Launched! & I Find Myself Out At Sea…

UT launched out at seaLast week, my debut novel UPTOWN THIEF was published. As I reflect on the experience, I recall that 2004 was the last time I launched a full-length project into the world. It was a solo show, Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip Hop. (Thus far, I seem destined to have the word Thief in my titles).

Because the launch of my solo show is my only frame of reference, the launch of my debut novel is profoundly disorienting. There’s so much less for me to do. Certainly, I have promotion activities to engage in. But l had all those tasks with the solo show, plus I was producing the show, and acting, singing, and dancing in it 4-5 shows per week.

The disorientation is kind of ridiculous, because this was the whole point. I quit performing because it was incompatible with having the kind of family life I wanted. I wanted to be home at night with my kid, doing bath and bedtime. I wanted to be up early making lunches and dropping her off at feminist summer camp. And yet, with these things actually going on, I feel strangely disconnected from this book, my creative project that’s moving out into the world. I wrote my solo show, but I was also presenting it to the audience. Now, people all over the country are reading UPTOWN THIEF without me. I feel a bit left out of my own book.

Do I need to go where those readers are? People keep asking me if I am going out on a book tour. Alas, I am not. My publisher doesn’t have the budget for it. I would consider paying out of pocket to do some out-of-town book readings. I could scrape up for a couple of tickets and sleep on some friends’ couches. As it turns out, the hassle of organizing childcare is more prohibitive than the financial cost. And, in the age of social media, in-person events may not even be as effective. I recently compared notes with a musician friend who is also a parent. He was bemoaning that most of the musicians in his band were parents, and they wouldn’t be able to tour to promote their upcoming album. In his field, it matters. Live music performances have a huge impact on record sales. With books, however, appearances don’t correlate quite as directly to sales. Yet, I think I would LOVE touring as a chance to connect with audiences and get my hand back into reading in public.

If my Bay Area launch was any indication, touring would be a blast. But one can’t replicate such an amazing experience in every town. I had the home court advantage, with family, friends, members of my writing community and old spoken word audience members coming out. Vocalist Vixen Noir opened the show with the title track from her EP “Dangerous,” which is like an anthem for UPTOWN THIEF. I read several excerpts from the book, and then acclaimed novelist Carolina De Robertis came up on stage and interviewed me. She asked incredibly sharp questions about politics and writing, and then we opened it up to the audience for more questions. Through it all, Carolina and I sat on a stage that was set up to look a bit like a living room. It had a couple of chairs, and a table with a plant she had brought. I requested this particular plant specially, as it was given to her by Isabel Allende. It seemed like good juju.

There was a five-day lapse between the day the book came out and the launch event. In future, I’ll try to cut that down. The book didn’t feel real until I sat in a room with loved ones and new friends, read and answered questions and then signed copies. At the signing table, I worried that I would forget peoples’ names, misspell them, or fail to think of anything original to say. I was also worried that what I wrote in peoples’ books would be illegible, or–like with autocorrect–I would write something like “hope it’s enjoyable for you” and my awful scrawl would look like “hope it’s embalming for jah.”

But despite these very minor anxieties, it was awesome. I feel launched. Yet the performer in me continues to be disoriented. I still feel like I should be doing vocal exercises or running lines or doing cardio so I can keep up my energy for the 75 minutes on stage of continual talking in a loud voice, moving and dancing of a solo show. Instead, I’m writing this on the sideline benches at my daughter’s gymnastics class. And when I’m done, it’s time to start work on revisions from my editor on the next book.

I guess this is the danger of being an extrovert and writing novels. Or being a novelist an a mom. But I think I put it best in the following tweet:

Me on FB: debut novel! Fab outfit+launch party pics! 
Me IRL: in yesterday's sweats doing dishes 

Author: Aya de Leon

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

2 Replies to “Launched! & I Find Myself Out At Sea…”

  1. Congratulations! Parenting and publicity are tricky. It’s a lot of “please be quiet and hold the dog while mom pretends she’s in an office somewhere during this radio interview.” Best of luck!

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