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Interview With an Author: Ryan La Sala

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Ryan La Sala and his latest novel, Be Dazzled
Author Ryan La Sala and his latest novel, Be Dazzled. Photo credit: Lauren Takakjian

Ryan La Sala grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). His debut novel was 2020’s Reverie His latest novel is Be Dazzled and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Be Dazzled?

My own life, actually! Be Dazzled is about all the things I love—nerdy things like comic book convention and anime and cosplay--but also about love itself. Heartbreak, to be specific, and the strange phenomenon of realizing a broken heart is just a project in parts, waiting for you to piece it together and make something amazing.

When I say my own life, I mean it. The inspiration for Be Dazzled struck when I was at a comic book convention with my then-boyfriend, both of us dressed in full costume, and suddenly the costumes fell apart. Now it’s been well-documented that I’m a pretty dramatic person, so you can imagine this was devastating for me, the person who had made the costumes we were wearing. Meanwhile said boyfriend, who would have looked great wearing a potato sack, couldn’t have cared less. He just wanted to have fun. And thus the dynamic between the two boys at the heart of Be Dazzled was born! Raffy is self-serious and a young artist plagued by perfectionism. Luca, effortlessly charismatic and patently untalented with a sewing machine, just wants to give everyone a show. And a show is exactly what everyone gets when these boys get thrown together during a huge cosplay championship.

It’s all inspired by real stuff. I really did have a hot boyfriend, I really did dress us in costumes. And we really did break up and then have to work together at a con. Cosplay competitions are real, too. And amazing. I can’t wait to go back to conventions once it’s safe.

Are Raffy, Luca, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Oh, very clever of you to ask this. There’s no way around this, is there? I’ll be candid: yes, the characters in Be Dazzled are all inspired by real people, though it’s perhaps not as direct as you might think. Raffy and Luca, while clearly based on me and my ex, are very much characters in their own story. I’m not Raffy, and Raffy isn’t me, but he’s not not me, you know? It’s more like Raffy is a version of me, at a certain point in time. Luca and the rest of the crew all take inspiration from a group of my own friends, too.

That said, my mom is nothing like Raffy’s mom. I fear that people see how similar Raffy is to me and assume that my mother is also this scary, high-fashion artist lady, which couldn’t be further from the truth! My mother, while a fashion icon, is warm and encouraging. Nothing like Raffy’s mom. She reminds me of this often.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Okay so in the book, Raffy’s mom (her name is Evie) has this INTENSE hatred of any form of art that isn’t like, high-society, performative, and esoteric. I know a lot of people like this and I always wonder: how does someone get this way? Well in an early version of this book, there was this whole backstory to Evie that detailed how an innocent little artist might become a villain hellbent on burning down the mainstream. If I ever write a sequel you can be sure that'll pop up, but I actually think the book is better without it.

Are you a regular convention attendee? How long have you been going to them?

I’ve been attending cons for years and years. In high school we used to break into our local anime convention by posing as ‘volunteers.’ We would just show up and ask for jobs and, confused and stressed, the organizers would simply give us a useless task and leave it at that. One time my job was to sit in a chair that held a door open. Literally, my job was to be dead weight. Degrading, but effective to sneaking in! Thus, we conned our way into cons.

As an adult, I don’t do this (or do I? You’ll have to check all the doors at your con to find out). I now mostly go to cons to see the incredible cosplays, see my friends, and strangely I’ve found myself on the presenter side of things as an author. Now I sit in chairs, but they’re behind panels! Life is twisty and cool like that sometimes.

Have you ever participated in cosplay? If you have, what costumes have you created/worn? If not, what would be your dream costume to try?

There are times when I think the only thing inside of my head are plans for amazing costumes I’ll never have time to make. I love making costumes and cosplays, but the irony of writing a book about crafting is that I haven’t had a ton of time to actually craft! Since the book came out, I’ve been making up for lost time with a lot of projects that I film and upload to YouTube in a series called D.I.Ry. I have tons of projects I want to try out but, living in a studio in NYC, space is limited. My dream is to buy a house with a workshop so I can set myself up to create whatever I can imagine. The first thing I’ll make will invariably be a tribute to Sailor Moon, my one true love

Beyond costuming/cosplay, are you a crafter? If so, what do you create?

Well, as you may have imagined, I love to bedazzle things. My apartment is covered in glitter. I find gemstones crushed into the carpet constantly. I’ve long held the belief that when it comes to any project, it’s not done if it’s not bedazzled. That’s as true for cosplays as it is Mt. Rushmore. That monument is so awful and I think the one thing that might help it is some Swarovski crystal.

I really will bedazzle anything. For example, I bedazzled my own copy of Be Dazzled. I even bedazzled my eyebrows for the book launch. You can’t not, you know? My readers have demands. So in short: I suppose I’ve become the craft project.

Are Donut, Jonut and/or Boba Yoga real places in the Boston area or fictional? Please tell me that they are real, they need to exist!

Oh, I WISH. The names are my own invention but the actual locations (from the punny cafes to the karaoke bar called Miss Sing in Action) are all actual locations that I frequented during my 10 years in Boston. For instance, Jurrasic Perk sits in the spot where Porter Square Books, a fav bookstore of mine, is. And Boba Yoga is located atop a Kung Fu Tea. It’s all still there. If you put on goggles tinted with Be Dazzled’s alternate reality, you could walk yourself through a little tour.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I don’t have a nightstand! I sleep in a murphy bed—one of those contraptions in which a bed sort of unfolds from the wall. It’s sort of like sleeping inside of a magical wardrobe, which of course I dig. There are downsides though, like no nightstand. The result is that I usually wake up wearing whatever book I was reading, and I can never find my phone among all my pokemon pillows.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I’ve been playing a lot of very narrative-based video games recently. Hades, by Supergiant Games, was a blast, and the story of familiar drama was very beautifully done, I thought. I love games that tackle nuanced storytelling while also allowing me to battle through hordes of the undead, you know? I’m also playing Spirifarer right now, which is a game where you act as a guide for the recently deceased and help them move on from this world, and I can tell it’s going to make me sob. I’m looking forward to it.

What are you working on now?

A strange, difficult third book that’s testing my every fiber. It’s called The Honeys, and it’s unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s not fantasy, it’s not contemporary. It’s about a queer teen named Mars who is determined to unravel the mysterious circumstances of his sister’s death by infiltrating her group of beautiful, popular friends. They call themselves The Honeys. They’re all at a summer camp together, and these girls maintain beehives in a meadow. They are nice to Mars. Too nice, maybe. I just turned in the first draft, and I’ll start revisions soon. I’m excited! But also scared. I cannot stress that enough.

Book cover for Be Dazzled
Be Dazzled
La Sala, Ryan