Imagine you’re an actress who’s been in everything from 10 Things I Hate About You, Heroes, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. Now imagine adding author to your resume. Sounds a bit hectic, right? Well for Dana L. Davis, writing came as a natural progression in her career.
The author of Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now is passionate about changing the narrative facing people of color in film and TV.
“I was so tired of auditioning for stereotypical roles and shaking my head in confusion at the way some writers are writing black women that I decided if I really wanted change, I needed to BE the change I wished to see,” Dana told Cracking the Cover. “That ultimately guided me to start taking my writing to the next level.”
The next level was/is Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now. The young adult novel follows 16-year-old Tiffany Sly whose mother just passed away from cancer. After her mom’s death, Tiffany moves from Chicago to California to live with the biological dad she’s never known.
What Tiffany is about to learn is her father has four other daughters, rules that make your head swim and a strong devotion as a Jehovah’s Witness. The only thing that makes this new, super-strict home bearable is Marcus McKinney, a strange boy who lives across the street. Add to everything else, there’s another man who’s claiming to be Tiffany’s real dad, and he wants a paternity test to prove it.
Dana describes Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now as a “coming of age story offering hope, love and laughter for all.” But there’s more to it than that. The book comes, Dana says, from her own personal experience with trauma.
“My daughter is on the spectrum of autism and I had to stop working to tend to her needs,” Dana said. “No one can understand the pain of dealing with a child with a disability … unless of course you’re dealing with just that. And I’m a single parent! The trauma of losing my career and everything I’d [worked]for along with the trauma of not knowing if I would be able to help her … it took a toll on me and I developed an anxiety disorder.
“I think if I had heard a message of ‘at some point life may break your heart … but you’ll be OK!’ when I was young, it would have served me so well. I wanted to tackle trauma with a young audience. Let them know that sometimes they will lose. But we need to redefine that word. It’s like getting fourth place at an Olympic event. You can call that losing if you want … but to me it’s winning big!”
Tiffany mirrors that anxiety disorder in Dana’s book. Anxiety disorders and autism are similar in how people can’t “see” them at first glance, Dana says. When you have autism and don’t appear to be “disabled” people expect different things of you.
“Anxiety is similar in that you don’t wear it,” Dana said “No one can tell. And yet if affects you in so many ways. And people can be so judgmental and unforgiving. I used to go to a park with a friend and would get tense and nervous when my daughter climbed ladders. Of course, imagining her plummeting to her death from a one-foot fall! And I do remember my friend’s eye rolls and annoyed mutterings of ‘She’s fine.’ It made me feel so alone and misunderstood.
“I wanted to bring light to anxiety in hopes to educate about it. And there was definitely a substantial amount of research that went into creating Tiffany’s personality, but as a sufferer of anxiety, I used my own experiences as well.”
Music is a part of Tiffany’s life that calms her, helps her feel grounded. Once again, Dana felt this was an important place to push against black stereotypes.
“Not all black girls are the same, so we shouldn’t write them that way,” Dana said. “I wanted her to love a genre of music that people don’t necessarily associate with African-Americans. I thought about classical but that was too much like me since I’m a classically trained musician. I got my B.F.A in music from Loyola Marymount University. So, I chose rock ‘n roll! Thankfully, my dear friend, Travis Lee Stephenson helped me with my research. He is a talented guitarist and performs in a band around LA. He gets a lot of credit for Tiffany’s love of music!”
Dana hopes her writing will make an impact in the lives of young adults. “Young minds are so impressionable!” she said. “It saddens me to see celebrities with such a large platform and so many fans who are young. And all they say and do and tweet revolves around their hair or their clothes or their expensive purses. It’s almost like they don’t understand these young minds are forming and they have this amazing opportunity to contribute to the world. I am so passionate about connecting to people and making a difference. I always say if I can help one person … even one … then I’m so happy.”
Dana just started outlining a YA fantasy, and is currently working on edits for her second contemporary YA, The Voice In My Head, coming out next spring from HarlequinTEEN.
Learn more about Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now and Dana L. Davis — including why and how the author included religion in her book — by reading the complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.
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