RunAway Train is a heartfelt, laugh-out-loud YA and we can’t wait for you to read it!
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They told me I was an out-of-control train about to crash…
Everything changed when the police officer knocked on the door to tell me – a 16-year-old – that my older sister Kristen had died of a brain aneurysm. Cue the start of my parents neglecting me and my whole life spiraling out of control. I decided now was the perfect time to skip town. It’s the early 90’s, Kurt Cobain runs the grunge music scene and I just experienced some serious trauma. What’s a girl supposed to do? I didn’t want to end up like Kristen, so I grabbed my bucket list, turned up my mixtape of the greatest 90’s hits and fled L.A.. The goal was to end up at Kurt Cobain’s house in Seattle, but I never could have guessed what would happen along the way. At turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and laugh out loud funny, Runaway Train is a wild journey of a bygone era and a portrait of a one-of-a-kind teenage girl trying to find herself again the only way she knows how.
“Realistic and shocking, hopeful and satisfying, Runaway Train will keep readers turning the page.” — USA Today Bestselli:
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Three months after Kristen’s death, and Winter, Jeremy and I have gotten in the habit of
skipping school on the last day of every month to head to the Viper Room and mourn River
Phoenix’s passing, even though I’m honestly mourning Kristen’s. This is how our day of hooky
begins. Jeremy brings a bottle of vodka, Winter supplies the weed, and I’m responsible for cigs.
We get on the train to Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and carry peonies and leave them
outside with all the other accouterments adoring fans had bestowed. By the time we get there,
we’re all shitfaced and stumbling: Winter’s eyes spinning, Jeremy letting go of his masculinity
and sashaying down the street like a runway model. Then we all hug and cry and quote from
Stand By Me.
“Yeah, but so what? Everybody’s weird,” we scream at the sky. “Weird, weird, weird!”
Winter, Jeremy and I certainly like to think of ourselves as the weirdest of the weird.
Winter with her dyed Manic Panic white hair and giant boobs, her Jansport backpack with pot
leaves sewn on and liquor bottles clinking inside, her choker necklace practically cutting off her
circulation, her rusty Doc Martins with the yellow laces untied, dark lip liner with really light lip
gloss and a leotard with a snap crotch. And Jeremy, sweet Cupid-faced Jeremy with rosy cheeks
looking like he’s still a freshman, super baggy jeans to hide his chicken legs, hair parted tight
down the middle with bangs curling over his eyes, the tips frosted blond. I lost my virginity to
Jeremy when we were fourteen, sleeping over at his house, his mom without a clue, drunk on
cough syrup with Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes getting us in the mood (I should’ve known he
was gay then). I, of course, made the first move because Winter had done it a ton of times
already and I was tired of her holding it over me. But Jeremy kept slipping out like a fish trying
to escape back into water. He felt me up a little, even tried to go down on me, but he looked like
he was trying to figure out the answers to a Chemistry quiz.
“Jeremy, are you gay?” I asked, pushing his diligent face away from my crotch. Jeremy
had a poster of Luke Perry from 90210 too, and Luke Perry gave us a look that said, duh, the kid
jerks to me every night.
“It’s okay if you are. Like, I have a cousin who is and lives in Palm Springs. He has a
Chihuahua and a boyfriend named Kipper. Winter and I still love you.”
Winter, Jeremy, and I formed our clique as protection. Kristen went to a private school
because she had the grades for it, but my delinquent ass had no other choice but the public
shitbox in Reseda. Jocks and pretty girls do okay at the school, theater kids even have a home,
and the rest of us blend into obscurity. The three of us decided not to let anyone else in (except
for hella cute dudes to occasionally mess around with at parties we’d crash, at least for Winter
and me), and no one else bothers us. We roam the halls, arm-in-arm, most people thinking
Winter and I are lez (I mean, we made out a few times but BFD—Big. Fuckin. Deal).
Now we wander away from the Viper Room, Jeremy doing his impression of Gordie
from Stand By Me when he gets the leech stuck to his dick, and then we meander into a back
alley where we can get good and sloppy.
Winter yanks a fresh vodka bottle from her Jansport, twists off the cap, and chugs before
passing it my way. The liquor burns like a match down my throat.
“God, River Phoenix was twenty-three!” Winter moans. “Can you imagine dying in like
six or seven years?”
Can you imagine dying in just a few months like my sister did before she hit seventeen? I
want to say, but I really never talk about Kristen. Winter and Jeremy are always either too caught
up in their own bullshit to ask, or wisely know it would only sour the day.
“Who would you be, like, the most sad if they died?” Jeremy asks. “Famous person-
“Kurt Cobain!” I screech, because the walls in my bedroom held evidence of my absolute
and devoted love for him. Screw Courtney Love who gets to sleep with him every day on their
bed of lovely unwashed sheets. I long to comb his dirty hair, sniff his moth-eaten sweaters, bleed
across his book of poetry, birth his child, have him call me Mom, write a song for me to sing at
one of his shows, and then Courtney Love and I could have a cat flight backstage because I took
her man and would never give him back.
Winter and Jeremy agree with my choice, but Jeremy says: “Chris Cornell would make
me cry. I mean, Kurt Cobain is the better songwriter, but I’d give up my cherry for Chris
“You already gave up your cherry to Nico,” Winter adds, always the smart ass.
“Any fish I ever had doesn’t count,” Jeremy says, fluttering his eyes. “No offense, Nico.”
“None taken. I turned you gay. I can live with that.”
Winter takes another swig that she chases with hit of pot from her swirly glass pipe. It
isn’t even eleven in the morning, and like, a Tuesday, but the three of us are on the road to
getting more messed up than ever before, and I love it with every fiber of my being.
“Mine would be Eddie Vedder,” Winter says, coughing like crazy. “He just oozes sex
appeal. Like a god.”
And then she begins singing “Jeremy” to Jeremy, which is something the two of us do
from time to time because it pisses him off so.
“What dead person would you want back the most?” Jeremy asks, sticking his tongue in
Winter’s heavily-pierced ear to annoy her.
“Joplin,” Winter says, smacking him on the cheek. “Because my mom would go ape-shit.
She loves Janis Joplin so much. She always talks about Woodstock and how-ah-may-zing it
“Mine would really be Freddie Mercury,” Jeremy says. “Because he was such a gay icon.
Like, AIDS is the WORST.”
We toast to AIDS being the WORST and briefly mention a kid at our school that had to
leave when he contracted HIV.
“Nico, who would you bring back?” Winter asks. She takes my hand. Hers is clammy,
but mine is worse. Does she want me to say my sister? Since I never talk about Kristen, maybe
this is Winter’s way of getting me release some of my demons. Brilliant and cunning Winter.
“River Phoenix, of course!” I shout, choking on tears that feel like a hard-shelled walnut
struggling down my gullet. Winter and Jeremy both look at me, disappointed, their eyes saying
it’s time to talk about Kristen and how much her passing affects me.
“It’s okay, love,” Jeremy says, caressing my cheek like one would to a cat. “We’re here
I go to speak, but only a sad bubble emerges from my lips before it pops. I turn to Winter
“Gimme some of that pot.”
We wrestle around on the dirty pavement, me tickling Winter’s ribs, her laughing and
sounding like a squeaking mouse. I wrap my thick thighs around her and she honks my boob,
then she reaches in her pocket and puts a baggie between her teeth.
“Kiss me and take it,” she says, as we hear the sound of a police siren. My heart shatters
in two, not because of our truancy but because the sound of the police always brings me right
back to that fucking awful Halloween day.
I jump off of her, hug myself, and motor out of the alleyway. A homeless crackhead is
being arrested. He’s trying to bite his shoulder as the cops attempt to put him in handcuffs. He’s
hollering at the sun, and through my own drug-fueled haze, I see myself in his place: fighting
against my assailants in blue, raging from a cocktail of uppers and downers, a true mess being
put out of her misery for good. Dead & Bloated. Zipped up in a body bag and taken to a cold
freezer, just like Kristen, so we could be put in the ground together, her spirit playing Ace of
Base while mine blasted STP, a warring duel of specters fighting to be the loudest one in
heaven—or honestly, she’d be the one up there doing the Running Man with God to “The Sign,”
while I’d be sent farther down below to spend an eternity in a mosh pit with Satan and all the
other absolute trainwrecks, getting licked by the flames.
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Meet the Author:
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE ANCESTOR, THE MENTOR, THE DESIRE CARD and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the Prix du Polar. His first YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN is forthcoming in 2021 along with a sci-fi novel ORANGE CITY. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, LitReactor, Monkeybicycle, Fiction Writers Review, Cagibi, Necessary Fiction, the anthology Dirty Boulevard, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press and others. He is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at LeeMatthewGoldberg.com
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