Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to another great friend of the writers community! She is abundantly generous with other authors, sharing new releases and providing feedback on their manuscripts. Ayana believes "writing is often a lonely journey," so she started collecting the stories of fellow authors and writers as they share their wisdom and experiences and she happily shares those gifts with others! She has successfully gained agency and is working to bring more Characters of Color to readers!
Introducing Ayana Gray!RL: When did you start writing as a career?
AG: I don't truly feel I've begun a career in writing -- I haven't sold a book yet! I suppose though, technically, the first time I was paid for my writing was when I was 17. I wrote an academic paper investigating female infanticide and sex-selective abortion in China and India respectively and was published in three separate editions of The Concord Review. In the end, I also received the Emerson Prize for my work.
RL: What's your current work in progress?
AG: My current manuscript and work in progress is a young adult fantasy project steeped in Pan-African influence and mythological monsters! I can't say very much about it just yet, but it pits two teens against each other as they hunt for the creature that's menacing their home.
AG: I've always been drawn to Fantasy as a genre. I think, for me, it provides a form of escapism and a place to let my imagination wander freely--I love that anything can happen, so long as you can make it feel grounded. As for YA, I was fortunate to grow up at a time when it really began to boom. I was a teen in the age of big hits like Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner etc. and really enjoyed the coming-of-age narratives featured in those stories set against imaginative, fresh worlds. Even as I've gotten older (I'm now in my mid-twenties) I still gravitate towards those narratives and suspect I always will.
RL: How do your books rebel against the status quo in that genre?
AG: I've only written one book thus far, so that's hard to say! What I can speak to is my aspiration to tell stories within the YA and fantasy spaces that depict and uplift people who look like me. There have been commendable strides in this effort recently--lots of fabulous authors are writing YA fantasies filled with #blackgirlmagic--but I always want to see more and hopefully add to that canon. I want to write stories with nuanced takes on race, religion, classism, colorism, sexism, and all of the things I see in everyday life but don't necessarily know how to process.
RL: As an African-American author, where do you see the industry heading in the future?
AG: As an African-American author, I am reluctantly hopeful about the future in publishing. At the end of the day, this is a business, it's profit-driven, and what I love is that readers of YA have put their money where their mouth is and shown that they want and will buy books featuring a diverse range of narratives. Hopefully, this encourages publishers to continue acquiring those stories and supporting the authors who write them.
AG: I have chosen a traditional publishing route via a literary agent and am currently represented by Pete Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media. The abridged version is, I wrote a manuscript and pitched it in a Twitter event called #DVPit. Shortly after, I queried a handful of literary agents last year, and ultimately signed with Pete. I am still very much in the midst of the traditional publishing process, but I chose that path because I preferred to focus the majority of my efforts on being a creative as opposed to trying to manage many of the publishing dynamics my wonderful agent has much more experience in. This isn't to say it's not my responsibility as an author to have base knowledge about the ins and outs of publishing (it is!), but it's a great comfort to have a partner to work alongside who can act as an advocate and guide when I'm unsure.
RL: How do you manage writing time? Authors often complain about not having enough time to write. Is this an issue for you?
AG: The days vary, but on the whole, I'm able to write every day, even if only a little. I used to be the kind of person that only wrote when I was feeling "inspired;" that changed after trying #NaNoWriMo a third time in 2018. After writing every day for a month and finding accountability partners, I developed some really good practices and a discipline that has allowed me to keep writing daily. It sounds simple, but honestly, you just have to make time for it. You have to choose to make it a daily priority, the same way you brush your teeth or eat. Most people are creatures of habit; once you get into a routine, I think you'll find it easy to keep, but you've just got to start!
RL: Where do you see your writing career going from here?
AG: It's impossible--and scary--to know/think about where my writing career might go from here (or if I'll even have one, I certainly hope I do!). I think, for me, my wants are pretty simple--I just want to write good books, objectively good books with strong prose, compelling narratives, and fresh takes. Bestselling lists are cool, acclaim from other authors is surreal, but I've been writing stories since I knew how to hold a pencil, and I just want to keep doing that and getting better at it.
RL: What do you do with your free time?
AG: At the moment, a huge portion of my life and free time is dedicated to writing (like I said, you've got to make it a priority)! That said, I do need breaks like every one else, so in my free time I love to read (of course!) and I love watching documentaries, especially ones about infamous events or people. I also enjoy traveling, and my spouse and I are always planning our next adventure. On occasion, I take my bike out for a casual ride around town--I'm lucky to live somewhere both flat and often sunny!
RL: What are you reading right now?
AG: A few of my friends have sent me their unpublished manuscripts and I'm having a blast reading them. Since a few of them are on submission/not yet announced, I'll mention the ones that are already acquired and definitely going to be published. Rebecca Coffindaffer's YA Sci-Fi CROWNCHASERS (2020) is a brilliant story with incredible voice and a protagonist that makes me regularly crack up. Maiya Ibrahim's YA fantasy THE SPICE ROAD (2021) is an absolute epic--intricate world building, compelling narratives, and masterclass prose. One thing I'm so grateful for is having friends a bit of head of me in this journey who are kind and inspire me with their skill.
AG: Again, I have no idea what the future holds for me exactly, but if I ever have readers, they can expect that I'll always be writing, always thinking of the next story I can tell. I will always write stories that uplift Black people, women, and especially Black women because that's what I am and it's something important to me.