When Leah Rhyne finished her novel Jo
, she knew she had something special on her hands. But there was just one problem: the hybrid horror/sci-fi novel wasn't the kind of read that was burning up the best-sellers lists. Still, the one-time City Paper
contributor believed in Jo
, her little X-File-ish spin on the Frankenstein myth.
After letting it sit on the shelf for a few years — the horror writer was hard at work on her Undead America
series at the time — Rhyne decided to self-publish it. "I was curious about the path to self-publication anyway. I'd just spoken with Hugh Howey about the subject for a CP
article, and he was, to say the least, incredibly inspiring. So I thought, I'll self-publish it and see what happens," Rhyne says. "A brilliant editor-friend of mine took a pass over the book, I found an incredible cover at an indie-publishing cover shop, and the rest could have been history."
Like many self-published writers know all to well, few in the biz are as successful as Howey, the author of the popular Wool
series. But for Rhyne, this excursion in self-publishing paid off, but not in the way she had intended.
She submitted a book — not Jo
— to Jason Pinter at the indie-publisher Polis Books, but it was her Mary Shelley homage that caught his eye. He wanted to publish it. But there was just one hitch: Rhyne had to turn Jo
into a YA-friendly read. This task was simple enough. "Had I been able to write without cursing at the time, it probably always would have been YA," Rhyne admits. "So we toned down some of the language (leaving some curses in because, well, kids curse, don't they?); gave it a new title, Heartless
; a new cover with custom artwork by an amazing Staten Island-based tattoo artist, Magie Serpica; and, gulp, it's coming soon to bookstores near you." The book will hit shelves May 10, but you can pre-order copies on Amazon.
, by way of Jo
, was inspired by a nightmare Rhyne had years ago. "I dreamed one night that I was back in my freshman year college dorm room. I sat on my bed, which was across the room from the door, when suddenly there was a knock. I opened up and found two girls standing there. One was in hysterics, giggly hysterics. She couldn't stop laughing, leaning against the door frame. The other girl sort of pushed past me into my room, and then she turned. 'I'm dead,' she said. 'Can you tell? Can you smell it?'" the author says. "I woke up shortly thereafter, but the dream stayed with me. I kept wondering, who was that girl and how was she dead? Why was she still walking around? She was too solid to be a ghost, too well-spoken to be a zombie. I thought about her for months before finally one day I realized I should start writing her story and see where it went.
Although Rhyne drew from Frankenstein, there was one noticeable difference. Jo is falling apart. "She was so fun to write about. I could be gross and kind of silly, all at the same time, which is pretty much my personality, right there," Rhyne says. "It's, I think, pretty funny, the way she crumbles to pieces sometimes but also really sad. And creepy but not terrifying. My sweet mother-in-law read Jo
, and she still speaks to me, so I guess it's not too deranged."