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Spring 2018 Publishers’ Previews: Five Questions for Randy Ribay

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2018 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Photo: Dave Londres.

Bunny and Nasir, narrators of After the Shot Drops, were once like brothers — until Bunny’s move to a fancy white prep school, burgeoning basketball fame, and feelings for a girl Nasir likes all come between them.

1. Did you find that one of your two narrators came to you more easily than the other?

Bunny is the all-star on the court, the one who’s gotten national attention — in other words, definitely not him. I played sports growing up, but I was mediocre like Nasir, so it was easier to understand his perspective. To get into Bunny’s headspace, I spoke to a childhood friend who ended up playing in the NBA about what his high school years were like.

2. How do you write basketball action for readers who might not know the first thing about the game? (Raises hand.)

I re-read basketball books I admire to study how they described the on-court action. I also paid close attention to the language commentators frequently 
used when I watched college or NBA games. Most importantly, I reduced 
the amount of on-the-page basketball 
to only what felt necessary to plot or character development.

3. You were a Horn Book reviewer for a while there. What did reviewing books teach you about writing them?

When you’re reviewing books casually, it’s easy to just click a number of stars and move on. But reviewing in an official capacity requires you to break a story down into its elemental components (setting, characters, plot, themes, voice, representation, etc.) and really think about what’s working, what isn’t, and why. I keep in mind what makes each of those components strong and try to write to that standard. Reviewing also made me think carefully about personal biases in evaluating “quality.” And writing reviews with a very limited word count honed my ability to write concisely!

4. Did you know how your novel would end when you started it?

I did! But then I didn’t. I made a change to the ending late in the game.

5. What’s your favorite basketball book?

Matt de la Peña’s Ball Don’t Lie — it’s harsh, real, and beautiful. But I’m going to cheat and also mention Walter Dean Myers’s books Hoops and Slam! and Kevin Waltman’s Next. My book wouldn’t be what it is if I had never read those stories.

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