Forest Park author Ania Ray celebrated the release of her first novel, The Cromwell Rules, on Dec. 8. | Photo by Maria Maxham

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The main floor of the Urban Pioneer Group, 7503 Madison St., was transformed into what could be a setting from author Ania Ray’s latest release: a swanky party in New York high society. The space was lit with fairy lights, wine and prosecco were served, and delicacies spread out on the counters for guests — most of them in fancy attire — to eat. The invitation, in fact, said cocktail attire was recommended.

Ray, the host and star of the evening, was celebrating the release of her first novel, The Cromwell Rules. In a blue, sequined cocktail dress, she mingled with guests and signed copies of her new book, which tells the tale of Lily Cromwell, a 27-year-old, high-society New York City socialite who is conflicted between the rules she’s always known — rules that have been enforced by her own mother — and her desire to rewrite the rules by which she’s been told she must live.

The Forest Park resident said she’s been writing seriously for the past three years, but she’s really always been a writer. 

“I was the kid who was writing poems during math class,” she said. Writing — and editing — an entire novel, though, was a challenge.

“I’ve always had the desire to write a book,” she said, “but it’s difficult. You realize that once you sit down and do it. Wanting it isn’t enough. You have to put in the work.”

Ray worked on the book for about three years, including numerous edits and rewrites. She completed the first draft during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago, then focused on cleaning it up and perfecting it. 

It’s often said that the editing part of the process is the most difficult, and Ray reached out to other writers for advice. She contacted one of her favorite authors, April White, author of the Immortal Descendants Series, to tell her how much she enjoyed reading the series and to ask for any advice she might have. White gave her the name and number of her editor, whom Ray hired.

“It was especially important for me to get an editor since I was self-publishing my book,” she said. “And I can’t even tell you how exciting it was to get advice from one of my favorite authors.”

She also hired a book coach through Author Accelerator, who gave her great advice in revising her book.

“The best advice was the old advice to show, not tell,” said Ray. “When I went back to revise, it surprised me how many scenes there were where I was telling something but not describing or showing it. Now when I’m writing scenes for my next novel, I’m more aware of this as I’m writing.”

Her next book, which she started last month, is a young adult story combining elements of science fiction. 

Ray, a high school English and Language Arts teacher at De La Salle Institute in Chicago, is relatively new to Forest Park, but she said she loves it already. 

“I love the small-town atmosphere,” she said. “There are smart people here. Kind people. Madison Street is gorgeous.” And releasing her first book in Forest Park, she added, “feels right.”

The Cromwell Rules is available at thecromwellrules.com.