Welcome to the online home for humorist and
young adult novelist Leila Sales, author of
Mostly Good Girls, Past Perfect, and
This Song Will Save Your Life.
response to the Boston Marathon attacks
I wrote a response piece to Monday’s attacks on Boston, my hometown. You can read the piece on the Huffington Post, or I’m pasting the full text below.
My loved ones in Boston are all okay; I hope yours are, too.
Patriot’s Day has always been my favorite American holiday.
Only someone who grew up in Massachusetts would say that, since most people in the rest of the country aren’t aware that Patriot’s Day is a holiday. But in Massachusetts, it’s a big deal. For my entire childhood, we would get the third Monday in April off from school, so we could go cheer on the marathon runners.
Marathon Monday often coincided with my birthday, so for many years I would host a slumber party on Sunday night. Then on Patriot’s Day my sleep-deprived friends and I would head down the road and sit along Commonwealth Avenue to hand out cups of water to the runners and gorge ourselves on birthday cake.
I remember hearing explosions the night before my eighth birthday — not the kind of explosions that happened this week, but the other kind; the good kind. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and went to look out the window, and I saw a sky filled with fireworks. “They’re fireworks for your birthday,” my mother told me, but of course they weren’t. They were fireworks for the Boston Marathon.
Boston is a beautiful, grand, historic, sensible city. The most beautiful, I think, but I know that I am biased, and anyway it’s not a competition. Still, it’s hard to imagine a city more beautiful than Boston in the spring, when the dogwoods are in bloom, the Charles River is glittering in the sun and our few skyscrapers stand triumphant against the sky. Specifically, it’s hard to imagine a city more beautiful than Boston on Marathon Monday, when the streets are filled with people of all ages, pouring out their support.
I find it impossible not to cry at the Marathon, even on a happy day, when it goes the way it’s supposed to. The power of watching thousands of strangers streaming past me, achieving this extraordinary feat of human endurance and strength. Every year, it brings me to my knees. Personally, I can’t run for more than 15 minutes. But I can watch strangers run for hours.
And when you add in the reasons why people do it — I mean, you’d need a heart of steel not to cry. I’ve seen young men running alongside their aging fathers, matching them step for step; I’ve seen women running with shirts or hats honoring friends who died from AIDS; I’ve seen cancer survivors; I’ve seen amputees; I’ve seen some of the world’s finest living athletes. And the city gathers around them to call out their names and race numbers, to hand them orange wedges, to keep them going. This is a responsibility you have, as a Bostonian. I took it very seriously as an eight-year-old. I still do.
Nowadays, I’m usually not in Boston for the marathon. I moved to New York City six years ago, which is also a beautiful city, in its own way, but it’s different. New York is big. A lot goes on here, all the time. New York has its own marathon, but it’s easy to ignore or forget; this city is so big that a footrace involving thousands of people and spanning more than 26 miles is pretty easy to just not pay attention to. Boston isn’t that way. There are a million New Yorks co-existing at all times: uptown, downtown, poor New York, rich New York, Chinatown, Little Italy, hipster New York, yuppie New York, Broadway, Staten Island (which I hear is part of New York). But there is only one Boston.
I remember where I was on the September 11 bombings, of course. I was at my high school in Boston, about a mile from Copley Square. And I remember thinking (because these are the things you have to tell yourself, to feel safe), “That happened in New York because New York is dangerous. I’m glad I live in Boston instead.” But what I’ve learned as I’ve grown up is that anything can be dangerous, these days: office buildings or movie theaters or elementary schools or finish lines.
That’s a terrible thing to have to learn.
It’s a cruel thing to set off explosions in a public place, always. Everybody knows this. It’s a cruel thing to do to people who may have just completed the greatest accomplishment of their lives, to people who are out today to honor or support a loved one. It’s a cruel thing to do to so beautiful a city on so beautiful a spring day. The only explosions should be fireworks of celebration. That’s how it’s been for 115 years, and that’s how it should be forever and ever, for generations of children to come.
April 17th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
NYC Teen Author Festival
The annual NYC Teen Author Festival is next week! This is my third year participating in the Festival, but my first year speaking on one of the NYPL panels. And what a panel it is, too. Here’s the listing:
Friday March 22, Symposium (42nd Street NYPL, Berger Forum, 2nd floor)
2:10-3:00: He Said, She Said
moderator: David Levithan
I mean, how good is that lineup?!
What’s going to happen at this panel is super-secret, but I can reveal one thing about it: I’m going to be writing something completely new for it. In fact, all the authors on this list will be writing and sharing new pieces. If that doesn’t make you come out, I don’t know what will!
Hope to see you there or at one of the other stellar events next week. You can find the full schedule here.
March 15th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
This Song Will Save Your Life cover reveal
Yesterday MTV.com’s Hollywood Crush blog exclusively revealed the cover for my third novel, This Song Will Save Your Life! I love this cover and am so excited to share it with you here.
For the cover reveal, I created an indie rock and britpop Spotify playlist to soundtrack the book. You can listen to it here.
Here’s a synopsis of the story:
You think it’s so easy to change yourself.
You think it’s so easy but it’s not.
Elise Dembowski is not afraid of a little hard work. In fact, she embraces it. All her life, she’s taken on big, all-encompassing projects. When she was eight years old, she built her own dollhouse. When she was thirteen, she taught herself stop-motion animation. And when she’s fifteen, she embarks on the biggest, and most important, project of them all: becoming cool. Except she fails. Miserably. And everything falls to pieces.
Now, if possible, Elise’s social life is even worse than it was before. Until she stumbles into an underground dance club, and opens the door to a world she never knew existed. An inside-out world where, seemingly overnight, a previously uncool high school sophomore can become the hottest new DJ sensation. Elise finally has what she always wanted: acceptance, friendship, maybe even love. Until the real world threatens to steal it all away.
In a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, Leila Sales delivers an exuberant novel about identity, relationships, and the power of music to bring people together.
This Song Will Save Your Life comes out September 17. I can’t wait for you to read it!
March 9th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (1)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
I just finished reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I hadn’t heard about before it totally cleaned up at this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards. I wanted to share with you a line I liked before returning the book to the bookshelf:
“You and Susie going to a party?”
“Don’t you get tried of parties?”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m seventeen, you idiot. Of course I don’t get tired of parties.”
February 14th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
everyone’s a critic, and most people are DJs
As you may know, my next novel, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE (coming out this fall) is about a 16-year-old girl who becomes a DJ sensation. Writing this book made me even more interested in DJ and nightlife culture than I already was, so tonight I took a class at the Brooklyn Brainery about the history of the DJ.
Do you want to know one of the things we learned in this class? That the world’s first radio DJ was 16 years old at the time! His name was Ray Newby, and in 1909, he became the first person to play a record on the air.
Here he is years later (in the mid-60s, I believe), speaking about his accomplishment on TV:
This is so cool for me. I love knowing that my protagonist is just one in a long line of teen DJs!
January 29th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
the artist is not the art
I’m on a reading-books-for-adults kick, apparently, because not only did I just finish The Borrower, but I also recently read The Casual Vacancy (which, as you may recall, I got when I saw J.K. Rowling speak at Lincoln Center).
I feel bad saying this because I love J.K. so much, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings (should she by chance stumble across leilasales.com), but: I did not like The Casual Vacancy. I really did not.
I read the whole thing out of respect for J.K.’s work, and because– I will say this in its favor– I did want to know how the story ended. (Answer: not well, for anyone involved.) But had it been a manuscript submission, I would have stopped reading and rejected it long before that point.
This novel was everything I say I don’t like about adult fiction: loveless marriages, parents who resent their children, children who don’t respect their parents, the idea that all perceived friendship or love is just an illusion, the impossibility of meaningful hope or happy endings for anyone.
That’s why I love kids’ books, by the way: because there has to be hope, and the possibility that someday, somehow, things will end happily.
I tried expressing to some of my friends how much I didn’t like this book, and their responses always included statements like, “It’s so much worse because it’s J.K. Rowling! This book wouldn’t bother you so much if you weren’t so disappointed with her. How could the author of Harry Potter write something so depressing!”
But I disagree with this assessment. It contradicts one of my fundamental beliefs about art. That belief is as follows:
The artist is not the art. You ought not judge a person by the work he or she creates, nor can you judge the work by its creator.
I’ve heard arguments that The Sun Also Rises isn’t a good book because Ernest Hemingway was a misogynist and a drunk. I’ve heard that Atlas Shrugged isn’t a good book because Ayn Rand was an Objectivist.
I do not buy any of these arguments. If you like a book (and I happen to very much like both The Sun Also Rises and Atlas Shrugged), that is sufficient– you can still denounce the writer at the same time. And if you don’t like a book (e.g. The Casual Vacancy), that’s okay– you can still have complete love and respect for the author. (J.K., you are a genius.)
One of my top five writers of all time, Oscar Wilde, wrote about this idea a fair amount. Of course now that I’ve said that, I can’t find any of his famous lines about it. But I remember being in high school and first reading his theories that the artist and his creation are two separate things, to be judged separately. That resonated with me. It still does.
January 17th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
I just finished reading The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai. The protagonist is a children’s librarian, and for that reason alone, I wanted to read it. Bonus: it turned out to be very funny and wise and suspenseful; the sort of book for adults that I actually like.
Here’s a quote from the last chapter, so I don’t forget it:
“I no longer believe I can save people. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed, and while I’m sure there are people out in the world with that particular gift, I’m not one of them. I make too much a mess of things. But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you.”
January 17th, 2013 in | Permalink | Comments (2)
Last week J.K. Rowling spoke at Lincoln Center. It was her only U.S. appearance to promote THE CASUAL VANACY, and Rebecca Serle and I GOT TICKETS! Not only that, we got tickets THREE ROWS BACK from the stage. Literally there was one row between us and J.K.’s family members.
J.K. was in conversation with Ann Patchett, whose work I’ve never read, but who also seemed like a lovely and intelligent person. I jotted down some of my favorite lines from the evening and wanted to type them up here, so I won’t forget them.
JKR: “You know. We are ruthless people as writers.”
(On the topic of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY versus THE CASUAL VACANCY)
JKR: “The difference should be: people have sex in this book, but no one really enjoys it.”
AP: “The book doesn’t go between ‘evil’ and ‘good.’ It goes between ‘evil’ and ‘funny.’”
AP: “You’re going to have so many children who are going to say, ‘Mom, I want to read THE CASUAL VACANCY!’”
JKR: “Yeah, well, that would be inappropriate.”
JKR: “Because of Harry Potter, I could have self-published [THE CASUAL VACANCY]. It never crossed my mind. I value so much what a traditional publisher does.”
JKR: “I find that discussing an idea before I’ve written it is the way to kill it stone dead.”
(On giving feedback on ideas)
JKR: “A writer says to you, ‘I’ve got this idea for two frogs sitting in a bucket,’ you say, ‘That sounds like a great idea!’”
AP: “Do you take editing well?”
JKR: “I think I do. I never hit anyone.”
JKR: “I think that I have led a very odd life.”
(On structuring novels)
JKR: “Without structure, you’ve got nothing.”
(In answer to the question, “If you could live anywhere, real or imagined, where would you live?”)
JKR: “In a sense, Hogwarts is the very obvious answer. But then I did live there for seventeen years.”
October 29th, 2012 in | Permalink | Comments (2)
It will probably come as no surprise that my friend and I have launched a chocolate blog. We are on a very serious quest to eat all the chocolate. And then write about it. Very serious.
Thanks for supporting all my creative pursuits. Even the chocolate ones!
October 23rd, 2012 in | Permalink | Comments (0)
events for the next month
Saturday, October 27, 7 – 8:15pm, at Noella Brew Bar in Brooklyn, NY: Olivia Birdsall and I will be reading from our YA novels, speaking on the writing process, and answering questions. This is a cool local coffee shop, so it’s worth coming if only for the hot chocolate. There will be plenty of time for you to head to various Halloween parties after.
Sunday, November 4, 12 – 2pm, at Newsbar in New York, NY: My writing partner, Rebecca Serle, and I are starting something new: Office Hours. We’ll be setting up shop at Newsbar, one of our favorite coffee shops, for two hours. Stop by and talk to us about writing, YA, how to revise, or how to get your hair cut. No readings, no book sales, just writers sitting and chatting with you for as long or as short a time as you’d like to stay. If enough people are interested, we’ll do Office Hours again… hopefully this can become something of a tradition.
If you’re in New York City, I hope to see you at either or both of these events!