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Authors Interviewing Authors | D.A. & T.J.

BY: T.J. LOVE

 

TJ: Let's start with your origins. Where are you from originally?

DA: I hail from sunny San Diego. But now I reside in Atlanta.

TJ: Word. How'd you end up on the other side of the country?

DA: Well, my grandfather started a church in California. It grew and became very popular in the city, but then he told us that God told him to move to Georgia to start a church there. Mind you we had zero family there. But we stepped out on faith and God blessed us. Five buildings later, we're doing well and now own a movie theater also.

TJ: That's really dope. Getting y'all Wizard Kelly on. I've been there though - moving across the country on faith. It's definitely harrowing. How has that influenced your work?

DA: Well, I rely on my family a lot and my faith is such a huge part of who I am, in general. I try to stay pretty balanced and center myself in the midst of the craziness. So most of my work normally has that same underlying tone towards having faith.

TJ: I feel that. I feel like you don't see a lot of that in Black writing. How does your faith shape you as a person? Why has it been so important to you?

DA: As a person, it has gotten me through some of the hardest points in my life. It has helped me smile when I wanted to cry. It pushed me forward when I wanted to give up. It covered me when I wanted to go wild. It's just always been a positive force in my life.

TJ: I feel that. So that being said, let me ask you something - a lot of pro-black 'woke' folk are claiming that Christianity is the religion of the oppressor. Where do you think this idea comes from and does this affect you as a Christian at all?

DA: Honestly, I don't concern myself with ideologies and claims from other people. I know what God means to me and what He's personally done for me in my life. That's all I stand on. I'm not living for the approval of anyone else.


I don’t concern myself with ideologies and claims from other people... I’m not living for the approval of anyone else.
— D.A. Alston

TJ: I hear you. I love people with principles. So talk to me about The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad. What was the inspiration for that?

DA: Well, it didn't even start off as a book idea. I was sitting at IHOP with my mother. And, because I also draw, we've been talking about creating a coloring book for years. On this particular day, I was like 'Maybe I'll finally do that.' So I'm talking the idea over with her and I was like 'What if I do superheroes that are all women?' 'All with different nationalities?' Then, I was like 'What if I put a storyline to it?' And it just snowballed into the creation that it is now.

TJ: That's really unique - almost sounds like your own personal superhero origin story. Representation is a beautiful thing, especially in a world where the main protagonists have always been beefed-up white dudes. So what's next for D.A. Alston?

DA: Representation is major. For women and people of color. Currently, I'm working on the second installment of The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad. I just really started writing it and I'm really excited. I'm just trying to focus and knock this out. I also have a few speaking engagements coming soon. The ultimate goal is to get a table at DragonCon to present my book.


Representation is major.
— D.A. Alston

TJ: Things seem to be coming together for you - a theme of us at VN. What's DragonCon?

DA: That's why I love our team. DragonCon is the Atlanta version of Comic-Con. It's the epitome of a lituation.

TJ: 'Lituation' just made me feel mad old. So it's basically a gathering of my fellow geeks cosplaying as their favorite superheroes? How dope would it be one day to see Royal Elite Squad cosplayers?

DA: That's the goal though! Seeing people dressing up as characters from my book. That's the dream.

TJ: Baby steps, right? First DragonCon, then the world. I'm rooting for you.

DA: Thank you sir. I'm excited.

TJ: Of course. Keep making us proud and keep us updated.


T.J.'s first book of poetry, Speaking In Tongues: Love In Five Languages, can be purchased here. You can purchase The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad by D.A. Alston by clicking here.

 
D.A. Alston Selects Her Fantasy Cast For YA Novel

BY: STAFF

It's no secret that books are often turned into movies. Keeping that in mind, we asked D.A. Alston who she'd select to be a part of the cast if given the opportunity to turn her book into a feature film.

 

Skai Jackson as Janais Wright

Skai Jackson starred as the adorable "Zuri Ross" on the Disney Channel sitcoms Jessie (2011) and Bunk'd (2015). Before that, she featured in small roles on Boardwalk Empire (2010), Royal Pains (2009) and The Smurfs (2011).


Syeda Mahpara as Adeema Hatem

Syeda Mahpara Shahid Bukhari, known as Syeda Mahpara or Mahpara Shahid is an international footballer from Pakistan and the current goalkeeper for the national team.


Emma Kenney as Libby Gray Dawson

Emma Kenney is known for her roles in Shameless (2011), Epic (2013) and Bittersweet (2008).


Kayla Maisonet as Kenzie Vega

Kayla Maisonet has been featured on Dog With A BlogHaunted Hathaways and made a guest appearance in the NBC comedy sitcom Mulaney.


The Unlikely Tale Of The Royal Elite Squad is available now on Amazon, Kindle, B&N and Vital Narrative.

D.A. Alston Breaks Superhero Stereotypes With Her First YA Novel

BY: STAFF

Q: What made you choose to make the girls so diverse?

I feel like in literature, and the media in general, there is such a lack of diversity. I made it a point to break stereotypes with these girls and that's honestly my favorite thing about the book. I love that they are so different because it makes the story that much more interesting. 

RES Back Cover Final.png
 

Q: Why was it important to include so many different cultures?

I really wanted everyone reading to feel like they were a part of the story. I wanted them to see these girls who are very different and be able to say "Oh i have a little piece of Adeema" or "Libby Gray reminds me of myself." And I believe I accomplished the goal I set out to do. 

 

Q: What did you learn writing in this book?

A lot of things culturally and language-wise when it came to the characters specifically Kenzie and Adeema. Both of these young ladies have very different upbringings, so I had to really research some things. When it came to Adeema, I did quite a bit of research on Arabic culture and Islam/Muslim and when to use each term. There was just so much I didn't know, but I was happy to learn.

 

Q: Do you plan to add more and/or different cultures or simply build on what you have going forward with the series?

BOTH! I'm incredibly excited to dig into each character more and really explore their individual cultures. I definitely look forward to adding more culturally diverse characters as well.

 

Q: What's next for Adeema, Janais, Libby Gray and Kenzie?

If i told you that it would ruin the surprise - just know that you need to buckle up for an amazing ride.


The Unlikely Tale Of The Royal Elite Squad is available now on Amazon, Kindle, B&N and Vital Narrative.

Official Soundtrack For "The Unlikely Tale Of The Royal Elite Squad"

BY: D.A. ALSTON

We asked D.A. Alston to curate a Spotify playlist for her novel The Unlikely Tale of The Royal Elite Squad and she dropped off an incredible list of tracks. Featuring 20 songs from Chance The Rapper, Logic and Mali Music, D.A. was sure to select music that was true to her writing.

Mali Music - "Royalty"

If I had to choose a theme song, it would definitely be this. Mali Music personified exactly what I was thinking while I wrote this book. I believe we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood. I believe when you know that, you walk a lot higher and with purpose. You wouldn’t let people call you certain things if you knew you were a king or queen - that’s why I’m so big on reminding people about the king and queen within. Even in the midst of the darkness, you are called! You are royalty.
 

Meghan Trainor - "Me Too"

As someone who suffered from low self-esteem growing up, this song was such a triumphant moment for me. I love myself and I’m no longer looking for validation from anyone. God took his time making me and I am going to fully embrace that.
 

JoJo - "Music"

I’ve been a huge JoJo fan since I was a little girl. Through all her classics, this is one of my favorites. It’s her love letter to music and I honestly feel like she was reading my deepest inner thoughts. She asks “Where would I be without you (music)?” and music has always been such a huge part of who I am. I grew up singing before I even knew what singing was. My family comes together to harmonize every holiday before we eat dinner, so music has been a universal theme in my life. It’s helped me through break ups, gave me theme music to help celebrate my major victories and pulled me closer to the amazing God I serve. Music is life.
 

 Kamau - "Jusfayu"

Have you ever had a song that you love, but can’t quite understand why? For me, this is that song. This is my get-ready, it’s-the-weekend, I’m-finally-done-editing-and-I’m-so-happy song! Everyone needs a feel good song and this is it for me.
 

You can listen to the entire soundtrack below or on Spotify.


The Unlikely Tale Of The Royal Elite Squad is available now on Amazon, Kindle, B&N and Vital Narrative.

Meet The Man Behind D.A. Alston's Incredible Book Cover

BY: STAFF

Tell us about your background.

I was born in 1989 in Chicago and still live there to this day. When I was 9 years old, I started drawing and taking art seriously. My personal work is inspired by my life experiences, the city of Chicago and pop culture. I have experience in drawing, painting, airbrushing, animation, and graphic design. I've won awards in my art and design career as an individual and collaborative since high school. Last year, I participated in group and judged art exhibitions in the city. 

 

What was your goal with the cover for Royal Elite Squad?

Before I explain that, I want to thank D.A. Alston and Vital Narrative for allowing me to create the cover for this book. I'm beyond grateful to create for them now and in the future.

My goal for the cover was to create the vision that D.A. Alston had. I actually created two front covers. The first one featured the four girls hanging out in front of their school's park bench. They were spaced out and doing their own thing, but were still shown as a close bunch of friends. The second one, which became the actual cover, is a silhouette of the four girls in their superhero costumes with the city of Atlanta. That one was the easiest one to complete because of the simplicity and I love how it draws you in.

Do you feel like you accomplished that goal?

Yes, I think I achieved that goal. Funny story, when I sent in the second cover with the silhouette of the main characters, D.A.'s mom actually thought it was better than the original, which is funny because it took me less than two hours to make after sketching the silhouettes on paper. The original cover took me over three weeks because of all the details of the characters and background. Sometimes, its best to keep it simple. Shoutout to her mom.

 

Describe your creative process.

Once I have an idea or subject that I'm interested in, I will make rough sketches until I am satisfied with it. Depending on the end goal, I either choose to make it a digital or a traditional piece of art. If it's digital, I use my graphic tablet and Adobe Illustrator to create my digital art and illustrations. If I choosing traditional art, I'm working with my ink and markers on Bristol Board. I'm currently expanding from paper to canvas as I plan on painting again. I've had the itch to do more since live painting at Qfest 2016 by the Expo Collective.

 

How do you get unstuck creatively when you can't quite figure out how you want to do something?

I usually just take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes. One of my graphic design teachers told me that you shouldn't be stuck at your desk or on a canvas for a long period of time trying to fix something that will only take five minutes to correct. So, I usually just walk around the downtown, watch TV, listen to smooth jazz or read a book. Then, I'll come back and see what changes I can make with a fresh mind and a fresh set of eyes.

 

What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made as a graphic designer?

Taking on projects that I didn't connect with. After college, I just wanted to build my portfolio and resume so I could apply for a graphic design jobs. So, I posted on Craigslist in order to do that. If you're starting out as a young designer, don't go that route. Most of the projects were flyers for shows and parties. I wish I hadn't done some of the projects just because they didn't connect with my morals or my values. Plus, there's the "exposure" gimmick that people use to get young and naive graphic designers to complete work for free. What good is exposure when it's not directed to your target audience? But that's a whole other story.

 

How have you learned from those mistakes?

For one, I know not to accept any and every project request that comes my way. I try to make sure it reflects my brand's values. This past summer, I took a three-day course called the Exchange by the Expo Collective to learn how to build my brand as a creative. The three courses were for branding, involving and connecting community through art and entrepreneurship. During the course, they explained why you have to choose who you work with wisely and think about how it will reflect you and your brand. Since then, I've been more aware of what projects I will and will not take on. I've turned down more a lot more projects this year than I have in previous years. 

 

How do you handle criticism?

As long as it's constructive and genuine, I can take it. In college, my Portfolio II teacher was a woman named Katie. She was an incredible teacher, but at the same time, she was brutally honest and would rip your portfolio to shreds if it wasn't on point. I used to be super sensitive about my work (and I still am to a certain point). However, taking that class helped me grow thicker skin when being critiqued. 

 

What's your next project?

Besides working on the Royal Elite Squad series, I'm currently revamping my brand so it can be cohesive and ready by next year. I'm also working with YouMedia on another art and design workshop for teens. I did my first one in May and it was an wonderful experience. I'm also the Creative Director for my high school ten-year reunion (John Marshall Metro High c/o 2007). I'll be creating the branding, the shirts, banners and everything else. I can't wait! When I have the free time in between projects, I'll be working on my fine art that I've been creating. I'm hoping to to be a part of some really great art shows in the future.


Here are a few sites where you can find Jonathan's work:

jonathancarradine.tumblr.com
Behance.net/JonathanCarradine
Instagram.com/Jonathan.Carradine