John Darryl Winston is the award-winning author of the IA series. I absolutely love these books and highly recommend them to all young readers.
He is a full-time teacher and coach who manages to write fantastic middle grade and young adult books in his spare time.
An accomplished musician, he has written songs with and for Grammy winner David Foster and record mogul Clive Davis. He has also been a recording artist on Arista and Polygram records, writing and producing songs for Gerald Levert, Gerald Alston, and many others.
With so many responsibilities and hobbies, I hope he continues to make time for writing as I eagerly anticipate his next book!
Interview with John Darrly Winston
Where did you grow up?
Grow up? Let’s say for the sake of argument that I actually grew up, because there’s a big part of me that simply refuses to do that, but … The Motor City, Motown, The D, Detroit Michigan.
What kind of books did you read as a kid?
Hmmm… the kind of books, that would be one book called One on One which was the novelization of a movie starring Robby Benson (Beauty and the Beast). Another book was the Bible which my dad made my sisters and I read every night together with him before bedtime. I struggled with the decoding process of reading when I was growing up and would rather have had a book read to me. My imagination took me to my own places, and I still have a love/hate relationship with the reading process in that respect, even today. But one of my favorite pastimes is reading books and watching their film adaptions, and of course, the films almost never do the source material justice.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Oops! Answered that in the last question. One-on-One. I think it’s the same answer.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing fiction in the way of novels for about nine or ten years now, but long before that, it was screen and stage plays and then wayyy back-in-the-day. it was short stories, mostly in the form of scraps or pieces of paper or napkins spread all over the place. That was the long answer. The short one is as far back as I can remember, approaching 50 years.
What inspires your writing?
Experiencing stories whether in the written word or on screen that doesn’t quite satisfy my imagination. Like, there’s something missing and I can right it … or, write it in my own story.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Believe it or not, the revision process, actually tweaking my story and watching it take shape before my very eyes, like molding the details of a clay sculpture after the main features are in place.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Right now, I’m averaging about a year. Here, I’ll break that down; two months to let my ideas marinate. I’m big into the muse, meditation, the law of attraction, and all that jazz. I start to flow with the tone of the story for about a chapter or two at which time I ultimately get stuck, not because of writer’s block but the exact opposite; a floodgate of ideas that throw me all over the place. That’s about a month. Then I take about another month to outline/storyboard. I’m a visual person. That’s why storyboards. Then I finish my first draft which takes about 3 months because I like to edit and revise on the fly. I know, but that’s just me. Now I’m at about 6-7 months, right? I take one month and do nothing, not even think about the story, which ain’t easy. Now the fun part: to see what a mess I made and fix it all. I repeat that last process at least one more time and voila, I’m finished, whether anyone likes it or not. It’s my vision and I’m sticking to it. Unless the contract is big enough.
What was the spark for the idea of the IA series?
I actually depict this scene in my second IA book, B.O.S.S. I was on my first date in my high school auditorium watching Superman, the movie with Christopher Reeve. I don’t remember my date, but the movie was more than a spark. I left the auditorium that day thinking I was going to write a story like that. And the rest is mystory.
Did you always envision the story as a series, or did it grow after you wrote the first book?
Always as a series, with the first books being the origin story which is another thing I liked about the original Superman movie. I wanted to create a character that other writers wrote stories about one day.
Peer pressure was a big theme in the IA story. What advice do you have for young readers bombarded with peer pressure?
As a teacher, I teach my students if you want to fit in, stand out. Go the extra mile. Be a trailblazer. Do the work that no one else will do. It won’t matter who likes you then, because you’ll love yourself, and that’s what matters most.
Did you play chess growing up?
I played checkers growing up. Later, long before I started writing fiction, I taught myself to play chess and got pretty good at, not a master, but able to beat multiple opponents at once (at least students). I don’t play much anymore.
Was the romance between Naz and D inspired by any experiences you had growing up?
To some degree, probably all of my romantic experiences growing up. We are the sum total of all of our experiences, right? But specifically, I met my current wife while I was writing IA, so I had the infatuation thing working for me which is huge for writing teen romance, plus I am and always will be a kid at heart, and I think that helps big time.
Coach Fears was such a powerful and inspirational character. Were there any teachers/coaches in your life that inspired you?
Ha! A lot. Check this out; my assistant coach’s name (I’m a coach in real life) was Harding Fears and I loved that last name for a coach. Don’t you? Also, I taught with a gym teacher who was also a high school basketball coach and his first name was Arvis Young (Close to the name of one of my main characters, Harvis Young). But this coach is Coach Marcus Fears incarnate. “My guys, my guys” is straight from that coach, and everything else about Coach Fears is, too.
Each of Naz’s friends are unique and distinct. Were any of them inspired by real people?
Thank you. That’s quite a compliment, part of a writer’s mission. Yes, most of my characters are inspired by real people, more often than not, my students. Since I write middle grade and YA it’s convenient for me to use not only some of my student’s character traits but their actual names as well. It has a way of building authenticity in the character and by extension, the story.
Did you ever dream about having superpowers as a kid?
I don’t recall dreaming about having superpowers as a kid, at least not that I can remember and definitely not in a superhero sense, but … I’ve been dreaming that I can fly as far back as I can remember.
If you could have one superpower now, what would it be?
Telepathy without a doubt, the power of the mind is everything … to me.
When do you feel like a superhero?
I’m not sure that I necessarily ever feel like a superhero, per se, but I do feel that with this next installment of IA, I will have written the definitive superhero story for people of color. It will be something to behold, and therein lies my superpower.
Do you have any exciting new books coming soon?
I have three books that I’m am beyond excited about. A, is the next installment of the IA series and it’s completely different than the first four books. 2, is a hardcore science fiction novel about the last human on a distant planet. It’s like a reverse of the Superman story, and our protagonist saves this world with her humanity as opposed to her superpowers. And 3, I have an anthology that I’m working on that will turn writers into authors.
What is your favorite part about connecting with young readers?
Tapping into their imaginations, seeing their faces when they discover new characters and places, hearing them go on and on about one of my stories that moves them. But most of all, turning non-reading into readers.
What books are on your current reading list?
Your Honor, Your Honor by Judge Leonia J. Lloyd
Remeon’s Legacy by J.W. Garrett
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide
What do you like to do in your free time when you are not writing?
Play my instruments: Guitar, Saxophone(s), and Piano, exercise/run, study foreign languages, and travel.
If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?
That’s a toughie, but I’m going to have to go with the planet in my new story, Ultima Humana, because human beings are immortal their and nothing can harm them. It’s a new world with a young blue sun that’s bigger than our sun, an exotic world that will blow your mind. I would learn and experience everything because I would have an unlimited supply of the greatest commodity known to man: time.