The opening paragraphs of The River Leith came to me in a rush one afternoon, the voice so sure and confident, the words flowing through my brain like a river, and I hurried to get them down. Some characters and books are like that. They show up and they have a voice and a presence, they know what they want to tell you, and they spill their beans with such ease that it’s really just up to you to capture what they want to say. That’s how Leith was for the most part, and the book was a fairly easy one to write, in the scheme of books, anyway.
Let’s put it this way: it’s not always like this. With other books the characters sometimes show up but then they just stand in a shadowy corner toeing at the ground and refusing to meet your eye until you’ve wooed them into whispering their story to you in stunted paragraphs full of gaps and difficult silences. The wooing is a varied thing, too—sometimes it’s all about finding the right album that makes the character open up, other times it’s reading some piece of poetry that seems unrelated on the surface of things but somehow makes the character say, “Fine, I’ll fucking tell you, okay? Jesus, stop haranguing me with the goddamn poetry and listen to this.” Even then the stories can be punctuated with full-on refusals to reveal what happened next until you get it wrong a few times first. (Yes, I’m insane. I blame my mom for not breastfeeding me. KIDDING!)
Leith wasn’t like that. He was open and ready to spill it all. Zach, though, was another story. He didn’t want to talk about it. He was not interested in exploring his feelings and memories. So I originally wrote the story as a single point view book, written from Leith’s perspective. But a very early beta reader said, “Nope. I need to see Zach here.” I tried writing scenes from his perspective but he wasn’t interested in telling me a damn thing. He’d go all cold whenever I tried to get into his head. Somewhere I have the awful six paragraphs I pulled teeth to get. It’s not pretty.
Eventually, though, it became clear that what Zach was willing to do was vlog about his point of view. He was a vlogger after all and was used to confessing for a camera to a silent, faceless audience. It was through these vlog transcripts that I was able to get into Zach a little. He was, and still is, a deep well, too vulnerable for his own good, and unwilling to expose himself to people he can actually see. And, uh, I guess as the writer he could see me? I’m not sure. But the device of adding a vlog transcript allowed him to open up and really spill his messy guts. I’m not sure how readers will respond to the vlogs, but it was a risk I remain excited to have taken, and it was a rewarding challenge to craft them, too.
I honestly can’t say where the idea for a story about amnesia came from. I think it was perhaps stirred by a discussion I had with a friend about how you can never have two first times with your lover. I remember turning that idea over in my head and thinking about all the things I’d learned about amnesia during my college years and subsequent bouts of research on the topic due to andom curiosity. It wasn’t long after that Leith showed up with his commentary on memory, telling me his situation, and I went with that.
Here are the paragraphs that Leith came to me with, the opening paragraphs of the book. I hope speaks to you the same way he spoke to me:
Memory, as it turned out, was both everything and nothing. It had no substance, no form, no weight, and no color. It was described, in technical terms, as deposits of proteins within cells of the brain. However, these were words that at their heart were as mysterious and ultimately magical as any other metaphor used in an attempt to understand the concept: memory as a storehouse or set of books—a way to keep track of life’s checks and balances; or memory as meaning—a mode of life, and a way of being.
Leith knew now that all these metaphors and all these words boiled down to one thing: memory is the sum of us, the total, and if it is divided, then we are lost.
There were other people in the occupational therapy ward, and Leith studied them with a mixture of horror and envy. There was the droopy, sagging stroke victim Jan Troxell, who could tell anyone the weather report from that morning, but couldn’t remember anything else—not her daughter’s name, not her age, and not her favorite color.
There was David Mueller, for whom every day began as April 12, 2006, until he found out again, and again, and again that he had suffered a brain injury and couldn’t make any more memories.
In some ways these people repulsed Leith, leaving him breathless with terror and disgust at how close he’d come to joining their ranks. People who were shells of the beings they were before, empty and unable to give anything back to the world except for the memory that once they were more, and that they never would be again.
But in other equally scary ways, Leith watched these people with envy. They were free, utterly rudderless in a thrashing ocean, but still free. Their options had been removed from them, and they were at the mercy of the elements and the grace of people’s kindness. But they weren’t tied down to memories of who they were, of what and who they’d loved, the things they’d once dreamed, and the things they’d valued.
Leith was not free. He knew who he was, give or take the last three years of his life. It had been almost two weeks since he’d come out of the coma. The illegal blow to the back of his head during the New York Amateur Boxing Championship match had cost his opponent his career, but it had cost Leith a hell of a lot more than that.
All in all he had a lot more than the other amnesiacs he saw every day in the rehab hospital. His intelligence hadn’t been compromised, and while some of his motor skills were rough, the doctors told him there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to live a completely normal life again. Of course they strongly advised against boxing. Multiple head injuries could be fatal. At least he’d come out of the last one with his life, his brains, and only a few missing years.
His last memory was learning that he would soon be released from prison. In his sparse, clean cell, he’d sat on a bunk and composed a letter to Arthur asking if it would be all right to start over in Brooklyn instead of going home to New Jersey and their father.
Leith had no memory of finishing that letter. No memory of a bus trip from the jail in Florida to Arthur’s apartment in Manhattan. No memory of meeting a girl named Naomi on the ski slopes of Vermont. No memory of his father’s death and no memory of mourning by his dad’s grave. Leith only knew of these things because he’d been told. And he still didn’t know how to believe them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
While Leta Blake would love to tell you that writing transports her to worlds of magic and wonder and then safely returns her to a home of sparkling cleanliness and carefully folded laundry, the reality is a bit different. Instead, piles of laundry and forgotten appointments haunt her life, but the joy of writing and the thrill of finishing a book make the everyday chaos all worth it.
Leta’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively, but her passion has always been in writing, and she most enjoys crafting romance stories that she would like to read. At her home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
Blurb & Buy Links: Memory is everything.
After an injury in the ring, amateur boxer Leith Wenz wakes to discover his most recent memories are three years out of date. Unmoored and struggling to face his new reality, Leith must cope anew with painful revelations about his family. His brother is there to support him, but it’s the unfamiliar face of Zach, a man introduced as his best friend, that provides the calm he craves. Until Zach’s presence begins to stir up feelings Leith can’t explain.
For Zach, being forgotten by his lover is excruciating. He carefully hides the truth from Leith to protect them both from additional pain. His bottled-up turmoil finds release through vlogging, where he confesses his fears and grief to the faceless Internet. But after Leith begins to open up to him, Zach’s choices may come back to haunt him.
Ultimately, Leith must ask his heart the questions memory can no longer answer.
The Giveaway: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED