June 19, 2015

Charleston Strong, Indeed

The events at Emanuel AME Church on the night of June 17 are undeniably horrific. They are undeniably sad. Undeniably terrifying. Undeniably wrong.

Yesterday morning as I awoke and as the reality of the situation (which happened less than 12 miles from my home in the Charleston suburbs) set in, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to a photo of the Ravenel Bridge (a landmark here in the city) with the hashtag, #PrayForCharleston, etched across the bottom.

It seemed right.

Today, I wonder if maybe, I didn't get it wrong.

Today, I think, perhaps, I'd have done better to have chosen a photo inscribed with the hashtag, #CharlestonStrong.

Around the country, all across the media and the Facebooks and the everywheres, the news of the slaughter of nine innocent people in their sacred place of worship has been met with rage. With vitriol.

And with all the hateful rhetoric that is ripping this country apart.

I get it. I do. I shared Jon Stewart's poignant remarks because I believe they're spot-on, and I believe wholeheartedly that there is a gaping racial divide in this country that we have not yet begun to heal.

BUT!

And this is a big BUT!!

Here in Charleston, in the posts from my local friends and acquaintances, and the reposts from local religious figures and random people I don't even know...do you know what I'm reading?

I'm not reading rage. I'm not seeing riots.

I'm reading love.

I'm reading support.

I'm reading posts about where to donate to help the families of the victims.

I'm reading posts about the long, dignified, inspiring history of Emanuel AME Church. 

And I'm seeing pictures of diverse groups of people, joined together in mourning, and joined together in love.

Look. I get it. There is so much wrong with what happened. There's so much wrong in a city where I have to run less than two miles to see a house flying a Confederate flag, or where streets are named for slave owners. I get it. There's much to rage against.

But the people of this city reject the rage. We reject the hate.

And while the rest of the country may see this rejection as a blind acceptance of "the way things are" and "the way they always will be," I think it's the opposite. 

As I read posts lauding the church, the victims, the peaceful, heartbroken gatherings of our city's people, I don't read acceptance. Instead, I read about a city standing up together, defiant. Defiant of the hate. Defiant of the rage. Defiant of everything that tears us down. For it was hate that drove the boy to become a terrorist on Wednesday night. It was hate that made him kill.

And we want to break the cycle of hate.

Perhaps our defiance is quiet. Perhaps it's not great for the 24-hour news cycle.

But dammit if it's not the best sort of defiance this is.

Listen. You. Those of you around the country turning as always to rage: we don't want it. Rage only feeds the flames of hate, and it's hate that's destroying the things we hold most dear. It was hate that ended those nine innocent lives.

And look. You. Here's the other thing. We don't even want you to pray for us. Because, you see, we're praying, too. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics...the people of this city are all praying. We're praying for love. For strength. For understanding. And we want you to pray with us. We want you to stand with us: in love, in memorial, and in the strong and steady defiance of the rage.

You, too, can be #CharlestonStrong.

That's what I'm going to try to be. 

Next week, when the media circus has hopefully lowered their tents and headed for home, I plan totake my daughter to the Emanuel AME Church to lay flowers at the memorial. I plan to tell her: Be brave, Zoe. Be loving. Be kind. Reject hate and anger and rage. And above all, be #CharlestonStrong.



June 2, 2015

Call her Caitlyn, but don't forget to help

It's no secret that I support the LGBT community. I believe in equal rights, equal marriage, all of it. I believe people are people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, color, religion, etc. For me, it truly is that simple.

But I've been surprised at myself this week. Amid the gorgeous public display of affection for the newly revealed Caitlyn Jenner, I've felt...quiet. Introverted. For once in my life I've not been shouting from the rooftops in support of this fabulous new transgender woman.

I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm aware that her transition has been so amazing because she has the money, the means, for all the surgeries and the hormones and the supportive care. Maybe it's because I know so many more transgender people don't have those things. Instead they set up GoFundMe campaigns, or save their pennies for decades. Many trans people remain locked in their bodies through thick and thin, simply for a lack of funding to make the necessary change. Maybe that's what has me quiet...thinking of them.

Or maybe it's the support Caitlyn's receiving from her family and friends that has me pausing. Maybe it's because I know so many other families don't support their transitioning parents or siblings or children. Maybe her support has made me remember other people's lack thereof. 

Or maybe I've been quiet because the transition of a single person affected my life in such a profoundly incredible way that sometimes....even all these years later...I still can't talk about it. (Only sometimes...other times I need to talk about it, to wrap my head around it, to play the pronoun game, if only for a little while...)

But maybe I really know, without even thinking about it, why I've been quiet this week. Maybe it's because, somehow, Caitlyn's very public transition makes me remember too much. It makes me remember that there was once a doctor who told a person I loved that, if they were to transition, they would need to cut ties with everyone who'd known them before.

Everyone including me.

Sometimes, the idea that this could have happened, that someone I love could have been taken away from me simply because one doctor had bad data....well, it makes me nauseous.

Afraid.

Silent.

There's still too much ignorance out there. Too much misinformation. Too many people not getting the help they need, and too many families suffering.

I'm really thrilled Caitlyn came out and set such a beautiful and public example for transgender people. 

Now I hope we can piggyback on her success, and help others in need. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is an organization that does just that. Maybe, if you're one of Caitlyn Jenner's supporters, you might consider hopping over to the SRLP site and making a donation. Let's do something to help people like Caitlyn Jenner, albeit the ones without money and power and reality TV, to finally find comfort within their own skins. Everyone deserves at least that much. Don't you think?

I  know I do.

So please. Please help. If you don't like this organization, go find another one. There are plenty of people working to help the LGBT community. You can, too. 

And keep supporting Caitlyn. From everything I've seen, she's just now, for the first time in her life, stepping out of the darkness....and she'll need all the love she can get to learn how to walk in the sun. Good luck, Caitlyn, and best wishes to you and your family.

May 26, 2015

So long, JO! Helloooooooo, HEARTLESS!!!!!

You guys. I have news.

Exciting news.

News that made me...well, more on that in a sec....

So. Remember my JO? The fun little book I self-published last fall? The one about the girl who's turned into a monster a la Frankenstein?

Well, I'm super excited to say that, almost a year after that fun, quiet little book launch, Jason Pinter at Polis Books has discovered JO, and he wants to take her, give her a facelift, and re-publish her as a bona fide YA novel!! 

So yes!!!! I've officially sold JO!!! And she already has a new title and everything!

So everybody! Meet HEARTLESS...


(Click the image to make it big enough to read...)

Yes. That's MY NAME in PUBLISHER'S MARKETPLACE!!!! A place I never thought my name would be!! The place where ALL book deals get written up! This means I have a book deal!!

You guys...when I tell you I cried when I received this offer, I'd be telling the truth. If I told you I ugly cried, scaring the daylights out of Charles when I came downstairs, all choking and sputtering....well, I'd still be telling the truth.

I'm THAT excited about this.

So what does this really mean?

As of today, JO is no longer available for sale at any online outlets. If you've already bought a copy of the paperback, keep it...maybe one day it'll be a collector's item (hahaha).

Over the next year, Jason and I will re-edit the story. We're going to make sure it's appropriate for YA (young adult) audiences, but still keep the heart and soul of the story. He's going to find it a new cover, a new interior design. And then, next summer, we'll re-launch HEARTLESS upon the world! 

I'm thrilled to be working with Jason and Polis. They're a small press doing amazingly big things. My pal Rob Hart is releasing his debut novel, NEW YORKED, with them next month, and the PR and marketing and distribution he's received has been nothing short of remarkable. I can't wait to see what we can do with HEARTLESS!

I am so very excited to see where this new path in my publishing career takes me. Keeping this secret has been tough. But now it's officially out in the world, and I can't wait to see where we go from here!

Thanks to everyone for all your support in the past, and I hope I can count on you to help me spread the word about HEARTLESS in the future!!

xoxoxoxox!!!!
Leah

May 12, 2015

Birthdays Everywhere!!!

Y'all. Today is my daughter's seventh birthday. Seven. She's not a little kid anymore - she's a full-blown, dirt-loving, soccer-goalie, swim-team, big kid!

I'm still struggling to wrap my head around how to continue to raise a cool, confident, independent girl in a world in which she's constantly bombarded by heavily photoshopped images of babes in bathing suits with big boobs and perfect abs. I'm still struggling to figure out how to keep her loving superheroes when the lone woman in the Avengers is dumbed down in Age of Ultron and erased from the very toys in which she should star.

No matter.

Sam Maggs (of The Mary Sue fame) is here to save the day!!! Dun da da duuunnn!!

Her book, The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy, releases today!! So not only is it Zoe's birthday, but it's Fangirl's book birthday as well!



What a great day to celebrate!

This is a book I've been waiting for since I first saw this poster online. I emailed my friend Eric at Quirk Books, begging for a copy. He sent me three. One is hanging on Zoe's bedroom door, and the others have been given to other little girls who needed a fangirl edge.


And I LOVE IT!!! I love everything about it! It's a way to remind Zoe that all the things she loves (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, and even the dreadful Monster High) are things she's allowed to love, encouraged to love, and the hell with anyone who tells her otherwise. It's a way to remind her that it's cool to be smart, that it's cool to be tough, and that there are other, amazing women in the world, trying to pave the way for her.

The book is an expansion of the poster, providing definitions of geek-girl terms (I didn't know what an OTP or NOTP was until I read the book - thanks, Sam Maggs!!), insight into the different fandoms, and all kinds of other fun info. 

I love this book. I love everything about it: its sense of humor, its kitschy style, the brightly colored illustrations. 

Fantastic.

Everyone with a fangirl should own this book. Me? I'm saving my copy for Zoe, but I think I'll also send a copy to my niece. She's fifteen and a fangirl of epic proportions, and I couldn't be prouder. 

I love these fangirls of mine, and I love this book. Happy book birthday, Sam Maggs, and happy seventh birthday to my Zoe!!!



April 22, 2015

Eyes Wide Open: Joe Clifford's Junkie Love

Picture this. It was night two of AWP's annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I sat in the back of a cab with my friend, Renee Pickup (check out her gut-wrenching story, "The Grand Finale" here), as we headed out of Minneapolis' downtown to some creepy warehouse where a small publisher was hosting a small party.

Up front, beside the cabbie, rode Joe Clifford, a San Francisco-based author and, well...let me keep going.

I'd only known Joe for a few hours but felt pretty comfortable with him already. For one, he made fun of me almost as soon as he met me - Renee and I'd stood in an interminable line for food and coffee, and he (rightfully) pointed out that there was a much shorter line so close we could see it. I always appreciate a person who's not afraid to point out the obvious.

And for two...he was pretty comfortable talking about his own background and, well...let me keep going.

So Joe, Renee and I all have kid(s). Somehow, in that weird cab ride to the creepy warehouse, we got on the subject of gum.

"Yeah, when my son's done with his gum, he'll just hand it to me," said Joe, laughing. "I pop it in my mouth and start chewing."

"Ohmigod, that's disgusting," I said, choking on the thought of ABC gum. "I can't chew gum after Zoe. Too gross. Too many germs."

Joe cracked up harder, then turned and shot me a funny look. "Well," he said, shrugging. "I've put a lot worse things in my body."

"Oh. Good point."

And it was.

You see, Joe's an ex-junkie.

"Junkie" as in heroin. "Junkie" as in completely, hopelessly addicted. "Junkie" as in willing-to-do-anything-for-the-next-hit.

And I didn't even know the half of it...yet.

****

Let's back up a sec, okay? Let's take a look at me, and my own experiences. I trust you won't mind. This IS my blog, after all.

Two things you should know about me are:

1. I lost an aunt and an uncle to alcoholism, so I'm super-touchy about the subject of alcohol, drugs, and addiction. I worry about it - too much, probably.

2. I never really went through a major rebellious phase, and I've never done more than choke on a mouthful of smoke in my lone attempt to try pot.

In short, I'm SUPER-naive about most things drug-related, and probably wouldn't even know a meth-addict WAS a meth-addict if they hit me over the head with whatever paraphernalia it is that meth-addicts use to get high.

And yes, I've even seen Breaking Bad, and yes, I do know we're talking heroin here, and not meth, but whatever. I digress.

****

To sit and chat with Joe Clifford, then, was kind of a crazy experience for me. Because, dammit, he was just so nice! And aren't junkies supposed to be terrible people? Aren't they thieves and don't they live in squalor, and isn't it damn near impossible for them to ever get clean?

But there was Joe in the car, all normal and sweet and kind. And clean. He has a wife and kids and a growing writing career. He made me laugh over drinks later that evening as we sat at a table filled with my LitReactor family, and he was so down to earth I just...couldn't believe it.

Talk about a stereotype-shattering moment.

****

"Junkie Love is one of the few books I can honestly say changed my life," said Renee, either earlier or later that day. I honestly can't remember. I know we talked about Joe a few times, because he was her old friend and my new one.  "You need to read it."

I agreed. I did need to read it. It's Joe's memoir/autobiographical novel, the story of his descent into the depths of junkie-hell, and now that I knew him, knew what a sweetheart he is, knew the ending of a story that pretty much promised to break my heart...

....I bought it as soon as I got home.



I don't know if Junkie Love changed my life.

I do know it opened my eyes.

As I rubbernecked my way through the sometimes straightforward, often streamy-consciousy stories that made up Joe's life, I learned things. Like:


  • Yes. People who are addicted to heroin will lie, cheat, steal, and maim in order to find their next fix. Yes. In their eyes, this is normal. And yes. This behavior scares me. Because if a drug can take an ordinary person and turn them into some horrible version of themselves....that's a terrifying non-super power.
  • Yes. Joe has put things worse than his son's ABC gum into his body. Terrible things. Disgusting things. Extraordinarily harmful things. As a person who's spent many, many years trying to put only good things into my own body, this was incredible to me. Why would you do that? How could you do that? I can't even begin to understand. But addiction is funny that way, isn't it? 
  • Yes. Joe made some terrible choices. But he also made an amazing one. He made the choice to get clean, to turn everything around. That was probably the hardest choice he could have made, and by "probably" I mean "absolutely, 100% God yes." And though the odds were absolutely NOT in his favor, he did it. He made it. He survived, came out on the other end, and is sharing his stories, and hopefully helping other people.
I think the hardest thing I learned was that there has to be a distance between the addiction and the person. I've been struggling with this one lately - can a person be forgiven for those things they ruined while in the throes of addiction? 

And the answer is: I'm don't know.

When I met Joe a couple of weeks ago, he was clean. He was healthy and kind and charming and funny. I liked meeting him. I'm glad we're friends now, and will keep tabs on each other and our careers via social media. That's cool.

But had I known him then? Had I seen him, wasting away, barely surviving, hurting others and himself? Would we still be friends now? 

Gah. 

See? This is what (I think) Renee meant. Junkie Love, and Joe Clifford's very existence as a super-cool guy who turned his life around after living in the depths of hell for so many years...it'll make you think. It'll make you question things. It'll make you wonder.

****

Earlier this week, Charles came home with a guitar. None of us can play, but he and Zoe have been making plans to take lessons together. 

Zoe, without knowing how to play a single chord - hell, a single note - immediately embarked on a mission to become a singer-songwriter. Her first official song goes like this:

"Oh, dear America. How nice to see ya. Thank you for your kindness now...now...now..."

She strums on her guitar as she plays, and sings with an angry edge to her voice.

But the thing is? If you ask her, she wrote the song as an actual tribute to America. She means it when she says thank you. She's non-ironic in her use of kindness.

I feel a little like that was me, before Junkie Love. Sweet. Innocent.

And maybe I still am. Maybe I can still be non-ironic and maybe I can mean the nice things I say.

But man. I feel like I know so much more now. I mean, I've read all the Burroughs and the Kerovac and the Ginsberg. I've read the stories of drugs and sex and violence.

But this? Somehow this was darker. More dangerous. Scarier. 

And I feel like, now, if I were to write about contemporary life in America, knowing so much more about the seedier side of things....there just might be a legitimately angry edge to my voice...and I just might mean it.