BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU Pre-Order Campaign

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You guys. You guuuuys. I can’t believe this is really happening. How is it almost October? But it is, and on October 3, BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU, the third book in THE DIVINERS quartet, will be in stores. You can find out what’s happening with Evie, Sam, Memphis, Theta, Isaiah, Ling, Henry, Mabel, Blind Bill, the Proctor Sisters, Uncle Will, Sister Walker, the Shadow Men, and–of course–the Man in the Stovepipe Hat.

And now, you can pre-order BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU from these wonderful indie bookstores:

McNally Jackson: http://www.mcnallyjackson.com/product/devil-breaks-you-signed-personalized-author-libba-bray
52 Prince St
NY, NY 10012
212-274-1160

Mysterious Galaxy  http://www.mystgalaxy.com/book/9780316126069
5943 Balboa Ave #100
San Diego, CA
858-268-4747

The King’s English http://www.kingsenglish.com/book/9780316126069
1151 1500 E
Salt Lake City, UT
801-484-9100

Children’s Book World, PA http://www.childrensbookworld.net
17 Haverford Station Rd
Haverford, PA
610-642-6274

BookPeople  http://www.bookpeople.com/preorder-libba-brays-devil-breaks-you
603 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX
512-472-5050

BUT WAIT—THERE’S MORE. If you pre-order from any of the participating bookstores above, you’ll get the following:

Before the Devil Breaks You Preorder Graphic

I’m so very excited to get to share this next installment of the series with you. Secrets are revealed. Loyalties are tested. And the danger grows. I hope you’ll join me.

xo
Libba

P.S. Stay tuned: I’ll have some tour dates to post very, very soon!

LOVE WINS

A year ago, I was shocked, horrified, and deeply saddened to hear about the terrible Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. It seemed incomprehensible to me at first that a place of such joy could also be a killing field. It was heartbreaking to think of all those beautiful young people cut down while they were celebrating Pride. While they were dancing.

Two weeks later, I was also celebrating Pride in NYC with dear friends near the historic Stonewall Inn. It was a beautiful summer day of blue skies and streets festive with explosions of color and music and shimmering happiness on display everywhere. Glitter and feathers floated on the breeze like the lost plumage of rare birds. Strangers became friends with the exchange of hugs and smiles.

And we danced.

We danced despite what had happened. We danced in memory of those lost. We danced in defiance of hate and fear and all the things that would try to rob us of progress, of the right to move and love freely and joyfully in the world. We danced because bullets cannot kill hope.

That night, I went home and wrote a song. This spring, I finally got the chance to record it. It’s called “LOVE WINS.” Today, that song of defiance, hope, identity, resistance, progress, and love, love, love is available for FREE on Bandcamp:

I ONLY ASK ONE THING: Ifyou can, you donate whatever you can—$1, $5, $10, $100, 12 Golden Flibits of the Realm (watch out for that tricky, magical exchange rate)—to The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project provides intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-24, letting them know that “it gets better.” They are, quite literally, an organization of hope. They’re heroes.

You can donate via a donation page I set up on The Trevor Project website here: The Trevor Project Love Wins

Download. Dance. Sing along. Please donate if you can. Spread the love.

I feel incredibly self-conscious about asking anyone to signal boost anything of mine. But I don’t really consider this my song; it’s everybody’s song, made in joyful collaboration with the amazingly talented team of Bill Zeffiro, Chip Fabrizi, Leslie Wagner, and Sherryl Marshall. Love is for everybody. Hope is for everybody. And heaven knows, we could use as much of that as we can get right now in the face of continued heartbreak and acts of violence. So I’m asking: If it’s not an imposition, maybe you’d signal boost with the hashtags: #LoveWins #TheTrevorProject? And if you don’t want to, that’s cool, too. Just keep dancing in your way.

There have been a lot of things this past year that might make one lose hope. But hate has a dull unity to its one trajectory–destruction; resisting hate has so, so many more creative ways to fight back, to fight forward:

With love.
With persistence.
With protest.
With art/music/theater/books, which can encompass all of the above.
Through teaching. Parenting. Healing arts. Service. Thoughtfulness. Building community.

Hate don’t stand a chance.

It’s Pride time again. There will be parades. Floats. Whistles. Music. Color and costume and joy.

There will be friends and families, of origin and of choice, hugging and waving streamers and loving one another despite whatever horrors may come in a world often fighting for its soul. And there will be dancing in the streets.

Because in the end, love wins. I believe that with all my heart.

Happy Pride, y’all.

With so much gratitude and love,
Xo
Libba

“LOVE WINS” was recorded at PPI Studios, Soho, NYC.
Engineer: Chip Fabrizi
Piano, synth, & musical direction: Bill Zeffiro
Music, lyrics, vocals: Libba Bray
Backing vocals: Leslie Wagner & Sherryl Marshall

TRUMPIAN MAD LIBS

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

It’s so (adjective. Limited to four: great, tremendous, huge, fantastic.) to be here. I love (place name). Love giving speeches to (name of organization). The lying media said I wouldn’t (verb). Wrong! They are the (superlative adjective). They said I did not get a /an (adjective) (noun) or that my (plural noun) are small. That’s a lie. Total (adjective) news. But I love the people here in (different place name). Love the (totally different organization). They’ve always (verb, past tense) me. Love you guys.

You know, I just fired (name of literally any famous person). I was firing people before anybody else. Before it was (adverb/adjective combo. Make your life simple. Just use “bigly big” here). On my TV show, which, you know, had the (superlative adjective) ratings of any TV show ever in (hyperbolic phrase) People said, “Donald, you gotta (verb) that guy. He’s terrible, terrible. I didn’t want to. Didn’t want to. But I did. To stop the (plural noun) from (verb ending in -ing) here. To make (noun) (adjective) again.

You know who’s tremendous, tremendous friend? (name of dead dictator) Love that guy. (Two adjectives) guy. People don’t understand him. He’s got a really big (noun). He’s doing really (adjective) things, my friend (slight mispronunciation of name of dead dictator), who is a good friend of mine. And we’re going to be doing so much together, (name of character in fiction). You know, they gave me a standing (noun) in (name of country not found on any map) and I wasn’t even there. You know this, right? (Pejorative) (plural noun) didn’t even report it!

But we’ll be doing (adjective) things, (adjective) things. We want tougher (plural noun). We want border (noun). We want a/an (adjective) ban on all people who are (religion) which is so not a ban on (same religion), no matter what the (plural nouns) want you to believe. We’re gonna give you such (adverb) (adjective) healthcare! You’ll be so tired of (verb ending in –ing)! And women! Oh, I love the women. No one cares about women more than me. I’m telling you, ladies, we’re going to (verb) the absolute (noun) out of you. And we’ll get rid of the (plural noun), the (adjective) science people pushing (adjective) ideas about (noun), those education people thingie type persons who believe in public education for all kids—hoax! They want kids to be able to (verb) and (verb), and they want government to pay for it! Your taxes going for that instead of (luxury items) for people like (Congressperson or Senator) who works so hard he hasn’t even had time to go to (name of store) to buy his own Grand Dragon (type of clothing). Can you believe these (adjective) guys? Unbelievable. Unbelievable. And all these (three adjectives, all the same) laws. Terrible. Who needs so many laws? We’ll get rid of the laws and get (name of planet) to pay for it.

Look: I got a standing ovation, okay? There were (bigly number) of people there. And they wouldn’t sit down, okay? Some of ‘em stood so long they got (medical condition), which is now a pre-existing condition, and they (dire verb, past tense). Still, they gave me a thumbs-up as they (verb, past tense). (Adjective) people. They love me. Love me.

But there are people who are total (plural noun). I don’t like to name names, but this Merriam Webster. What kind of name is that? Probably from (name of Pokemon character). Merriam Webster. (Adjective) person. Total (noun). Thinks because she throws around a lot of (adjective) (plural noun), she’s somebody. I tried reading one of her books. Boring! Hardly any pictures. Yeah, Merriam Webster. A real (noun).

Again: There were (very high number) of (plural noun) at my (type of event), okay? The Fire Marshall had to (verb ending in –ing. Yes, we know that makes no grammatical sense. Roll with it.) Didn’t want to—HAD to. And my (body part, plural) are not (adjective). Not by a long shot.

Benghazi. Birth certificate. Obama. Drugs and rapists. Pizza pedophiles. CNN. I don’t know (foreign dictator). We never did (vacation activity) together. Uh, did I say CNN? Her emails. Except when her emails get (name of politician) fired, which, again, I made into a thing, so, technically, I should get money anytime anybody gets fired. Where is Sean (last name made into catch phrase)? Is he hiding in the (location) again? Last time, we had to use the Jaws of Life to pull him out of (other location).

The (plural noun) didn’t think I’d win. They didn’t think I’d win. Boy, were they wrong. So wrong. WRONG. But they (mangled verb) the (noun) of the people. Never (verb) the people. Unless you’re Congress. We’ve got a (adjective) Congress, by the way. Lots of (adverb) (adjective) (plural noun) in Congress. Tell Congress how much you love them! Tell them: (Exclamation), Congress!

My daughter (Name of children’s toy or Saturday morning cartoon)? Tremendous. She’s now (high-ranking position) in charge of all (plural noun). And my son-in-law, (name of 1920s gangster), a tremendous (noun), is now (two high-ranking positions) and also (two more high-ranking positions) and he’s also going to grow all our food inside his (body part). He’s got (adjective) ideas and he can get you a (noun), unlike these Washington elites. Terrible people. (Adjective) people. Don’t want me to do anything even though I got (impossibly high number) of standing (plural noun) that lasted (very long period of time) and was written about in (fictional galaxy). If you’ve got $500K to spend, give (name of 1920s gangster) a call. Or come visit us in (name of building), which we like to call the (adjective) (place name).

It’s an honor to be here at (totally different place name). This was the (superlative adjective) speech you’ve ever heard, and we will protect (plural noun) and build a (noun) around all the golf courses, and make (famous dead singer) pay for it. May God bless you and yours. That’s our new healthcare policy, by the way.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Even though they’re telling me you’re sprawled on the floor, and some of you are (verb ending in -ing), in my heart, which is the (superlative adjective) heart–even (name of any famous person, living or dead) says so–I know you’re all standing up for me and for this (noun).

Let’s make America (adjective) again.

 

 

WOMANIFESTO

 

Congratulations.

You have woken the witch that lives deep inside me.

You have removed the slumber chains from the giant of old.

You have handed me a box of matches and no chaperone

And a world made of lies and polyester.

Congratulations.

 

You have barked up the wrong bitch.

 

Proclaim it:

I have shucked off the good, southern lady’s cloak,

Of the homecoming court, the cheerleader,

The preacher’s daughter, hands gentled in her lap.

They tied it at my neck with a bow, a Gordian girl-knot,

When I was young and bossy and sure-footed

“For protection,” they said.

Whose protection? I wondered.

Enough.

I have sent that shit out to the dry cleaners

I will not pick it up

They can sell it for a profit from a rack on the street.

From now on,

I’m exposing the raw pink edges of my true skin to the sun.

Some things can’t be prettied up.

 

I used to be embarrassed by this side of me:

Messy. Expansive. Unraveled by rage.

The barroom brawler holding out a broken bottle

With a shaking hand

Blood jumping to a punk-rock soundtrack in my soul

Eyes so alive they had to be narrowed to keep the light of all that truth

From burning up the room.

These mornings when I wake,

I feel as if I have eaten a breakfast of gunpowder and a handful of stars

The combination roiling, anticipatory, explosive

My mouth ready to spew out a universe of fire and

An ancestral memory of the silenced women who came before,

Rotting in their shrouds, long dead under the ground

Still angry.

 

No one seems to understand:

That rage has to go somewhere.

Some girls cut. Some girls starve.

Some fuck strangers, tell themselves it’s freedom, not numbness.

Some guzzle gin when no one’s looking.

Some girls swallow their rage down and vomit it back up with the

penetration of a reprimanding finger, stifling the voice,

an Inside Job

The internalized, reflexive police force

Body violating body,

Forever and ever

Amen.

 

I have done all of those things:

Starved. Cut. Boozed. Fucked and run.

I’ve punished myself the way

the world wants to see its women

punished.

Spoiler alert: It’s exhausting.

No.

You exhaust us.

No.

You. Are. Exhausting.

You. And your bullshit.

You, the Senators and Churches.

You, the old men holding the law hostage to your whims.

Blind Justice?

Nah. That bitch sees fine.

Puts the blindfold on herself now.

Stockholm Syndrome, you know.

Happens after a while.

Shrug. Step. Repeat.

Jazz hands.

 

They told me not to raise my voice.

So I learned to swallow all my sharp words.

They told me not to be disagreeable.

So I learned lipstick and smiling, a catechism of femininity.

They told me I was shame.

So I learned to feel shame.

They told me not to curse.

 

Yeah. Good luck with that, motherfuckers.

 

Oh, beautiful for spacious goddamned skies

For “fuck off” and “bite my ass”

Thundering across the parched grasslands of my tongue

Like middle-finger mustangs who won’t be tamed.

Cursing was the first language of my anger.

The poison apple spit out, not choked in.

A weaponized mouth and a sharp wit

To establish a DMZ—“You shall not pass.”

That foul mouth has saved me from myself.

Try to take it from me, motherfucker.

I double-goddamn-dog-dare you.

 

Oh, my anger needs room to roam.

I will spread my legs on the subway seat

Let it take up space.

I will turn up my coat collar and skulk the streets,

Hands fisted in pockets, knuckles turned towards the world, ready.

Oh, it’s on.

I will call up to my sisters at their windows,

“Yo! Leave the dishes in the sink,

and the pantyhose to drip from the towel bar.

Leave your shame on the floor

So they’ll see it first when they come inside,

Expecting you

but finding you

Gone

nothing but a slipped skin, a

warning

To remind them that they were right to fear you

All along.”

Then, soft as a lover:

“Come out into the streets, all you messy ones.

All you angry, hurting, had-enough ones.

It’s time.

Come on out. Come out.”

 

I have awakened to reclaim that girl.

The one refusing the cloak at her throat.

I am an angry woman with a voice

And a foul mouth

And a pen as cutting

as the jagged teeth of a bottle

that has been broken too hard against the bar

and is now a weapon

in a barroom brawl.

 

Your move.

Come at me, motherfuckers.

 

 

 

 

 

An Announcement from Muffy Higginbottom

AN ANNOUNCEMENT FROM MUFFY HIGGINBOTTOM
PRESIDENT OF DELTA SIGMA TAU,
ON THE OCCASION OF THE WOMEN’S MARCH
AND THE WORLD JUST GENERALLY BEING A FLAMING POOP FIRE

Dear Sisters,

Thank you for coming downstairs for this meeting on such short notice. I appreciate y’all taking time away from the things you’ve been doing to cope, like staying drunk, listening to “Lemonade” on repeat, and Instagramming pics of your soon-to-be-outlawed IUDs with moody filters and hashtags like #YouAintGettinNoHandmaidsTailFromMeAnymore. 

I get it. I do. Like every time I pass by the Election Day Cake Ji-won and Margarita made with the top breaking through an edible glass ceiling and that sagging banner of a winking HRC drinking a celebratory Colt 45 under a “Number 45 BITCHES!” banner, I feel like crying, then vomiting out a poisonous fire blood that would lay waste to the smirking patriarchy like a feminist Cronenberg film. But, as they say, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is for marching in the streets like a crew of motherfucking bosses.” I think that’s how that phrase goes. I don’t shop Hallmark all that much, tbh.

Okay, first, let me drop a dollar in the Delta Sigma Tau swear jar for the MF I just spewed. Just so you know, I’m gonna be real hardcore about the swear jar in the coming months. Let’s face it—these are XL sweary times, sisters. Even my MeeMaw, who is so Baptist she calls Dancing with the Stars “Dancing with All the People Earning a Fast Pass to Hell,” dropped a real swear scorcher on Inauguration Day. She’s mostly recovered now, although she’s not welcome at my cousin’s next baptism. The point is: If you let slip with a mouthful of swears that could strip the paint from the walls, woman up and put your dollars in the jar. We’re gonna need that money to pay for our Norwegian pap smears.

But this is not a wake, sisters! This is a call to action! it’s time to buck up and hit back like the true Delta Sigma Tau resistance fighters we are, y’all! I am so proud of the work many of our sisters are already doing.

Like Aisha. Where’s Aisha? Y’all, Aisha is on Birth Control Resistance Work. She figured out how to get into Speaker Ryan’s P90X fan club bank account and transfer allll that money to Planned Parenthood. We call it our Affordable Care Hack. Our back room is currently stacked to the ceiling with boxes of contraception paid for by the Speaker of the House. We’re gonna go Pussy Wilding(TM), handing out birth control pills like Pez. There’s some postcards of armed uteruses in Che Guevara berets—thanks Lindsay and Oksana!—which y’all can send to Speaker Ryan en masse to thank him personally. Remember: We are Deltas, and we have manners. Thank you notes are très importante.

So many snaps to our STEM girls, LaKeisha, Vivian, Charlie, and XY-XX for our brand-new panty line which we the Shock-and-AWEsome. First of all, LOVE the polka dots and lace combo. So. On. Fleek. But these super-Modcloth-worthy panties are actually imbued with a patented, Anti-Pussy-Grabbing grabbing technology: It’s part panty, part Taser. If some Overcomb-pensating, Putin acolytes with the moral suck of an open spaceship airlock feel emboldened enough to grab a handful of your lady parts, they’ll receive 50,000 volts that’ll make it hard for them to choke the monkey or, I don’t know, sign offensive legislation for quite some time. I understand that the smaller your hands, the more it hurts. It’s almost Valentine’s Day, ladies. These make darling gifts. Stock up now. I have a feeling we’ll need them.

And speaking of Valentine’s Day—how about some additional snaps for our filmmaking team, Esther, Haruka, Jennifer and Jennifer! Ever since GODDESS Ava Duvernay decided she was So. Over. This. Patriarchal. Racist. Bullshit. we’ve been nurturing a team of Delta Sigma Tau filmmakers to storm the walls of the Hollywood Boys Club. I’m pleased to announce that they’ve just finished their first movie, just in time for Valentine’s Day, called “Well, Actually….” It’s a rom-com in the style of “Love, Actually” that follows the lives of several women, told via simultaneously unfolding, intersecting and intersectional plot lines in which…oh, none of that matters. Because each plot line is interrupted by a character called Annoying Dude in Your Timeline who pops up to tell the ladies what each of their stories is ACTUALLY about. Every time he does, we take a drink. Y’all, we are gonna be soooo drunk! Par-taaayy!

Anyway, SPOILER ALERT: At the end, all the ladies come together and wrap the Annoying Dude in a roll of #NotAllMen duct tape and leave him in the desert while he complains that he’s actually the victim of reverse sexism, and the ladies respond, “Well, ACTUALLY…” to a laugh track stolen from a Chuck Lorre sitcom as they drive away in a vintage Cadillac that they absolutely, positively do NOT drive off a cliff. Fin. So stoked for our first screening! And those 12 bottles of vodka.

There’s also some amaaazeballs work from our Delta Sigma Tau WOC committee—Achutebe, Nahla, Preeti, and Tiffani—who have compiled an anthology of resistance essays: “Yeah, We’ve Been Doing This Shit a Long Time Where the Fuck Have You Been?” Yes, Hazel, I know there’s another dollar for the swear jar. Somebody’s getting a pap smear in Lillehammer tonight! Anyway, all proceeds from the anthology will go toward writing workshops to empower the next generation. And if you subscribe to the Delta Sigma Tau WOC podcast, “Pissed Off, Live and In Color,” today, you’ll get a free baseball cap: Make America Stop Being Such an Asshole.

Moving on: Our theater arts team is staging a 24-hour reading of Lysistrata on the Capitol steps. There are sign-up sheets in the back. Ladies, let’s do this now before our NEA funding gets slashed like a couple of fornicating teenagers in an 80s horror movie.

If you have any musical talent and you’d like to join a Delta Sigma Tau Women’s March band, please see Sakura, Ashley, and Ashleigh at the back. I think the band name they’re going for is Alt-Fact Pussy? And they’ve written their first song, “Your Con Ways.” It goes: “Kellyanne, Kellyanne, spin that shit from the Capitol Klan, kiss the ass of the Orange Man, WTF’s your damage, Kellyanne, Kellyanne?” A note from Sakura: Need a cowbell. And a chainsaw.

Okay. That’s a whole lotta dollars in the swear jar.
True fact: OB-GYNs in Norway warm the stirrups first. It’s practically heaven.

As you can see, we’ve set up a merch table with an array of homemade t-shirts, and every cent goes to funding candidates who will fight back against the erosion of our rights:
Dear Dear Congress: I Am Not Fallopian with You.
My Rights Trump Your Wrongs
There’s an Us in Uterus, Motherfuckers.
Snatch My Rights & I’ll Snatch Your Seat (Women for Congress 2018)
This Beaver Bites.
Poon-Tang Clan.
And, of course, the ever-popular, My Lady Business Is None of Yours.

(Dollar. In. The. Swear. Jar. Done.)

Okay. On a heartrending note, Maria, Alison, and Yumei have started a Go Fund Me page to see if we can get some necessary spinal implants for the House and Senate Democrats. Senator Gillibrand has graciously offered to be a spinal donor. We hope to raise enough money by 2018.

In conclusion, Delta Sigma Tau sisters, I know it’s tough going. I know we’re all in shock and dodging flaming poop balls daily. I know we’re trying to come to grips with the idea that an Oompa-Loompa-hued, sentient DSM-V manual who seems to be following the script of a “Saw” movie while signing literal death into legislation with a swipe of the pen clutched in his freakish baby hands has been unleashed on the country, and, as usual, it’s gonna be up to a bunch of pissed-off women to keep democracy safe so we can go on making 73 cents to every man’s dollar while fighting for the rights to own our own fucking bodies while having to listen to a host of Congressional douche nozzles “Well, actually…”-ing at us 24/7, and yes, Sally, I know that’s another dollar. (By tomorrow, I could probably fund a tour group to Norway’s finest gynecology clinics, like a Napa tour but without waking up wondering why you’re wearing a Wine Not? T-shirt that’s not yours.)

But this is not the end. This is the beginning. They can’t stop all of us. I swear to Angela Davis they can’t. Remember our motto: Clear eyes, full hearts, Tasers on stun, can’t lose.

I fucking love y’all. For reals.

(*puts all the dollars in the jar*)

Xoxo
Your President and Sister,
Muffy ❤

BEING THE SONG

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write.

For months now, I’ve been wrestling with the demons of Diviners 3 which, yes, still lacks a proper title. It’s a plot-heavy book. There are, after all, eight main characters plus a host of secondary characters whom I do not regard as secondary in the least but as vital components of the whole vast circus. There are several mystery threads which must be teased out in satisfying fashion. There are backstories and flashbacks. And there are many elements yet to be written which I do not fully understand, which I may never understand. More on that in a moment.

It’s a lot of…choreography. It makes my brain hurt. At times, it makes me feel dumb as a bag of socks. But also, it often feels mechanical. Like performing sex via a VCR programming manual: “I am now to say that I love you and find you desirable. Ah, good. Could you stand a little to the left while I do so? Thank you very much.”

When I get fidgety and want to throw my computer in the river is not when I’m having trouble with a plot point. It’s when I no longer feel that I’m reaching into the abyss and pulling up something that feels both utterly unexplainable yet necessary to tell, that lives on the knife’s edge of the deeply personal within and the hopefully universal without. How do we write about alienation, isolation, love, a moment of William Blake-ish ephemeral joy, the unreliability of memory, identity, sexuality, gender, our fear of and attraction to death and destruction, rage, loss, envy, our deep desire for connection, our recognition that we are, each of us, alone? How to create work that courts the transgressive or, at the very least, asks us to risk exposing our own vulnerability? Work that requires that deep, hard look into the well of the soul?

Right now, as I type this, my brain is saying, “You should be working on your book. It’s due. You have eight hours and seven minutes left in your writing day. Stop this nonsense and report, soldier.” My soul? My soul says, “Fuck off. I’m busy here.”

Fuck off, I’m busy here is, I’d argue, a necessary part of the writing process.

There comes a moment in every book, when you can’t see what you’re writing anymore. You are utterly lost inside your mess of a world. None of it makes sense or hangs together. It feels awful then. Like you are dumber than anyone suspects. That you have no right to be doing it at all. You a fraud, an imposter. I like to think that, at those awful times, your book is smarter than you are in your misery, and it leaves you clues that, later, you will see anew and go, Oh, shit. Riiiight. Because the book comes from your unconscious, from your depths. Despite our writerly manipulations, the true story comes out.

Which brings us back to this: Not all of what I write makes sense to me. It never will. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s kind of the point. If I could explain it readily in a Power Point, there’d be no reason to write a story.

It’s hard work, these acts of creation, of willing nothing into being. It takes time—time to think, to reflect, to ask questions. It also takes time to allow for the unexplainable and ambiguous to get past our defenses and happen. Whenever someone asks me to tell them about something I’ve written, I often want to answer, “I can’t. Not really.” The truth is, I don’t always know where it comes from, and if I try to explain it, it falls apart.

The reader is a better judge of the novel because she/he/they are experiencing it, interacting with it. The alchemy takes place in a space of communication that we writers cannot see or describe—it is a moment of theater shared between writer and reader but taking place offstage. It is beyond our control.

We live now in a time of content providers. Of rapid, nearly feral consumption of any medium. This creates a demand for more and faster entertainment. This is not a judgment or condemnation of where things are, simply acknowledgment. Personally, I love both drive-thru burgers and movie explosions on occasion. I just hope that there will continue to be space for work that makes us uncomfortable. That challenges. Demands. Pushes boundaries or defies expectations. Work that mystifies and does not necessarily explain itself but that makes us feel different on the other side of it. Work that, perhaps, leaves us with more questions than answers: A John Coltrane Love Supreme. A Velvet Underground album. A Langston Hughes poem. A Nina Simone song. A Patti Smith spoken-word free association. Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves.” A George Saunders book. A Nova Ren Suma anything.

I hope that I can get past my own limitations enough to go where they lead. I am not completely divorced from market pressures. I can’t write a book a year. I’m not fast enough. Sometimes, that makes me feel like shit. Other times, I call upon my inner philosopher, who is a Texas-Brooklyn-potty mouth philosopher who squints at me in supreme irritation from the couch and says, “Yeah, fuck that,” before swigging Dr. Pepper and belching. But that girl doesn’t always show up. I ask myself, Is this story still YA? I don’t know. Is it frustrating, weird, non-linear? Maybe, possibly, probably. Is it, in its draft infancy, stilted and not nearly true enough yet? Yes, times one hundred. Will it take me somewhere new? God, I sure hope so.

It’s easy to let my vanity or ego get in the way of the work. Like everyone, I struggle with “writer’s cocaine”—that need for validation. It’s tempting to want to protect myself and go for what could garner likes rather than open everything up for examination. For the blood-letting. Sometimes, when I can’t figure it out, I come here to this blog to wrestle with it all. Often, when I can’t get through the words, I turn to singing. The act of opening my mouth and letting sound and vibration move through my body via a song is a way of connecting not to an idea but to an in-the-moment feeling. That is being both within and without. You cannot ask yourself, mid-song, “Is this going to pay off in Book 4?” You just sing. You are the fucking song.

I want to be the fucking song.

I am in my fifty-second year as a human on this fascinating planet. I have less time to waste. I feel it deeply. I want to do good work. I want to be more honest with myself and with you. To risk messiness and transparency. I don’t have a brand. Unless that brand is Swedish Fish, which I’m a big fan of as far as brands go. Odds are good that I will never have a brand because when I’m not writing or singing, there’s a shit-ton of laundry to do and some goddamned lovely friends to see. Some of them even make music.

I’ll just keep hacking away at the story, trying to find it, or, if I’m lucky, allowing it to come and find me: The alchemical moment; mystery, happening. The shift from doing to being, the two blurred into a single, straight line.

I hope, I hope.

 

 

 

GHOSTS

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Walking through the Marigny at 6:45 a.m.

Morning clouds are a thick gray cap

on the skull of the day.

Streets, empty.

Gutter puddles hold tight to Sunday night’s revels:

plastic cup shards, scattered like teeth knocked from an angry mouth

a strand of abandoned beads,

pale blue constellation calling from a dirty sidewalk sky,

Don’t forget me

Passing Frenchmen’s Street, the last stretched note of a

Dixieland trumpet lingers,

swallowed up

by the metal whine of an unseen garbage truck.

Ghosts.

Everything is an explosion of color here.

Bright-aqua doors. Maroon wind chimes.

Mustard-yellow trim slapped along the drooping slats of falling shutters.

The defiance of a pink house, Who Dat?

Old brick beauty, a courtesan in decline,

her fading bricks striated by a history of floods.

A record.

A witnessing.

A voice.

Nothing is erased.

There is the you now carrying within

the you that has walked these streets before

Young and broken

Drunk and sober

Alone and not

Lost and searching

A St. Jude prayer card, random

gift of a strung-out Bourbon Street stranger

tucked into a pocket, pressing against

the raw, grasping hope of your fingers.

The town a forgiving mother, cradling you to its bosom.

Ghosts. Ghosts.

At the intersection of Royal and Elysian Fields,

where Stanley cried for Stella,

close your eyes for just a moment.

Hear the faint rumble of a long-gone street car

carrying Memory as its passenger.

You wait for the green signal, a safe crossing.

Up ahead, there’s a break in the early morning rain clouds,

a thin pink mouth slowly opening up

in a fat shout of light.

The sun coming through.

As it will.

As it does.