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Interview With an Author: Ryan La Sala

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Ryan La Sala and his debut novel, Reverie

Ryan La Sala grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). Reverie is Ryan’s debut novel and he recently agreed to talk about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Reverie?

I started Reverie in high school, as a response to the startling absence of queer people in nearly all pop culture and books available to me at the time. So, in short: revenge.

And, because writing about gay people seemed prohibitive, I let myself include every strange, indulgent idea I had. Nothing felt off-limits, because the likelihood of a story like Reverie getting published felt so remote to begin with.

So I really tossed everything in there. The biggest influences would be Sailor Moon (anime, in general, informs much of my aesthetic sensibilities) and Kingdom Hearts (a world-hopping, mash-up video game combining every Disney universe into one).

Sometimes Reverie is compared to Inception, which I don’t mind at all, but I had the book down before Inception was even advertised. The sense of betrayal I felt watching that movie was dwarfed only by the sheer vindication of seeing people interested in media about shifting dream worlds, and I’ve embraced the association ever since.

Are Kane, Ursula, Elliott, Adeline, Dean, Poesy or any of the characters inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Oh THIS is a tricky question! I’m a very visual person; I envision all scenes and characters in animation, actually, and so many of the pieces I used to create my character should be recognizable to those who watch anime or read comics.

For instance, Ursula gets her combination of toughness and gentleness from Sailor Jupiter, along with their shared love of baking. Kane and Dean inherited parts of their dynamic from Madoka and Homura, from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Adeline and Emma Frost could probably have a long conversation about the annoying people in their lives.

Elliot, however, is very much the kind of person I went to high school with. His surprising depth is a tribute to a lot of the guys I underestimated, growing up, who ended up becoming my biggest allies. Sophia, too, takes cues from my actual sister. They are very different, but both share an inherent need to take action in an unjust world.

And of course there is Poesy. I refrain from answering questions about Poesy’s inspiration. To Kane, she is power personified. I like to think that she’s a little different in the mind of anyone that needs her because power will look different to each of us.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

For a long time, I had this notion that I was going to write this incredible novel that had a gay lead, yet had nothing to do with being gay whatsoever. An anti-issue book! What a marvel! I was so naively proud of that goal, and it took me a long time to realize I’d written the exact opposite. It’s true that Kane’s own sexuality represents no conflict to him, but so many of the themes in Reverie do come back to my experiences as a gay kid growing up alone. Escapism, crafting your own world, finding power in your pain—these are all themes I teased out in revisions, turning the book into what it is today. Poesy taught me a lot of that. Writing her helped me learn about why I was doing what I was doing in the first place.

And, If you can believe it, several entire reveries never made it into the final version of the book. Even the reveries that did make it in had to be cut down significantly. For anyone who finds those worlds dense, trust me when I tell you that you owe my editor for any breathing room in those reveries. Unchecked, I’m positively purple.

And, because I tend to overproduce, I’m very pleased I got to revise out a lot of the extra stuff. But who knows? Maybe someday, those other reveries will come in handy?

Which of the powers held by Kane, Ursula, Elliott or Adeline would you choose if you had the choice?

Oh, gosh, this is a tough one, if only because the nature of power in Reverie is that it often comes from the darkest place within you so that you can never quite trust it. If I could pick my power, I think I’d go with Kane’s ability to bend reality itself (if only so I could float, which I think sounds like a lovely way to read).

But, knowing what I know about myself, the power I would actually be cursed with would likely be similar to Elliot’s. Forced invisibility, perhaps? Or perhaps the ability to pass through walls, like a ghost, so that I can only drift about and never make any real impact? That sounds dismal.

If you could choose/create a reverie for yourself, what would yours be like?

Strangely, I often feel like I’m living in a reverie currently. Publishing a book, especially this book, was always such a brazen dream, and now that it’s come true and I get to travel and talk about it? It feels like trickery a lot of the times, and I’m waiting for the Others to come snap me out of it. Until they do, I’m going to keep pushing the limits of what this reality will allow me to write and create.

The real answer, however, is actually already in Reverie. There’s a moment when Kane is on a space station, and he remarks that whoever dreamt the station to life dreamt it full of the gays. I’ve always had this urge to gather my community up and take us away from bad things, and I think that’s where that space ship came from. It has everyone I love, everything I need, and it’s safe. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect dream to hide within forever.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

This will sound like a lie, but last year I bought several large plastic easter eggs and bejeweled their interiors. Like Poesy, I wear charms on my bracelets, but I don’t sleep with them on. I put them in these crystal eggs. It’s childish and I’m sure odd for the occasional guest, but whatever. I’m great at bedazzling things.

Besides that, many small crystal bottles of various moisturizers and serums. I can’t help but by cosmetic products that look like they also grant wishes. I don’t use most of them but I do like to rearrange them from time to time.

And, of course, books. I’m usually very slowly working through three books at a time. They keep each other company while I neglect them.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I loved comics and manga. I loved Sailor Moon, and anything CLAMP, and anything X-MEN. I also became enamored with this series called The Jewel Kingdom, each book featuring a specific princess represented by a precious stone. I can’t remember if I liked the books, but I certainly loved that they often came with a fancy ring, or necklace. Those books made me feel like I was a princess in the jewel kingdom, too.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

I was self-conscious about the over girlishness of a lot of the stuff I wanted to read, but my parents didn’t give me a tough time about it, thank god. And good thing, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have read at all. If anything felt too male, I shunned it.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon), Alex London (Proxy, Black Wings Beating), David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy), NK Jemisin (The Broken Earth trilogy), and whoever wrote the Rainbow Fish. I was so deeply offended by that book, mostly because the premise of a rainbow fish peeling off its scale felt very gruesome. It was not a favorite, but it did cause me to vow that I’d never tear myself apart for the sake of other, less sparkly people.

What is a book you've faked reading?

A Time To Kill. In high school, we started a fake book club so that we could just sit in a room and eat pudding, and that was the book we claimed we were reading. We never read it. We tried to watch the movie, but the entire book club fell asleep.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

PET by Akwaeke Emezi, and The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Ah, so many books! I feel like every book changes me because I’m very impressionable and get swept up in new ideas easily. But, if I had to pick, Alex London’s Proxy was my north star for a long time as I found my way towards writing my own stories. I’m so thankful to him, and that book.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

I cannot stop recommending people read The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. It’s one of the weirdest, most twisty books I’ve ever read, and I reread it every year.

Not a book, but I also am forever recommending people watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which is an anime that does an incredible job inverting and analyzing the magical girl genre of shows made popular by Sailor Moon.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill. I have always felt Christmas is sort of creepy, and that book proved all my points. Reading it was horrible and vindicating, and so, so enjoyable.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I would write first thing, over coffee, NPR in the background. I don’t own a dog but in this perfect day, I own several, and we go for a walk, and all the hot dads in central park ask their wives why I look so familiar. I get to go to the gym, I get to make an elaborate lunch, I get to meet up with friends for bubble tea. My favorite days are the ones that sort of guide themselves, and this day does that, too. I don’t have to think about what’s next, or what’s on deadline, or any of that. I’m just focused on the people I’m with, and the promise of my own bed once I get sleepy. As with all good days, it ends with me and my entire apartment watching Clue, acting out all the good scenes (so every single scene).

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

No one has ever asked me to marry them, which is a shame because I’ve always wanted to answer with, “Sorry, I’m busy.”

What are you working on now?

My second book is about two ex-boyfriends who have to figure out how to get along in order to win a competitive arts and crafts competition, at the world’s biggest cosplay show. It’s very cute, very emotional, and very...artsy-fartsy. It’s called Be Dazzled, and I hope everyone who fell in love with Kane and Dean finds the same love for Raffy and Luca.

La Sala, Ryan