Spotlight: Author Ja-Mel Vinson on his debut novel, Dreamer

Hello, Ja-Mel! Thank you very much for agreeing to have an interview with me! I am very, very excited to have you here today. As a debut author, I’m sure that a lot of people are curious about your work, your journey as a writer, and of course, you as a person outside of writing. Let’s kick this off with a few questions about yourself, yes?

What are three fast facts about yourself that most of your readers might not know yet?

I’m hard-of-hearing (mild-to-moderate in my left, and moderate-to-profound in my right) and didn’t get my first hearing aid till 6.

I was born 3 months premature (which might’ve contributed to my HOH status).

I’ve performed on Broadway twice and for Carnegie Hall judges multiple times (performing’s almost a big a part of my life as writing is).

What are the three most significant lessons you learned about the whole writing, editing, and self-publishing process?

The three most important things that I’ve learned about writing… hm…

First, trust yourself. You know your story. And if you think it needs edits and changes, make them. Story time: so, with Dreamer, it’s been through so many revisions. And I sent it to people to read and review. One of my ARCs posted their review early, and it was a 1-star. It was a kinda useful review in an aspect or two, but for the most part, felt a bit harsh. It made me rethink basically everything, so I went to my friends, asked them all for a bit of advice, and went about adding in some moments to make Maya feel more real and to bring out her character arc more from the beginning of “can I really do this?” I knew the changes were good and adding stuff to Maya and I liked it, but I still had a pit in my stomach while making them. I was so confused until I heard something from a friend that stuck with me and that I’ll carry into everything I do from now on: “if you hadn’t seen that review, would you have made changes?” No. I was secure in my book until my security was shaken. I ended up making the changes anyway, because whatever doubt had flooded me had disappeared, but I was fully prepared to get rid of them and leave the book the way it was. Some people still enjoyed it. But I kept them in because I was confident in the changes I was making. With any edits and feedback you get, you can accept it or disregard it depending on whether or not you feel it’s valid. Now, this can be a double-edged sword because confidence doesn’t always guarantee “goodness” or “quality” (some beginning writers may sometimes disregard everything because they believe their writing is perfect and doesn’t need any changes), so you genuinely do have to listen to people, BUT also know when to put your foot down and say “I’m not making that change. I feel the story would work better without it.” And this can go for syntax and grammar as well if you’re trying to achieve a certain effect. It all depends. Take it case-by-case.

Second, inspiration can literally come from anywhere and don’t be discouraged if you find an idea that you really like but you feel it doesn’t work. And also, don’t be afraid to just throw the whole story away and start over because of an idea. What I’m saying sounds like blasphemy, I know, but a lot of the really insane and awesome things that happened in Dreamer came because I had an idea one day that I was really excited about and wasn’t afraid to remake parts of the world’s lore and everything. I talk about it further down, but the book wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have such a gung-ho attitude about changes. And going along with this “gung-ho attitude”, if there’s something you want to do, do it! Particularly on the part of diversity. Now, of course, this is a very sensitive thing for everyone, but I’m here to say that you don’t have to make a diverse story. If you don’t want to put non-white, non-cis, non-hetero people in your stories, you don’t have to. Writing is supposed to be about fun and enjoyment and living! You’re creating worlds and breathing life into people! You write because you love it. Don’t let the push for diversity get you down. Don’t let people tell you that you won’t get a publishing deal if you don’t have black people in your stories because that’s complete and utter bull. Now, if you are going the route of putting people in your story that are from different backgrounds than you yourself, research, research, research. Ask people from that group questions. Figure out how to tie the culture of the character into the story and into their arc. I’m admittedly very new to this myself, so I’m not the perfect guide on this. Dreamer was my first true foray into it, and while I did it kinda well and some people got that Maya was half-Latina, half-Dutch and Rosemary is black like me, not everyone did. I still have more to do in this regard; everyone does, even people who’ve been doing it for ages and ages and ages. It’s very hard, but if you put in an earnest attempt and genuinely want to do it and try and do it well and be sensitive to the people you’re portraying, you’re doing well. Again, I still struggle with this myself, and I’m willing to bet my life that other writer who’ve been writing for more years than I’ve been alive do too! It’s hard for everybody. You’re not alone.

How you write is how you write. This really ties back to the first point, but just like how you know your story, you know yourself and how you write. The writing adages, in particular, can be misconstrued and misinterpreted (and often are!) and that can be really destructive. It’s totally okay to say that something doesn’t work for you and that you want to keep things going the way you are. If you have a good system and good reasons for the system you do, why change it? Also, the rules of writing can be broken and played with like an accordion. Nothing is ever truly set in stone as doctrine. If you feel an urge to break a writing rule and have a bunch of one word sentences one after the other–one, look at if you really need it, but two–go right ahead. If you can justify doing it, you’re fine. This isn’t saying don’t seek out help or advice if you feel you need it, but humans have an interesting way of kinda figuring things out for ourselves. Example: I have never taken a creative writing class nor read a book on writing. Not until I got to college Fall 2017, and I was already writing for over a decade at that point. I still don’t read books on writing (maybe I should, but there’s a hurdle there for me). Dreamer was well into production. It had been 3 years. Now we’re at about 4 ¼ years and Dreamer’s being put out to the world. But how’d I get so good at writing (you can say you’re good at writing if you know you are; just don’t be very pompous about it and think you’re better than people for it) if I never took a creative writing class or read a writing book? Isn’t that how you get better at the craft: read in your genre, read books on the craft, and get better? I had people read over my work and critique it (quite a lot), but every story is terrible and going back to old versions of my work from a few years ago, I still see the same and see that I’ve grown a lot. But the main way I learned was just by editing my own work and naturally just growing on my own. You’ll end up studying yourself and making changes. Don’t discount the work you do for yourself subconsciously when you edit!

I know all authors want to be successful in this industry, but aside from finding your name in bestseller lists, what is your ultimate unconventional author dream? A movie adaptation deal where Chris Hemsworth takes the lead role would probably be mine.

My dream for writing is really simple: I would love it if I got like a letter or something in the mail or to my inbox about how much my story meant to someone. It’d definitely let me know that someone out there got touched by my story. Now, I’m not trying to make the story to appeal to a certain group; my stories aren’t exactly huge political or social think pieces, but just hearing people say that they like how Dreamer has as a major part of it or no romance or an all-female cast or even that Maya’s a college student makes me so happy to hear because it impacted them enough that they felt it important enough to say.

Do you have other stories and/or writing projects you are currently working on? Could you tell us something about them?

Oh, I have so many other stories going on. I have a high-fantasy/politic story called Fairytale with fictional characters from fairytales that exist in the same world (kinda like Once Upon a Time, it’s been described as) with a twist. The main character, Jordyn Pensef (but she calls herself “Pendragon”–It’s a combination of her dad’s last name and the species her mom made), is the daughter of Antansia, the demon (kinda) from Hell who made Dragons, and Merlin, powerful sorcerer and brother of King Arthur of Camelot. She’s basically trying to get the kingdom of Camelot back from someone who overthrew her father and mother. BUT she’s also trying to get into the secret magical society that protects the world from threats and demons and everything. It’s currently undergoing yet another revision and these plot points MAY change, so jury’s still out on it.

I have a Greek God/Steampunk story. It’s the first in a trilogy; doesn’t have a name yet. In it, though, the Greek Gods have died many many times to the Roman Pantheon, and each time they die, they get reincarnated into new lives. Different gods get brought back each time, and when they come back, they have to have their memories reawakened. They have new powers, they literally get access to magic (thanks to Hecate and the Coven of Circe), and they’re basically gonna try and make their last stand against the Roman Gods and hopefully win. The other books in the series deal with the Slavic and Nordic Pantheons in this “Steam/Magic” world. So, the items and weapons are inspired by steampunk and ancient greek and roman weaponry, BUT there is also magic, so not everything will strictly adhere to steampunk logic (we get sonic weaponry and clips that can stop sound and light grenades and everything! It’s so fun!)

And there are many many more (I’ll also one day make a story dealing specifically with the Peloponnesian Gods because there’s so much fascinating story there that I want to show more of), but if I don’t stop now, I never will!

In your debut novel, which character do you consider your favorite? And which one did you have the most difficulty with?

My favorite character… I’d love to say I don’t really have a favorite character because I love them all, but I have to say Maya just because she’s my baby and she grew up with me (literally, Maya’s been through high school and college when I went through those stages in my life!). She also has a ton of the powers that I love and that I would give myself in a heartbeat if I could. (Rosemary also has a bunch of them! Who wouldn’t want to control nature?!) I really love all of the characters! There’s so much to them all that I like; even the sadism of The Daemon is enjoyable to read!

The most difficult character is 1000% Skylar. Sure, she’s minor and only appears for one scene, but I planned out the whole of the series, at least in terms of character arcs and the plots of the books and Skylar’s thing is gonna be quite interesting… at least, it would’ve been if I hadn’t changed some of it. But, Skylar’s been put back on track and has a reason that we’ll see later on in the serious and I’m excited for you all to read the start of it in this first book!

What main message are you hoping that your readers would take away from your debut novel?

Okay, so real talk: whenever I write stories, I never think of a message for the book. Whatever comes out of the book for the reader comes out of it. I’ve never really been a fan of putting messages in because I’m terrible at thinking of them. But, if there was a message that I suppose I could draw from reading Dreamer–and you don’t have to agree with me or even think I’m right–I guess it would be that there are things that happening that are bigger than you and that, though it may be overwhelming to try to get through it, it gets a bit easier if you have people helping and supporting you. You don’t always have to agree on what to do or how to do it–no one in Dreamer ever truly agrees with each other on the topic of Lucent, after all–but just keep working at it and eventually you’ll find a way. People always do when they come together.

What can we look forward to in Book 2?

Hm… how to say this without spoiling stuff and making the internet hate me… book 2 continues from where book 1 ends. Picks up a year and a half later and some big things are about to go down. The events of book 1 directly contribute to book 2 in quite a few ways. We’re gonna get new characters, the arcs of characters we’ve already seen are gonna get expanded upon, everything’s gonna be exciting and get bigger. There’s gonna be more multiversal madness, and by the time it’s all said and done, some really big cosmic shifts are going to start happening. The Moirai have been busy setting things up and dominoes are about to fall.

Dreamer
Dreamer
by Ja-Mel Vinson

published 19 March 2019
new adult, fantasy, & science fiction

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read the full synopsis.

The day before moving into her new dorm, college freshman, Maya Lilac, has a haunting dream that ends with her coming face-to-face with a second version of herself. After being haunted by the dream during move-in day, she finally comes in contact with her double, nicknamed “Lucent”, and learns that she actually has powers and can—among other things—make her dreams come true.

Maya’s heritage, however, runs deeper when she discovers that she’s the True Dreamer, a person reaching back as far as Joan of Arc that’s tasked with protecting her species, as well as the world, from any and all threats… including her seemingly-peaceful and non-combative double. But, not everyone shares Maya’s vision that her clone isn’t out to harm anybody, especially her mother. As Maya and her mother fight over whether Lucent is a legitimate threat, Maya trains in her now-active powers to fulfill her destiny of protecting the world, whether she has to take care of Lucent or not.

TOUR GIVEAWAYS

For the tour, we are giving away two signed physical ARCs of Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson! One winner will be selected via Rafflecopter giveaway, and the Rafflecopter widget will close sometime in March. Meanwhile, the second winner came from the Twitter chat. Both giveaways are open to international readers!

Click here to enter the giveaway
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