The Taking of Jake Livingston tells the story of the eponymous medium, hunted by the ghost of a teen who committed a mass shooting years before. This book is the kind of scary where I read bits of it through splayed fingers. Jake is one of my new favorite horror protagonists, and all I wanted for him was a happy ending and some peace. The prose is atmospheric and horrifying while also touching on less supernatural fears like being a bit of an outcast and the only Black kid in a private school.
Today, I’m thrilled to celebrate author Ryan Douglass’s debut day with an interview about the process of crafting this spooky read. XOXO, Sierra also put together a debut box with a finished copy of the book and related goodies. Check it out here.
Crafting The Taking of Jake Livingston
How did you craft the idea for this can’t-look-away horror story?
I started with a short story about a boy being followed by a vengeful ghost at school. I started asking myself how I could extend the idea. What does the ghost want? How can the boy see him? What circumstances at his school could add to the conflict? The story grew from there, and through the hook I started to make sense of some of my own teen experiences.
Where did you get the idea for the death loops and the power of ecto-mist?
I had a concept in the first draft of objects that were removed from the spot they “died.” In the book, inanimate objects also experience death loops. So, when Jake would try to take objects with him in dead world that were tethered to one spot, they’d disappear from his hands and reappear where they started. The editorial process was mostly about fleshing out the world building and plotting, so I decided to expand the looping concept and apply it to the ghosts. It added a layer of creepiness and a unique mystery for Jake to uncover. As for the ecto-mist, that’s also a concept I fleshed out in revisions, at first to give the atmosphere a mystical feeling, and then to give Jake a power he could master on his journey.
Do you have a favorite ghost story?
Everlost by Neal Shusterman is my favorite ghost book, and The Conjuring is my favorite ghost movie.
Are there any moments that scared you as you were writing or revising them?
I definitely scared myself. There’s a transitional scene where Jake is on the bus to visit his mentor and he’s hallucinating that someone is watching him, and then he hallucinates someone trying to stab him. Those moments are the scariest for me. I always forget they’re in there and they come at you fast. Of course, writing from Sawyer’s perspective was a scary process in general, especially as we get closer to what pushed him to his limit.
Is The Taking of Jake Livingston your first book?
It’s the fourth book I’ve written but the first to be published.
What are you working on now?
I’m jumping between a few projects but mostly focused on a found family superhero story at the moment. It’s a science fantasy romp and it’s a lot of fun.
What books are you looking forward to reading or seeing release?
Ryan Douglass was born and raised in Atlanta, where he currently resides, cooking pasta and playing records. He enjoys wood wick candles, falling asleep on airplanes, and advocating for stronger media representation for queer Black people.
His work on race, literacy, sexuality, and media representation has appeared in The Huffington Post, Atlanta Black Star, Everyday Feminism, Nerdy POC, Age of Awareness, LGBTQNation, and Medium, among others.
His debut novel, The Taking of Jake Livingston, is a YA horror out through Penguin/Putnam July 13th, 2021.