Back in September of 2015, I had the unique pleasure to meet author Ryan Leone (pronounced Lee-own-ee) when I traveled to Los Angeles to see an author I had admired for many years, Jerry Stahl. It was the 20th anniversary of Jerry's indelible memoir, Permanent Midnight, and to celebrate, Jerry was making a rare appearance at L.A.'s gorgeous The Last Bookstore, and as it turned out, he would be in the company of two other authors, neither of whom I had ever heard of. But I figured if Jerry was promoting them, I had to see what the fuss was all about.
I took the subway from my hotel and arrived early for the event, and as I turned the corner onto 5th street, I saw Ryan as he was coming out of the store for a cigarette. The moment he saw me he immediately said hello, calling me by name, and welcomed me to the event (we had actually spoken once or twice via Facebook a few weeks prior to the event). We shook hands and talked for a few minutes before he had to move on and prepare for the reading. He seemed both nervous and excited, almost ecstatic, and I couldn't blame him. Reading your own work in front of a crowd can be pretty intimidating by itself, but getting to share a stage with Jerry was an entirely different animal.
I browsed the bookshelves for a bit, an attempt at distraction as the anticipation of the event hovered all around me, then took a seat and waited eagerly for the reading to begin. Jerry, as always, was hilariously frank in his storytelling, just like in his books, and as the conversation went on between Jerry and these other two writers, Joe Clifford and Ryan Leone, I realized I needed to learn more about each of them, because their stories of overcoming drug addiction blew my mind.
And so I did just that. I bought their books, shook their hands, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed by either of them. I got to meet Jerry for the second time (the first was at a Barnes & Noble in Orange County sometime in 2007), and we spoke for a few moments about publishing and the ways of the writer today.
Joe Clifford primarily writes crime fiction, most notably his fantastic Jay Porter series, but that night he was there to read from and talk about his memoir, Junky Love (Battered Suitcase Press, 2013). Although I only had a moment to meet Joe as he was heading out after the event had ended, I took the time to read Junky Love (a highly impressive memoir) and befriended him on Facebook shortly afterward. Turns out he's a pretty cool guy.
Ryan, for all his tumultuous times in California over the years, (I won't go into it here but you really need to check out his YouTube channel) has emerged as an intriguing, unique literary voice, a rebel like Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, and an author I knew I needed to pay close attention to.
Ryan's wild, drug-fueled debut novel, Wasting Talent, grabs you by the throat from its first pages and squeezes just enough to keep you gasping, turning the pages to see just how far down the book's protagonist, Damien, will drag you.
I found myself both rooting for him to pull himself out of the dark depths in which he almost seems to thrive, while simultaneously wanting him to sink so low he could never escape. By the end (no spoilers), I wasn't sure which way things would go. I read the book in less than two days and haven't been able to forget Damien, or the shady circle of characters that inhabit his world. Leone's prose evokes a modern-day Bukowski, and the poetic structure keeps the pace fast and almost dangerous. This is not a book for the timid, but is an excellent piece of fiction and striking debut.
Wasting Talent was published by Catharsis Fiction in 2014. Sadly, Ryan Leone passed away on July 2nd, 2022, before his second novel, June Gloom, as well as his other projects, including a documentary of his life and a biography of singer Mickey Avalon, could be published. Perhaps one day, they will be.
You can buy the book here:
Watch a clip of the event here:
Check out Ryan's YouTube page here: