Debut Author Interview: Rayya Elias, Author of the Memoir HARLEY LOCO

Debut memoirs are very exciting to examine because a lot of people want to write about their life, and interviewing success stories can help others illuminate paths to publishing success. Today we meet Rayya Elias, whose debut memoir came out in April 2013. It’s called HARLEY LOCO: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk From the Middle East to the Lower East Side.

Regarding the book, Publishers Weekly called it, “[A] compulsively page-turning memoir…Haunting and mesmerizing, Elias’s story captures powerfully the vulnerability of being an outsider and the deep yearnings to be a part of something.” Kirkus Reviews said, “First time author Elias, who has been clean since 1997, has enough distance to speak on her past unashamedly, with clear-eyed intelligence and without judging her younger self too harshly…strong stuff, with some truly amazing stories well told.”

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rayya-elias-writer-author         harley-loco-book-cover


Please describe what the story/book is about.

Harley Loco is a book about jumping in head-first, no questions asked. It’s a book about living in the moment no matter what that might bring, and about pursuing, not always by choice, a life of extremes–highs and lows, pain and passion–until ultimately arriving at a place of contentment and peace.

Where do you write from?

I have a place in NJ that used to be little old church built in the early 1800’s. It’s a wonderful house and sanctuary that I use to write in. I live in Chelsea, in New York City.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

When I finally stopped using drugs over fifteen years ago, I started writing and telling short stories about my past that people found intriguing, funny, and too insane to be made up. My long-time friend and music partner Kory Clarke suggested that I shoot one of them as a short film. At first I thought this was crazy—I wasn’t a filmmaker—but his argument was that it would be like making a music video, which we were both very familiar with back in the 1980s.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

In 2003, I made the film Anonymous, a 32-minute piece about an eviction that ensued on the Lower East Side—and it was shown in small theatres, and festivals, and got me a write-up in Filmmaker magazine. So I made another film, The Lunchroom, which was equally well received. But soon after my divorce from my partner of eight years, I felt displaced and lost. My dear friend Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) suggested that I come out to the country, stay in a beautiful place she owned, a church built in 1804 and converted into a two bedroom house, and write about my life; she said that I had a story to tell. Again, I thought she was nuts—I wasn’t a writer—but she convinced me that I could do it. She gave me nine months rent-free—a sort of artist’s residency—to put together the collection of stories I’d told her over the years. These stories are the meat and potatoes of the memoir.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I finished the first draft in nine months.

Then came the editing process, which both painful and liberating. I’ve stayed on living at the church and love it. Liz extended my residency indefinitely, I guess I’m a good tenant!

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

I found her through Elizabeth Gilbert. Sarah Chalfant at Wylie is my agent.



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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

That it takes almost one full year to have a book published once you’re completely finished.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I was very lucky.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

Nothing, it all happened perfectly.

Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

Using social media. I’m also doing readings at bookstores and have songs coming out as a soundtrack.

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Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Never give up, and enjoy the ride, even when it feels like there is nowhere else to turn. Just keep pounding away.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I love to be alone, and I’m a big mush.

Favorite movie?

Too many.


What’s next?

Working on short stories.

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