I invented The Girl in the Hat and started this blog because not only was I not published, I also couldn’t persuade an agent to take me on.
I wrote What Would Water Do after my first novel, Nothing Sacred, failed to capture attention.
I identify with Drew, my main character–nerdish, uncool, alone, the one with a snaggle tooth and a button missing on her blouse who’s stuck in the past and in her head and probably won’t be able to unstick herself in time to get her hands on any shiny trophies– but I also identify with Wayne, Lang, and even Mae. All of my characters are little parts of me; other parts are lined up inside my mind, waiting to find expression. Some characters are just better than others at being seen. Mae Beacon, the starlet in my story, shines like a mirror in the sun. The Girl in the Hat is getting better at self-promotion, too, but others need a helping hand–a mother, a trainer, an agent, an editor, or a spokesmodel to represent.
At this point in my story, there’s still hope for Drew. We’re partway through chapter 29 and she could still pull it off.
Do you like happy endings?
She somehow found her way to the Village Theater in Westwood. Along the way she realized she had forgotten to have breakfast or lunch so she made do with half a bag of stale microwave popcorn she found on the passenger seat.
She paid an astronomical parking fee at a lot and limped in her four-inch heels toward the giant neon marquee where Mae stood on the red carpet with her smile turned on full blast, waving at the crowd as though she was embarking on a wonderful adventure. She wore form-fitted ivory silk as tantalizingly think and ghostlike as a second skin skimming ribs and hipbones. She had white feathers tucked in her blonde-again up-do, garnet-studded shoes, cabarnet lips and brows arching like semaphores–every glossy bit of her, the whole perfect picture, glowed like burnished metal in the light of the popping flashes.
That was when the first wave hit Drew, a bilious tsunami. But still, she loitered in the background using a stanchion as a crutch, straining to hear Mae’s voice above the crowd.
One reporter wanted to know: “I’ve heard that you managed a break-out performance in this role. What did you do to prepare?”
“I’m so glad you asked. I love reporters who ask serious questions.” She paused for a moment to pull her earlobe and furrow her brow, the same gesture Drew had seen on herself in pictures. The memory of Wayne’s finger touched her between the eyes as Mae said, “I never had a formal education but I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know.” She paused on the smile while the cameras flash like a strobe. “So I read many books and articles (a library full, really) and hired experts to assist in my education about the south, history, psychology, women’s issues, etcetera, to inform my interpretation. And, of course, I needed to learn the accent.” It was like watching her own impersonator, someone who did Drew better than Drew did herself. “Like so many artists, Kate Chopin, the woman who wrote the original novel, was ahead of her time but largely unappreciated. The quintessential artist. She deserves recognition here this evening.”
“Wow,” gushed the reporter. “Sounds like a lot of work.”
Mae flippped back to a practiced mix of spunk and self-deprecation: “Well, I learned enough to understand the character I played, but I don’t think any colleges will be offering me honorary degrees anytime soon.”
She flashed her best smile and turned to another reporter who asked, “Why did you pursue this script? They say you weren’t the director’s first choice and this role is vastly different from every role you’ve played in the past. Did you deserve this part?” Mae took a step closer to the woman and murmured something Drew couldn’t hear. The reporter narrowed her eyes. “Um. Why do you ask?”
“Well it’s perfect on you. And thank you for your honesty. I can’t speak for Ms. Westwood but I can tell you that I was initially intrigued by the way this screenplay dealt with motherhood. You see, Kate Chopin raised six children alone. Because my own mother gave up so much for me, I felt a duty to highlight this theme of sacrifice.” Mae’s eyelashes fluttered. “Plus, when I found out Lang was directing, I knew I’d do whatever it took. She’s one of the superlative directors of our time and it was a dream come true. She’s like a mother to me.” When the reporter asked her follow-up, Mae urged her to pick up a copy of her autobiography The Real, True Life of Mae Beacon when it comes out.
Drew clutched her stanchion, dizzy with wonder. Drew’s Mae doesn’t ever mention her mother or use words like “superlative.” Drew’s Mae didn’t know anything about Kate Chopin. Drew didn’t step out and flag down a reporter but when the crowd started moving, she let it carry her into the theater.
It was a crowd of perfectly intelligent, nice-looking people dressed in dark colors, scented with beauty products, with flashy jewelry and cinched waists and the same look of apathetic optimism, each with his or her own reason for being here, each having presumably contributed to this project in some capacity, large or small. Drew felt her muscles slacken and let herself go, let herself be conveyed toward a seat.
And sure enough, when it started, her name was not listed.
At that point, she was ready to hate the film.
Join me for a joyride! My short story “Down River” can now be found in issue #12 of ElevenEleven, a literary journal by California College of the Arts. Go there, click the “Thugs Not Drugs” hot rod, and you’ll find my story carefully seatbelted in the back seat.
Do you sometimes wish you had a spokesperson or do you manage nicely all by yourself? And while we’re at it, who would you hire to play yourself in real life?