Helena native becomes New York Times bestselling author

By MACKENZEE SIMMS | Staff Writer

ALABASTER – As a teenager, Helena native LaDarrion Williams used to visit the Alabaster Books-A-Million to read the “Twilight” series and dreamed of seeing his books on the shelves one day. On Friday, May 31, Williams’ dream came true as he hosted a book signing event for his debut novel, the New York Times Bestseller “Blood at the Root.”

Debuting at No. 5 on the New York Times Bestsellers list for Young Adult Hardcovers, “Blood at the Root” is a story about Malik, a 17-year-old boy from Helena, Alabama that discovers that he has magical powers the night his mother goes missing. Over the course of the book, Malik attends a magical university and unveils a connection with his long-lost grandmother.

Williams was inspired to write “Blood at the Root” during the 2020 COVID pandemic. After visiting a bookstore and asking for a fantasy book featuring a young Black protagonist, Williams and the clerk searched the entire store, but left empty-handed.

“That’s when I was like ‘Okay, I got to write this story,’” Williams said. “The story has been with me for years, it just didn’t manifest until I went into that bookstore and didn’t see any Black characters.”

Originally, Williams imagined “Blood at the Root” as a TV series. He and his friends created a short film based on the pilot and posted it to social media. And while the short film gained online traction, the script garnered no attention from any producers.

One of his friends suggested rewriting the script as a novel, so Williams started the process of writing and revising. He originally planned to self-publish the novel, but his agent suggested the traditional publication route and they started pitching the novels to publishers.

“We went to 30 editors and 27 of them said no because they couldn’t connect to the main character’s voice,” Williams said. “I thought I thought it was over. I really thought it was over, but we ended up getting an offer. And then we got another. On Jan. 19, 2023, I signed a three book deal with Penguin Random House.”

After a long and intense journey crafting his novel, “Blood at the Root” was officially released on March 7, 2024. Now, several signed copies line the shelves of the very same bookstore that Williams used to visit as a teenager.

At his signing event on Friday, May 31, friends and family surrounded Williams as he met with fans and readers.

His cousin, Travis Mahone, reflected on what it was like to see Williams living his dream.

“Since we were kids, this is all he dreamed about,” Mahone said. “I was just telling him, ‘I’m proud of you. You’ve been talking about this ever since we were like 6-years-old.’ For him to work this hard and get where his now, it’s a lot. I’m very proud of him.

One of his friends, Torielle Green, shared that she was honored to watch Williams grow through this process.

“To see him now, you’ve got to come celebrate him,” Green said. “This is a big accomplishment and some don’t reach that. To see someone from this small town of Helena make it big is pretty special.”

Perhaps the most special guest of the night was Williams’ nephew, Ashton, whom the book was dedicated to. Ashton’s mother—and Williams’ sister— Arian Allen, explained how special it is to see her childhood experiences on the page and share that with her son.

“For me, (the book) was reminiscent of my childhood,” Allen said. “It’s a way for me to share my childhood with my son. Of course, he didn’t grow up with us, but now he’s getting to live vicariously through the book. It’s such a special moment that a Black boy was able to write a book for a Black boy—his nephew at that. We’re really excited for him.”

For Williams, making sure that young Black boys feel represented was an important factor throughout the process of creating “Blood at the Root.”

“I think it’s so important for kids like my nephew and especially Black boys to see themselves as the hero,” Williams said. “That’s why I put a Black boy on the cover, so Black kids like my nephew—like Malik—can come into the store and can say, ‘Oh, wow, that kid looks like me.’ And you never know, that book might change their whole perspective on their life and may usher them to be whatever they want.”

Those in love with “Blood at the Root” will be happy to learn that Williams is currently working on the sequel. Although he could say much, Williams shared that book two will feature new characters, explore more of Caiman University and continue to follow Malik as he discovers new “pockets of joy.”

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