Ryan La Sala's first novel, Reverie, debuted Dec. 3, 2019. (NonDoc)

(Editor’s note: NonDoc’s Author Umbrella interviews up-and-coming writers, particularly authors of color, authors of disability and LGBTQ+ authors. The interviews have been transcribed and lightly edited for length and clarity.)

For this latest installment of Author Umbrella, I interviewed Ryan La Sala, author of Reverie. His debut novel, published by Sourcebooks Fire, hit shelves on Dec. 3, 2019.

A quick preview:

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere — the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

1) Reverie is about Kane, a young gay teen with rainbow magic, who navigates unimaginable worlds in order to recover his memories and save reality from a drag queen sorceress. Can you tell us how your story came to be?

I started Reverie in high school, in response to popular Young Adult books like Twilight and The Hunger Games and Divergent — all of which were conspicuously free of queer people. I knew I was gay at a very young age, and I couldn’t understand how books never included me. What happened to people like me, in fantasy? In the distant future?

Reverie is very much meant to solve that absence. Queer people are masters of adaptation, able to survive in any world due to our often-forced need to transform ourselves, depending on where we are, who we are with, and so on. I therefore wanted to build a fantasy with many worlds and write about a group of teens able to traverse all of them. The worlds — the reveries — that they explore can be any genre, any story. The point is showing that there is literally no world in which queer teens cannot belong, cannot be the hero of, cannot salvage.

2) In addition to writing, you also bedazzle eggs, paint clouds on your face, and draw incredible art. Is there anything you cannot do? 

Oh, there is plenty I’m awful at. For instance, spelling. I am regularly dragged on Twitter for very obvious typos. Whenever my friends hold impromptu spelling bees, I have to be given very simple words. I don’t even bother with spell check anymore because half the time it can’t even guess what I’m trying to say.

I’m also very bad at tying my shoes. People always have to wait for me on walks and stuff.

And these are what — something most children learn early on? I don’t know what I was doing ages 5-10, but it was certainly not paying attention to gaining life skills. Even at the age of 28, I remain a bit of a mess when it comes to keeping track of my things, my schedule and myself.

3) OK, we have to talk about the “hot dog water is technically tea” tweet? Why, Ryan? Why? But, seriously, you’re hilarious. Never change. As for the question, how has humor influenced your writing and your life?

Many librarians pointed out to me that no, hot dog water is not technically tea. It is technically an infusion. Which I think is even worse? Surely the actual, earnest debate about this tweet is worse than the tweet itself, no?

Humor matters a great deal to me. Irreverence, flippancy and surreality is how I process and deal with a world that sometimes frightens or disheartens me. And I would say that’s a theme for a lot of queer people: We cope with humor, finding ways to laugh through some of the worst possible scenarios. We entertain to survive. We entertain to express. That’s true for a lot of drag. That’s true for me, too. I learned how to make myself consumable to crowds early on, even as a kid, to find a way to fit in, and I’ve really come to enjoy making people laugh as a result.

4) In writing book one of Reverie, what was your favorite aspect of the writing process: plot, world building, character design, theme?

Reverie was a complete joy to write. An utterly indulgent process from start to finish where I got to do whatever I wanted, however I wanted. It’s hard to pick a favorite part.

But there’s one thing that always arrests me about Reverie, and it’s this: In the worlds the teens explore, they’re forced to play along with the rules of the world to survive, but as with all worlds, it eventually gets to a point where they cannot help but break the rules, use their magic and fight back. I live for these moments of sudden action, sudden subversion, where the damsel cannot be the damsel any longer and must free herself because the hero is nowhere to be found. Because she’s the hero all along. Each of the reveries is different, so this moment always looks different, but it’s what I look forward to writing the most.

5) Reverie was chosen as the January 2020 YA Bookclub pick for Barnes & Noble and received a starred review from the School Library Journal. You’ve mentioned before that it took you 10 years to complete Reverie. What kept you motivated during query rejections and rewrites, so you could reach this point in your writing career? 

Spite. A lot of people urged me to make concessions in my creative vision, and their theory was that a book like Reverie couldn’t get published, and if it did, it certainly couldn’t be mainstream. Well, Reverie did get published. And every major retailer has stocked it, some even giving it positions of immense prominence, like Barnes & Noble and their YA Bookclub. I am both incredibly humbled and ferociously vindicated to have reached the goal post with so much of my original vision intact.

And I often describe this exact feeling to teens in high school. I started Reverie at their age. I did it my way. And even though this sounds like bragging, I want and need them to see Reverie as the phenomenon that it is. It’s not about my glory: It’s about carving a path through expectations so that the person behind me has an easier time, so that the next young, marginalized author doesn’t have to sacrifice anything at all to get their voice heard.

6) What can we expect to see in the sequel to Reverie?

Details on this are purposefully scarce because Reverie is technically a standalone. It’s a single story, right now. But I have many, many more reveries inside of me, and I would love to deeply explore each of the others with the time they deserve. If you think I’m done throwing Ursula into battle while wearing a gown, you’re mistaken.

What I will say: If I’m lucky, I’ll get to write both the story that happens after Reverie, along with all that came before. How Poesy came to be, how Kane fell apart. All of it. It’s all there, waiting to be realized. But first, I’ve got a few other stories that need telling.

7) What elements of Reverie do you think would best appeal to Oklahoma City readers?

Hopefulness, self-possession and the power of creating the world you want to live in. Reverie is about dreams, yes, but it’s also about reality and how we as humans get to influence the reality around us. It’s also about the realities that are always around us, but hidden, only opening to those who explore. I think every place has its secrets. My hometown in Connecticut certainly did, and those secrets became part of the fictional town in Reverie. I’m sure there are secret worlds in Oklahoma City too, and I’m sure they’re just waiting to break free.