An Interview with Aya de León
Interview with a past Debutante and updates with the current Debs
What’s inside this post?
An interview with Aya de León, a Deb Ball alumnus from the class of 2016, about her forthcoming novel, Queen of Urban Prophecy,
Exciting updates from the current Deb class.
Upcoming calendar deadlines for writing conferences, fellowships and retreats.
An Interview with Aya de León
The Debutante Ball chatted with Aya de León, a Deb Ball alumnus from the class of 2016, about her forthcoming novel, Queen of Urban Prophecy, her sure-fire way to beat writer’s block and how to define success as a writer on her own terms.
First things first!
Aya de León is an American novelist who teaches at U.C. Berkeley. She has published books for both adult and young adult audiences. In Fall 2022, her next young adult novel comes out from Candlewick Books, Undercover Latina—about a 14-year-old spy who passes for white to stop a white nationalist terrorist—the first in a Black/Latina spy girl series. Aya is also working on a memoir of her body that explores the intersection of food, body image, race, and the environment. Finally, her Justice Hustlers series has been optioned for television, and she is currently working on the pilot.
Deb Ball: Aya, first tell us about Queen of Urban Prophecy. What’s it about?
Aya de León: A young starlet rapper faces unexpected public scrutiny when she releases a song about a girl shot by police after school, and a girl with the same name gets killed by police under those circumstances. Meanwhile, her national tour is increasingly hot with romance and drama as she crisscrosses a nation ravaged by global warming. The book asks: can she learn how to use her platform for activism on behalf of Black lives and climate justice?
Deb Ball: When does it publish?
Aya de León: It’s available at your favorite bookstores December 28, 2021 but you can pre-order it today.
Deb Ball: Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Aya de León: I haven't had writer's block in a very long time, but I have a foolproof tool: the anthem. I don't believe that people are ever blocked intellectually. I believe the block is emotional. It's not that we can't write, but we can't accept what we are capable of writing at any given moment. Or sometimes, I feel avoidant — I just don't want to do it. That's where the anthem comes in. My anthem is Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten." I never listen to it unless I'm feeling blocked. When I need it, I put it on really loud in the headphones and it always makes me cry. It reminds me that writing is the thing I really want. And the block usually means that I'm hitting up against some chunk of hopelessness. When Natasha Bedingfield tells me "Today's the day your book begins/The rest is still unwritten," it reminds me what is really important. I can cry it out and show up fresh to the page.
Deb Ball: What does literary success look like to you?
Aya de León: Success has several different facets for me. The personal is about feeling really satisfied and excited about the stories I'm telling. Also, definitely moving toward making my writing income as sustainable as possible. But then the larger picture is about being able to successfully impact my community of readers. In particular, as a writer with a focus on social justice, I'm interested in writing books that appeal to a broad audience and pushing them to consider progressive viewpoints, particularly about the urgent need for bold action to address the climate emergency.
Deb Ball: What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Aya de León: These days, I focus a lot on climate justice activism. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, I wanted to dedicate as much of my life as possible to climate activism. So, I decided to put climate in the center of everything I do. In addition to putting it in the center of my writing, I've also decided to put it in the center of my teaching and my parenting. Which are basically all the major facets of my life.
Deb Ball: What is an unexpected joyful incident about your journey you didn't anticipate?
Aya de León: I had been hoping for a Big 5 deal, because the advances are bigger and you get more support and resources. But the unexpected thrill of writing for Kensington was getting to write a book a year. Which has been an amazing challenge that feels like it has turned into a bit of a superpower.
Deb Ball: Tell us about your next big project.
Aya de León: I have a few. One is a work-for-hire for an entertainment franchise—still hush-hush, but really fun. The other is a middle grade/young adult teen spy girl series with Black and Latina girls coming out from Candlewick starting in 2022. The third is a domestic espionage romantic triangle about...yes, you guessed it...the climate crisis!
Join us in supporting Aya’s next book by pre-ordering Queen of Urban Prophecy!
Follow Aya on Twitter @AyadeLeon
What We’ve Been Up To
Cleyvis Natera’s Neruda on the Park was listed in The Millions as a favorite read of 2021 by National Book Award Finalist Robert Jones, Jr. And NY Times Bestselling author Naima Coster.
Sonya Singh’s Sari, Not Sari is on the list of Most Highly Anticipated Rom-Coms at Chapters/Indigo in Canada.
Sarah Grunder Ruiz’s Love, Lists & Fancy Ships and Flora Collins’ Nanny Dearest were both listed as Must-Listen picks for December by Apple Books.
Flora Collins has been busy after her debut release of Nanny Dearest.
Sarah’s already getting ready for the release of Book No.2: Luck and Last Resorts. Check out her cover reveal @sarahgrunderruiz.
Jennifer Fawcett’s Beneath the Stairs will be published in the Czech Republic. Na zdravi!
Writerly Things: Upcoming Deadlines
Writer’s Retreat for Emerging LGTTQ Voices - Lambda Literary
Deadline: January 14, 2022
A multi-genre writing residency devoted exclusively to emerging LGBTQ writers with classes in fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, screenwriting, and poetry. Tuition is $950, with full and partial scholarships available.
Jentel Artists Residency Program
Deadline: January 15, 2022 for Summer/Fall Residencies
A month-long residency on a working cattle ranch in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. This residency is open to visual artists and writers who are looking for quiet unstructured time to work on a project.
Deadline: February 10, 2022.
“About 300 artists in seven disciplines are awarded Fellowships each year and the sole criterion for acceptance is artistic excellence. A Fellowship consists of exclusive use of a private studio, accommodations, and three prepared meals a day for two to six weeks.”
GrubStreet 2022-2023 Emerging Writer Fellowship
Deadline: February 28, 2022
“The Emerging Writer Fellowship will be awarded to three writers who demonstrate a passion for writing, a commitment to developing their writing abilities, and financial need.” It includes access to classes and courses and the Muse and the Marketplace Conference, and more.
Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award
Deadline: Submissions opening February 2022
An annual grant of $2000 for an emerging writer of color. “This grant is intended to support the recipient in crime fiction writing and career development activities. The grantee may choose to use the grant for activities that include workshops, seminars, conferences, and retreats, online courses, and research activities required for completion of the work.”