Bio: Dana Ravyn is a transfem poet, novelist, and educator. She is the author of two novels, Fearless Heart and The Suicide Switch. Her poetry appears in numerous anthologies and literary journals and three of her recent poems are found in Varied Spirits Anthology, edited by Red Haircrow and Manuel Ricardo Garcia. When not writing, Dana works on empowering health literacy in her community in coastal Delaware, USA.
Dana’s second novel, The Suicide Switch, will be released in April. It is a suspenseful look at suicide research gone awry.
Dana is donating 100% of royalties from the purchases of The Suicide Switch e-book or paperback in 2023 to The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. If you buy it at BookBaby (store.bookbaby.com), The Trevor Project gets a $10 donation. The Trevor Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“Money shouldn’t be a barrier to reading! Anyone can read The Suicide Switch for free at Dana’s website, danaravyn.com and it’s available to read for free from most libraries on the Hoopla, Libby app or your ebook reader.”
Why do you write?
First, to give voice to the parts of myself that are otherwise vulnerable to the oppressive nature of society and its limiting effect on imagination. Writing allows me to escape binary and linear thinking and embrace the beauty of ambiguity and contradiction, to challenge prevailing morality and taboos. To me, writing is a sort of spiritual alchemy—the power to take an imperfect world and turn it into something precious: characters, place, events from my imagination. I am an introvert, so writing provides a creative space that is private and safe.
What excites you about writing?
Writing is where I can be completely free, intellectually and spiritually. I am electrified by the possibility that my writing can evoke feelings or ideas that are emotionally or spiritually meaningful to the reader.
What genre(s) do you write?
My primary work as a writer is to create poetry. In fiction, I strive to bend genre. In my new novel, The Suicide Switch, there is plenty of suspense and action, but I wouldn’t call it a thriller because the plot is subordinate to character and theme. And I use elements less common in the mystery/thriller genre, like flashbacks, dreams, allegory, overlapping narrative arcs. That’s not to say my novels are stodgy. If you are going to write about something as serious as suicide, it’s important to balance the mood. In The Suicide Switch, I use humor, satire, romance.
Is your identity as a trans person important to you as a writer?
While gender identity is not usually an overt element of my poetry or fiction, the lived experiences of being a writer who is transgender have profoundly affected my way of seeing the world and influence my writing, regardless of the subject. I try to draw on dimensions of my trans life that resonate with the universal in the reader to bridge divergent human identities.
In The Suicide Switch, the teen character Luc is gender nonconforming. His brief life reveals the tragic results of the marginalization and violence trans people experience daily. But it also says a lot about the pressure on gender queer people to characterize or categorize their identity. Luc’s remarkable character allows him to defy expectations. Although he pays a price for lacking heteronormative and cisgender privilege, it’s given him a degree of self-awareness and self-actualization seldom seen at his age, or even in adults.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Everything I do is an endeavor to write because I see my life primarily as a creative exercise that is manifested in poetry, fiction, and visual art. I might write 2000 words daily for weeks, then not write for days. I always write best in the morning, often starting my day before 5 AM. I never push myself if things aren’t flowing. If I have writer’s block, I find the best thing is to change my environment, travel, or do something outside my comfort zone.
What strategies do you use to develop a novel?
Early on, I try not to think about plot and embrace the work conceptually. That might mean free writing or paying attention to dreams and liminal phenomena. For example, I often have lucid dreams and my hypnogogic hallucinations—the visual and auditory experiences that people have between waking and sleeping—are more intense than most.
Sometimes I start with an idea and explore it through ekphrastic methods like going to a museum and writing about art related to what I’m mulling over. For example, when thinking about the protagonist’s flashbacks of Zen training in The Suicide Switch, I spent time sitting at Ōgi Rodō’s Ceremonial Tea House at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As things crystallize, I do tons of research. For The Suicide Switch, I went to Laos, traveled up the Mekong, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand.
Once I start writing, I like to visualize plot development, characters, and timelines. For this, I use things like spreadsheets, mind maps on large sheets of paper, pasting ideas on the wall, and “getting on the floor” with pages and notes. I always have something to write on so I can capture creative “Aha” moments from dreams, music, film, and conversation. I try to let my inner spirit and subconscious do the creative work and then use those impressions.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
Foremost are poets who write fiction. Ocean Vuong, because of his brilliant poetic prose. Sylvia Plath. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a penetrating observer of the human condition who reveals shadows lurking behind the mundane. So many of the literary devices in fiction come from poetry. I envy Haruki Murakami for his genius of surrealism. James Baldwin’s poignancy. Virginia Woolf for the glimpse into the dark yearning of the soul, Yukio Mishima for his ability to write from the torture of his existence and his insight into themes I love, like beauty and emptiness. Toni Morrison for her skill revealing the soul of identity. Kazuo Ishiguro, for the discipline and courage to write deliciously slow stories. The Icelandic Sagas and Homer because they come first from oral tradition. Good writing has to sound good.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
I was a researcher and educator at a medical school, where I studied tick-borne diseases.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t be discouraged by rejections or reviews. Remember that a rejection of your work primarily reflects its subjective value to the editor. Whether beginning or seasoned, listening to editors’ feedback is a valuable way to improve one’s craft. But remember that some enormously talented writers have often been rejected, too. While editors are tuned to good work and can be a barometer for the quality of your writing, they have their own preferences. If those are commercial value, popular trends, or avoiding uncomfortable realities, consider yourself lucky for rejection. Don’t be bothered by reviews. Getting prickly reviews means I am doing my job as a writer because writers raise uncomfortable truths. Literature is a mirror on the human soul, which is unnerving. For some, it’s easier to attack the writer, who is the proximal cause of their discomfort.
What is your measure of success as a writer?
If I am true to myself as a writer or poet, I’ve already achieved the most important success any artist can aspire to. Early on when I did one of my first poetry readings, someone from the audience told me she had tears as I read. That means more to me than winning a poetry award or being on a bestseller list. My job is to write poetry that helps readers return to the beauty and joy in their heart—not as a conveyance, but as a sort of incantation that opens the doors of liminal experience. It’s kind of daunting when you think about it that way. I can only compare it to what a Zen Master said to me when I took my Buddhist precepts, “You only have one job, to save all beings from suffering.” I’m no Boddhisatva, but hey, I have this poem I want you to read…