Once you start reading “A Million Miles,” Amy Fleisher Madden's first novel, you'll hate that you have a “real” life—work, school, etc.—that’s going to eventually interrupt you and make you put it down. When that real life allows you to get back to the novel about 20-year-old Maddy Traeger criss-crossing the country as the tour manager for the fictional late 90s up-and-coming pop-punk band Crimson + Clover, a few different things will happen. Despite Maddy’s confusion about love, her future, and being so far away from her home, friends and family for so long, you’ll still envy her experience and her adventure. And while that envy could lead to a little resentment towards whatever you’re doing that isn’t as cool, the feeling of nostalgia you get from Madden's picture-perfect prose describing that late 90s punk/emo scene and touring through it, should balance that out and just make you feel good.
“People are excited that there’s a definite snapshot of what our lives were like back then,” Madden says.
That snapshot couldn’t be more definite because Madden was actually there, man. Amy Fleisher Madden is known to many as Amy Fiddler—founder of the punk/emo record label Fiddler Records. She started the record label almost 20 years ago when she was 16 and introduced the world to bands like Dashboard Confessional, New Found Glory and Recover. Those first two bands are still selling out huge venues two decades later. (Your turn, Recover.) From 16 and into her early 20s, Madden toured with some of the scene’s most influential bands and released some of the most influential records.
So when I use the word “fictional,” I use it lightly. As Maddy and Crimson make their way across the country, they visit venues that really exist—like my old go-to rock venue Emos in Austin, Texas—and they play with bands like Jimmy Eat World and Thrice. The author and her new company, Animal Manufacturing Co.—which “A Million Miles” is published through—have even released songs and a music video from the “fake” band Crimson + Clover. MTV called them your new favorite 90s pop-punk band that doesn’t exist.
“A Million Miles” reaches those of us who grew up in that late 90s-early 2000s punk and emo scene, like “Almost Famous” reached those who grew up on that 1970s rock-and-roll. And as someone who holds that movie in my top five of all time, that’s not a comparison that I would just throw around. You’ll go behind-the-scenes with the mid-level band, there are girls backstage, a hookup in an alley behind the concert venue, meetings with record label staff, and, of course, drugs. As Lester Bangs says in “Almost Famous,” “It’s a think piece. You know, about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.” But Maddy isn’t riding along to chronicle that struggle, she’s part of the circus. She has her own mid-level struggles.
“It definitely started out as memories, just bits and pieces,” Madden says. “Because I started to forget things. I realized that once I got the guts of the book out, I needed to turn it into a narrative story because there was no reason to care about anything. No one cares about how drunk you got, or the Twizzlers you stole at 7/11. It’s not exciting because it’s not your memory. But if you create characters that people fall in love with, then it’s exciting.”
Madden does have a knack for developing characters that you care about. This novel could’ve easily been solely about one girl’s struggle and adventure while being on tour, and while that is a big part of it, we see clear cut personalities in each individual band member and Maddy’s friends and family that she left behind. Madden insists that, while some characters may have subtle traits of people she actually knows, the only character who represents someone real is Maddy.
“So much of Maddy is me. I think Maddy is a little bit stronger than I was. She’s tough. I think the way that I put it best is that her feelings are mine. ‘What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Do I love this person? Does this person love me? Where am I going with my life?’ All of those feelings are exactly how I felt at the time.”
That’s another reason this book will resonate with everyone who reads it—whether male or female, whether you're 16 or in your 30s like the author and myself. Didn’t we all feel those things in our 20s? Don’t we all still feel some of those things every now and then? The second edition of “A Million Miles” was just released on May 4, and Madden has already seen the effect the book has had on people.
“The interesting thing that has happened to me, I never really understood what people go through when you create.” Madden says. “The first thing you create, you’re on your own and you do it for you, and it’s yours, and you release it. And then something crazy happens where people get attached to your characters and your stories and you get amazing letters that are like ‘Please, I have to know what happens next to these characters.' Then you feel like you have this responsibility to these people and you don’t want to let them down.”
I guess you can consider this my letter. When you finish “A Million Miles,” you will want to know what happens next. But it’s not just because you’ll fall in love with the characters, but also because there’s a little bit of all of us in Maddy. You feel like if Maddy had the guts to chase her dream and it paid off, then maybe that means it can happen for all of us. You know, like why you kept watching "How I Met Your Mother."
“As far as the adventures of Maddy, I’d love to continue writing,” Madden says. “Being on this side of the creative process has taught me so much empathy. Before, when I worked with bands, I’d be like, just go into the studio and write another record. I don’t know what’s taking so long! And now I’m the person that’s being told, just go into the room and write a book.”
“A Million Miles” is still fresh, so order it, read it, enjoy it. And if you’re in New York, join Amy Fleisher Madden at her release party at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, May 7 at Word in Brooklyn, New York, where she will be reading from the novel.