Photo: © Braden Haggerty
About the Author
Billie Livingston is a fiction writer, poet and sometime essayist who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, she grew up in Toronto and Vancouver, and has since lived in Tokyo, Hamburg, Munich and London, England. Her first employment was filling the dairy coolers in a Mac’s Milk. She went on to work varying lengths of time as a file clerk, receptionist, cocktail waitress, model, actor, chocolate sampler and booth host at a plumber’s convention.
Cease to Blush (2006) is Billie Livingston’ s second novel. Her first, Going Down Swinging (2000), is told from the viewpoints of an alcoholic, downtrodden mother named Eilleen and her struggling daughter Grace. It was received as a brilliant debut, with one reviewer commenting: “Livingston succeeds gorgeously in capturing the messiness and unresolvable ambiguities of familial love. Her lovingly drawn, half-crazy characters always transcend a caseworker’s clichés.” Livingston’s first book of poetry, The Chick at the Back of the Church (2001), was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award (for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman), and her award-winning short fiction has been published in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. She is currently working on a new novel.
In creating the character of Vivian for Cease to Blush, Livingston drew on a few experiences from her career as a model and actor. For instance, Vivian’s gig as a corpse was based on something that actually happened to Livingston: “They called and asked if I wanted to do a photo shoot for a show called Touching Evil, playing a dead body,” Livingston commented in one interview. “I was dead by the side of a river, and they put strangle marks on my neck. Then they changed their mind. They said, ‘No, wrong corpse.’ Then they put all this white makeup on, wrapped me in a shower curtain and photographed me strangled, on a bathroom floor. So that was why I was there for so long. All the other [dead] girls were sent home after three hours.” But at the same time, Livingston has to laugh when people assume the book is autobiographical — “Yes, every word — in fact I think Bobby Kennedy is my daddy!” — rather than recognizing that the best fiction always draws tidbits from wherever it can, whether inspiration, research or the author’s own life.
In truth, the writing of Cease to Blush couldn’t have happened without Livingston’s extensive research into not only the events of the sixties but also everything from evangelical churches to the porn industry. Fortunately, Livingston has a passion for meeting new people who can take her into their worlds, and has commented, “I really do love talking to strangers… Even when they’re really odd or sort of creepy, there’s a little part of you that kind of — what do I want to say? — it’s almost like you fall in love with them a little bit, because they’ re so fascinating. They’re so at odds with anything you’ve ever seen up until that moment.” Not surprisingly, much of Cease to Blush was written on road trips as Livingston went in search of Vivian’s story through the western United States.
To recreate the headiness and tumult of the sixties and the Rat Pack scene, Livingston also turned to the many books and films that provide accounts of the time. Luckily, this research tied in with one of the main themes of Cease to Blush, which is the subjective nature of truth — and especially the difficulty we have in figuring out the “truth” of the past. As Livingston put it in one interview, “I read all those biographies so that I could recreate all of those people, yet you read three biographies of the same person and they’re all different. It calls [the truth] into question: if four people are in a room and an event happens, they all have a different observation of how it all went down.”