Away from Here, which had a three-year working title of “Annalise to be published” on my computer, is something so personal and semi-autobiographical to me that it’s hard to even capture in words. But, then again, that’s kind of what I do, so here goes. The story itself is narrated by a man named Logan Santiago, who’s looking back on one of the most impactful years of his entire life - his senior year of high school when he was a self-described “. . .mixed up mixed kid. . .”, a kid with a Spanish mom and a white dad who’s very much like a lot of teens at that age: confused, a little angry, sarcastic as all hell, hating his way through the last year of school, and desperately hoping to talk to the girl of his dreams (don’t worry, we’ll get to Our Girl shortly). But what’s less common is that Logan is also dealing with the recent divorce of his parents, and the crippling depression and anxiety that’s rendered his mom home bound and not really functional for the last two years. All at once he went from your average teenager to his mom’s seventeen year old caretaker, with all the normal stress to boot, and no one there to help with his new adult responsibilities. Finding himself in a household that no longer seems like the same place he grew up, he years for a relief, something he stands in his bathtub (don’t worry it makes sense in the book...not really, but it’s explained anyhow) and prays for. But it’s at that exact moment that he meets his Goddess (as he likes to call her), a girl he’s had his eye on from afar his entire junior year, and today might be the day he finally talks to her...
Now about me. . .
I, too was a mixed up mixed kid - fake Spanish (as Logan likes to call himself), getting made fun of all the time for my mixed racial and ethnic background, and my general interest in all things comic book related. That’s right, I was a nerd. I am a nerd, I just make it work for me now, and I grew up in a household very much like I describe in the book. Part of the reason I wanted to tell this story through Logan’s eyes is because while there are a lot of books (hundreds probably) that deal with themes of mental illness, or have mentally ill characters, the struggle we read about is always their own. We read about a main character who’s depressed, and how that affects their lives, but less often do we see a story from the perspective of the person being effected by mental illness, and even rarer when that person is the child of the afflicted. That was me. That was my life. And I’ve always wanted to get the challenges of being a young person who was surrounded by mental illness, yet not that way himself, down on paper in a way that makes people understand the challenges of that situation. But hell, doesn’t that sound (no pun) depressing as all hell? Who wants to read that for a whole book? Well, fear not, that’s just the set up; the perspective; the context in which our love story takes place. Enter Annalise - Logan’s Peruvian Goddess - the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who might just save his drowning teenaged soul, if that’s even possible.
Anna’s an interesting human being - she’s Logan’s goddess - the girl he’s built up to almost mythical levels in his mind for a whole year, but when he finally ends of speaking to her after a crazy day at school (and a series of French fries thrown at his face by his best friend ... again, all in the book), he finally gets to see the real Anna, the complex, messed up, wonderful girl whose life is very similar to his own. She’s weird, she’s not the prom queen, and she also comes from a home with no small amount of drama. Together they find solace in one another, and they forge a relationship that changes Logan forever.
Those are the broad strokes of course. There’s more. A lot more. More characters, more scenes, and, of course, a whole story, but that will have to wait for April. In the meantime I wanted to give you a little of the book’s history, which is a story all its own. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s been three years. It was actually a work I abandoned for three reasons that in hindsight seem really silly: first, I had never published a book before and I was both ignorant of the process and insecure that anyone would care. Second, it was emotionally exhausting to write, mostly because of some of the very personal emotions and experiences I had to revisit to capture certain scenes in an authentic way. And, lastly, I started publishing my contemporary books. The last one is interesting because, at first, that became my excuse to put Away From Here (or ‘Annalise’) to the side, and it made perfect sense. But after I build a following (I hope....Jesus, what if no one’s even reading this!), I realized that I should pick up that book again, and give it the attention I always knew it deserved. This is a story that I needed to tell, no matter what else anyone thinks of it, and I’m proud to have it be a work of mine. When I say that I poured more time, effort, self-editing, and thought into this one I’m not exaggerating at all. This one took something out of me to finish. But, then again, anything of value should do just that. Hopefully it gives more that it took.
Those are the specifics of the story (sort of), but like any creative work, I hit upon themes that are absolutely universal to anyone reading, whether they can relate to the life experiences of the characters or not. Belonging, parent-child relationships and their complexities, first loves, adolescence, uncertainty about the future, finding salvation in another human being, experiencing the pain of loss – these are all thing that are a part of our lives – books just reflect those themes.
As far as the practicalities (when is it out? Where can I get it?), Amazon has finally decided to end my yearlong banishment from pre-orders, so I will be able to upload the file for pre-order as of March 24th. Before that I’ll be releasing Noah, the 4th book in the New York City’s Finest series. And then my focus will be 100 percent on getting Away From Here in front of people’s eyes - giveaways, samples, buzz, merch - the whole nine yards (and those coming to the Gettysburg signing might have an early surprise...). It’ll be available on Amazon, as always, and the release date will be Tuesday, April 24th. I can’t wait, and I don’t say that often.
So I hope I’ve captured your attention, and at the very least whet your appetite for a book that I can easily say is different from everything else I’ve ever written. I love my usual books, and contemporary romance in general, and I have many releases planned for this year, but it’s nice to step out every once and a while and do something truly different; something special; something I think people will love as much as I do. I hope that you take that journey with me, and encourage others to do the same. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
More to come. . .but I think it would be better to hear from Logan instead of me. He’s a cool guy, and he’s more equipped to talk about all this than me, of course. I just write down what he says. I’ll text him but he’s hard to get in touch with – he’s always writing. But I’m sure you’ll meet him soon enough.
*Check out the first trailer by the always amazing Jessica Hildreth below - more to come!