by Lou Mancinelli
After releasing her first self-published young adult (YA) novel as an e-book in 2012 while teaching English in South Korea, Atlanta resident and Philly native Mya Kay Douglas re-released “A Song For Jordan” this spring. She will appear for a reading and book signing at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy on Friday, Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m.
Mya Kay’s own story has been one of trumpeting against rejection and creating her own opportunities, whether through networking or starting her own businesses, like Douglas Management Group, a management company she started with her mother to handle the publicity end of her recent release. Or Casual Cupcake Agency, a creative consulting agency she launched to provide services such as a personal assistant to author services.
When Mya Kay finished writing “A Song For Jordan” in 2011, she received 60-plus rejections from various literary agents and publishers.
But one then bit. It was Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, which represented New York Times best-selling children’s authors. When Crowe eventually decided not to publish the piece, however, Mya Kay was not deterred. Overcoming adversity has been a lesson she learned throughout her life, and one she relearned in 2011. At that time she was laid off while writing her first novel, and three weeks later her mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer.
“Why was I waiting on somebody to give me a yes?” Mya Kay said during a recent interview.
Her book was good enough, she thought. That was proved by the interest a major agent showed in her work, so she decided to self-publish.
“I always wanted to create a character who wasn’t as strong as I am,” Mya Kay said about 15-year-old Jordan Crystal Myers, the main character of “A Song For Jordan.”
Jordan has learned all she knows about music from her father, who left her mother when Jordan was born. Jordan comes from a troubled legacy. Her grandparents wanted her mother to abort her. She landed an internship in Atlanta with some major music acts, but later her position was terminated.
Mya Kay started writing the book the year before her mother was diagnosed with tongue cancer, a disease she was able to beat. “It was very therapeutic,” said Mya Kay about writing the novel.
Parts of Jordan’s character are somewhat autobiographical, like growing up without her father in the house. But the majority of the story is pure invention.
Mya Kay has been writing fiction as far back as grade school, but it really clicked that she wanted to be a writer while she was double-majoring in pre-med and magazine journalism at Temple University.
Thus far Mya Kay has penned and self-published two additional children’s/YA novels and one serial novel, all of which are available on her website. Her own interest in writing YA novels was generated from her experience as a teenager when she read urban fiction aimed at young adults. Many of the characters came from broken families in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
“For a 13- or 14-year-old to be reading books about that lifestyle wasn’t the greatest thing,” she said.
She started writing “A Song For Jordan” in a YA fiction class at Arcadia University while studying for her master’s degree in English, which she earned in 2010.
Before that, she graduated from Temple University in 2007 with a degree in magazine journalism after transferring from Community College of Philadelphia. Raised in the Erie Avenue section of North Philadelphia, Mya Kay, who will turn 30 the weekend of her reading at Big Blue Marble, graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls in 2002.
While at Arcadia she worked for a security company during the day and studied for her master’s at night. When she was laid off a year later, she took it in stride and started working for Olive Garden. But she knew she wanted to break into the writing world and decided Atlanta was the place to go.
“I didn’t want to just write books,” said Mya Kay, who has also written television scripts she aims to turn into pilot episodes for series as well. “To me it’s easier to tackle a smaller market like Atlanta than L.A.”
At the time of our interview, Mya Kay was in between work on producing a 45-minute film adaptation of “A Song For Jordan.” that features actor Rodney Perry, who was on BET’s “The Mo’Nique Show.” She met him through other contacts in Atlanta.
Shortly after Mya Kay moved to Atlanta, friends told her about the quality pay one could receive for teaching English as a second language in South Korea. Plus they’d pay for her flight and rent.
So in 2012 she moved to South Korea and worked in a low-income area she compared to where she grew up near Broad and Erie. It was a small community with many children who had never seen a black woman before. There were not many black people where she lived in Daejeon, but in the capital of Seoul there were African-Americans. The Korean children kids were particularly interested in her hair.
“It wasn’t a racist thing,” she said about the kids wanting to touch her hair. “They were just curious.” Once a week she dined with a family from a local church, and when she left to return to the U.S., the kids were in tears. “I think there was a respect for the fact that this girl left everything she knows to come and teach their kids,” Mya Kay said.
After coming home, she contacted the corporate Barnes & Noble office to ask about hosting a book reading; they said no. When she called the Atlanta store, they said maybe, then no, but when she made the same request in person, they said yes, which led to her first official reading this spring.
As for new material, Mya Kay recently completed another YA novel and is currently working on yet another one.