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Between the lines with Ayana Gray - Author interview

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

My mother once told me you'll be shocked by how fast time seems to move once you become a mother because children are an inescapable reminder of time as they skyrocket through various stages of growth and evolution.

As a mom of two now, can absolutely agree, but I don't think anything shocks me quite as much when I look back on my journey as an author and see just how far myself and other authors I've been fortunate enough to meet over the years, have come!

I first met Ayana over Twitter back in I want to say 2017 or '18 when we were both just baby authors with a dream. Fast forward to today in 2023, we've both realized that dream, and Ayana is one of those brilliant and dazzling few who has lit up the sky like a meteor as she launches toward the horizon!

And so without further adieu, allow me to introduce ... *drum roll please*

Ayana Gray is the New York Times-bestselling author of the critically-acclaimed Beasts of Prey trilogy. Her works have been translated in ten languages across five continents and are being adapted for feature film. Originally from Atlanta, she now lives among the rolling hills and rivers of Arkansas.

Hi Ayana –

First, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I'm so excited to reconnect and chat about your YA Fantasy series: BEASTS OF PREY/BEASTS OF RUIN

Fate binds a beastkeeper and a warrior-in-training together as they hunt down the ancient creature menacing their home–and discover much more than they bargained for.

Koffi has saved her city and the boy she loves, but at a terrible price. Now a servant to the cunning god of death, she must use her newfound power to further his continental conquest, or risk the safety of her home and loved ones. As she reluctantly learns to survive amidst unexpected friends and foes, she will also have to choose between the life—and love—she once had, or the one she could have, if she truly embraces her dangerous gifts. Cast out from the only home he’s ever known, Ekon is forced to strike new and unconventional alliances to find and rescue Koffi before it’s too late. But as he gets closer to the realm of death each day, so too does he draw nearer to a terrible truth—one that could cost everything. Koffi and Ekon—separated by land, sea, and gods—will have to risk everything to reunite again. But the longer they’re kept apart, the more each of their loyalties are tested. Soon, both may have to reckon with changing hearts—and maybe, changing destinies.

AYANA: Fallon! Thank you so much for honoring me this way!

No, Thank you! for graciously squeezing me into what I am sure has been a very hectic year/writing schedule! Gahhhhh It’s amazing to see how far you’ve come since we both met in the Twitter/CP trenches way back when.

It honestly feels like a lifetime ago and it’s been surreal to see your meteoric rise over the last few years, but I couldn’t be more thrilled to witness your journey unfold, Ayana!

Before we dive into the classic questions about writing and craft, I’d love to go back a bit and learn more about you: What would you like new readers to know to get a sense of who you are as an author and as a person?

AYANA: Oh boy. What I hope readers know is that I’m a lifelong fan of stories brimful with mythology, monsters, and magic, so the Beasts of Prey series is—first and foremost—chockful of wish fulfillment. If any of those elements in the fantasy genre, I think you’ll be pleased!

Wish fulfillment – love that! I think that's what makes Fantasy so truly special is the ability to create absolutely anything. Sky is ultimately the limit when magic is involved. What exactly brought you to writing? Was it always part of your childhood or something that you fell into later in life?

AYANA: The truth is, I don’t think anything necessarily brought me to writing. I just arrived there. I firmly believe we’re all born with certain passions and joys already imprinted into our beings. For me, my joy is storytelling. No one really showed me how to do it as a kid; I just started because it was fun. (Thankfully, I’ve gotten a bit better at it with age).

I couldn't agree more! I fell into writing very young but when it clicked I knew this was always something that was bone deep and as vital as breathing. I think for artists of all kinds, whether it happens in childhood or adulthood, the moment that light switch goes off – when you know you know ;) Now, I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times over what inspired the BEASTS OF PREY series – but I’m curious to know, generally, what leads you to your story ideas? Are you inspired by dreams or songs? Places you’ve traveled to?

Or are you like me and hear your characters talking in your head?

AYANA: One of my favorite elements of storytelling—especially in the fantasy genre—is the worldbuilding. I love the idea of creating new places from nothing and letting readers explore them. Beasts of Prey really started with the continent of Eshōza and more specifically the eastern city of Lkossa, which borders a magical jungle teeming with mythic creatures. Once I knew the world, I thought of stories that organically fit within it, and then likewise characters whose narratives naturally fit within those stories!

Now that we know how you started, tell us about the road to publication. How did you get there and did you hit any speed bumps along the way? Because we all know querying trenches can be hell but it often pales in comparison to going out on submission. Was it Fast? Or years of querying and hundreds of rejections?

AYANA" My complicated answer: It was fast, and it wasn’t. It took me about two months to get a literary agent after I started querying, and I got my first book deal offer about a week after my agent and I sent it out on submission.

From the outside, that looks fast.

The truth though, is that I spent five years writing and revising Beasts of Prey before that all happened.

I think that's a very good point to drive home: what we see on the outside looking in is only the tip of the iceberg. And I love that you shared it took five years of pouring into Beasts of Prey before you launched it out into the world. So often I think we make the mistake of rushing to the finish line out of fear of missing out rather than giving our book babies the care, love and attention they need, first. Have you had more than one agent? (which is something I don’t think we talk about enough!)

AYANA: Here, I’ve been lucky. I’ve only had one literary agent, Pete Knapp at Park & Fine (sidenote: he’s wonderful). That said, I’d say about 50% of the authors I know have had more than one agent. It’s very normal and I’m always an advocate of working with the agent who can be your strongest champion.

Same! I didn't realize how common it actually was until I myself landed back in the querying trenches. Did you get multiple offers when querying? And if so – my god - how did you possibly choose?

AYANA: I did! In the end, Pete was so enthusiastic about my books and their potential that it made him the easy and obvious choice. Love that! Enthusiasm is definitely essential and something I had absolutely lacked in my first agent relationship. Did you do edits with Pete before going on submission? How long did that take?

AYANA: Yes! One thing I appreciate about my agent is that he has a heart and natural knack for the editorial side of things. We revised together for almost exactly a year (July 2019 – July 2020) before going on sub. It was a long road, but I’m now so glad I took that time to revise—the book became much stronger for it.

Wow! Again, love that you were more focused on giving your book the time it needed instead of making the mad sprint into submissions. Clearly, the time and patience paid off in the best possible way! :) How many rounds of submissions did you go on with editors before you finally got your debut deal? Have any of your books died on submission?

AYANA: We went on one round of submission and it was a very wild and unexpected experience. I am speaking with a TON of privilege, and it should be noted that my journey was pretty unusual. We went on sub on a Thursday and found out Beasts of Prey was going to acquisitions the following Monday, which really quickened the pace of everything.

So far, I’ve been fortunate not to have any books die on submission.

I think the pace of your submission journey just further highlights that taking the time to really hone that book over the years coupled with your exceptional talent and incredible agent in your corner was the key to Beast of Prey having the best possible chance of finding its home. I don't know about you but one thing I had to learn to love through this author journey was Editing – love it or hate it: what does it look like for you, and what would you say your approach is to tackling the dreaded revisions? Has it changed at all over the years once you entered the road to publication?

AYANA: Revisions are a first-comes-hate process for me, full of highs and lows. I absolutely loathe the early drafts, but as they become more polished, things become fun. My favorite moments are the ones in which something big just clicks, and a lightbulb goes off in my head that makes me fall in love with the story all over again.

My editing process has definitely had to change over the years. I can’t just jump on Twitter and trade pages anymore, which is a little sad. I’m also on much tighter time constraints, which is stressful. The tradeoff is I have a great editor, and some wonderful friends who are also authors who I can lean on when I need a soundboard.

Which of your characters do you feel most resembles you or which one do you wish you could be?

AYANA: I feel a very special kinship with Ekon, which surprises some people because he’s the male lead of the Beasts of Prey series. Ekon is bookish, analytical, earnest, and also a deeply emotional person. He also struggles with anxiety and gets really flustered when the plans he makes deviate. These are all traits I share with him.

Funny how that works.

I think probably after seeing our books in print, the next big author dream come true is witnessing them come to life on the screen. What was it like to find out that your incredible series was being picked up with Netflix? Are you still pinching yourself?

AYANA: It was and still is mind-blowing to think of my books (which were once just Word documents on my laptop) as films. I’m very much still processing it!

BRB while I shed a happy tear or two for you! Because I can't imagine nor can I WAIT for the day it hits the network and we get to dive into your world fully. I'm such a fantasy junkie and after having fallen in love with Beasts of Prey when it was just a baby draft, I can already say with absolute certainty that the show will be one of my fan girl faves. Have you been able to, or will you be involved in the adaptation process at all? And will you be able to visit the set or even *gasp* make a cameo appearance?

AYANA: I think officially, I’m an executive producer on the project, and I’d absolutely love to do a cameo if that’s on the table, but my thoughts about involvement in the adaptation have stayed the same from the start: firstly, I’m an author, I write the books. That’s always been my focus, and always will be the most important thing.

This southern girl is more than happy to let the Hollywood crowd continue to handle the rest of the razzle dazzle.

Haha fair! I totally appreciate leaving it to the experts to do what they do best while you focus on giving us more incredible books to devour. If you could look into a crystal ball and see your future, where do imagine you’ll be five years from now?

AYANA: Five years from now, I imagine I’ll be doing what I’ve been doing for the first thirty: telling stories! I hope that I’ll have added a few more places to my “Visited” list too, and maybe gone to a few more Formula 1 races!

All the travel! Love it and hard same! I feel like the list of places I want to see and experience is forever outgrowing my ability to strike them off the list. Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on next? Will it be a third book in the BEASTS OF PREY series, or are you planning to delve into something new? *insert googly eyes here*

AYANA: Ha! Currently, Beasts of Prey #3 is pulled up in a different window on my computer. It will be the final installment in my first trilogy, and while I’m bittersweet about it coming to an end, I’m proud to be here and excited for the big conclusion!

It’ll come out in early 2024!

Adding a note to 2024 calendar and will keep my eyes peeled for the release date! Now, last one for a bit of fun: Name one book you’re madly in love with and can’t get off your mind? (I know - the struggle! aha)

AYANA: Just one? Perish the thought. I’m very boring this way, but I have to plug my two perennial favorite YA fantasies: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, and Little Thieves by Margaret Owen. Both were stories set in rich, utterly transportive worlds, and both feature characters I would literally start wars for.

Ayana, once again - thank you so much for taking the time to join me and share a bit of insight into your journey and what's coming next for you in the years to come. For those who'd like to know more about Ayana Gray, you can find her on all socials as @ayanagray or her website for more details regarding upcoming events and signings.

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