Welcome to #RavsWriters, an opportunity for you to get to know some of the outstanding human beings who fervently type to make Ravishly the awesome place it is.
Alaina Leary, and my name does have a story. It actually has a lot of stories. When my mom was pregnant, my parents chose not to have a test done to find out the biological sex of their baby. Everyone guessed I would be male. They had a name — Sean Patrick Leary — picked out (super Irish, I know, my parents are both Irish). When I was born, everyone was kind of surprised, and my grandfather (who I call Poppy, his real name is Francis) picked a name for me on the spot because my mom was too exhausted.
I never really connected with my first name, though. I asked my mom starting when I was somewhere between six and seven years old if I could change it, and she said yes — but my dad wanted me to wait until I was at least 18. I called myself by a variety of names throughout the child and teen years, most prominently Alana and Rachel.
In 2014, I socially and legally changed my first name to Alaina after I survived a rape, but I’d always known my name didn’t belong to me, and it felt right that I’d always had my mom’s permission to make the change, because she died when I was younger and didn’t get a chance to talk to me about my choice.
2. Tell us about your family, or your cats, or your elaborate paper napkin collection.
I’ve already told readers about my cats in this essay, but I have two — Blue and Gansey. They’re named after Maggie Stiefvater’s characters in The Raven Boys book series, which I started reading when I was an undergrad in college. Maggie actually came to the Boston area, where I live, and I went to both of her two events in different cities on the same week. She did sort of a double take when she saw me again, but I guess she realized I love her characters because I told her about my cats’ names.
I also really love to talk about my family, particularly because I’m a big fan of the found family. I’m queer, and a lot of LGBTQ+ people feel a close connection to a sense of found family or community (and so do disabled people, another group I’m a part of). I was also raised by a single mom after my parents broke up, and later lived with my dad after my mom died, so I’ve always had an extremely small “immediate” family, which is another reason that I keep adding people to my family.
Some family favorites include: My mom and I had a record player in our apartment growing up and she would put it on and we’d dance together in the living room. She also made forts with me in the living room a few times when I was sick or sad, and would sleep with me down there on the couch near my fort to make sure I was okay. My dad and I always used to take trips to Maine and New Hampshire, and we’d take these long walks that were four or five miles or more long, and then we’d walk all the way back. We also took long drives where we’d put on 107.9 (a local Boston radio station) and see how far we could drive until it started getting static.
3. When did you start writing? Why?
I started telling stories before I started writing. I’m originally an oral storyteller. I would sit for hours telling people stories. Ideally, I’d like to get up and walk while we told stories, but long drives also worked because I could look out the window. I once made up an entire “series” about my cats, Winnie and Munchkin, and in the series they could both talk and they got into hijinks, including saving our home from a deadly fire. My parents always listened to my stories, and so did my best friends, Kristen and Jessica (who I’m still friends with). I’m really lucky that they did. It encouraged me to keep telling stories, and eventually I started writing them down.
4. What do you like to do when you're not doing the thing you have to do?
Writing fiction — so far — has never been something I have to do, outside of a few fiction classes in undergrad, so I do that. I also love photography, although I’m an amateur, and any kind of art: music, dance, sculpture, painting, sea glass mosaics. I don’t try everything myself (I’ve never practiced fire spinning, but I’ve seen it performed), but I try a lot of it at least once, and I consume art regularly. I also read a lot, which I think a lot of writers do.
If I could, I would almost always be outside and near the water. My favorite place to be is as at a beach, but any body of water will do and I love when it rains in the summer. I know going outside isn’t something “to do,” but for me, it is. I’m really into just taking long walks or being outside and thinking, reading, or talking to someone.
5. What music do you love? (Barry Manilow is an acceptable answer.)
I love almost everything, but what I love most is any music that makes me feel something.
6. Favorite pizza topping.
I’m boring and like cheese pizza. I was actually afraid of pizza until Kindergarten because I thought the sauce looked like blood, but now the sauce is my favorite part. My friends and I were recently at the beach in Hyannis on a weekend trip, and we ordered pizza delivered to the beach because we were hungry. It was cheese and I absolutely loved it!
7. Favorite donut.
I don’t really eat donuts, but my dad loves Boston cremes, and my mom liked chocolate crullers. I live in the city with the original Dunkin Donuts location, so I feel guilty that I don’t like donuts, but I really do not (donut, heh!).
8. Last book you read.
I’m currently reading History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. I’m not finished but I’ve cried at least five times, which is how I know it’s going to be a great book. I read a lot of young adult literature because I think a lot of adults are afraid of feeling vulnerable. There’s this screen between adults (on the page, on the screen, in real life) and raw emotion a lot of times, like we get close to the edge of being honest and then back away. I don’t like that backing away, so I feel strongly about young adult literature. Teenagers are usually so honest; I’ve got all my old diaries, letters, and AIM conversations from high school, and I’m just constantly telling people exactly how I feel, even if it’s scary. I have these conversations with my girlfriend where I say things like “I can’t imagine life without you. I don’t want to kill myself if you die, but I feel like you’re a part of me, like you’re in my bones or my veins or my air. I would be terrified to live through losing you.” I would never say something like that now, as an adult; I’d be afraid to admit it. That’s why I read books for teens, because I’m trying to hold on to that vulnerability that I think allows us to really live.
9. What's your sign?
Pisces, which probably explains my earlier foray about being near water. My mom used to call me a mermaid when I was a kid.
10. One word to describe you.
Alive. If a song could describe me, I’d hope people would choose “I Lived” by OneRepublic, because my goal is to live life fully, whether that means letting myself be vulnerable and feel, or not passing up an opportunity to take a road trip with my friends. Every single day, I try to find adventure and fall in love.