Twelve months ago, the fabulously flamboyant Ryan La Sala was a relatively small name in the world of fiction, already on his way to publication but still working his job in Boston waiting for the masses to receive his debut Reverie. His trip to BookCon in early June changed all that with the first arcs heading into the hands and homes of the lucky ones who beat the crowds. Come mid-June, his publisher SourceBooks Fire listed the title on Netgalley and faced an influx of requests once people realised it was live. Topping both the LGBQTIA+ and YA most requested lists for a number of weeks, the novel was one of the most sought after pieces of young adult fiction to come from the site this year. Initially slated for release in January 2020, Reverie has now been set for a pre-Christmas release on December 3rd and judging by early reviews, it’s going to take the world by storm. I had the chance to sit down to ask Ryan about all things Reverie, dancing pterodactyls, and unsolicited Sailor Moon fanfic (insert streamers here!)
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and answer some questions about all things Reverie, and well, you. So, you started out your road to publication by doing Twitter pitches to anyone who would listen. Was this always how you had planned your big reveal to the world?
Actually, and oddly, yes? Like any 90s kid raised on movies and Broadway, I had this notion that if I put myself out there, danced hard enough and nailed a triple axle, I would be discovered by some chicly dressed producer who made me say goodbye to my hometown sweetheart and move to Hollywood, baby!
A fever daydream. Also not how publishing works. Besides the whole book writing thing, you have to slog through querying and many more hoops to before even approaching an experience akin to ‘being discovered’. And I really did try that! I queried. For years. Nothing happened until I got in good ol’ Twitter and started clowning around. Turns out my childlike instinct was the right path all along. Listening to my fever daydreams is a big lesson I keep learning.
How long was Reverie in the works before your publisher finally snagged you and your fabulous manuscript?
A decade. I’m not kidding. Reverie is a story I told myself in high school, when I was the same age as the characters, and I wrote it as a reaction to the predominantly heterosexual focus of books meant for me at the time. In college I studied neuroscience, then anthropology, and that took me away from creative writing. But I found my way back after I graduated college and resumed my job as an ice cream scooper in my hometown, in the dead of winter because I graduated a semester early. I had time, and sugar. I finished Reverie, and it became my first and only book.
Reverie is the story of Kane, a young gay teenager who is out to find himself in the world. Instead he finds drag queen psychiatrist, Dr Poesy, and things derail from there. Was there a certain event that inspired this great tale?
Several. Kane and I have a lot in common. Like him, I was (or at least felt) like the only gay person in my small world until I suddenly encountered drag queens — these visions of queer power and self-possession. I credit my parents for bringing me to drag shows super young. Seeing, talking to, and of course tipping drag queens at the age of like, nine, cracked open the loneliness that was threatening to insulate me from the warmth of the queer community. It all began with that breaking.
If you had to explain the concept of a reverie to the uneducated masses, how would you describe them?
What if the worlds you built in your mind—daydreams, or conspiracies, or whatever—suddenly became the reality around you? Reveries are worlds built from our unconscious desires, dreams, and nightmares. And while they start off beautiful, they can turn deadly if those trapped within them try to break free.
What would be in your Reverie?
Increasingly, as Reverie has found a vibrant and enthusiastic readership even before publication, the dreams I had for myself as a child are slowly coming into focus with the reality around me. I know how hard I work, and I know the book’s achievements are a product of me grappling with my reality and not running from it, but sometimes it does all feel like a dream. I wonder: what mistake am I going to make to cause it to twist out of shape? What doom lurks just beyond my imagining?
My less philosophical answer: somewhere in this book is an Easter egg referencing how I would write my own idyllic reverie. But that’s for the readers to find. 🙂
The novel is all glitter and glitz on the surface but has really deep meanings relating to the current portrayal of homosexuals and queens. How much of yourself and your own experiences do you feel like you have put into Reverie?
Oh, heaps. Heaps and heaps! Heaps infinity.
First of all, I think there is something inherently queer about taking a rotten truth and warping it into something clever and captivating through flamboyance and showmanship. And then putting it in front of a straight public to consume? Without them being any the wiser? I live for that irony. Queer communities often congregate around this sort of self-aware double-faced glamour, and Reverie engages with that legacy too. It’s a book in drag, in that way.
And it’s always been that. I wrote the story as a form of revenge against stories that bored me and offended me and hurt me. Within it, I included every fantasy and indulgence I myself had, for myself but also for the people I felt were similarly disregarded by both reality and fantasy. Kane’s experience as a young, solo queer kid is my own. Poesy’s experience as a furious queer adult with no trust in reality to hold space for her, and her kind, is also my own. Each character in this book takes a portion of my own pain, and turns it into a power I have fantasized about. And each reverie is a world I myself would gladly become lost in.
The relationships between characters really take the foreground in this extravaganza of a novel with Ursula and Kane having an interesting but amazing friendship. Did you write the relationships first and then the narrative? Or did the narrative take the forefront?
Interestingly, Ursula was the first character ever in Reverie. I think my love for her makes it obvious how much I consider her when writing in the world of Reverie. She came first, as did her relationship with worlds that sought to see a young woman as a frivolous, powerless archetype of femininity. Kane sorta showed up a short while later. I needed a narrative that would test them and their friendship, but the friendship itself came first. I always saw Kane and Ursula (and the rest of the Others) as people who existed between worlds, like young gods determined to not interfere in the affairs of mortals. Of course they fail, and they do intervene, and they strain and collapse and heal their friendships. That’s where each reverie’s drama comes from; people playing out their own stories in someone else’s narrative.
Reverie is at the forefront of a wave of upcoming releases that are centred around non-heterosexual teens as well as focused around differently-abled and non-Caucasian protagonists. With such a diverse range of Young Adult novels being released, how do you feel the world of publishing in relation to diverse representation has changed in recent years?
It’s hard for me to say. I still feel brand new. But what I’ve been noticing is that for a long time there was only space for diverse stories when those stories were articulating tragedy. Those stories are still being written (and thank god, because they are very important) but I feel like Reverie exists in this new era of diversity as fact. The edification can still happen, but it’s not always the point. Sometimes us authors are trying to teach you empathy, but sometimes we’re also just trying to tell a great story.
So, initially Reverie was due for a January release, but now your back in December 2019 *insert party streamers here*. Is there any added pressure now that you are a pre-Christmas release?
Well I originally planned to do a lot more bedazzling in preparation for Reverie‘s launch, but now I’m a month short on bedazzling time, and the pressure is truly crushing. But I do my best bedazzling under pressure, so I think it’s all around a good choice. Plus, Reverie now gets to be included in holiday shopping lists, which I find absolutely enchanting. I wonder if it’ll get written up in any lists about items that are absolutely taking part in the War on Christmas. I sort of hope so.
Reverie caused quite a stir on Netgalley (an e-galley site for industry professionals/bloggers etc) when it was initially released, being the most requested novel for both YA and LGBTQIA for a number of weeks. It then went free to request for a single day thanks to your publisher Sourcebooks Fire, causing people to get into quite a flurry to get it before it was gone again. Single best moment? Or single most scary moment?
I learned about the ranking around the same time I even learned what Netgalley was! My first reaction was to seal myself in a clandestine bunker after faking my own death with corn syrup blood. But then I read some of the reviews, and they were really positive, and so now I just use my bunker as extra pantry space.
If you could have Reverie optioned for the screen, what form would it take and who would be your dream casting? (eg. short form, movie, limited run tv series, etc.)
I’ve always imagined Reverie as an anime, probably because I imagine all things in the format of animation when I’m writing them. That said, I think Reverie translates well to an episodic format akin to X-Files, Star Trek, Buffy, and other classic monster-of-the-week (or world-of-the-week?) shows. As for casting, I think Meryl Streep will do a wonderful job playing every single character.
I have to bring up the pterodactyl costume and also the amazingly bejewelled Mardi Gras. Have you always been the kid with the big personality? Also, where do these ideas come from because they are just A+ entertainment?
Oh, I’ve always loved creating things. Costumes, stories, crafts — you name it. And this compulsion has always complimented my natural urge to influence the world directly around me. I’m like Poesy in that way — I like to create my own reality. I’ve been like that since day one, to be honest, and I must thank my family and friends for putting up with the constant mess of craft supplies.
As for my ideas, I get those from the many crystals set up around my bed, which whisper to me in the night.
So, everyone who follows you on social media knows that Sailor Moon is your jam. If you could write an unauthorised fanfiction about anyone and event from the series, who would it be about and why?
So, I actually do write unauthorised sailor moon fan fiction, and my favourite story is about Sailor Mercury. In Sailor Moon, she’s sort of believed to be on the weaker side….but how can that be true when she commands water? She should be the most powerful, and I like to imagine her as this really vicious, incredibly intelligent bounty hunter who hides behind a meek persona. You can read one of those stories here.
I mentioned earlier that you got your break on Twitter, and wanted to ask about your squad which consists of debut MG author Claribel Ortega, Kat Cho (author of 2019’s Wicked Fox), Phil Stamper (author of 2020’s The Gravity of Us) and Zoraida Cordova (author of Brooklyn Brujas/The Vicious Deep/2020’s Incendiary) just to name a few. How do you feel this group of amazing people have helped to shape your (what is now) debut year?
I adore the people I’ve met through twitter. I adore the people who have taken the task of writing and created an extravagant act out of it, so full of joy and antics that it defies the usual vision of writers as these misanthropic, inaccessible divas who just ship off pages to their editors and then vanish into wooden cabins. Which is fine, if that’s you, though I’m not sure how you’re reading this without wifi.
My friends inspire me to take my art seriously, take myself seriously, but never lose sight of the joy that underpins my acts of creation. I’m so glad I have such a great community of writers and book people who think my weird internet antics are funny. I love making people laugh, and that’s been a big theme of my debut year.
What has been the best piece of fan art/fan reaction you have received since Reverie arcs were unleashed onto the world?
I’ve seen some astounding character depictions. I’ve seen bedazzled book sleeves and post cards. I’ve even seen an underwear add featuring reverie. People have photoshopped me into ridiculous photos. Somewhere is an image of me dressed as a sexy pterodactyl, pole dancing on the giving tree. Just such odd, ridiculous gifts.
But the best was when I told a reader that I’d send her a copy of Reverie if she faced her fear and sang a song of her choice at a book festival. She sang AND danced, and I got to send her a well-earned author arc. A dream come true.
And finally, what is the best piece of advice you could give your younger self?
The advice that got me to write in the first place was Toni Morrison’s advice that if you cannot find the book you want to read, you should write it yourself. I would reiterate that, and then I would tell my younger self to just keep going. To know that it will absolutely be worth it to fight so hard for yourself, in all scenarios. I grew up unsure about that, but I’m thankful every day that I’ve consistently chosen to be myself when the world really would have preferred anyone else. It has paid off.
Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction. Duh. oh my god, a million votes for fiction.
Plotter or pantser? I tend to create intricate plots that I then cast away the moment I get an idea of a bad pun. Then everything goes towards achieving said bad pun.
Favourite bookish trope? More an anime trope, but I love a good final-battle-sailor-moon power up. The more ribbons, the better.
Least favourite bookish trope? Heterosexuality.
Coffee or tea? Coffee. Tea is just dirty water.
Pizza or pasta? Pasta forever.
Beach holiday or hiking in the bush? Hiking. Better opportunity for photos.
Convention crowds or smaller signings? I adore conventions, but I also love talking to each reader and hearing about what they like to read, or what they’re writing. I like both scenarios equally.
Sunny or rainy? Winter sun, and summer rain.
If you could pick a single holiday destination for the rest of your life, where would it be? Parros, Greece. Or Tokyo (but not because I love anime, though I suppose that helps).
Music, books or Netflix – you can only pick 2? Books. I only listen to a few songs on repeat, and I don’t really watch a lot of TV.
If you could recommend five authors to the general public that are must reads, who would they be? Tehlor Kay Mejia’s WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE swept me away. Candice Montgomery’s HOME AND AWAY is gorgeous and experts written. Scott Hawkin’s THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR is the kind of book I wish I’d written. Julian Winter’s RUNNING WITH LIONS was basically a miracle of a read. And I really wish more people would read the sailor moon manga by Naoko Takeuchi.