Monday, December 23, 2013

Jane Lebak, The Boys Upstairs

AUTHOR: Jane Lebak
BOOK TITLE: The Boys Upstairs
PUBLISHER: MuseItUp Publishing

Tell me a little about your book.

Kevin is a jaded cop who picks up three homeless siblings a couple of nights before Christmas. Because they keep running away from foster homes in order to stay together, Kevin brings them to his brother's church in the hopes that they can protect the kids and keep them together. The problem? Kevin hasn't spoken to his brother Jay for years because after all the evil he's seen, Kevin can't believe in God, and he feels that as a priest, Jay is wasting his life. But they're going to have to work together in order to save the kids.

What gave you the idea for this particular story?

This story went through several incarnations, but it started early one morning when I awoke with the idea of a man who had to give up being a soldier after sustaining career-ending injuries in a war.  Like Ignatius Loyola, the soldier comes to believe in God during his recovery and eventually becomes a priest. But in this man's case, his family didn't accept his change, and that's where I found the story's hook: at the intersection between his connection to the past and his decisions about his future.

The first versions of the story didn't involve homeless kids, as you can see. The climax of the original story involved a group that brought violence into the church during the Mass, and how the priest reacted as an ex-soldier.

Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.

Ironically, the story's true genesis seems to be in my own feelings about motherhood. I had come to feel as if motherhood and writing were mutually exclusive, and that after an early writing career, I wouldn't be able to write again after I had a second baby. My first baby had been very high-needs and I hadn't written much after his birth. At the time the story came to me, we were deciding to have a second baby, and I unconsciously felt this was the end of any chance I would write again. I didn't realize this though until I finished the first version of the story and realized it was about how someone says goodbye to his old dreams in order to embrace new ones.

Why did you choose to write a story with a Christmas or winter theme?

Priesthood and Catholicism mesh perfectly with Christmas, and since so much of the American understanding of Christmas is about family and children, the themes all worked well together. The three children at the story's heart have no hope of a "traditional" Christmas with toys and a feast. Instead, they're lucky to be alive and they wish they had a family. But there are moments where that desire to be "normal" breaks through, such as when the children want to watch at least one Christmas special.

Do you see special challenges to marketing a book with a seasonal theme?  If so, what are they?

The marketing seems to be cyclic. You can market it for about three months, and then you go back to marketing your other material.

How long before December did you submit to your publisher?

I submitted it in May and it was published by Thanksgiving.

How and why did you choose this publisher?

MIU was just starting up, and I knew about Lea from the Muse Online Writer's Conference. I figured it was worth taking a risk on a new publisher to be one of its first released titles.

What about your book makes it special?

My favorite review of The Boys Upstairs comes with the disclaimer that the reviewer is an atheist and hates preachy stories, and she gave it five stars because the story unfolds without preaching. I've been preached at so much by people who are trying to make me a better Christian or a better American or a better whatever, and I can't stand that attitude. Someone isn't a moral authority just because they wrote a book. Instead I tried to let the characters speak for themselves, so when Jay is relating his conversion experience, Jay is relating what happened to Jay. But when Kevin is relating his disillusionment with any idea of the existence of God, let alone a personal God who cares about people, Kevin is relating his own experiences. The reader will have his or her own experiences, and I want them to be able to relate to all the different characters and their opinions without feeling cornered.

What does Christmas and/or winter mean to you?

Right now, personally, I'm disillusioned with Christmas because it's expanded to fill up so much of the year, and the materialism leaves me a little sick inside. With so much poverty and pain in the world, the way the advertising caters to our most base instincts leaves me hurting for the people who don't have anything. You can't "give your kids the perfect Christmas" if you aren't able to keep the heat on, or if you're barely making enough to feed everyone.

What is your favorite Christmas or winter memory?

The first year I was in choir, I remember walking home from the train station and looking up to see snow starting to fall; the scent of the air just as it turned to snow, and the bright chill, they were just perfect. It was only a few seconds, and I remember thinking that this moment was like the heart of the Christmas music we were singing.

What was your favorite stocking stuffer?

Every year, I write a letter to my guardian angel, and I put it in my own stocking.

What was your favorite Christmas present?

I like getting a goat from Heifer International. Another sweater wouldn't really be that important to me, but a goat could turn around the life of an impoverished family.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?


This is from the beginning of Chapter Three, after Father Jay’s estranged brother has brought three homeless children to the rectory to keep them safe. Jay is a disabled priest, but as it turns out, he wasn’t always all that spiritually-minded. This is the segment that popped into my head when I woke up one morning, and it replayed in my head with such intensity that I began writing the story before breakfast.
                  It didn’t take Divine Providence to alert Jay when the trio of newcomers tried to escape. The old rectory creaked with as many different tones as a symphony orchestra, and having been an escape artist himself as a teen, Jay knew what to expect.
                  And so it was that when Louis, Maria and Jamie got to the front door, one stuffed-full pillowcase in Maria’s arms and Jamie in Louis’s, Jay met them there.
                  “It’s really too cold to leave in the middle of the night.” He gestured toward the parlor as the three children clustered together before him. “I’d never hurt you, and I know I can’t keep you if you’re determined to go. But if you have to leave, you might as well leave in the morning.”
                  The kids shuffled into the parlor alongside the front entrance, and Jay turned on the lights so they could make their way onto the couch. He sat in a chair across the room.
                  “Why are you leaving?” They stared at him with three sullen pouts. Jay said, “I’m not a foster home here. The boys who live upstairs moved in because it was a warm place to stay. Most of them ran away from home too, or were thrown out.” He waited. “Where are you from?”
                  Louis told him, and Jay recognized the neighborhood, a twenty-minute drive from here. He asked if they had any family. They all looked at one another, and then Louis said no, they didn’t.
                  Ah: so they did have family, but no one to take them in.
                  He asked if they went to school. Louis said sometimes. He asked if they liked school, and it turned out they did, kind-of.
                  Through all this, the kids looked at one another before answering, and Jamie never said anything at all. The youngest, he dozed against Louis’s shoulder.
                  Maria looked right at him, frowning. “We don’t want a new dad.”
                  Jay raised his hands. “I’m not anyone’s dad. In the Church, priests are called Father, but I’m not anyone’s father.”
                  There was a moment of quiet before Louis said, “And no new mom, either.”
                  He nodded.
                  Maria said, “Why are you doing this, then? Is it for the money?”
                  Dear God, why did little ones have to get so cynical? He assured them that he received no money for having them in the house, nor did he want any.
                  “But you’re crippled,” Louis said “So how are you getting money?”
                  Cynical and no punches pulled; an excellent combination for life on the street. “I’m a priest. The diocese pays me, and I work for them.”
                  Maria said, “But if we run, you can’t catch us.”
                  He shook his head.
                  “How’d you get hurt?” Louis said.
                  “I used to be a soldier. I was in Iraq, and I got hurt there.”
                  Louis sat forward. “A real soldier? Like you carried a gun and wore a uniform? Like GI Joe?”
                  Jay nodded. “Except I didn’t have all that cool gear and neat code names like they do.”
                  Louis said, “And did the enemy shoot you?”
                  Jay hesitated.
                  Ten years ago, a shattered army platoon had returned to base in a wrecked jeep with four of its soldiers barely alive. They’d driven over a land mine. A medical team had begun treatment the moment they’d stopped the vehicle, and shortly the wounded were transported to a combat support hospital. Within the hour the doctors passed the word back to their commanding officer that one had already died and the rest wouldn’t survive the night.
                  The other three died before sunrise. Only Jay had survived.
                  “Did it hurt?” Maria said.
                  Louis shoved her. “Of course it hurt, idiot! He got shot bad enough to cripple him!”
                  Opting against explaining about ballistics, explosives and the more graphic parts of war, Jay said, “I was unconscious for a week, actually, so it didn’t hurt at first. Later on, yeah.”
                  He’d been airlifted to Germany, where he stayed in a coma seven days. At every turn, the doctors had said, “We can try this procedure, but he most likely won’t survive it,” and then they’d tried, and every time, somehow, he’d survived.

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