Thursday, September 04, 2014
A few years back I had some sort of brain purge from a character's voice that hit me out of nowhere. What spewed out onto the page was the first chapter of my newest novel, No Lipstick in Avalon, damn near exact—word for word—to the first draft I put down.
I had no idea what it was at the time (that's not uncommon for me at all), only the realization I had to get those words down right then and there.
So I did.
And it stewed. It fermented. Until it was time.
This year was the time to get the rest of Sara's story down on paper, and this novel was one of the fastest projects I've ever worked on. I know when that happens, the character's voice in my head is very strong and while I work, it's a lot less like writing than it is dictation... typing as quickly as I can to get the words down.
The thing with this novel is it's about as far away from what I normally write as you can get. There are no monsters in it. There are no creatures waiting to pounce in the middle of the night.
But there are demons, oh yes. Demons of human nature. See, No Lipstick in Avalon is a novel about being pretty low in life... and realizing you can overcome whatever shit storm life throws at you.
The original title for this book was The Ice Cream Boy, and then for a while, I flirted with the idea of calling it Lucy in the Sky. But as the story was developing in my head, there was one title that kept coming back to me... No Lipstick in Avalon.
Sara Larson has recently separated from her husband of twelve years and her life is quickly turning into a streak of bad luck. But when she comes to the realization she has great friends and amazing qualities as a person, Sara starts to understand she can dig herself out of anything she wants to.
She sets her mind to doing what needs doing—reinventing herself along the way and creating the life she wants, putting to rest old ghosts, making new memories, and learning what happiness means again.
Here's the first chapter of No Lipstick in Avalon:
Pondering Stilettos and Emotional Piñatas
Dana blinked at me with her perennially leaky eyes, forever appearing on the verge of sneezing. She looked like a Siamese cat with bad allergies.
She gave me a Queen Elizabeth wave and sipped her morning latte as I stepped in line behind her.
“Good morning, Sara.”
“What’s so good about it?”
“You’re a pocket full of sunshine this morning, aren’t you?” Dana searched for something in her knock-off Prada purse and came up empty-handed. “It’s not going to be like this forever, Sara. It’ll pass.”
“You want to know what I did this morning, Dana? I cried. Not first thing, though. No, first I went downstairs to the coffee pot, half awake because, let’s face it, I’ve been sleeping for shit in a cold without the warm body next to me I’ve become used to over the past twelve years. So I get to the coffee pot, and I see there are two mugs. I’d done it the night before without thinking. But no more morning coffee buddy for me. No more Maxwell House Moments shared in bed over a Sunday morning crossword puzzle. Those are all gone for good. So I walked back upstairs and got in the shower.”
“Hot shower’s always good for the soul.” Dana blinked her glassy eyes, full of sunshine and greeting card goodness.
Dana is one of my best friends, but I chewed my lip and considered how hot her Starbucks latte was, wondered if it could melt her like that Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“Oh yeah? Not so much when you’re bawling your eyes out.”
“Want to know why I started crying? What tipped me over the edge this time?”
Dana suddenly looked extremely uncomfortable. Part of me felt sympathy, as I watched her mentally curl up into a ball so I could use her as an emotional piñata. She was my friend and I knew she meant well, even though I was pretty sure the last time she’d been laid, Clinton was still in office and she hadn’t been in a relationship in general since I don’t know when. But that other part of me? The part that’s been woken up by all this recent bullshit in my life? The part of me that’s nothing more than a high riding, stiletto wearing, leather corset and bullwhip bitch. That part shouted in my ear Fuck it! She’s not the one feeling like her heart’s getting ripped out. Tell her the truth and let her have it.
“I started crying because when I grabbed the soap there weren’t any of my husband’s pubic hairs stuck to it.”
Dana looked like she was shriveling like a dandelion past its prime. I started to wonder where I could find an oxygen tank to revive her if need be. My conscience almost kicked in again and made me stop my rant, but I stomped it down again.
“He’s been gone long enough that I had to change the soap, and there’s no evidence of him anymore. I can’t smell him on the pillows. I don’t hear the little things he used to do at night just before bed, his little routines. He’s gone, Dana. He’s...”
And then I felt it well up inside me like a geyser of emotion, Old-fucking-Faithful on a late thirties divorcee. That scared little girl came right back up, threatening to make my mascara run in inky black rivers down my cheeks right before my Tuesday morning staff meeting.
If my life got any more awesome, I wouldn’t be able to stand myself.
But then something happened.
It was really sort of funny. Kind of like those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where Wile E. Coyote was plotting and a light bulb went off over his head. I stood there with tears in my eyes, watching Dana wrestle with her fight or flight instinct and a wonderful realization came over me like warm summer rain.
I realized I had a choice.
I realized I was still strong.
I was funny and smart.
And that part of me I told you about? That part of me that’s nothing more than a high riding, stiletto wearing, leather corset and bullwhip bitch?
That part of me said I was done hurting. That part told me to pull my shit together because today’s not over and tomorrow’s booked solid.
I was done crying. I was finished hurting.
I was done mourning a death that didn’t have a corpse.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. I gave Dana a smile and she cautiously smiled back.
The storm had passed.
Interlude of Realization
Sometimes I used to watch Bill, late at night when he was sleeping, or early morning when the sunlight was just starting to come in through the blinds. I’d study his body, try to memorize all the curves, the way the shadows fell across his face. The curve of his collarbone and the way his chest raised and fell as he breathed.
Bill was never GQ material, but he was a handsome guy, sexy in his own way. I used to think that was why I studied him at night—because I was so attracted to him. But no.
It took me a really long time, much too long to admit the truth to myself. But I finally did.
I stared at Bill like that, trying to memorize everything because deep down—if I’m going to be honest with myself–it was because I was scared, terrified really, of when the time would come when he wouldn’t be there anymore and I’d have to be happy with only the memory of him in my life.
Thank you all.