douglass.
Hello, Ryan! Thanks for agreeing to an interview! I always like to start off by asking where you are in your writing journey and how you got there?
Thank you for having me! I’m currently in edits for my debut JAKE IN THE BOX, which comes out Fall 2020 through Penguin/Putnam, and working on my second book. I got into the industry the usual way--by cold querying agents. I took me seven-ish years of querying projects before I finally got my agent in 2017. We sold JAKE in 2018. Now I’m enjoying the journey to 2020 and savoring every moment of the process and all the bonds I’m forming in the industry.
I’m familiar with your upcoming novel JAKE IN THE BOX, but can you pitch it? Also, can you talk about any other projects you’re currently working on?
It’s about a Black teen medium at a majority white school whose life and sanity starts to unravel when he gets haunted by the ghost of a school shooter. I’m working on another book based on werewolf lore as well as a romantic comedy. That’s all I’ll say about those for now!
Can you walk us through your writing process? When does an idea become a fully-realized story for you?
For me a concept usually starts with an element I want to include in a book because it’s so interesting (e.g. an image of a girl breaking a window, or a theme, like divorced parents). If that one thing is compelling enough to me, I form all the other elements around it. JAKE IN THE BOX was born because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to write a ghost story or a stalker thriller, so I combined them, and then explored my own coming of age through that.
Do you feel any parts of your identity (that you’re comfortable sharing) influence your writing? If so, how?
I feel like so much of my identity influences my writing because so much of my writing is expressive of me. I identify with being an outcast who has suffered from social anxiety and low self-esteem. I identify with being haunted by things from my past that I can’t turn off, so I explore trauma a lot. I explore being Black, and connecting the social/political understandings of that to the metaphysics of what it truly, naturally, means to have browner skin and kinkier hair. There is so much to unpack about living with the identity and which cultural norms we transcend and which ones we’re rooted in. I will always explore that, alongside the complexities of being a queer man and finding pride in that.
How do you characterize your writing? What’s most important to you in the stories you tell?
I would describe my writing style as punchy in style and darkly humorous in tone. I’m big on voice. It can’t be boring and it can’t be emotionally bereft. Every line has to be vivid, emotionally resonant or exciting in some way. I get very easily distracted and will bore myself with the project if I don’t make it like that. And an unfinished project is useless. Most important to me in the stories I tell is that the reader feels the story alongside the characters. If I don’t access the heartstrings, there is no point.
How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?
Barely! Most of the time I feel like I’m being dragged by a wagon down a dusty dirt road. I do the best I can every day. I do set loose goals for myself and sometimes I make them, but sometimes I don’t. I’m Type B to a fault so allocation of time and schedule doesn’t work for me. My most important goal is to make a little bit of progress every day, whether it be learning something new I can apply to the story or writing a whole chapter. I write ideas in my notes app when they come to me while I’m doing other things and eventually all those notes find their way into the document on my computer. Sometimes I write for eight hours straight, seven days a week and other times I won’t write for months at a time. I don’t punish myself as long as I’m moving forward.
We’ve seen big trends come and go in YA— where do you want to see age category move in the next decade?
I’d love to see more horror because I think there are a lot of useful devices in it that can be applied to growing up. I feel like it’s so untapped a genre. From all the YA genres I hope for more daring stories that introduce original plots and/or unexpected narrative styles. There’ve been some good ones that do new things with familiar plots, but I think we’ve seen a dip in really innovative, original stories.
If your life was a mixtape, who gets a feature?
I love this question but it’s so hard to contain all my musical loves into a single mixtape. For now I’m gonna say 11 tracks featuring Vince Staples, Kevin Abstract, Smino, Syd, CupcakKe, Rico Nasty, 6lack, Brent Faiyaz, SZA, and Megan Thee Stallion. The tape will close with Lil Nas X bringing everyone on for an Old Town Road remix.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those who may not see themselves in many stories (or want to see more)?
Write honestly. Don’t wait for permission to write something from the books that are on shelves or coming out. You can create the thing that you want to read. The whole point is to write the book only you can write, and that is the book everyone else will enjoy. So honor your personal style and point-of-view.
What’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
There’s a song called Bambi by Hippo Campus which is very me.
Bonus Question! You have a never-ending plate of your favorite food--what’s on the plate?
Chicken alfredo tortellini. The flavor is so real.