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[PLAYLIST] The D.A. Way
 

BY D.A. ALSTON

 

We asked D.A. to curate a Spotify playlist featuring the songs she plays while writing, reading or just songs she’s been playing a lot recently and she selected 40 songs featuring PJ Morton, Whitney Houston, Khalid and Lizzo.

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Masego - “I Do Everything!”

This is the epitome of “I’m feeling myself” in the smoothest jazz/trap way. Masego is undeniably one of the best musicians of this generation. This song resonates with me so much because it reminds me that it’s okay to brag about yourself sometimes. I am a woman who writes, teaches, draws, does graphics, sings, etc. There are times I dull my light, so others won’t feel uncomfortable. But this song is a slap in the face to all that. Masego is letting the world know ‘yes, I do all these things and I am daggone good at it too!’
 

The Recording Collective -  “Reckless Love”

I’ve always been into well-written songs. This song supplies the perfect imagery and symbolism of how I feel God’s love is for me. No matter how I am feeling, it’ll make me feel like I’m being embraced by a hundred hugs. My relationship with God has always been a focal point for me, so this song is an anthem and thanks and adoration for His love for me that is overwhelming and never-ending.
 

Jordin Sparks & Elijah Blake - “Real Love”

First and foremost, this pairing is a dream in and of itself! One word I would use to describe myself is a lover. I love LOVE! This is a feel-good song that has been on repeat honestly. Being madly in love with someone who feels the same about you is something that many have tried to explain, but words don’t even come close (but this is a pretty good job).
 

Jazmine Sullivan - “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)”

Jazmine Sullivan’s voice is the melody of my soul. The lyrics speak to a vulnerable place in me.  There are times I don’t feel good enough or that I’m not pretty or whatever, this song reminds me that, contrary to what I may feel, that’s all a lie. I am a work of art. Sometimes you must remind yourself of who you really are! I am a masterpiece; Mona Lisa has nothing on me!
 

Listen to the playlist below or simply click the link.


D.A. Alston is the author of THE UNLIKELY TALE OF THE ROYAL ELITE SQUAD.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | P. Curry & D.A. Alston
 

BY P. CURRY

 

Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a five-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


So, first things first, what motivated you to become a writer?

A: I've  always written, but it was mostly poetry at first, thanks to my teacher introducing me to poets like Nikki Giovanni. I think the transition happened after I was just given an idea and I ran with it. That idea turned into my first novel. And I've been loving it ever since.

THE UNLIKELY TALE OF THE ROYAL ELITE SQUAD by D.A. Alston
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THE UNLIKELY TALE OF THE ROYAL ELITE SQUAD by D.A. Alston
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116 pp. The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad is a Young Adult novel that follows four young girls as they embark on an exciting new journey after an accident occurs at their school.

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Who are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?

A: Obviously, Nikki Giovanni like I said earlier. I also love Rudy Francisco. But when it comes to novels, I would have to say Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series. She is around my age - her success and the way she started has always been motivating for me. As well as JK Rowling and her whole process. But the first books I remember fully diving into were the Cheetah Girls series, and that was all thanks to Deborah Gregory.

 

How did you get on board with Vital Narrative?

A: I always tell people my journey to getting published was nothing but a God thing. When I first started writing The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, I wasn't even necessarily looking for a publisher. I honestly thought I would just self-publish at first. That all changed when I was talked to a friend of mine about my idea for a story, and it just so happened he was starting a publishing company and the relationship blossomed into what it is now.

 

What was the inspiration behind your Royal Elite Squad series?

A: Originally, the Royal Elite Squad was supposed to be a coloring book. One of my first loves was drawing and arts and, around that time, people were pressuring me to create a coloring book. So one day, when I was at IHOP, I began drawing the idea for this superhero coloring book on the back of their place mats . And then I thought ‘maybe it should have a storyline to go with it.’ That night I ended up mapping out seven books! A lot of it is influenced by young women and other people I know in real life. I've been blessed to know real life superheroes, so I used this book as an avenue to tell their extraordinary stories.

(photograph by Ken Wolter)

(photograph by Ken Wolter)

 

You appear to be very passionate about both children and diverse representation. Are those two major factors behind your work?

A: Most definitely! I've been teaching and working with children for the past ten years and I love it. They were my biggest supporters during this whole journey when it came to writing this book. We will sit in class some days and just bounce ideas off each other - I would ask what they thought about this character or even just ask them ‘is this realistic?’ It really helped my writing process. I also learned a lot of them didn't read for the same reason I didn't as a child: because there weren't a lot of books that reminded them of themselves. I wanted to use Royal Elite Squad to show children themselves in another light.

 

Are you interested in having your book series hit the big screen or little screen one day?

A: Oh yes! I would love for it to become a Hulu series, which branches off into a movie. I want paraphernalia, I want dolls, T-shirts, movie soundtracks - the whole shebang! I just want it to end up being everywhere. And it will be!

 

What do you think the future holds for the heroes of the Royal Elite Squad?

A: Greatness! It's only going to higher - no one can tell me otherwise. This is a story that needs to be told and I am blessed to be the one who gets to tell it. I want to be a beacon of hope for young men and women - for them to know that they are super and elite in their own right. They may not necessarily have a superpower, but who they are is their power. Everyone needs to be reminded of that sometimes.

 

As a writer, I feel like story ideas are swirling around in my mind all the time. Do you share that experience?

A: I am a natural dreamer, so I am always dreaming of new ideas, new opportunities, new stories and new ways to make things happen. But I'm also a planner, so if I plan it in my head, it's going to happen. As soon as something pops in my head, I usually write it down and tell my core group about it to get their opinion, and go from there.

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I notice that you are a very spiritual person. Does your spirituality influence your writing in any way?

A: Yes, I believe so. I truly believe my process to becoming a published author was nothing but God. And I say that, because everything happened so smoothly. I know so many authors that tell me their stories and how they went through the publishing process - and there’s so much angst and disappointment. By the grace of God, mine wasn't like that. Everything lined up so smoothly. From creating my story to finding Vital Narrative Press to finding an amazing graphic artist to do the artwork for my book - I'm just so thankful.

 

As a teacher, do you ever get any ideas or inspiration in the classroom?

A: Always! Kids are hilarious and they inspire me daily, from their mannerisms to how they react to certain situations to their funny nuances. My book is geared toward a younger audience, so I'm grateful to be surrounded by them all day, so I can really get an authentic representation of them.

 

What are some other goals you have in mind for your writing career?

A: Besides having an original series or movie on Hulu, I want to become a best-seller. I want to be able to travel the world, talking about my book. But honestly, the moments that I love and will never get tired of, are when people come to me and tell me how much my book meant to them or how they loved seeing someone who looks like them on the cover. Or Hearing that I'm telling their kind of story correctly. Or how good it made them feel to read The Royal Elite Squad. Honestly, that is thanks enough.


You can purchase The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad by D.A. Alston here.

Authors Interviewing Authors | Darlene & D.A.

BY: D.A. ALSTON

 
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DA: Your second novel is about to be released to the public - what does that mean to you?

DC: It feels surreal to have a second book! Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to have a book published. Having two out soon feels like my dream of being a published novelist is still going strong.

DA: As a creative sometimes we go through the highs and lows. How do you maneuver through the constant worldwinds of life and still create?

DC: That’s a great question. The thing about life is that it can be thwarted at any time. We have a daily routine, but sudden changes come up when we least expect it. It’s important to remain level headed during a whirlwind to make good decisions. However, it’s also okay to have a breakdown every once in a while. Writing is an awesome way to jot feelings down and just let it all out.  Being a novelist with a publishing house contract means projects still need to get done, so even when my life is extremely stressful, I have to keep on writing. A plus side about writing is that you can make your own world where everything goes your way – I think that is why I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.


I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: What has been one of your highlights of your writing career thus far?

DC: A lot has happened in my career ever since my first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, came out last year. I’ve had interviews, won an award, landed a spot on a literary radio show, etc. But out of all these cool accomplishments, the best moment was when a reader reached out to me on Twitter to tell me, “Behind Mount Rushmore is my new favorite book.” That moment overshadows everything else.  

DA: If you weren't writing, what do you think you would be doing?

DC: I’d be wishing I was a writer! I can’t imagine being anything else.

DA: With this second book, what do you help people gain from it?

DC: I really hope the perspective on those who are deaf changes for readers after they encounter this book. There’s this huge, skewed idea that those with different abilities can’t do anything and that’s completely NOT the case. My day job is in education and I’ve worked with students who deaf, blind, etc. and their work has always been equal to or better than students without these different abilities. My father has been deaf in one ear since childhood and he’s a doctor. That’s the most important lesson of the book - just because someone is differently abled, it doesn’t mean that person is lesser abled in any way.

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DA: What's a normal writing session like for you? How do you prepare? What usually happens?

DC: When I’m not distracted by the internet (hah!), my writing is pretty productive. For novels, I usually start by outlining the characters rather than the plot. It helps to know what a character is like, because I can figure out how the character would act in a certain situation. That makes the plot a bit easier to write. For example, readers familiar with Behind Mount Rushmore can guess very well how Jay Eagle Thunderclap would act if he locked his keys in his truck, because they already know his colorful personality.


My biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: This book is geared towards young adults. What books were influential for you at that age?

DC: There were many, but the ones I can remember off the top of my head: Buried Onions by Gary Soto (an author who is very important in Summer Camp Is Cancelled by the way), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and pretty much everything in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series.


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DA: What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

DC: The hardest part was the research on Catholicism. I’m not Catholic nor was I raised Catholic, so my knowledge of Catholicism was basically nothing when I started writing. However, I interviewed several practicing, lapsed, and former Catholics who provided me with tons and tons of knowledge. I visited Catholic churches, read lots of books and watched many videos starring priests sharing their knowledge. By the time I finished researching, I felt like I could probably be confirmed as a Catholic myself!

DA: What are some of your goals for your writing career?

DC: For now, my biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time. I know it’s super hard to get to this point, but a lot of writers have gotten there and I’m sure I can as well if I work hard enough to expand my career. Another goal is to have a movie produced. I’ve already written one film script, so I have a story set for whoever wants to pick it up.

DA: As a woman of color, how important is it to tell stories from your point of view?

DC: To be honest, I feel that all stories are important and I don’t think that my point of view is any more or less important than another person’s point of view. It’s true that certain people have greater credibility for certain subjects, though, yet everyone has a right to their opinions and feelings, even if we don’t agree. I’m sure there are some screwed up people out there who think my perspective on certain subjects doesn’t count or doesn’t matter only because I’m a woman, a minority and/or both. And whoever those people are, I have just three words for them: go to hell.


Darlene P. Campos's second novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, is available now for pre-order and will release on August 3rd. Her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, can be purchased here. You can purchase D.A. Alston's first novel, The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, by clicking here.

 
D.A. Alston Talks Coloring Books, Nikki Giovanni & The Biggest Lie She Ever Told
 

BY GREGORY HEDGEPETH

 

There are a million different independent book presses out there. What made you sign with Vital Narrative?

A: As cliché as it sounds, I feel like they chose me. I wasn’t even setting out to be an author honestly. I fell into it after an idea snowballed into this book. I’m so excited they did though. It feels amazing to be a part of something greater than me. I love the vision that’s being created.

 

What made you want to write this particular book?

It actually didn’t even start out as a novel. Initially, it was just an idea for a coloring book. I wanted to create a coloring book for people of color about girls who happen to be superheroes. Then I thought about how cool it would be if it had a story to go with it. And from there, it spiraled into what we have now.

Describe your writing process.

A: It’s nothing fancy - I just write. I have a notebook that I pour all my ideas and thoughts into. It’s more personal for me to use pen and paper.

 

What is your most unusual writing habit?

A: All my writing habits are pretty unusual. I normally blast music, sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor and rock side-to-side as I hum lyrics and write until my heart is content. That’s normal though, right?

 

Who would you cast to play in a live-action movie adaptation of your Royal Elite Squad?

A: I would love for Skai Jackson to play my studious song bird Janais. Kenzie would be played by Jenna Ortega from Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Middle.  I'm not sure about Libby Gray and Adeema though. I would want to make sure I found someone who really embodies those characters.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

A: Hopefully as a very successful author, working on my sixth or seventh book. Married with a kid or two. I really hope to be at a point in my life where I have the means to help people and send smiles with ease.

 

What writing advice do you have for other authors (especially those looking to release their first book)?

A: Just write! That’s the hardest part. Write and don’t stop! No matter what. Your story needs to be told and only you can tell it.


I hope people see themselves in each of the characters, and realize that, even with our differences, we are all pretty similar. I also hope they realize how truly gifted and amazing they are. It’s all about finding your talent and letting it guide you.
— D.A. Alston

Do you plan on reading your reviews?

A: Most definitely! I can’t wait to see what people have to say, both good and bad.

 

What's your least favorite thing about the writing process?

A: Revisions! I detest revisions. The actual writing part is easy, but continuously going back over the book and rewriting is so tedious and time-consuming.

 

What is your next project?

A: My next project will be the second installment of the Royal Elite Squad series. I will also be working on creating merchandise and doing speaking and empowering gigs for young teens.

 

Characters often find themselves in situations they aren't sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?

A: I was unemployed for months after being let go from one of my favorite jobs at a crucial point in my life. It took me awhile to get out of it. I had to rely on my faith in God and keep pushing until something happened. There were very hard days sometimes, but thankfully I made it through. Now, I have two jobs and I’m about to release my first book. Needless to say, God is good.


The biggest lie I ever told was ‘I love you, too.’
— D.A. Alston

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A: Telekinesis/telepathy. I love being in control (which isn't always a good thing). But being able to control people’s minds and having control over matter in general would be dope.

 

What literary/movie/TV character is most like you?

A: Mindy from The Mindy Project. I identify with her so much. I love her awkward quirkiness.

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What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

A: I want to inspire as many people as possible. I want to encourage the next generation to be greater. I want them to stand on my shoulders and see farther than I could ever see.

 

What were you like as a child? What was your favorite toy or activity?

A: I was (and still am) the hand game queen! I am talking about Slide, Shame, Down by the River, Double This Double That, etc. To this day, my hand game skills are A1.

 

What is your biggest fear?

A: Inadequacy. I always fear doing everything possible in my will and still not being good enough in the end.

 

What has been your biggest failure?

A: Not finishing college. I beat myself up about it all the time. I will finish though. I won’t let that hold me back anymore.

 

What has been your greatest triumph?

A: This book! This is such a top-of-the-steps, hands-in-the-air-like-Rocky-Balboa moment for me. All the hard work I put in is finally about to see some fruit. I’m elated.

 

What book do you wish you could have written?

A: The Great Gatsby or The Poisonwood Bible. I know those are two totally different books, but I love them both. They make you think and paint excellent visuals.

 

Q: Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

A: Nikki Giovanni and Rudy Francisco inspire me daily. I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni in ninth grade and reading her work made me want to write as well. Rudy Francisco is someone I fell in love with late in high school. His poems and delivery are phenomenal.


D.A. Alston’s first book, The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad is available here.

VN Announces Fall Schedule
 

BY STAFF

 

Vital Narrative Press announced release dates for books by three brand-new authors, while another looks to deliver new editions of previously-released work.

Leading the way is Gregory Hedgepeth, finally completing the transition from his previous GHDOS/Garvey Hemisphere moniker by revealing three new editions during the month of October. Misconceptions About Sunrises, his first book of poetry, and A Collection of Echoes, his first novel, will both re-release editions on October 14th after a self-imposed shelving back in the spring. His second book of poetry, The Year That Answered, will receive its newest iteration just two weeks later on October 28th. Sandwiched between those releases will be two new books by first-time authors. On October 21st, writer A.A. Redd will release A Body Held Still By Fear & Loathing, an incredible collection of over thirty poems along with YA author D.A. Alston who will release her first novel about four teenage girls who become superheroes called The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad. And on November 18th, Chicago native Alverne Ball will release crime drama Only The Holy Remain.


I’ve always wanted to make sure that each author on the roster could bring something different to the table and these releases will be proof of that.
— GREGORY HEDGEPETH

Editor-in-Chief Gregory Hedgepeth spoke highly of each release that will be hitting online shelves soon. "No one is a bigger fan of these authors than me. I read their words on a very consistent basis. And in order for me to do that, I have to be a fan of the work they present. I've always wanted to make sure that each author on the VN roster could bring something different to the table and these books will be proof of that."

Check out the full schedule below:

October 14

  • Gregory Hedgepeth - Misconceptions About Sunrises

  • Gregory Hedgepeth - A Collection of Echoes

October 21

  • A.A. Redd - A Body Held Still By Fear & Loathing

  • D.A. Alston - The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad

October 28

  • Gregory Hedgepeth - The Year That Answered

November 18

  • Alverne Ball - Only The Holy Remain


About Vital Narrative Press: Since 2014, we have led an effort to change the literary landscape for creators of color. In this new era of publishing, we plan to lead the way for our authors to release authentic projects and build a substantial platform that will lead a new generation of Black and Brown writers. We plan to innovate the way our characters, storylines and settings are presented by elevating our narratives and helping the African-American genre evolve. While our catalog is created and curated by people of color, our stories are meant to be enjoyed by everyone.