DAY 14 – RONNI DAVIS

In 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting Ronni Davis during a writing retreat near Seattle, Washington. She was hobbling around on crutches, trying to keep up. She was a newbie at the writing retreat, but it didn’t take long to become friends with this wonderful writer and amazing person. After reading her debut, WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU, I found out Ronni’s writing is a reflection of her own mirror, but countless readers will nod as they read this incredible novel.
We all have quirky things we like to say or do. Ronni Davis actually put hers in writing! Here are a few for you to smile about!
• There is a canon Star Wars character named after me. {It’s in Lost Stars by Claudia Gray}
• Every major city I’ve lived in or near begins with the letter C.
• I love pens, stationery, and notebooks.
• I go to Disney World every year.
• I made a Sim of myself, but I can’t play with Sim!Ronni in the game because it’s just too weird. I mean… look at her!

 

On this the 14th day of February, The Brown Bookshelf is proud to highlight: 

RONNI DAVIS

Hi Brown Bookshelf! Thank you so much for having me. It’s truly an honor to be among so many great authors, and to have an opportunity to talk about my path to publication, the state of this industry, and other important topics!

The Journey
My path to publishing was a long one, but the steps within it weren’t long, if that makes sense. I started pursuing publication in 2005, and I got an agent fairly quickly. My first book did not sell, my then agent didn’t like my second book, then my life blew up! I took a long break from writing and the industry. I focused on doing everything but writing (unless it was random stuff for fun). I worked in advertising, I trained to be a yoga teacher, I went to acting school.

I realized, while I was in acting school and working background on various sets that 1.) I’m not a great actor, and 2.) Being on set is essentially being in a story. I was lucky. For one of the shows I worked on, the art directors would encourage us to play with the props and make use of the set. It really made my tiny role come alive (for me), and helping them tell their stories inspired me to once again tell my own stories. I would come home after working 14 hours and get right to work. It was so inspiring. And it showed me the main thing: Storytelling is in my soul.

But I didn’t decide even consider trying for publication again until 2014, when We Need Diverse Books came out, and publishing was slowly starting to look for the sorts of stories I was writing. But there was a problem: The market was so different from 2005–2006, and I wasn’t sure if I could even remember to write, let alone keep up. But I had to try. I felt like this story needed to be out there.

With a lot of revision rounds, feedback from critique partners under my belt, and even some agent feedback, I started querying in earnest in 2016. Lots of close calls, lots of revising again, and too many tears and days where I would give up. (Only to be back at it again a few days later.) I was very intentional in my queries. Sending in batches, seeing what worked, and then trying again after making some changes. I didn’t query more than 30 agents total.

I signed with my new agent in early 2017. After a couple rounds of revisions, we went on submission in fall of 2017. This is when it gets a little bit weird. I got interest right away, mostly in the form of R&Rs (revise and resubmits). My agent ended up doing two rounds of submission for me, but my offer came from a first round submission who’d read the R&R (which I’d done for a different publisher). Here’s another thing: Back in 2005, when I was barely dreaming of being published, I remember saying, “My dream publisher is Little Brown,” and that’s who ended up offering on the book that’s out now. Isn’t it funny how life works?

The Back Story
WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU is my debut published novel, and I started writing it in earnest in 2013. I originally started writing it for fun, but in 2015, a few things happened that made me consider pursuing publication. I learned about We Need Diverse Books, I became frustrated with the lack of teen love stories about girls of color, and I once again felt the desire to chase a dream I’d had since I was young but had given up for various reasons. I got critique partners, mentors, and took classes… and really, really started working on my craft. I queried about 30 agents throughout 2016, and I signed with my agent in early 2017. After a couple of revision rounds, we went on sub in September 2017. I got interest very early, but no one took the leap right away. I ended up with a couple of revise & resubmit (R&R) requests, and one of them really resonated with me. I worked hard on the revision, but ultimately it still didn’t work for the editor.
In early 2018, my agent started on round 2 of submissions. She sent that revised version to the new editors, but also to the round 1 editors who still had the original version. Ultimately, my book sold to one of the original round 1 editors, at my dream publisher Little Brown, in June of 2018. I can still hardly believe it.

The Inspiration
My inspiration comes from so many places. Real life, random things people say (I definitely need the T-shirt that says, “Careful, you might end up in my novel”), music, and other media. I like to write love stories, and most of my stories start off as ways for me to deal with whatever celebrity crush I’m dealing with at the moment.

Music plays a HUGE part in my writing. I know there are people who write in silence, but I like to lose myself in the atmosphere of the perfect playlist. It often helps me get into the mood of the scene I’m trying to write. A lot of my best writing sessions happen when I’m listening to artists like Halsey, Lana del Rey, Lorde, Ruelle, and Sia, and I also listen to a lot of movie scores.

A few of the actors who inspire me are Theo James, Penn Badgley, and David Tennant. They are all so good at their craft, and studying them makes me want to work hard on my craft.
I adore teen movies and TV, especially if they involve school settings or dance or gymnastics. Some of my favorites are Clueless, Mean Girls, and Dance Academy. I also adore feel good shows centered around women of color. I always say I want to write stories that make people feel the way Jane the Virgin makes me feel.

I love to read love stories, especially YA romance. A few of my favorite authors in that aspect are Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Huntley Fitzpatrick. But I couldn’t help but eventually notice that YA love stories were very, very white. And it really struck me when I was watching a movie that involves shades of a certain color, and they were flying in the helicopter or his private plane. I thought to myself, “I’ll probably never see this happen to a Black woman in a movie.” That made me really, really sad. I’d also gotten introduced to Nicola Yoon and her lovely, quirky books, and it was like waking up a monster in me. A ravenous one. I wanted more and more and more. Instead, I got books about slavery and Civil Rights and basketball. That, more than anything, lit the fire under me to write a love story that wasn’t about The Struggle, but about a girl trying to figure out her life, her boyfriend, her friends, and her family.

(My evergreen disclaimer: I would never ask for the publication of urban, sports, Civil Rights, etc. books to be stopped. But I hate when it’s the ONLY option we have.)

The Process
Usually a character comes to me first, and it goes like this:
Character: 
Me: Hi?
Character: Ta da! Here I am!
Me: ?
Character: Do something with me!
Me: Oh! You’re a new character.
Character: That’s right! Do something with me!
Me: What should I do?
Character: You’re the author! Figure it out! 

But many times, a concept will come to me first. Usually it comes from a flippant “What if?” remark, either from my own imagination or that someone says in an offhand way. If it’s a good one, it’ll make itself comfortable in my brain for a while. Then the side characters will appear, complete with names, personalities, and faces. The main character takes the longest to solidify, because I have to figure out what they want and what is keeping them from getting it. I also have this thing where I have to pick the perfect name for my main character before I can really move forward with the story. This almost always takes way too long.

I don’t formally outline with all the letters and Roman numerals and such, but I try to put together a loose list of things I want to happen. I usually don’t write in order, which is FUN during revisions let me tell ya. I have a general idea of the ending, but I know from experience that could change at zero hour! I also tend to take a very long time letting an idea form and solidify in my head before I even get one word down, which actually frustrates me. I also edit as I go, but I would like to learn how to fast draft.

I have an office that everyone says is undeniably me, but I also like to write at the library. I also try to go on some sort of retreat every year to get out of the familiar and jumpstart my brain.

The Buzz
“…fans of Sarah Dessen and Nicholas Sparks need look no further than Davis’ debut for their next book crush.”—Booklist

“Debut author Davis provides a new take on the archetypal first love novel by tackling the impact of mental health, race, and class wars. A moving love story, timely given the pervasiveness of mental health crises.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Ronni Davis’ debut, When the Stars Lead to You (Little, Brown, Nov. 12), is a sensitive take on loving someone who is battling depression as well as the challenges of an interracial relationship across social class lines where one party’s parents are prejudiced. It has the added bonus of a female protagonist of color with a passion for the sciences.”—Kirkus Reviews Feature

“Deeply moving and thought-provoking, When the Stars Lead to You takes readers on a journey through first love and the turbulence, heartbreak and indispensable lessons that it can bring.”—BookPage

“It’s a wildly honest, emotional read that makes for one of the most memorable debuts of 2019. Come for the swoons, stay for the heartbreak, read it again for the gorgeous writing.”—Paste Magazine

“Love heartbreaking and inspiring romances like those of Nicola Yoon and Jenny Han? Then this one is for right you. … You never forget your first love, and Davis’s novel of loss and first love is sure to be a memorable one.”—The Barnes & Noble Teen Blog

Under The Radar
I think Rena Barron (Kingdom of Souls) is already doing amazing things. Kingdom of Souls has a sequel coming out in the fall, and she also has a middle grade (Maya and the Rising Dark) coming out this spring!

The State of the Industry 
For a while, I felt like things were slowly making a shift to more and more inclusive books by more inclusive authors. But now I am concerned, with all the changes with big bookstores slashing inventory and orders, especially for YA and kidlit. I worry that publishing will revert to what they believe is “tried and true” and go back to investing only in stories about White people by White people, especially for teens. I worry that books by and about marginalized groups will be centered once again on our struggles and pain. I worry that the publication of books about Black teens and by Black authors will be granted to the few very established and successful authors, while the quieter books and authors will be somehow forgotten in the shuffle, even more so than we are now. I’m really, really worried about this, not just for me, but for my peers who have amazing novels coming or already out that show us in so many different ways.

What do you wish the kidlit industry better understood about publishing Black children’s books / Black authors / Black illustrators?

Many things:
1. Most importantly, that we are the best people to tell our stories. We have all kinds of life experiences that can take the most cliché tropes and give them new flavor.

2. It’s insulting for Black authors to be told, “We don’t want your work but we’d like you to read this White person’s work about Black people to make sure it’s OK.” Black sensitivity readers shouldn’t have to take on the emotional labor of combing through someone’s work that may be offensive or painful so that a White author can profit. Pay us to tell our stories!

3. That our work is not inherently lower quality just because we’re the ones who produced it. I like to believe that every time someone says, “We don’t need diverse books and authors, we need GOOD books and authors,” someone dogears a library book.

4. Our work can be universal if only we had the marketing and support given to White authors. I know not all White authors get the flashy marketing plans, but I do believe way more of them at the midlist level get them than Black authors.

5. With that said, realize that they don’t need to “relate to” every character in every book they acquire. There is no reason a 35 year old White woman needs to identify with a 16 year old Black girl (outside of respecting her humanity), but she should be able to care enough about this character to publish a book for the 16 year old Black girls who WILL identify with that character first and foremost, and for the other people who will see into this character’s life and learn new things. This goes all the way up the chain, to sales, marketing, and publicity. We are expected to identify with every White male character out there, but why are they considered universal when the rest of us are not?

6. Some of us tell stories differently from the typical western accepted way, and marketing and publicity needs to outline, reflect, and support that. We need more people who not only understand how we tell our stories, but are willing to lift up and scream about these stories, getting them in the hands of every reader they can.

7. That we’re not all the same, and what’s true for one Black person is not necessarily the case for another. There desperately needs to be more stories to reflect all of our different experiences.

8. Black authors, and our stories, are not a trend. We’re going to keep writing, we’re going to keep using our voices, and we’re not going to go away, no matter what the industry tries to dictate.What do we still need more of in books centering Black people and Black experiences?

I’m still seeing this trend of the books highlighting Black Pain getting the most funding, attention, and buzz. We need more quiet books, more adventure stories, more fun love stories getting just as much hype. When I think of the success of books such as Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky or The Sun is Also a Star, I don’t understand why more books like this aren’t being snatched up and promoted. A lot of quieter books by Black people are simply not on anyone’s radar and I think it’s a shame.

I believe that media and art is how a lot of people get their impressions of other groups that are not like them. As long as only the books showcasing our pain are getting all the attention, that’s all everyone is going to expect or see of us. And when one of the quieter books does make its way into the other groups, they often get reviewed badly because they don’t fit into the narrow expectations that publishing has created by only putting money and support behind books that are all about our pain.

I don’t want my books to just be “stumbled upon.” I want them front and center, so anyone and everyone can find them, read them, and know that they can have love stories, too.

What message did you want to send in WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU?
I really wanted to show that everyone deserves love, especially when they think they don’t. And there is a lot of love in the book. My main character Devon loves school, she loves studying the stars, she loves her friends and family, and she loves Ashton, the main guy. Devon’s parents love each other and they love her; they are a very tight family. It was important for me to show a Black girl being loved so deeply in this world where Black women are too often the punching bags in every type of media.

Ashton has a mental illness, and I know from experience that depression makes me feel utterly unlovable and like I should just go away. I wanted to show someone who has depression being deeply loved.
And finally, I wanted it to be OK for Devon to show that she also loves herself, which I think she ultimately does.

Keep up with Ronni through these social media opportunities!
Website: https://ronnidavis.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lilrongal
Instagram: https://instagram.com/lilrongal
Tumblr: http://lilrongal.tumblr.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ronnithewriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18441916.Ronni_Davis

Thank you, Ronni Davis, for your current, and future contributions to children’s literature!

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