Way back in May or June, I went to an event hosted by Epic Reads, with a couple authors talking about their recently-released books. At the event, I also met an author who was just there to observe and support some friends, an author with a book coming out later this year. I added it to my Goodreads TBR and made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled for it.
Well, folks, that author was Ronni Davis, that book was When the Stars Lead to You, and that release date was yesterday.
And, because Ronni lives in Chicago, my fantastic local bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop, hosted a release party for her.
She read us the first chapter. We asked her tons of questions, which she answered. There were delicious cupcakes (from Molly’s, the best cupcakes in Chicagoland, and I will fight you if you disagree), free bookmarks, and a signing line. It was a delightful gathering, and Ronni was so down-to-earth and funny!
I took some very clumsy notes from her responses on my phone, which I have attempted to put in some semblance of sense here, grouped by topic. Enjoy!
The book blurb…
Nicola Yoon meets Jenny Han in a heated first-love romance about two teens who are torn apart one summer by prejudice and mental illness, and find each other once again.
Eighteen-year-old Devon longs for two things.
And the boy she fell in love with last summer.
When Ashton breaks Devon’s heart at the end of the most romantic and magical summer ever, she thinks her heart will never heal again. But over the course of the following year, Devon finds herself slowly putting the broken pieces back together.
Now it’s senior year and she’s determined to enjoy every moment of it, as she prepares for a future studying galaxies. That is, until Ashton shows up on the first day of school.
Can she forgive and open her heart to him again? Or are they doomed to repeat history?
From debut author, Ronni Davis, comes a stunning novel about passion, loss, and the power of first love.
On the book…
One of the biggest character developments that changed over the course of revisions was that Devon grew in standing up for herself more.
You would think that the most interesting part of research would have been all the astrophysics, but in fact, the part she found most fascinating was the research on private schools. For example, a lot of schools that have both boarding students and day students also have a low-key rivalry/contempt between the two.
The character she learned the most from was Ashton’s mom. As a mom herself, Ronni learned to see Ashton’s mom as not just a mean stereotypical suburban mom, but a concerned mother trying to protect her son and her family’s legacy.
Her favorite part of visiting schools for this book’s debut yesterday was the energy of the 8th graders she saw at the end of the day.
One of the most exciting and validating things with this book was when she was featured in a Buzzfeed list. Then she also showed up in lists on Bustle and other sites. It was just so exciting to see others picking up and recognizing her work.
One of the hardest parts of writing this book was re-learning how to write, since her last attempt at writing a novel was 10 years ago. Phrases that used to fly then, like “I let out a breath didn’t realize I was holding,” are now targets for online ridicule. She also had to find a way to balance plot and pacing, which took a lot of back-and-forth–she would fix the plot, but the pacing would drag, so she would speed it up, but then she would lose the plot…but eventually, she got it right.
What made her want to write this specific story?
She started writing this story in 2013; it took a while to get it right.
“I always knew I wanted to write a book about a biracial girl with curly hair. And I wanted it to be a love story, not a struggle story.”
She was inspired by the love story in Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, and she was upset when she couldn’t find any other happier stories about biracial teens. So she decided to write one of her own.
She knew that Devon needed a major passion to be invested in. At first she considered piano, but then decided there was way too much to learn on that topic. Then she realized she would really like to have a STEM girl at the heart of her story, and she found space and stars fascinating, so astrophysics seemed like a logical choice.
As for Ashton’s depression, Ronni herself struggles with depression and has since high school/college. When hers first started getting bad, she didn’t really know what was going on and she wanted to write a story where someone had that experience. But she also wanted to write a story where you see someone who feels unlovable but is still loved.
She does her best writing with a big bowl of Reese’s Pieces and a big bottle of water or Kool Aid or juice. She burns an incense called The Moon, and she plays some music in the background. She used to use the Spotify playlist “Lush and Atmospheric,” but Spotify changed it to “whiny dude music,” so now she finds other songs. Alternatively, she can also work with a cup of tea or Starbucks cocoa.
She doesn’t write every day, but a couple times a week. Sometimes it takes a while to recharge your mental writing batteries–like, once she wrote 4,000 words in a single day at a retreat but then couldn’t do any writing for the next three days.
If she is struggling to write, she will shoot for just 100 words and try to go from there.
When she feels stuck, she tries to read something other than contemporary (her own genre) so she doesn’t try to compare herself. Her go-to is Harry Potter, because let’s be real: nobody wants to compare their writing to J.K. Rowling.
Sometimes, she will come up with a character and just mentally ask it, “What am I supposed to do with you?” The character will respond, “I dunno, you’re the writer. Figure it out.” Basically, sometimes characters show up, they don’t always tell you what they want, and they’re kind of annoying at first until you figure them out.
When asked if she would ever consider changing genres, she admitted she had considered writing an adult fantasy but wasn’t sure she could handle it. As she put it, “I would just throw a dragon in there and be like, What do I do with this dragon? He’s just sitting there breathing fire.” Her husband suggested that she would probably be fine if she just gave it somebody to kiss, since she’s good at romance. It did not go unnoticed that this would be an excellent parallel to Shrek.
She has an essay coming up next year in the anthology You Too?, a collection of essays from YA authors about their own Me Too experiences.
What’s next in terms of individual projects? Hopefully, a story in the same world as When the Stars Lead to You, but focused on the “normal” suburban kids instead of the private school ones. The story would follow a group of fierce friends over the course of just 12 hours. Stay tuned for that one 😊
She has a slight obsession with Theo James (who, incidentally, Ashton is modeled after). She claims that her current attitude on Theo is basically, “Oh he’s still cute, I’m just not flying across the country to meet him now. Which I did.”
She also had a celebrity crush on David Tennant and actually used to write fanfic about him as the 10th Doctor. Basically, she has a weakness for British guys.
Her husband is a writer as well! (He is not British.) The two were writers before they were married, so they tend to keep that part of their lives separate. And that makes sense, since their writing processes are very different. He likes to share ideas as he goes along and get excited about things; she is more superstitious and doesn’t share until the words are actually written down. Someone asked if they would ever do a collaboration, and both answered with a resounding “No–I think we would probably kill each other.”
There is a playlist for the book on Spotify, for anyone who is interested.
On social media…
In case you didn’t know, Ronni’s Instagram is basically aesthetic goals. She shared some wisdom on her approach to Insta and other ways social media has manifested, both in her life and in her book.
In her own words, “If my life were an aesthetic, it would be this book.” Pink and purple are her colors of choice.
She distinctly remembers August 22nd as the day she purchased the “light and airy” preset filters for Instagram to create a cohesive look and personal brand. She used to use a free app with other filters, but the app updated and turned those filters into a premium, paid option that was subscription-based (not even a one-time purchase!), so she gave in and paid for the ones on Insta instead. She does not regret this.
In her book, Devon really doesn’t do social media, but her friend Blair does religiously. The lack of social media was actually a plot device, because she needed a way to make it so that Ashton would try to find her but be unable to.
And some final words on writing:
“You’re not a superstar, you’re just a writer. The book is still in charge.”
That’s all, folks!
Anyone else super excited about this book? Planning to read it anytime soon? Adding it to your TBR right now?