I read a book last week that made me cry. Not because it was sad, but because it reached across decades to lift the bandages from old wounds. This takes a special talent, and A.M Leibowitz wields this skill with finesse in their latest book, Year of the Guilty Soul.
I was especially curious about not only this particular book, but Leibowitz’s jam-packed schedule of parenting, volunteering, and activism. How does one balance all of that and keep it sustainable? They were kind enough to answer my questions!
PersephoneKnits: I really enjoyed the book, although there were a few times when enjoy would not be the right word. It reminded me a lot of Dear God, It’s Me Margaret. I had to put it down twice because it triggered some uncomfortable memories. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this story is memoir?
A.M. Leibowitz: It’s fictionalized memoir. A lot of the people in it are people I knew. The two men, for example, were our neighbors. I did sell them Girl Scout cookies; I did not, however, play my violin for them. The last time I saw them, one of them was very ill and the other was not allowing guests. Noah was an amalgam of my high school boyfriend and a close friend. Cari was a girl I knew at school. I put them in the same setting because it was somewhat easier. I am indeed from an interfaith (Jewish/Christian) home, and my parents were definitely agnostics. There are other elements that are parallel to my life but not exact.
PK: I noticed the time period was my generation of growing up, the GenXers. This also made me realize there aren’t a lot of books set in the 80s about us as kids trying to find ourselves that are careful and tender like this one. Who was your target audience for Year of the Guilty Soul?
AML: My target audience was my kids, but I think–even though it’s technically YA–it has spoken more to people my age. I don’t write much YA, but my own two have been begging me for something aimed at them. I wanted them to understand better the era I grew up in.
PK: Thanks for sharing how you blended memories and fiction to create a story that resonates with both generations. As another GenXer, the narrative of her neighbors was particularly painful and heartbreaking. That was a spot where I had to stop and grieve, and I appreciated you including it because it was a hugely silent crisis for those of us with evangelical upbringing.
AML: Wow. That is actually a common reaction I’ve had from people around my age, that the thread about Toni’s neighbors was especially meaningful. Even in my non-evangelical household, it simply wasn’t discussed out loud. The documentary in the story is real. It’s called “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt,” and it was televised in October 1989. Here is the IMDB entry: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097099/
My mother was an avid quilter, so it was of interest in more than one way. By the time it released, I’d already fallen in with conservative/fundamentalist evangelicals. Between my parents’ silence and my anti-gay, sex-negative church, I had no one with whom to process how deeply that documentary affected me nor the grief I felt over people I had met personally.
PK: Your schedule is full; life is hectic, and you do volunteer activism! Can you elaborate on how you schedule (or don’t) writing time while balancing so many other areas of your life? Are you particularly self-disciplined? What do you feel you give up to make room for your work (have you published 26 novels? did I count right?)?
AML: I work from home doing freelance copyediting and social media management, both part-time. I schedule writing around that, for the most part. Because I also have at least one chronic illness (that we know of; still working on diagnosing more), my best hours are while the house is quiet and the kids are at school. Once they are home, that’s when I do non-work stuff.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have said I was disciplined. My health was failing, and I just didn’t have energy or time for much. But since starting better treatment, it’s been easier. Still a ways to go, but I’m getting there. I’ve figured out a better system, at least.
I’ve given up having a social life offline. But some of that is a function of working solo and having teenagers who need rides everywhere. They’re a priority. I wouldn’t be going out partying during business hours anyway.
I’m not entirely sure how many works I’ve written. To date: 8 novels, 2 novellas, 4 collections of short stories/flash fiction (most were written more than 5 years ago; I just formatted them), and a few stand-alone short stories. I have four (I think) flash fictions that have been published in Queer Sci Fi’s annual collection and a handful of shorts that have been published in other anthologies as well as some old (at least 4 years) fan fiction floating around.
My process is pretty random when I write, and I’m usually working on at least two or three things so I don’t get bored. I’m currently writing novels number 9 and 10 as well as a follow-up novella to Year of the Guilty Soul. All of those are about halfway done, but I should have them done within the next year. Hopefully I’ll be able to gather funds to hire a voice actor for another audiobook, too.
PK: Thank so much for being willing to talk about your work and your life. I hope it inspires people to pick up the book and to keep writing their own stories. Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know before we wrap up?
AML: I’ll say what I always do, and why I write: You are not wrong or broken or bad. There is hope. You are not alone.
A.M. Leibowitz is a queer spouse, parent, feminist, and book-lover falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. They keep warm through the long, cold western New York winters by writing about life, relationships, hope, and happy-for-now endings. Their published fiction includes several novels as well as a number of short works, and their stories have been included in anthologies from Supposed Crimes, Beaten Track, Witty Bard, and Mischief Corner Books.
They are an occasional host for The BiCast, a podcast for the bi+ community, as well as doing bi+ advocacy work and curating the best-of bi list on the QueerBooksForTeens website. They are a social media contributor for Supposed Crimes, LLC, and they post about news, reviews, and updates for the website. In between noveling and freelance editing, they blog coffee-fueled, quirky commentary on faith, culture, writing, books, and their family.