At a lively event at a Busboys and Poets last week, Jason Reynolds said he picked up a habit from a novelist he fondly calls the “late, great Walter Dean Myers.”
“I write every single day,” said Reynolds, sharing the advice from Myers, an award-winning young adult author who died in 2014. Reynolds, who lives in Washington, says he believes that habit, along with revising, helps his writing improve over time.
And it seems to be working. His new novel, “Ghost,” has been nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
“It feels incredible, but also surreal,” Reynolds said about the nomination of his book, one of five in that category. The winner will be announced November 16.
The evening at the D.C. restaurant gave Reynolds a chance to join fellow author Daniel José Older onstage. The two are good buddies, and they joked and laughed as they talked about writing, sports, diversity and reaching out to readers.
With “Ghost,” Reynolds wanted to challenge a stereotype, he said. People often associate black kids with basketball, so he decided his main character, who is black, would play a different sport. Castle Cranshaw (nicknamed Ghost) is an angry guy who is often mocked for living in a poor neighborhood. Being on the track team gives him hope and a way to earn respect.
In Older’s novel “Shadowshaper,” the main character is a teenager named Sierra Santiago. She is an artist who paints murals that reflect her Afro-Latino heritage. Through shadowshaping magic, her painted figures can come to life. They even help her fight the strange forces that threaten her neighborhood in New York City.
Older, who lives in New York, wanted to write a fantasy about the problems and injustices he saw every day. During his appearance with Reynolds, he spoke about how hard he worked, as a male writer, to create Sierra as a strong, believable female character.
Older said that keeping a journal helps him as a writer; he often writes down his thoughts and feelings.
As a kid, Reynolds loved the poetic energy of such rappers as Tupac, Queen Latifah and Nas. “Rappers were my storytellers,” he said in an interview after the event.
Reynolds and Older visit schools frequently. They encourage kids to talk about their creative projects. They especially want kids of color to see that books are being written by and about people of color.
The event gave Anastasia Taber, a young Washington writer, a lot to think about. She is revising her science-fiction novel about a girl who is half-alien and half-human.
“Having her be a mix of species is a way to explore . . . what it is like to be biracial in a place where the two races are not as accepting of that difference,” she said.
Shannon Martin, who also attended the Busboys event, said she plans to share what she learned with students at Dorothy I. Height Elementary School in Washington. As the school’s newspaper adviser, she will tell them to “just write what you have to say. Don’t worry about correct sentences. Just put it down.”
Sequels to “Ghost” and “Shadowshaper” will be out next year. In Reynolds’s “Patina,” Ghost’s track teammate Patina will be the main character. And Older’s Sierra returns in “Shadowhouse Fall” to battle a monster called the Hound of Light.