When you hold your first published book in your hands for the very first time, that’s the moment when you know, as an author, that your dream has come true.
That’s the day you either exhale in relief or fill with excitement for the pursuit of new readers … or write three more books to complete the series in six short months if your name is Dominique Richardson.
Then, you go on to host Tampa Bay’s first book festival with your nonprofit, YA By the Bay, to promote a love for literacy and leadership among local students. No, this is not fiction. And yes, you should know this local mom and her story behind her stories.
2022 marked the pivotal moment that you received your first book deal. In 2023, you held not only your first co-authored book in your hands, but four complete Young Adult novels. Tell us about your journey to becoming published.
Dominique Richardson: As long back as I can remember, I’ve adored books. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Archie Comics and Fear Street novels. When I was around 10 years old, I wrote a “My Little Pony” story with my childhood best friend. Our plan was to send it to Disney (because clearly that was the next big thing after fairy tale princess movies). Disney never got back to us, but I got my first exhilarating rush of what it’s like to write what I want to read.
However, it wasn’t until 2007 that I decided I wanted to become a published author. I went back to college at that time to study writing, but the economy crashed, and I had to come up with a back-up plan to be sure I had a job when I graduated. So, I majored in accounting, and minored in writing.
Then, life happened: I started my accounting career, got married, had kids, but my dream of writing never went away. Still, it took ten more years before I would actively dive into this profession headfirst.
In 2017, I read almost 60 novels in a year, absorbing so much about the genre I wanted to write in. Then, for the next year or so, I poured my heart into studying the craft of novel writing. I read books like “DIY MFA,” “Save the Cat Writes a Novel,” “The Anatomy of Story,” “The Writer’s Journey,” and so many more. Then I started writing.
But it wasn’t until 2019 that I teamed up with one of my best friends from my writing group, Sorboni Banerjee, and started writing the series that would become the four co-authored books I have published today.
The journey to signing my first book contract took 15 years; 15 years of steps toward learning the craft of writing and the publishing industry. I am not a believer in the overnight success story. It only seems like “an overnight success” because no one ever sees the years of hard work while you’re in obscurity.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned on this path is to never give up. It’s the day in, day out perseverance that leads to success.
The books that you wrote with Sorboni Banerjee reflect your biracial heritage, having been raised between Jamaica and the United States. How does your background and experiences influence the themes and characters in your writing?
Dominique Richardson: Sorboni and I both grew up across cultures. When we teamed up to write together, we knew we wanted to incorporate our different heritages into this story. We pitched the first book in the series, “Red as Blood,” as Riverdale meets fairy tale, an edgy contemporary twist on the age-old stories you think you know.
Pulling from our multicultural roots, we gave fairy tales a real-life reboot. The “princesses” of Everbeach are diverse female role models who break socioeconomic barriers, smash gender stereotypes, and fight back against corruption and classism to find their true happily ever after.
One of my main characters, Raven, our Snow-White archetype, has skin as white as snow, like her dad instead of her Black mom. Raised in Jamaica until her mother’s untimely death, she is the apple of her father’s eye until the day a poisonous new stepmother walks into their lives. Raven has to reclaim her identity in time to save her friend.
Raven’s journey of figuring out where she belongs and fully connecting with her mom’s Jamaican culture was inspired by my experience growing up biracial, where you don’t fit neatly in one box or another. Also, it was a ton of fun writing our fairy godmother character, Titania, who is a Jamaican seamstress living in the wealthy town of Everbeach where this story takes place.
Like my family, Titania speaks with a mix of Jamaican patois and English. Then, in book two, A Stolen Voice, the girls actually get to go to Jamaica as they further unravel the mystery started in the first book. Writing the setting and scenes for the second book was a blast as I pulled from my childhood memories of living in Jamaica every summer until I was fourteen.
In addition to launching a four-book series as a debut author, you also co-founded a nonprofit organization, YA By the Bay, with a big event date next month. What can you share about this inspiring initiative and its intended impact on those that attend?
Dominique Richardson: YA by the Bay is a young adult reading and leadership festival that will take place Oct. 13 and 14 at the Tampa Bay Convention Center. There will be over 30 authors participating in this festival centered around young adult literature.
Our keynotes are international bestselling author R.L. Stine, New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson and Sunshine State award-winning author Jeff Zentner. Our goal is to create an enriching community experience where readers across the Tampa Bay area have an opportunity to immerse themselves in a dynamic festival celebrating literature and reading.
The motto of YA by the Bay is to “be the author of your own life.” How will the programming for the event encourage teens to take charge of their own life stories?
Dominique Richardson: We want to inspire teens to use the power of their words and storytelling to achieve dreams, make a difference, and “be the author of your own life.”
The authors and industry professionals participating in YA by the Bay are leaders in their field. They will share their experiences to inspire and help teens see how they too can reach their life goals. The panel topics will be geared toward this initiative.
While other big cities across the country host book festivals and literary events, this is a first for Tampa Bay. What can we expect to see and how can the local community be a part of the excitement?
Dominique Richardson: The first day of the event will be solely for students and educators, where attendees will participate in author-led panel discussions focused on writing and leadership fulfilling a core piece of our mission to “turn readers into leaders.”
The second day of the festival is open to the public, and there will be various author-led panels, book signings, and several marquee events with our keynote authors.
The best way to be a part of the excitement is to come to the festival! Help us spread the word by sharing this event on social media and with anyone in your life who loves books and reading.
Tickets are up for sale on Eventbrite now for only $12 and are free for anyone under 18. Businesses can partner with YA by the Bay and become sponsors to help keep the festival free for teens, get books in the hands of kids who might otherwise not be able to afford them, and support writing scholarships for college hopefuls.
Parenting and writing are both fulfilling but demanding roles. How do you manage to find time for your writing projects while being a hands-on parent?
Dominique Richardson: I don’t sleep! Just kidding, I do need my beauty rest. But it’s a matter of prioritizing. When my kids are at school, that’s my time to write and run YA by the Bay. From the time they get home until bedtime, that time is dedicated to family time.
When I’m on deadline, it’s not uncommon to find me with my laptop getting my words down after the kids go to bed or on the weekends. This is more the exception than the rule, and if I do need to write on the weekends during crunch time, I make sure I get it done early in the day, so I still have time to spend with my husband and twin boys.
What can we expect next from your writing journey? Are there any exciting projects or upcoming books that you can share with us?
Dominique Richardson: More books! I am currently developing my next book, but most of my focus is on the festival in October. I can’t release any news about it yet, but anyone interested in staying in the know can follow me at @domwritesbooks.
What is your favorite thing to do in Tampa with your husband and twin boys?
Dominique Richardson: We love being outdoors, so we go on hikes in public parks, take family bike rides and spend tons of time in the pool or at the beach, especially in the summer. Riverwalk is one of our favorite spots downtown, so we frequent Julie B. Lane, Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf.
And we’re big amusement park fans, so you know we have annual passes to Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. Can they all be my favorites? Hard to pick just one!