Ryan Douglass is an author, freelance writer, and poet from Atlanta. Douglass contributed to the Huffington Post, the Atlanta Black Star, and LGBTQ Nation. He is the author of the poetry book “Boy in Jeopardy” (2019) and the bestselling YA horror novel, “The Taking of Jake Livingston” (2021).
Jake Livingston, a black queer teen, and his older brother are among the few Black kids at St. Clair Prep. Trying to navigate through school is complicated enough, but matters worsen when Jake learns he can see the dead. Then one day, Jake meets a troubled teen named Sawyer, who shot and killed sixteen kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life.
PrideIndex recently interviewed Ryan. He shared the inspiration for his book, his writing influences, and what he believes is the biggest mistake aspiring writers make.
PrideIndex (PI): I want to thank you, sir, for agreeing to do this interview with me today. Let’s start by having you introduce yourself. And tell us about your background and what has brought you to your present.
Ryan Douglas (RD): Thank you for inviting me to the interview; first of all. My name is Ryan Douglas. I’m an author from Atlanta, Georgia. I started writing when I was about 12 years old and seriously pursued traditional publishing in high school, I mostly have a background in poetry, and it’s what I studied in college. But I decided to take on prose writing because I’ve always wanted to dive into fantasy, sci-fi, and stuff like that. And explore how we can reflect on our world and explore our world through unbelievable circumstances. So my first book, “The Taking of Jake Livingston,” came out last year, and yeah, I’m just, I’m just working on other things and trying to expand on that success.
PI: Where did you find the inspiration for “The Taking of Jake Livingston?”
RD: I enrolled in a creative writing class in college, then experimented with horror because I had written fantasy sci-fi before, but I think something about those genres was tripping me up. And I think it was the world-building and trying to weave those high political stakes with character and keep the human element. I experimented with horror to look at trauma and more personal circumstances in a way that didn’t require me to look at the larger world per se. I started writing this story about a ghost trying to invade a boy’s body. It began as a short story, but in my peer writing class, someone suggested that I should experiment with making it a longer work. So that’s when I started building the world for that.
PI: When you initially set out to write this book, were you looking to talk about racism, or did it just happen by accident?
RD: It wasn’t by accident because many of the books that were coming out around that time dealt with race very straightforwardly. And there was a vast diversity movement when the book was sold in 2018. So I incorporated that element because I knew it would increase my chances of being valid. I wouldn’t say that in general. I’m a writer who deals with race too heavily. But the angle of Jake being one of the few black kids at his school created this theme of isolation that I thought was interesting that runs throughout the book. It enhanced the narratives at the end of the day, but I mostly did it because I knew it would increase its chances in the market.
PI: Do you anticipate writing more books in the horror genre?
RD: Yeah. So I’m working on, I’m working in anthologies right now to collections coming out next year. And those are both black holes. I think that is what I’m best at after experimenting with various genres. It’s what makes me feel like I’m most in my element. So yeah, I mean, I want to explore different genres. But I think that’s pretty much my home at this point.
PI: Talk about your poetry.
RD: So yeah, actually, really, I started writing poetry when I was younger, but I got into it because, in college, I wanted to sign up for the pros classes. But I frequently had old on my account just because I couldn’t afford college. So I had to take the lessons that were left. And those tended to be the poetry courses. But the poetry ended up helping my prose because I learned to be released. David, with descriptions, learned to be more succinct in places that don’t necessarily need flowery prose. And I learned a lot about literary devices. So my poetry book boy is in jeopardy. I published that out of poems that I wrote in college for my workshops. And yeah, I did a little spoken word too. And it gave me more security in my style, poetry, and prose.
PI: I see you’re a freelance writer share a little about the publications you have written for.
RD: Yeah, I started on the Huffington Post contributor platform. And they would go over like the editors at having a post will go over the stories that its kind of like a medium where you can write, or it used to be before they closed it, it was like, where anybody could write a story and upload it to the platform. And the editors would go through and find the best stories to feature. So they ended up featuring some of my work on various things I wrote about, you know, social issues, LGBT issues, black issues. And then, I started writing about the publishing industry. And they ended up featuring one of my stories, and then they commissioned me to write more about that. And then I started working with Atlanta, Black Star for a time. And I did some work for the LGBTQ nation. I kept the same themes about LGBT issues, like issues and representation in media, including books, music, television, and movies.
PI: Who are your writing influences?
RD: So growing up, like now, I’m getting into reading more authors that were more prominent, and before, I was really on the scene like James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, some playwright, you know, like August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry and those kinds of radical black writers. But I was mainly reading YA and middle-grade books when I was coming up. So, I would say that my most significant influence when I was growing up was Neal Shusterman. She’s a white author. And he wrote speculative worlds that look at fantastical worlds and ground them and social issues. And I was interested in doing that and combining elements in that way. So he was a big influence. Rick Riordan, who wrote the Percy Jackson series, was a big influence. And those are the writers I was reading when I wanted to get into writing as a kid who inspired me to do the fan. CNN horror and science fiction stuff like that.
PI: If you had the opportunity to share dinner with one of your influences, who would you want to meet? And what would you discuss in that meeting?
RD: All right, one second. Oh, that’s hard. I think it would have to be Neal Shusterman, just because he’s the one who made me want to do it authentically. And I would like to discuss, like, where he gets his ideas from, you know, how he comes up with the way that he wants to introduce social issues to young people because he does write for young people, but he tends to have darker themes. He deals with things like mortality, abortion, and the various wars we’ve seen in the world, but he always manages to ground the stakes in the lives of these teenagers. So I think it’s tricky to figure out how to introduce those things to young people when dealing with significant issues. So I think that would be what I want to hear from them.
PI: As I look at your website, I see that you offer writing services. So tell me a little bit more about that.
RD: I do sensitivity reading, which is essentially like DDI work. So I’ll work with publishers and authors to read through their work if it features an LGBT focus, black focus, or something else I can speak to from a lived experience perspective. And I helped them, you know, create the narrative in a way sensitive to the communities of which I’m a part. So that’s what I got into just as a side hustle when I got into publishing. And then, I do a little mentorship and help people with their queries if they’re trying to break into publishing. And I’ve just done various things, like book trailers for some of my friends who have books coming out. And yeah, those are the things I do on the side effect of writing.
PI: Can you see “The Taking of Jake Livingston” adapted into a movie?
RD: Yeah, I think there’s a possibility of that. I’m new to the world, like how books get adapted, but I’ve been in conversation with some Hollywood people, I guess you could say, who have picked up the book and read it and are interested in it. I think it’s possible, and I don’t know what will pick it up if the student is going to pick it up and win. But I’ve had great encouragement from that area, like actors, and most actors who read it are in my corner. So I appreciated that. And all I can do, you know, I’m happy with it being a book, but I would love to see an animated series or anything. And I would be grateful for that if that happens.
PI: What is the one thing you want readers to take away from your work?
RD: Well, it’s hard because I want everyone to take away from it. What speaks to them? And I think with this book, in particular, a lot is going on in a concise space. And it deals with domestic issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, racism in school, homophobia, and all kinds of like just finding your voice and understanding your truth to deal with many different things. So I think that overarching, the thing that everybody can take is that cycles of violence can be broken. Suppose you try to break them rather than doling out the abuse given to you. I think that’s a big theme, but every reader can take something different that reflects their own experience.
PI: What are writers’ biggest mistakes when attempting to write or publish a book?
RD: I think a big mistake that aspiring writers make early on is to try to do their work like somebody else’s. And that was a huge problem that I had to. I was getting a lot of feedback when agents started telling me there were similar books. The concepts I was trying to put out were contracts already out there. And it’s tricky because when you go to sell your writing, they want to be able to look at data to see that there’s something out there that has sold well so that they can invest in it. They also want our unique style on the page. And I think that a big issue is that writers often doubt their unique style and believe it’s not enough. But my advice is always to lean into that uniqueness, go for your ambitions, and don’t let what’s already been done. Create a situation where you try to emulate something when you could be your unique self.
PI: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
RD: Well, I think that I will have a few, a few more books, at least under my belt. And I’m interested in getting more into performing and acting. So, I’m hoping to have some credits in that department as well. And I see myself pursuing my creative life, my artistic life, and the way I’ve been doing it. And, yeah, I am just trying to be the best creator I can be.
Visit Ryan Douglass’ website