This is going to get long. Sorry in advance.
The past 2 1/2 months have been challenging for me. Sometimes I look around and feel like an idiot because the things I’ve been dealing with are basically nothing compared to the things other people have gone and are going through. But emotions are complicated and things that might seem like nothing to other people can feel like the end of the world to us while we’re knee deep in the middle of them. My relationship of six years ended, and I’ve been coping by being all hermity and building giant Lego sets and eating my way through every chocolate ice cream in the grocery store. There were moments where I thought I wasn’t going to come out of it—trying to come to terms with what it means to be alone again—but this past weekend really helped me see the truth of things, and I feel for the first time in two months like everything’s going to be okay.
Friday I took off to go to the Decatur Book Festival. I met up with two amazing friends who mean the absolute world to me. Just getting to sit and talk to them for hours was everything. I got to surround myself with brilliant writers and editors and book people. I saw the most amazing panels—including one with Beth Revis, and another with Anica Rissi, Terra Elan McVoy, Kate Milford, and Jason Reynolds—and then shared the stage with Sandy Hall and Adam Silvera, where I spent the majority of my time cracking up because of how awesome and funny they both are. It was a truly amazing experience. I also managed to get tongue tied when I met Jacqueline Woodson, and got to have breakfast and great conversation with Jason Reynolds.
Oddly enough, the most interesting conversation I had in Decatur was with my cab driver on the way back to the airport last night. My driver was a man from Pakistan who had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army before coming to America. He couldn’t understand how and why so many Americans were and are willing to continue to funnel obscene amounts of money into our military when we have so many people here at home who can’t clothe and feed themselves and who go into crippling debt to pay for basic medical necessities. We talked about how it’s white people’s fear of losing our (and I say “our” because I am white and male and I do benefit from it) position of power in this country—a position we attained only through the subjugation of POC and women—that cause them to lose their minds and vote for someone as odious as Donald Trump. We talked about how Americans demonize Muslims while allowing fundamentalist Christians to dictate the same sort of oppressive ideologies we claim Muslims enforce. It was such a pleasure to talk to him and hear his views that I wished I could have just driven around and talked to him all day.
I came to a realization on this trip about how we should all surround ourselves with people who challenge us. People who challenge our beliefs, people who challenge us to think about the world and ourselves. Sometimes I get jealous when I see the successes of other writers. When I read their books and think, “Damn! I wish I’d written that!” But I was listening to Jason Reynolds read from his newest book, GHOST, and I sat there thinking that I shouldn’t be jealous of him, I should allow myself to be challenged by him and by all the other amazing writers out there who are better than me. I should make it my life’s goal to rise to that challenge and try to be better in my work, in my thoughts, and in my actions. It made me question who I want to be in the best possible ways.
Anyway, it was an amazing two days, and I really needed it to get out of my own headspace and finally start making my way out of the depression I’d sunk into and walk back out into the world. Like Henry said: Things are always happening, they’re just happening without us. I don’t want things to happen without me. I want to make them happen.
Speaking of making things happen…a couple of weeks ago we finally got to announce my next anthology! It’s tentatively called FERAL YOUTH, and it’s loosely based on The Canterbury Tales. It’s the story of ten teens at an at-risk youth camp who spend three days alone in the wilderness telling each other stories. It’s similar to Violent Ends in that it takes place in a shared world. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this anthology. But I’ll let the list of authors brave enough to take this journey with me speak for themselves:
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Like, holy shit, right? Talk about people who inspire me. These are some of the most brilliant and inspiring writers I’ve ever met, and I’m beyond lucky to get to work with them. Feral Youth is scheduled to release Fall 2018.
My next book, At the Edge of the Universe is also approaching its release date pretty quickly. I got a couple of ARCs (and I’ll be randomly giving them out at my upcoming events, so if you’re there, you might get one!) and it’s up on Edelweiss, so people are officially reading it, which scares the crap out of me. At the Edge of the Universe is the story of a boy named Ozzie who realizes the universe is shrinking after his boyfriend Tommy vanishes from the world and from the memories of everyone who knew him. Throughout the story, Oz struggles to convince others the universe is actually shrinking while not giving up hope of finding Tommy. He also worries about losing the other people in his life. His best friend Lua—a gender fluid rockstar on the cusp of their own success; his brother, who is leaving for the army; his parents, who are in the midst of a divorce; his other best friend, Dustin, who’s soon to be leaving for college.
Though I didn’t exactly realize it until I was going through copyedits and was in the midst of my own breakup, but At the Edge of the Universe is, at its core, the story of relationships in various stages. New relationships, ending relationships, relationships that are evolving into something new. The way people come into our lives and change us. The way people can leave our lives but leave a piece of themselves behind, forever altering how we see the world. Sometimes I wonder whether I wrote this book or whether this book wrote me. Either way, I’m so proud of it and terrified for you to read it.
And hopefully soon I’ll be able to share some other cool news about something I’ve been working on, but I’ll have to save that for another post.
Finally, I’ve got a busy traveling schedule coming up, so if you’re going to be at any of these events, stop by and say hi!
Fall for the Book festival in Fairfax, VA – 9/25-9/30
Texas Teen Book Festival – 10/1
Southern Book Festival in Nashville – 10/15
SLJ Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. – 10/16
Texas Book Festival in Austin – 11/5
Tuscon Book Festival – 3/11/17