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Teen angst!

I love the headline for this event I’m doing on Monday, Sept 15: “Teen Angst Author to Talk Issues at Mt. Prospect Library.”

I’m no longer a teen, but I still have plenty of angst. Perhaps more now than ever.

It makes me sound so serious, all the angst and issues and talking. I promise, it will be a good time! I’m only angsty in private. I’ll read from Permanent Record and answer questions about the book, writing, publishing, and my day-to-day freak-outs, followed by a signing. Please come and say hello!

I am going to share something secret with you right now: I am an introvert who is made physically ill by the idea of public speaking. Intellectually I know this will be a fun event with an audience of library-goers and readers who want to be there. That is a fairly forgiving audience. But emotionally? I will stress out and cry about standing up in front of people and trying to talk. I always do! I have been doing book signings and readings and discussions with nice folks for the past 13 years, and it never gets any easier.

I swear I will make every effort not to hyperventilate or babble incoherently. I will not make a fool of myself! But maybe I will! Come watch!  

Mt. Prospect Public Library
10 S. Emerson St.
Monday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

Suburban Mosaic Program

Oh wow! I can’t tell you how happy and proud I am that Permanent Record was chosen as the teen title for the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program 2014-15!

Similar to Chicago’s One Book program, Suburban Mosaic serves a consortium of suburban school districts and libraries in northern Illinois. This reading list selects books that highlight issues of racial and social justice and that strive to break down the barriers between people.

I will be doing events and programs over the next year with the participating organizations, which include about 14 libraries, 10 school districts, and 2 colleges, so check my Events link under Media/Appearances in the future to see if I will be appearing at a school or library near you!


Under the radar

Recently, I read this review of Permanent Record (the audiobook, narrated masterfully by the wondrous Nick Podehl). The reviewer had thanked another blogger for turning her on to my novel, and that blogger commented that she loved it too, adding, “I feel like this book is so under the radar.” That is a gentler way of saying, “No one has ever heard of it.”

Damn. That is sad. But it’s a fitting place for me, under the radar. It’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable. What about you?

As a founding editor for the legendary Chicago politics and satire magazine, Lumpen, I remained under the radar in a sense, along with cofounders Chris and Ed, because of the hate mail and people who wanted to kill us. I can talk about our secret lair on Armitage Avenue now (next to Pete’s Bodega, which sold Bounce-flavored tortilla chips) because we’re no longer there. Do you know what it’s like to open the door at midnight to find an enraged reader/citizen/advertiser/alderman/former sales rep in full foam, armed with a bike lock and a grudge? We had to work at midnight. And we learned to bolt the doors on Armitage Avenue.

We were under the radar for safety, and to maintain the illusion of anonymity. And now I’m under the radar again, but is it because I can’t/won’t relentlessly self-promote, or because the stuff I write is weird and only appeals to a small faction of geeks like myself?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get towels monogrammed with Mr. and Mrs. Thorin, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King under the Mountain?

Either way, I’m always in constant struggle to get the next thing published, to subsist as a glamorous seven-thousandaire. But then … I read that over and it sounds so complain-y. People who write but are not yet published probably think I sound like an ungrateful little bitch. Always whining about how unfair life is, how nobody appreciates my goddamn art.

Erp. Guilty.

That’s exactly how I feel when my more successful writer friends complain about the time constraints and pressures of success. Shut up, whiny little bitch! It’s lonely at the top. Ehhh … I don’t begrudge them their success. I’m just envious. And I need to stop complaining about where I am in my apocalyptic hellhole of a career.

When I was under the deep cover of Lumpen, I was paid in scones and art supplies, and I loved it. If you had told me that one day I would have four novels published by major houses and that once in a while a librarian or reader would write me and tell me that one of my books meant something to them, I would have been over the moon. And I am, actually, or at least I’m trying to be: proud and grateful and sometimes, yes, over the moon. Even if I have to fly under the radar to get there.

Tom Waits in My Fridge

Quiz: Are the things listed below items in my refrigerator, or titles of Tom Waits songs?

Yesterday’s Sandwich
Bottle of Champagne for a Celebration That Never Happened
This Old Carton of Milk
16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six
Caroline’s Last Strawberry
Thermometer Always Stuck at 40
Unhatched Eggs
Chocolates from a Friend
Bone-Dry Blood Oranges
Half-Drunk Guinness

I am sweatpants

I’d like to blame it on the weather, but I don’t think that’s really it. But I have taken to slobbing around in sweatpants in public for some weeks now (see Costanza, George). Not leggings or yoga pants. Shapeless, drawstring, Target sweatpants. I care, but let’s face it: if I cared that much, I’d make an effort to pull myself together. Sometimes I stop to pick up coffee after I drop my kids off at school, and I stand in line in my sweatpants, my dirty hair, my giant tubercular undereye circles, disheveled and bleary-eyed, as if I’d been woken from a deep slumber and forced outside at gunpoint.

I got my hair cut recently, after six months of witch wig. That’s something.

Spent $48 at Sephora on a brush and concealer. I can’t wait for them to change my life.

Problem: hidden identity. And my worlds are colliding (see Costanza, George). Let me explain. Leslie Stella is the writer me, my maiden name. But the other me keeps that hidden from most acquaintances and all work colleagues. Why? It’s not like I’m embarrassed of being a writer. But I’m embarrassed at how much of a flake I feel like, that I can’t get into it with most people. I don’t think I can make it in this industry. I have a very undeveloped sense of self-preservation when it comes to my career (see blog, this one). I don’t tweet all the livelong day (full disclosure: I deleted my Twitter account two years ago). I don’t have a “street team.” The term “street team” makes me want to throw up into infinity. I’m poor at interacting with people, unless I’m the other me, the mom or the suffocating employee. But my worlds are starting to collide because a couple of casual acquaintances have sneaked under my psychic barbed-wire fence, and know my dirty secret. And it’s gonna come out eventually, and I can’t stand it. “Why don’t you want people to know you’re a writer?” you may ask. Part of it’s because I’m a private person, and I don’t like sharing. I like secret things. And part of it’s because this career has never stopped being a struggle for me, and I don’t like to broadcast my failure out loud to people I barely know. Except you. I barely know you, and I don’t mind spilling it to you. But that is because you and I have the beauty of typed words between us.

I have a relative who is fantastic in every way, except that he asks me every single time I see him, “What’s going on with your book? Have you sold your next one?” and I always have to say, “Nothing, and nope.” And I cringe and feel guilty because all he is doing is taking an interest in me, and all I can do is feel like a choad.

I don’t want to discuss my career, except with you in these safe, little-read blog entries. I don’t want a street team, I don’t want to sell myself beyond the words I write for you.  I guess the truth is that I am just a fundamentally morose middle-aged woman with an embarrassing passion for geek culture and nothing else.

I am sweatpants. I hide flaws and failure beneath voluminous folds of black fleece. My worlds are colliding, and soon all of that will be on display, every chunk of it laid bare for those who thought they knew me but never will.

“In the Margins” Award list

I’m so proud that Permanent Record was chosen as one of 25 titles for the “In the Margins” Book Award list, an award presented by Library Services for Youth in Custody. This award’s charge is to seek out and highlight fiction and nonfiction titles of high-interest appeal to marginalized youth, ages 9-21. Books chosen for the awards list reflect difficult situations, African-American and Latino protagonists, life in restrictive custody, or are books that cater to reluctant readers. Of Permanent Record, the committee said, “Our committee members loved this book unanimously. It’s well-written, fast-paced, funny, smart, and independently published, and is about a kid with mental health issues, targeted for his Iranian heritage. Elizabeth Burns’s rave review [in School Library Journal] reflects our opinion.”

The Ghost of the Backlist

The ghost of my backlist is haunting me. My adult fiction from 2005, Unimaginable Zero Summer (Crown), is now available on Kindle for $2.99 from Amazon.

Can you relate to people who have been sleepwalking through life since their high school graduation? An unemployed man who lives with his parents and fancies himself an urban shaman? A thrift-store-obsessed bookstore clerk? A “vampire lifestylist”? A karaoke DJ? As one reviewer put it, “I haven’t felt a book speaking to me so directly since High Fidelity!”

Unimaginable Zero Summer
Unimaginable Zero Summer

“Witty, modern bullets … a Chicago Big Chill.”—New City Chicago

“Funny, a moving portrait … Stella unfolds this story masterfully.”—Philadelphia Inquirer

“A premise ripe for comedy and pathos, and Stella doesn’t disappoint.”—Chicago Reader

“Hilarious … refreshing … laugh-out-loud. Subtle in its storytelling, it’s a story that will appeal to any working adult who can’t stop staring at the clock.”—Time Out Chicago


Tucson Festival of Books

As I sit here typing this, freezing rain pelts my house. Fellow midwesterners can understand why I’ll be glad to get out of here into a warmer climate. Too bad I have to wait till March to do it.

Come see me at the Tucson Festival of Books
Saturday March 15, 2014
University of Arizona
I will be signing copies of Permanent Record from 11:45 a.m. – 1:45 p.m. at the Author Pavilion – Children’s Area

I’ll be the one in the corner, pale and pulsing like a larva.

Year-end Double Wow!

Thank you, Booklist, for selecting Permanent Record as a 2013 Booklist Editors’ Choice: Audio for Youth! And thanks to YALSA for nominating Permanent Record to their 2013 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults list!

“Podehl’s reading of this dark and emotionally complex novel is convincing and flawless. Realistically voicing the monologues of the troubled Iranian American teen who is scrutinized and ridiculed because of his ethnicity, Podehl artfully reveals the depths of the teen’s despair. Listeners will relish the escalating moments of tension, right up to the dramatic conclusion.” —Booklist Editors’ Choice

Permanent Record would not be on any of these lists without the incredible performance of Nick Podehl and our awesome director (and my paisan, though no relation), Fred Stella.