Monday, January 11, 2016

On Rock Bottoms...

Today marks the publication of my third YA novel, OTHER BROKEN THINGS. There's a lot of me in this book, a lot of honesty and hurt and acceptance and trying to figure out how to fix yourself. Release day is usually my reminder day, the day I remember that I'm doing the greatest job in the world because I get to be creative and make art. An auspicious and happy time for most authors.

But when I think about this book and all that went into it, I can't help but think about rock bottoms (which is maybe not the most happy thing for a release day, but stick with me, we'll get there).

In doing research on alcoholics, "rock bottoms" came up a bunch of times. The questions were different but all circled around the same thing: what made you decide you were done drinking? when did you realize the only way out was up? what happened that you were finally able to see how sick you were?

As I told Nat's story in OTHER BROKEN THINGS, I thought about how in a certain way, we all have rock bottoms. Sometimes they're extreme and sometimes they're a series of steps spiraling down until you realize that everything is dark and hard and you can't see anymore and you can't remember where you're going or what you're doing and why you were even doing it in the first place.

When I examine my own life, I think about the blanket of regrets that I could wrap around myself. At one point or another, I have been a crap parent, a crap daughter, a crap wife, a crap employee, a crap sister, a crap student, a crap friend. I am what someone wittier than I would call "the okayest human alive."

At times I have wanted the people who love me the most to go away because they were also the people who saw me at my worst. I've often thought that it isn't the people who won't forgive you that are so hard to deal with, it is the ones who will, because they are the ones who have witnessed you at your absolute suckiest and isn't that a reminder we could all do without. (Though I know Carrie, Asher, and Jolene would tell me that those people also have seen you at your absolute best.)

Regret can become its own rock bottom, in the same way that resentment can—they are both diseases that are incurable if you hold on to them, and undoubtedly only toxic to the person feeling them, not the objects of their regret/resentment. And yet these emotions are hard to shake.

And so I think about this past year and how in a way it has felt like a rock bottom: I have failed professionally more than I have succeeded, I have dropped balls in my personal relationships, I have stumbled a lot as a parent, more than I thought I could. But here is the thing. All these failures, they weren't really a rock bottom (even though they felt like it at the time). Because they didn't compromise the things I value the most: compassion, integrity, forgiveness, honesty, grace.

My Natalie in OBT has given up the things she cares about the most: a true rock bottom for her. But even then, she finds a way out. Something I realized is possible for us all. Even if we do lose our way, even if we are truly at the bottom and have had our values compromised, everything keeps moving. Possible still exists. Above all, I have learned that tomorrow will be different than today, even if it's just the tiniest bit. There is a way out. It is hard and it is up, but as Glennon says, "We can do difficult things." Particularly if we know that we aren't doing those things alone.

Why yes, my stepsister did put my face on a Wonder Woman magnet.

So here's the cover and the blurb and buy links and all the sell-y stuff that I must do because it's my release day.

Natalie’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like getting in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately, her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life, and things start looking up. Joe is funny, he’s smart, and he calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming, but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now, in order to make a different kind of life, Nat must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

(And because I work at Anderson's Bookshop, you can call over there and get a signed copy shipped to you!)

Thank you always for all your love and support!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Incarcerated Teen Book Drive...

So a few weeks ago, I went into Cook County Juvenile Detention Center to talk to some of the girls who would be participating in our forthcoming survivor testimonial writing workshop. I happened to bring a few copies of my books because I wanted them to see what came out of the workshop when I participated in it.

They signed up for the workshop, but more than anything, they were excited about the books. "We get to keep these? For real?" Their advisor told me they don't really get new books often, and sometimes they have to re-read the same ones. So I said, "Do you want me to put a call out to my author friends on Twitter and see if any of them might have a few paperbacks to donate?" Immediately she said, "Yes. That would be amazing."

Well, I put that tweet out and it got retweeted (the last I checked it was maybe 242 times?) and holy cow did the awesome YA community respond! Agents and editors and publishers and authors and bloggers and bookstores and readers and publicists. It was extraordinary.

And here is how it all played out...

I had to have a convo w/ my mail carrier (Thanks, Reggie, for giving me my own bin!)
This was delivered to my house on the 3rd day after my tweet

My kids were really into this project
The dog was less excited

And today I dropped off the first batch which they were thrilled about!
Batch #2 will be delivered in 2 weeks.

So I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who sent me books. I will do this book drive again next year. It means so much to me and to all the staff and teens at Cook County. You are all EXTRAORDINARY and make me believe in the goodness of the world.

A million thank you's to my donating friends!!! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"I suggest that you remove the suggestion box..."

Tomorrow will mark the two-month mark until the release of OTHER BROKEN THINGS. When I was writing that book a few years ago, I whispered to my friend Asher, "This is the one that holds a lot of my heart. This is the one. What if I can't create anything like this again?" He laughed and said, "So what if you can't?" Which is very Asher. This book was my special one, I thought. It was special because it was both easy and very hard to write. It was personal and difficult stuff of mine on page, but it was true to me, which made it feel important. 

I have now received four trade reviews for this book. For those who are not writers, these are the "professionals" weighing in on your books. My trade reviews have been good...and terrible. 

Here's the good (start with the positive, as my dad always tells me):

"Other Broken Things.
Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Desir, C. (Author)
Jan 2016. 256 p. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, hardcover, $17.99. (9781481437394).

In Desir’s latest, Natalie’s a fresh-out-of-rehab high-school senior beginning the 12-step program. Brash, unrepentant, and far from kind to herself, Nat strikes up an unlikely friendship—and possibly something more—with 38-year-old Joe, from her local AA group. Her journey toward recovery brims with bumps and potholes: old friends who haven’t dropped their drinking habits, parents who fail to offer the support system she needs, and the truth about what happened that fateful night that she doesn’t want to face. Though Nat’s relationship with her father could have used a bit more development, there is much to recommend here. The frank, sometimes profanity-laced prose suits the subject matter and will engage reluctant readers. Nat’s penchant for self-destructive behaviors, including her pursuit of Joe, only augments a reader’s sympathy and curiosity for what motivates her. In Nat—a female counterpart to Sutter Keeley of Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now (2008)—Desir crafts a portrait of a teenage alcoholic that is honest and unsparing."—BOOKLIST

"Gr 9 Up—Seventeen-year-old Natalie's story starts with "I'd cut a bitch for a cigarette," hooking readers immediately. In this gritty and honest tale, Nat's struggle with sobriety starts with court-ordered AA meetings and community service after a DUI incident. She is a fighter, literally. Her parents' demand that she quit boxing leads to her drinking. Nat fills the holes in her life with booze and sex. Without an addiction, she feels lost. Enter Joe, the sexy, 30-something would-be sponsor Nat bums cigarettes off of during meetings. Though Joe tries to shut down Nat's outrageous flirting, the sexual tension is palpable, foretelling the inevitable train wreck. Desir writes the relationship as an ill-fated May/December romance between two addicts. If Nat and Joe do not have alcohol, they will find something else to quench their needs. In this case, they find each other, until that implodes. While this situation lends itself to controversy, it also invites conversation. Other plot threads—losing friends and reuniting with others, relapses, and Natalie's parents' rocky marriage—round out the recovering addict's experience. Facing her demons, Nat evolves from a rightfully angry teen to a wiser, emotionally stronger young woman able to stand on her own without a man or alcohol, and readers will cheer for her success. Not for the faint of heart (Joe's rock bottom story involves a dead hooker), Natalie's story is told without judgement and with an uncanny understanding of the 12-step program. This is sure to appeal to fans of Nic Sheff's Tweak (S. & S., 2008), Koren Zailckas's Smashed (Viking, 2005), and the-like. VERDICT This title deserves a place on high school shelves."—School Library Journal

Here's the terrible (and there is really no sugar-coating "terrible" here):

(Simon Pulse; ISBN 978-1-4814-3739-4; 1/12/16; Spring 2016 catalog)

Seventeen-year-old Natalie is a rich kid in the throes of addiction, fresh off a DUI conviction and court-ordered rehab. She flings herself headfirst into an obsession with Joe, a man more than twice her age whom she meets in AA, and dabbles in her former life, trading sex to her ex for vodka. What she really wants is to return to the boxing ring, a hobby forbidden by her father, who's more concerned with his own reputation than with reality. Unfortunately, Natalie's attention is so narrowly focused on her attraction to Joe and getting high when she gets stressed out that little ink is spent exploring her passion for the "sweet science"or its role as an outlet for her turmoil. Desir (Bleed Like Me) compresses Natalie's story into a book-long AA meeting, pushing forward rapidly while glossing over scenes that might have provided more depth to her characters. Even the revelation of a secret that Natalie has been holding doesn't land with the intended impact."—Publisher's Weekly

Author: C. Desir
Despite a drunken driving charge, a stint in rehab, and an unshakeable thirst for vodka-induced oblivion, 17-year-old Natalie is not an alcoholic. The label doesn't fit, not for Natalie and certainly not for her father, who is hellbent on keeping up appearances in their wealthy Chicago suburb. Yet when Natalie returns from a court-ordered trip to rehab, her old life doesn't quite seem to fit right either. While ticking off Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on her court card, Natalie develops a relationship with a much older recovering alcoholic, a white guy. (Natalie specifies the racial makeup of the AA group but never directly reveals her own.) Joe breaks through Natalie's tough-girl facade and forces her to face the truth. Natalie's growing feelings for Joe muddy the waters. Distancing herself from destructive, party-girl friendships and resisting the temptation to drink when the going gets rough are difficult. Owning up to her mistakes and assuming responsibility for creating a healthy, new life is even harder. Readers will likely find Natalie's snarky, profanity-laced narration appealing and will easily relate to her struggle to navigate treacherous teen waters rife with unhealthy relationships, temptations, and self-doubt. Unfortunately, the May-December romance between Natalie and Joe is both predictable and clich├ęd, and it distracts from topics that would have been far more interesting to explore, such as Natalie's passion for boxing. A teen-issue book with loads of potential that only achieves mediocrity. (Fiction. 14-18)"—Kirkus
And here's a picture of Lenny Kravitz making some eggs so we can all have a palette cleanser.

So we're not supposed to point out our terrible reviews or talk about them because...well, because I guess maybe people think that they'll go away? As if I could shake off a professional saying this book I put all my heart into "only achieves mediocrity." As if other people aren't seeing that in trade reviews and wincing a little, feeling sorry for me, and secretly grateful it didn't happen to them. 
Most people who know me by now know that I tend to live out loud. The reason I do this is not only to demystify the absurd notion that writers (or frankly human beings) are perfect and always only make good life choices and have great things happen to them, but also because not saying out loud the things that hurt, or the things that I'm carrying around, is a death sentence for me. If I don't bleed hurt or process things out loud or talk about the things that aren't easy (whether with my people or in public spaces), then they become locked inside of me in little drawers of toxicity and the results are incredibly unhealthy. 
So yeah, I got some super shitty reviews. Good ones too, but honestly, I'm me and I'm not thinking about the good ones, I'm thinking about the horrible ones. Which brings me to the way that the universe works (or maybe God, for those who are believers), because I have long held the belief that the world lines up in the way it needs to for us to keep moving forward.
And thus these terrible reviews of mine happen to be coming on the heels of me reading Elizabeth Gilbert's BIG MAGIC which is a book I can't recommend enough for every human being doing anything creative in their life. Here's Gilbert talking about 'being on top':
"I mean, if you cannot repeat a once-in-a-lifetime miracle—if you can never again reach the top—then why bother creating at all? (...) But such thinking assumes there is a "top"—and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale that we do—on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition... Such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious—not only against your peers, but also against an earlier version of your own poor self. Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes that if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play."
These words, which are really about Gilbert's Eat Pray Love success, ended up being the perfect ones for my own failures. Because they reminded me of why I play in the first place, of what I'm trying to do with my writing, of who I'm trying to reach, of what living a creative life means. And the truth is, that it doesn't mean reading reviews. Good ones or bad ones. These get in the way of my creative life. Even the good ones because they do not steer me in a direction toward growing as a writer.
I have learned more about writing in the past 11 months from my agent than I have in the past 11 years. And this is a little bit of a love note to Barry Goldblatt who has figured out that if I'm not passionate about what I'm writing, I'm not living a good creative life. So he gets on the phone with me and says, "Are you passionate about this? Do you care about this?" and when I say, "I don't know," he says, "Then why should anyone else care?" And those are the words that are hard to hear but make me grow. Because that is really how I find my way into living my best creative life. 
How do we continue to play when a professional implies we're on the B-squad or worse, we don't belong on the field at all? We take it outside of the human realm of failure and success and bring it into a universal realm. Reviews cannot and should not make or break us. Giving them power to do so compromises who we are as creative people. As Gilbert says, "What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations?"

Thanks for reading this long post. I remain your "well-meaning but deeply flawed" friend.