Unteachable is a book that will test the restraints people have on what is considered acceptable. With this book Leah Raeder steps outside of the safe zone while covering a topic that most would cringe at. Leah approaches it with style, and brings this taboo topic to surface without any attempts to sugar coat any of the details to make them easier to swallow. When a student and a teacher enter a relationship which is frowned upon by society, what is the outcome. Leah has written a captivating tale that is raw and a bit overwhelming.
Tell us a bit about you.
I was born in the 80s, which means I have fantastic taste in music and atrocious taste in hair. I knew at eight years old that I wanted to be a published author when I grew up. Of course, when I was eight, “published author” was a glamorous daydream where I spent all day in bookstores, signing hardcovers and posing for photos with fans. In reality, authordom involves lots of bourbon-scented tears and neurotic self-doubt. At least there are fewer mullets.
As well as being a writer, I’m a voracious and omnivorous reader. Seriously. I read everything from contemporary Young Adult to dense, doorstop literary fiction. Some of my favorite writers are Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night), and Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body). I’m a total poetry geek, too—my two absolute favorites are Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath.
The pretty colors on my book cover and website were made by me. In my non-bookish life, I’m a graphic designer.
I’m from Chicago and have lived all over the world, from NYC to LA to Tehran, Iran. I currently live in the Windy City with my partner, Alexander, who’s very understanding about all this girlsmut business.
What can readers expect from reading Unteachable?
A different type of teacher/student romance story: one that boldly confronts the taboo and wrongness of the situation, and wrestles with the idea of lust vs. love.
Were you nervous about the idea of covering such a taboo topic in your book?
Yes, but it’s not the taboo that made me nervous so much as the way it’s handled. There are plenty of other teacher/student novels out there, but in many of them the age difference is minimal and the wrongness of the situation is downplayed to make the taboo more palatable. Unteachable is different in that it doesn’t try to minimize or downplay the taboo—it’s one of the central issues the characters struggle with. Is their love real, or is it based on the thrill of the forbidden?
I knew that confronting the topic openly like this would turn off some readers, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how open-minded the reception has been. It’s amazing to read reviews that say, “I don’t approve of teacher/student relationships, but this story made me realize it’s not always so black and white.”
Is there an intended message behind the story of Unteachable?
No, I try my best not to preach or tell people what to think. I just write the story; the moral is something each reader decides for her or himself.
How has living in so many different places affected you as an author?
It’s shown me both how different and how universal some things are. Our daily lifestyles may vary greatly from country to country, but we go through many of the same milestones in life. Some things, like the intensity and indelibility of first love, are universal.
Any advice for other authors on how to deal with those moments of neurotic self-doubt?
Drinking worked for me!
In all seriousness, it never goes away. I saw this great (and terrifying) tweet the other day: “Writing is a job you have to keep applying for. You’re never guaranteed to sell again.” And it’s true. You never know if a book will sell; you never really feel like you’ve “made it,” because there’s always some bigger goal looming ahead, some other way to prove yourself. I’m sure even JK Rowling and Stephen King have moments where they feel like they’re total frauds and the whole house of cards could collapse instantly. Self-doubt is so intrinsic to being a writer that I don’t think there’s much point trying to get rid of it—being able to criticize yourself helps you improve. As long as that self-doubt isn’t completely crippling, it’s just part of the job.
And when it does get crippling: booze. Lots of booze.
What’s next for you? Any new upcoming projects for reader to look out for?
I’ve got a few things cooking, but I can’t share any details yet. ;) There will be another standalone New Adult romance in the near future.
Find out more about Leah. Follow her on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.