Now available from booksellers everywhere by author and former dancer Lynn Slaughter is Leisha’s Song (June 22, 2021, Melange Books/Fire and Ice), a coming-of-age novel that explores the challenges of growing up when teens’ passions and dreams clash with parental expectations, as well as the role the arts play in building powerful connections that transcend racial and social class differences.
Today on Books, Tea, Healthy Me – Get a look at the book and meet the author!
Lynn Slaughter | June 22, 2021 | Melange Books/Fire and Ice
Young Adult Contemporary | Paperback | 978-1-953735-34-8
Leisha knows something’s wrong. Her beloved vocal coach at boarding school would never have resigned and disappeared like this in the midst of preparing her prize students for a major vocal competition. Leisha’s determined to find her, make sure she’s okay.
Cody, a sensitive cellist, insists on helping her. Sparks fly, clues multiply, and romance blossoms, despite the disapproval of their families.
Leisha’s desire to be with Cody and pursue music rather than medicine puts her on a direct collision course with her grandfather, the only parent she’s ever had. But an even more immediate threat looms—because as Leisha draws closer to the truth about her teacher’s disappearance, she puts her own life in grave danger.
After a long career as a professional dancer and dance educator, Lynn Slaughter earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2016. She writes coming-of-age romantic mysteries and is the author of It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist; While I Danced, an EPIC finalist; and Leisha’s Song (June 22, 2021, Fire and Ice). Her short story, Missed Cue, appears in Malice Domestic’s 2020 anthology, Murder Most Theatrical. She lives in Kentucky where she’s at work on her next novel, Deadly Setup, and serves as the President of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, the Ohio River Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime.
An Interview with Lynn Slaughter
Tell us about the lead characters in your novel, Leisha and Cody.
Leisha is extremely intelligent, hard-working, and passionate about classical singing. She goes from being eager to please her grandfather to someone who is determined to live her own life and make her own choices. She is keenly aware of being a Black scholarship kid at a predominantly white upper class boarding school and often makes wry observations about her experiences with white folks.
Cody, her romantic interest, is a sensitive cellist who shares Leisha’s passion for music. Whereas Leisha feels like an outsider at her boarding school, Cody feels like an outsider in his ultra-wealthy, conservative white family. He doesn’t share their worldview or their prejudices. He’s also incredibly perseverant. No matter how many times Leisha rejects his invitations to date him, he doesn’t give up. He’s playful and enjoys teasing Leisha. He’s brave and willing to give up everything to have music and Leisha in his life.
It certainly sounds like there’s a Romeo and Juliet story here (only with a much happier ending)! Can you tell us more about why you incorporated the dynamic of interracial romance into your novel and chose to tell your story from Leisha’s point of view?
In my own work life in the arts, I’ve found that close friendships and romantic relationships often develop between folks who differ in social class, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Leisha and Cody come from vastly different backgrounds, but their passion for music connects them in a fundamental way.
As for why Leisha is the central character in the novel, I want my grandchildren and children everywhere to enjoy books featuring folks who look like them. As one of my teen beta readers said, “We’re so sick of being the sidekick!”
You spent many years as a dancer and dance educator. Through your personal experiences counseling students who were passionate about the arts, like Leisha, did you come across parents who disapproved of them pursuing artistic careers? How does your novel celebrate the liberating value of art and music?
While some parents are very supportive, others actively try to dissuade their children from pursuing careers in the arts. Often, they fear their children will never make a living in the arts and/or they view the arts as “a frill.” Leisha and Cody share the problem of lack of parental support for their desire to pursue music. Yet they feel most alive, joyful, and fulfilled when they are making music.
What other societal pressures does Leisha face in school as she forges her own path into adulthood?
Leisha puts a lot of pressure on herself to excel. Much of that comes from her grandfather drumming into her from an early age that to compete in a white-dominated world, she has to be twice as good. Some of her drive to succeed academically comes from wanting to prove that she’s not there on scholarship just because she’s Black and the institution wants to up their diversity numbers, but because she’s extremely smart and deserves the spot.
You’ve spent most of your life as a dancer, and now you’re a writer. Obviously, there are differences in levels of physical activity, but what are the similarities?
Both are rewarding and meaningful forms of expressive communication. I loved being “in the zone” as a dancer, and I love being there as a writer. Both fields require self-discipline, constant practice, perseverance, and attention to craft as well as artistry. Both call for a commitment to constant growth and improvement. There is also a lot of vulnerability involved. When you put yourself and/or your work onstage or share your writing with others, you are revealing so much about who you are. I consider both dance and writing to be risk-taking behaviors! And of course, dancers and writers are very familiar with rejection.
Tell us about your involvement with Sisters in Crime.
Sisters in Crime is a wonderful organization dedicated to the advancement, recognition, and professional development of women mystery writers. I’ve been an active member of my local chapter since 2016 and this year, became President. We offer constructive feedback and encouragement to one another on our current works-in-progress and host a variety of guest speakers on mystery writing-related topics. The national organization also offers a host of resources and classes for members.
What attracted you to writing young adult fiction rather than books for adult readers?
Teens have always been my favorite age group to work with. I formerly chaired the dance department at a performing arts high school and spent several summers counseling students at a residential program for high schoolers gifted in the arts. In addition, I’ve been a lifelong lover of young adult fiction and have been inspired by such luminaries in the field as Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, and Angie Thomas.
Adolescence is such a formative time of life. Teens are trying to sort out issues of identity — who they are and who they dream of being. It’s an emotionally intense time, full of angst and conflict, as well as humor. They are coming of age in an increasingly diverse society where they are grappling with the fallout from systemic racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. As author Gayle Forman points out, YA novels are wonderful “empathy-delivery devices,” and in our polarized world, I think cultivating empathy and understanding of one another is crucial.
What are your favorite writing rituals?
I’m a morning writer. After breakfast and a ride on my exercise bike, I head into my office. My sweet husband makes sure I have water and coffee, strands of Christmas lights over my desk, and a scented candle nearby. And then he closes the door! After booting up my computer and putting some music on, I start by reading and doing some light edits on my previous day’s pages and then push forward into new material.
What is something about you that’s not in your bio and might surprise your readers?
In my 60s, I sang vocals for a local rock band! My husband and I still love making music together. I sing, and he plays the guitar. We enjoy composing our own original music.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on another coming-of-age romantic mystery, Deadly Setup, in which the 17-year-old daughter of a New England heiress fights to prove her innocence when she goes on trial for the murder of her mother’s fiancée.