Hi friends! I’m so happy to finally be back with A Talk With… and to have such a wonderfully sweet author on the blog today….also the author of one of my most anticipated reads of 2019!
In case you missed it, “A Talk With” is a brand new feature here on Drizzle & Hurricane Books, where I will invite young adult book authors to chat with me about their upcoming books, share their writing tips and tricks and more!
I’m welcoming Ronni Davis today on the blog for a wonderful interview! We’re chatting about her path to publication, her debut, When The Stars Lead To You, her inspirations, mental illness representation in stories and more. Trust me, it’s a fascinating interview and I can’t wait to share it with you all!
1.What was your path to publication like? Did you always know you wanted to be an author? What made you “click” with When The Stars Lead To You and realize that this could be it, the story that made it as your debut?
My path to publication was long and full of ups and downs. A true, seemingly endless roller coaster. I started pursuing publication in 2005. My dream publisher was LIttle Brown, but I felt like they were so picky I didn’t stand a chance!
Back then, I snagged an agent relatively quickly, but that project never sold. Then my life blew up! So I made the choice to put writing aside and focus on surviving, really. Then I decided not to pursue publication at all. I cut myself off completely from that world. I still read like it was going out of style, but I distanced myself from the writing communities. Instead, I focused on my family and putting my life together. I worked in advertising, I studied to be a yoga teacher, and I started taking acting classes and working as a background extra on shows and in movies around Chicago. It was the acting that brought me back to writing for two reasons:
- The rejections from writing, although they really, really sting, are a bit easier for me to take than rejections from acting.
- Being on set is essentially being in a story. One of gigs was as a core background nurse for the sadly cancelled show Sirens (you can still watch it on Hulu and keen eyes will be able to spot me during a few 2nd season episodes). The set designers put so much intention into the props and set dressings, and they encouraged us to go all in when we were filming. We studied paperwork, opened and closed drawers, shuffled through bandages, and flipped through file folders. All of this got me into character, even as a background player. I found out that being on set inspired me. I’d be gone for 12+ hours and then go home and hop right on the computer. Being in the story made me want to make my own stories and try to bring them to life.
Even then I still wasn’t writing for publication. I was writing again to see if I could still do it since I’d taken such a long break. Spoiler: I couldn’t. Not at first! But oh, was it fun! (And hard!)
When the Stars Lead to You started to take shape once I realized I wanted to tell an intense love story, but it wasn’t until I became aware of We Need Diverse Books and saw that people were looking for what I was writing—a book about a biracial girl falling in love—that I started to think about pursuing publication again. So, began the hard, hard work of finishing this draft (which had a terrible working title), and revising revising, revising.
I got the feeling When The Stars Lead To You was special when I’d sent it to an old friend of mine who is an agent. She and her reader told me that even though the book needed a lot of work, it was special.
That pushed me to keep going. I also got lucky enough to find some really amazing critique partners, one who is my best friend Rena Barron (whose book Kingdom of Souls is out now—you should totally read it!) who stayed with me even when things got really really hard. People believed in me and my work, and I didn’t want to let them down. And the times I really did try to quit again? I felt sick and wrong. So I knew I’d be letting myself down most of all. Even if I had to quit and restart, quit and restart. So that feeling everything I tried to give up, and the sheer number of people who refused to let me throw this book in the trash is what clicked for me that this could be the one.
My agent, Caitie Flum, was a champion of my book from the start. I’d started following her on Twitter because I loved her presence there. And when I saw a Manuscript Wish List entry from her that matched exactly what I was writing, I asked one of my critique partners, who happened to be one of her clients, if I should query. I got an email back full of good things, and so I went for it. Then I revised my book AGAIN with the help of another one my critique partners—my scariest one, but the one whose notes are dead on.
At the end of October 2016, Caitie had my full manuscript. I got nibbles from other agents in the meantime, but it never quite hit it for them. But when Caitie offered rep in February 2017, the way she talked about the story made me realize she was the right person to champion this book.
We revised a few times, then the book went on sub in September 2017. I remember the exact date because I was in a hotel room with my good friend Jennifer Niven in Sweden when I got the note and the sublist. I was cautiously optimistic, nervous, and incredibly superstitious.
We had some close calls right away, but it didn’t stick with anyone. I did another revision, and Caitie sent out a round 2 of submissions. It was during this time that I retreated from social media and publishing talk to get my head in the place that this might not be the book that sold. Once I accepted that, I got the call that Little Brown had made an offer. So, not only did I get an offer, but it was from my dream publisher from so long ago. Go figure!
2. I adore that book title, by the way: When The Stars Lead To You. It sounds so lovely and poetic. Did you come up with this title right away or did it undergo many changes before getting there?
As I mentioned in my last (super long) answer, this book underwent a few titles. The working title was That Thing About Love, which no one liked. When I decided to pursue publishing, I changed the title to When The Stars Break. That’s the title that got me my agent and that was the title that we went out on submission with. Once we signed with Little Brown, they made it clear that they wanted a new title. My editor and I started brainstorming.
I knew I wanted to keep Stars somewhere since the stars are so important to Devon.
It was another person at Little Brown who came up with When the Stars Lead to You. There were a few other options, but that’s the one that I felt a ba-BUMP in my heart when I heard it, and when I ran it by a few friends, they all agreed with me. That was the one.
I feel like it fits the theme of the book so perfectly.
3. The story deals with first love and loving someone with a mental illness (depression). Do you think that it’s important to show and write stories about mental illnesses and characters dealing with them, especially for teenagers? Was talking about mental health something that was dear to your heart, right from the very beginning, when you started writing this story?
I absolutely believe it’s important to show teenagers with mental illness. Here’s the thing. I know I went through some things when I was younger, but I didn’t have the words or resources to figure out what was wrong. I just knew something was. I don’t think my depression fully manifested until I was in college, but when it came, it scared the crap out of me. Most of the people I talked to every day would say “suck it up” and “get over yourself.” So I started squashing it.
I think, if we’d ALL have had stories or tools to show us what depression looked like, I may not have been so scared, and those people might have been more sympathetic.
From the start, I wanted it to be a love story, but I needed a real and sympathetic reason for why Ashton ghosted Devon. It was very important, also, for me to portray his depression as nuanced and not sensational, which was really tricky. I was a big fan of the show The O.C. and I remember a character called Oliver. Wealthy, influential, powerful. His arc on the show was super dramatic, which I understand had to be done for the sake of television, but I felt like it did those of us with mental illness a disservice. I wanted to avoid that, but I also got a lot of feedback asking to make Ashton’s depression more visible. That was a challenge with it being from Devon’s point of view, me not wanting to go all dramatic, and projecting my own tendencies… which are to hide away when depression hits.
As for teenagers dealing with loving someone with depression, I absolutely wanted to show that as well. With depression on the rise, and the intensity of first love, it makes sense that this is something that would be happening. I hope I showed a realistic and healthy way of dealing with it from more than one side.
4.What were your inspirations for this story? Aside from what I can imagine can be a little bit of personal experience, are there any particular movies, TV shows, books, intense first love romances that you particularly love and that inspired you to craft the relationships and the complex feelings of first love, too? Any star-crossed lovers romances? 🙂
My inspirations are many! The depression is absolutely inspired by real life, as is the classism and the microaggressions. As far as media, definitely a bit of Gossip Girl, a lot of Gilmore Girls and maybe a sprinkle of Mean Girls. First love books would be anything by Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, Nicola Yoon, Jennifer Niven.
Music also inspires me.
The right song can make me get lost in a reverie of stories and characters and scenes, so music is very important when I’m writing and especially revising. It sets the tone, and gets me in the mood to pull those feelings out so I can put them on the page.
5. Do you have more stories in the works at the moment? Anything you can share with us?
I’m juggling many stories, but I like holding them close to my heart until they’re more developed!
1. What are some other debuts released or releasing this year that you absolutely loved and would recommend?
2.What’s one TV show you could binge-watch, forever and ever?
Can you share one line of When The Stars Lead To You with us?
How about a passage? 🙂
Even though I’ve been staring at the night sky for years, I still found something new every time. That was the thing about the universe. I’d never be able to explore it all. Most of the time, I was okay with that, because no matter what, I could always find my center here.
Thank you so, SO much for chatting with me today, Ronni! I had such a wonderful time with this interview and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did doing it all. Friends, keep an eye on When The Stars Lead To You, this wonderful book releases on November, 12th!
📖 More about When The Stars Lead To You
Find & Order When The Stars Lead To You.
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 the galaxies. That is, until Ashton shows up on the first day of school. Can she forgive him and open her heart 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.
🎁 Preorder When The Stars Lead To You and receive wonderful swag!
If you preorder a copy of When The Stars Lead To You, you can receive wonderful goodies, friends!
- School IDs of Ashton and Devon
- A beautiful signed bookmark!!
- To enter, you can preorder When The Stars Lead To You or request it from your local library and update your receipt in the form right here!
This preorder campaign ends February 20th, 2020 and is only open to the United Stated. Check out the form for more information!
📖 More about the author, Ronni Davis
Ronni Davis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she tried her best to fit in—and failed miserably. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a BA in Psychology, she worked in insurance, taught yoga, and became a cat mom.
Now she lives in Chicago with her husband Adam and her son Aidan. By day she copy edits everything from TV commercials to billboards, and by night she writes contemporary teen novels about brown girls falling in love. When she’s not writing, you can catch her playing the Sims, eating too much candy, or planning her next trip to Disney World.
Her debut novel, WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU, will be released by Little Brown Books for Young Readers in November 2019.
Do you want to read When The Stars Lead To You? Did you read it already? Are you anticipating it as much as I am?
Do you also think we need more young adult stories talking about mental illnesses? I’d love to hear from you in comments!