Aya de Leon’s 10 Fun Facts about UPTOWN THIEF

MELS COVER
a mock-up book cover I did with the old title using stock photos I bought

1. The original title of the book was The Manhattan Escort & Larceny Service. My editor Mercedes Fernandez didn’t like it. Too long. We brainstormed for a while, and my new favorite was Downtown Madam, Uptown Thief, which she shortened. At first I wasn’t totally sold on it, but It’s really grown on me and now I love it.

2. The book originally started with Marisol stuck in an air vent during a robbery with terrible claustrophobia, but an early editor said it made her seem wimpy. Now it’s the third scene, and she’s not having a full-on panic attack. During a subsequent draft, the opening was the van scene, which is now the second scene, since my editor Mercedes wanted the book to start with a big action scene.

3. I have never lived in New York City. However, I went to college in Boston, and would visit from time to time. From 1999-2009, I was in and out of New York doing performances and working as a trainer with the Harm Reduction Training Institute. The longest time I ever spent in New York was three weeks. During that time, I learned a lot about the city–geography, culture, and of course, gentrification

4. Although I have Puerto Rican heritage, I am the second generation born in the US, and have lived most of my life in California. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish with my mom. I learned Spanish in school and later picked up a lot traveling in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean including a month in…

5. Cuba. I visited in 1991 and 1998. Both times I went legally. The first time I went on a cultural study tour. The second time, I went for a month to study Spanish.

6. I was really committed to the part of the book set in Cuba. It was one of a few things I said I wouldn’t give up to make it fit into urban fiction, even if it meant that Kensington wouldn’t buy the book. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem.

7. I am nothing like my protagonist Marisol, except that I’m a workaholic and a rescuer/caretaker, and I’ve worked in a lot of non-profit organizations. There was only one scene in the book that was based on real life, and that was when Marisol brought 10,000 condoms in to Cuba and got stopped at customs. That was me in 1998. I brought them from a Latino anti-AIDS coalition. It was kind of hilarious. Unfortunately, that scene got cut, but it will appear in a short story about Marisol traveling in the Caribbean called “Rescuing the Dead.”

8. The backstabber character (not naming any names!) wasn’t in the version that Kensington bought, he or she was added really late in the game.

9. Tyesha’s romance was originally resolved in UPTOWN THIEF, but when I sold it in a two-book deal, she got her own book, THE BOSS, where her love life gets sorted out.

10. The book originally ended with a wedding–Thug Woofer’s brother’s wedding–and Kim caught the bouquet and was asking Jody to put a ring on it. They were talking about which states they could get married in, because same sex marriage wasn’t legal in all states yet.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. #1: Good call on the title. To me, the problem with the original one wasn’t the length so much as that it tells you too much. It’s like the original title for the Dragon Tattoo book: Men Who Hate Women. I remember thinking that you could tell that the writer was a journalist, since that’s a newspaper headline, not a title for a novel. (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has problems, too, but they’re different problems. 🙂 )

    “Uptown Thief” is a very good title. It says some things, but mostly it raises questions.

    #6: Good call. I understand fitting into a genre, but if you fit in too perfectly, you can cease to be memorable. Quality is important, obviously, but pushing the boundaries here and there can really help a book stand out also.

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