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June 3, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Lyah Beth LeFlore starts her day with a cup of joe in hand — her morning heroin, as she calls it. Over the phone, she goes on an enthusiastic spiel about how she went from being a Midwestern girl to a successful television producer and national best-selling author. As she recalls the past 20 years of her career, it’s clear that her story, one of determination and drive, parallels the lives of the seven protagonists in her series, “The Come Up.”
A native of St. Louis, LeFlore graduated from Stephens College in 1991 with a degree in communications media. One month after graduating, she moved to New York for a job as a vice president’s assistant at Nickelodeon. “So here I found myself, this Midwestern girl in New York City, with an opportunity of a lifetime,” she says.
She mingled and schmoozed while working among some of the biggest TV and music moguls, including Sean “Diddy” Combs. But in 2004 LeFlore couldn’t ignore the writer’s itch that had been creeping up on her, and her first book, Cosmopolitan Girls, which she co-wrote with Charlotte Burley, went to print that year. Her first solo novel, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, was released in the summer of 2006, and LeFlore is currently turning it into a screenplay.
Now on a book-a-year schedule, she welcomes the June release of her sixth book, Can’t Hold Me Down, the second in the “The Come Up” series. The story is told through the voice of Blue Reynolds, who seems to have it all. He’s smart, spunky, driven, disarmingly charming and, above all, he’s a dreamer. He has aspirations to go from a club manager to the next big music mogul, but achieving his dream isn’t as easy as it seems. Blue and his team of young friends struggle to break away from the expectations of their parents and the poisonous atmosphere of sex and drugs that often seduces the young and ambitious. “I think there are a lot of issues that this book presents, and I think it could appeal to everyone,” says Tyler Huber, the MU junior who is the real-life model for Collin Andrews, Blue’s best friend. Huber knows LeFlore’s niece, and when LeFlore was looking for the face for Collin, her niece suggested Huber.
LeFlore, along with illustrator and co-creator D.L. Warfield, began brainstorming the series in 2008. In 2009 Simon & Schuster published the first in her three-book series, The World is Mine. The idea for the books came partially from exasperation. “I got tired of seeing crap thrown at young people and life depicted in an untrue way,” LeFlore says. She and Warfield decided to write a book targeted toward an audience that LeFlore considers mostly ignored — any reader who isn’t rich and white. The series is aimed at readers aged 14 to 18 and offers a multiethnic assembly of characters, each with his or her own dream of coming up in the world. Set in present-day Washington D.C., the plot follows the intertwined lives of seven characters and creates a dramatic story line with chunks of humor thrown in.
The new book will debut the arrival of the seventh character, who joins the preteen crew after a disastrous party threatens to end its close-knit friendships. The series has done so well that BET will turn it into a Web series, which will later air on television.
But even after making the move to television, LeFlore hopes her books elevate the thinking of her readers and allow them to see that life can be more than just sex, fame and glamour. It’s about achieving dreams.
“What kid, (even in) the worst circumstance, the worst situation, doesn’t have a dream?” she asks. “That’s what ‘The Come Up’ is all about. It’s about coming up in life despite your circumstances.”