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.

April 8, 2015

All Lives Matter

Bear with me, y'all. I'm supposed to be cleaning. I'm supposed to be getting ready for my first ever writerly business trip, and I'm supposed to be excited.

I'm not.

Because I just watched video footage of a man dying, and I can't get it out of my head.

By now you've read about the shooting that took place in North Charleston - not too far from where I live - on Saturday. It's a story that's been told over and again in the past few years, and that it takes place in my own back yard is part of the reason it's under my skin, of course.

The story itself, though...it's enough to get under anyone's skin.

For another white police officer has shot and killed another unarmed black man.

This time, there was video footage. 

Contrary to the shooting officer's initial account, in which he claimed he feared for his life when he pulled the trigger of his gun eight times, the footage (shot by someone so stunned he can't stop repeating, "Oh, shit..." over and over again) shows....well, it shows an unarmed black man running away from a police officer, who then shoots him eight times in the back.

Horrible.

It gets worse.

When the man is down on the ground, the officer goes to him...shouting, all the while, "Put your hands behind your back." 

And he doesn't go to him to help him. He doesn't go to administer lifesaving first aid.

No.

He handcuffs him. 

The police officer handcuffs a dying man, and he leaves him there, lying face down on the ground.

It gets even worse.

For then the police officer walks back to where he stood moments earlier, where the two men scuffled, apparently, over the use of a Taser. He picks up the Taser, which has been left behind. He carries it to the dying, handcuffed black man, lying face down in the dirt. 

He drops the Taser beside the man.

Yes. The officer shot someone. Killed someone. Didn't administer even the most basic first aid. Handcuffed him. And then he purposefully altered the evidence so it would look like he shot in self defense. 

I'm horrified.

****

Not long ago, I read the classic WWI novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. It was a new read for me. I've studied WWII at length, but this was really my first time delving into the horrors of the trenches of WWI. 

It's an all-around beautiful book. A tragic book. A horrific book.

The narrator is a soldier named Paul who fights for the German Army for no reason other than that he's a German boy of fighting age. He doesn't fight for any particular ideology. He doesn't fight to save anything in particular.

In the end, he fights simply because to not fight would be to let down his comrades, those soldiers fighting beside him. He fights because they fight, and they fight because he fights.

One scene in particular stands out to me, especially now. In it, Paul has just stabbed a French soldier in hand-to-hand combat after they both fell into the same trench during a shelling. They're trapped int he trench, alone together. The Frenchman takes his time dying; Paul tries to help him, tries to bandage his wounds.

And now, the Frenchman is dead, and Paul is full of remorse. He says, 

The silence spreads. I talk and I must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert..."

****

I wish that every person who will ever old a gun would read that passage. I wish every soldier, every police officer, everyone who has the potential to kill, would see those words. Would feel those words. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters, really. We all share this planet, this world. We all will die someday, and though our Gods may tell us that different things await us after that final breath, none of us really knows

Human lives are lives. Not abstractions. And as such, they matter.

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown and yellow and red lives matter. Rainbow lives matter.

All lives matter.

If we throw away the rifles and the uniforms and the colors and the religions and the genders and the sexual orientations....you could all be my brothers and my sisters, and none of the other garbage would matter.

You ARE all my brothers and sisters.

None of the other garbage matters.

****

I'm headed out of town tonight, leaving Charles and Zoe behind in Charleston. 

I'm suddenly nervous about this.

Will there be massive protests, surrounding what looks to me like an obvious murder? The police officer is behind bars, where I believe he belongs. He's been charged with murder. These are important steps, toward justice and, hopefully, appeasement of all the rage that is certainly (and rightfully) thundering through my city right now. 

But will there be riots?

Am I leaving my husband and child behind in a tinderbox, surrounded by matches that could alight at any moment?

I truly hope not.

I trust my husband will keep my child safe.

****

I still can't believe what I watched this morning. I can't believe someone could kill with such capriciousness. 

I'm so glad, though, that the video exists. 

Without it, I fear a murderer would be walking our streets even now, claiming to keep my fellow Charlestonians safe, while acting in a way that is truly opposite.

****

Please, Charleston. Be safe this week. Be smart. 

For we are all just brothers and sisters. And today, one of us is dead, and together, we will all mourn.

March 20, 2015

Book Review: New Yorked by Rob Hart

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a little girl, growing up in New Jersey, right across the river from Staten Island. If you went to the small, oily waterfront in my hometown, you could see it. It was right there.

Author Rob Hart grew up on that little (big) island, around the same time as me. The worlds of our youth were, therefore, quite similar. We share memories of New York City in its pre-Rudy Giuliani years, when subways were dark and graffitied. When used hypodermic needles made the Long Island beaches minefields of disease and depravity. When 42nd Street was a mess of hookers, drug dealers, and peep shows.

And you know what?

Rob Hart and I share the same nostalgia for those years.

Yes, yes, I know. New York City is arguably better now. It's safer. It's cleaner. It's a place people move TO, rather than a place they run FROM.

But still. Those years. Those dark, gritty, dirty, filthy, rotten years.

I miss them.

I do.

There was something special about the city back then. You could make it as an artist, living off a couple bucks a day, hunkering down in a shitty apartment, eating Ramen and drinking coffee. The city felt more alive then, at least in my memories. It felt like even the streets lived and breathed.

I mean, they certainly smelled, didn't they? 

Anyway, I digress. Because the thing is? It was fun (and even a little thrilling) to find this nostalgia for a lost city woven artfully through the pages of Hart's upcoming novel, New Yorked (out June 9, 2015). To find a book that accepts New York City's contemporary status as a haven for hipsters and Starbucks and chain stores, but which does so with righteous indignation.



For Hart's narrator, part-time PI Ash McKenna, inhabits this contemporary Manhattan, frequenting places like Alphabet City (off-limits to child-me, for its dangerous residents and pervasive drug use) and a bar called Apocalypse, while navigating a treacherous road of fedoras and skinny jeans. 

And McKenna hates it. He misses those darker, grittier days. He misses the same things I miss.

This was an incredible treat to find in a book. Hart gives my nostalgia words. Images. Sights and smells. 

He gives it clout. 

He also manages to be one of the few writers I've seen successfully talk about 9/11, about the loss and suffering surrounding that terrible day, without...well, without pissing me off. Because Hart was there, just like I was. He's able to talk about these things because he knows. Hart's experiences lend the entire book an authenticity that a non-native writer would struggle to achieve. Hart's narrator feels authentic because Hart is authentic.

And the New York of Hart's novel is alive. 

It breathes.

It smells. 

And that's what it's all about.

New Yorked is a great example of the noir writing. It's part murder-mystery, part scathing look into a community ravaged by addiction and desperation. When Ash McKenna is implicated in the murder of his wishful-thinking-girlfriend, Chell, it becomes his mission to clear his name...and to kill Chell's killer. 

Along the way, he runs with a crowd of the most colorful characters I've had the pleasure of reading. With names like Bombay and Tibo, Lunette and The Hipster King (yes, you're supposed to read that with more than a hint of irony), they're diverse in skin color, style, and yes, sexuality. Each character is as well fleshed out, with background and motives and opinions, as Ash McKenna himself. And I love Hart's bravery, taking all these awesomely wild people and mashing them together into one roller-coaster story. 

In this day and age in which we hear all about diversity in literature, Hart's not just preaching it: he's writing it.

And that's a hugely important distinction to make.

I loved this book. I read it in about three sittings, which is damn near miraculous for me. Hart's prose is tight and dark. His roads are long and winding. And the final destination keeps you guessing.

It's going to be a few months until Hart's book hits bookshelves everywhere (and I do mean everywhere...though is publisher, Polis Books, is considered a small press, they're doing a lot of things right, including getting their books into bookstores), but I want you to remember this: if you're looking for something exciting in scope, plot, and diversity, you need to read New Yorked by Rob Hart.

So go ahead!What are you waiting for? It's available for pre-order NOW!