Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is “an enchanting fantasy adventure filled with heart and soul. Amari is magical!” So says Angie Thomas, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Hate You Give. I couldn’t agree more. Think of it as Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black, an exhilarating middle grade fantasy debut, and the first in a trilogy that introduces us to a magical black girl named Amari Peters.
When we meet her, Amari has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good. So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real. Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives.
Amari and the Night Brothers book made me wish my own daughters were back in middle school so I could read it with them. It’s that good! I caught up with the dynamic B.B. Alston recently to talk about world-building, fantasy, and his journey to publication.
What was your inspiration for this purely magical story?
I’m a big fan of the movie Men in Black, and one day I just wondered, what if it wasn’t just aliens that lived among us, but all of the things we believe to be myths and legends? From leprechauns to werewolves, and even the Abominable Snowman! What kind of agency would handle that and what would it look like? How would it work? And that’s the basis for how I got started building that world in the story.
It was while exploring that question that I got the idea for Amari: What if a kid like I was (Black and from modest means) got to go to Hogwarts or Camp Half-Blood? And maybe each kid gets their own unique supernatural ability to better fit into this hidden supernatural world? And Amari popped into my head fully formed, with her brown skin and big curly afro. I knew how she talked, and how she saw the world because she was me and so many of the kids I grew up with.
Your world building is out of this world! The details are so rich that they practically come to life right in front of you. Can you share some of your process with us?
This story started off just as something fun to work on while on study break during my med school pre-requisites. There wasn’t a protagonist yet, so I was just using my imagination to create a fun and crazy world I thought was cool and made me laugh. So that by the time Amari popped into my head, the world was really fleshed out. As I continued creating the story, I began to layer even more world building based on what I needed from individual scenes. The end result was a really complex world that I hope readers will continue to enjoy.
What drew you to writing fantasy?
The fantasy stories I read as a kid are a hundred percent responsible for my being the writer I am today. They made such a huge impact on me because they gave me permission to imagine what “could be” instead of focusing on “what is.” Fantasy books have the ability to spark your sense of wonder, and there’s no greater feeling than that moment where you experience a world or a character that stretches the limits of your imagination further than you thought possible. It’s a feeling I’ve never stopped craving as a reader. I’m a firm believer in writing what you love, so when sat down to write a novel, I knew I wanted to write fantasy.
Can you share some of your literary influences?
I’ve honestly got so many literary influences. Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Rats of NIMH meant the world to me as a kid, and really kicked off my love of reading fantasy. I also like to credit Angie Thomas and Nic Stone as huge influences for me in terms of being a writer. I found them at a time when I couldn’t find any fantasy kids books on the shelves about Black kids and because of that, I was really struggling with how much of myself and my story to put onto the page. Seeing how unapologetically Black and authentic their characters were, and how that made me feel as a Black reader, gave me the confidence to not hold anything back in my writing.
The story of how you got your agent and how you sold your first novel is pretty amazing. Can you share some of this with us?
Yeah, so I had pretty much given up on writing and had been accepted into a biomedical science program at a medical school. Thing was, I was broke. So I needed a seasonal job in order to afford the move to Pennsylvania. But for some reason the office didn’t have my paperwork ready, so I just sat and started scrolling through Twitter to pass the time. That’s when I found a pitch contest for marginalized authors called #DVPit. I went back and forth about whether it was worth pitching, and if anyone would see my pitch and care, but eventually I did. And people responded! I ended up with five offers of representation from agents, and chose the amazing Gemma Cooper. She took the book to the Bologna Book Fair, where it was named Boof of the Fair and that turned into twenty-seven book deals around the world and even a movie deal. It honestly feels like I’m in a fairytale movie myself sometimes!
As you said, the book is also about to become a film. Can you tell us a little about that?
I’m really excited about it! We were lucky enough to have the book optioned by Universal. On the producer side, we’ve got Mandeville Films who has created so many great films including Beauty & the Beast and Wonder. We also have the great Don Cheadle producing, and what’s cool about that is I actually got to talk with him on the day Avengers came out. And I’m super grateful that Marsai Martin is involved, both producing and starring in the film.
What’s next? Any teasers for Book #2 you can share?”
Definitely! Book 2 will have lots more magic, more departments and wacky elevators, and a brand-new mystery to solve. Also, you get to see much more of the world outside the Bureau. I think you all will really enjoy it!
B. Alston lives in Lexington, South Carolina. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.