Authors & Events
Look Inside | Reading Guide
Apr 29, 2003
| ISBN 9780345445759
Dec 18, 2007
| ISBN 9780307415806
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Apr 29, 2003 | ISBN 9780345445759
Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307415806
“The promise of beauty—the kind of real, personal beauty that can transform a person’s life—arrived in Eden, Virginia, on the fourth Thursday in June.” That’s the day Tallie Brock sees the sign at the Klip-N-Kurl, the beauty parlor where she works part-time, sweeping the floor and refilling shampoo bottles, among other chores. (What she really enjoys is listening to the women chat, gossip, and buzz like a beehive.) The sign in the front window announces GLAMOUR DAY. For twenty dollars, a woman can receive a complete professional makeover—and a glossy nine-by-twelve-inch picture of the result. For Tallie, the glam shot just may be her ticket out of Lovettsville. She dreams of someday going to Hollywood and becoming a Star. Her mother, who was the spitting image of Natalie Wood, used to say “the sky’s the limit.” In fact, her mother once left home to make a movie in Los Angeles. But she returned six months later without whispering a word about it—and tried to pick up her life right where she left off. Tallie noticed something different, though. And her mother’s best friend, Martha Lee, the plainest woman within miles, knew the secret that soon the whole town would discover. At the time, Tallie was just afraid her mother would get antsy and disappear again. She was only half right.But that was four years ago, and now Glamour Day is fast approaching. While jotting down observations in her Rulebook for Living (such as “Women with fat faces shouldn’t wear bangs” and “Beetles signify change”), Tallie finds herself changing in unexpected ways—as she tests the limits of trust, explores her growing attraction to a boy from a family as rich as her imagination, and reaches for the sky like she has never done before. By turns funny and tender, joyous and poignant, bestselling author Anne LeClaire has written a winning, stylish novel of small-town Southern life— and what it means to be a mother, daughter, best friend, wife, and lover.
Anne LeClaire is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Leaving Eden and Entering Normal. She is also a short story writer who teaches and lectures on writing and the creative process, and has worked as a radio broadcaster, a journalist, and a correspondent for The Boston… More about Anne LeClaire
Lynda Barry is a writer and cartoonist. She’s the author of several books,including Cruddy and One Hundred Demons.Lynda Barry: Where were you and what were you doingwhen this story first showed itself to you?Anne LeClaire: I was in the middle of a writing residencyat the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, which is situatedin a rural town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.One day I went into town to get a haircut and saw a poster inthe local beauty shop advertising a Glamour Day, just like theone Tallie describes. "They make you look like a star," theowner told me as she trimmed my hair, summing up in thissingle sentence the magic formula. This started me thinkingabout the way Hollywood acts as a polestar in our culture,pulling us along in its wake, however much we deny its magnetism.I saw in my mind the young girl who would beTallie, a teenager wanting to be transformed. It was just aglimmer, but enough to get me started, although at thetime I thought it would end up as a short story. Out of thisbeginning–the daughter of a starstruck mother, desertedfor a dream–a story was formed. I have to add that in theinterest of research I did sign up for Glamour Day, but truly Idid not end up looking like a movie star. More like a femaleimpersonator.LB: Was that first glimmer like a picture? Did you seeTallie in your mind’s eye?AL: It was actually more a feeling than a visual impression.When I looked at that poster, I felt the yearning a young girlmight feel, an ache really, the wanting to be somethingmore, more than a person’s particular geography or circumstancessuggested was possible. That sense of longing wascentral to the story as the work progressed: Tallie’s longingfor her mama, for a relationship with Spy, for a connectionto her father, for information about how to become awoman, and, of course, her desire to be beautiful. Out of thatinitial sense of hunger, a visual did surface, and it was of Talliestanding in that beauty parlor.LB: I love the Klip-N-Kurl! It seemed a perfect place fora teenage girl who had lost her mother (twice!) at sucha critical time in her adolescence. It reminded me of afairy tale in that way. Many fairy tales begin with anadolescent girl who has lost a good mother who hasbeen replaced by an evil stepmother. I’ve often wonderedif it isn’t a way to tell the story of what happensto us when we hit adolescence and begin to separatefrom our mothers. That wonderful, beautiful, lovedmother from our childhood seems suddenly transformedinto an unreasonable, out-of-it, controlling old bag.Tallie didn’t have a chance to have that crucial relationshipwith her mother.AL: Exactly, Lynda. Even for the brief period when hermother returned from Hollywood, Tallie couldn’t explorenormal adolescent separation and independence. The fewtimes she allowed herself anger, it felt too dangerous becauseher mother was ill. There wasn’t even an evil stepmother torebel against. So to continue the fairy-tale theme, Tallie hadto create her own bread crumb path to negotiate her wayto womanhood because she didn’t have the road map amother might provide. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, butI watched my three nieces grow up without a mother–theywere eight, eleven, and fifteen when my sister died–andwitnessing the confusion, pain, and significance of their experiencehelped me slip into Tallie’s skin.LB: That’s one of the things that fascinated me about thebook. There is no evil stepmother whom Tallie can hate.That’s a tough position to be in, having your NatalieWood-look-alike mother be forever preserved as good,perfect, young, and most of all, more beautiful thanyou’ll ever be. It’s also a tough position for a writer to bein, because a horrible person makes a writer’s job awhole lot easier and the story follows a certain path. Butno horrible person shows up directly in Tallie’s life. Ikept waiting for one and when I realized no horribleperson was coming, I felt this odd sadness, a lonelinessof being stuck in her position exactly. It was as if Glindathe Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz got the ruby slippersand then died with them on. She’s the Good Witch, sohow can you get mad about it? Our earliest love for ourmothers is like that, like Glinda the Good Witch, like theoriginal Eden. It was so lonely following Tallie throughall her temptations and transgressions, knowing therewasn’t anyone who cared enough to throw her out ofEden. In the end she had to throw herself out.AL: It is lonely when no one cares enough to toss you out ofEden for your sins, or even notice them. But is it worse ifsomeone tries to keep you stuck there? And you are absolutelyright about it being easier for a writer if there is awretched character threatening the heroine.LB: Beauty is a main character in this book. And as soonas I read Natalie Wood’s name, I knew exactly what kindof beauty you meant. There is no way to be more beautifulthan Natalie Wood. I know what it’s like to be theplain-faced child of a beautiful woman. People alwayssaid my mother looked just like Ava Gardner and evennow I can’t look at a picture of Ava Gardner withoutgetting a sad, empty feeling. It broke my heart to thinkof Tallie watching Natalie Wood movies.Was your mother beautiful? Your sister?AL: My older sister was stunning, and people were alwaystelling me how beautiful she was. I was the duckling to herswan. And I know exactly what you mean about that hollowfeeling you experienced watching Ava Gardner. And aboutthe desire to be beautiful. A lot of what I was exploring duringthe writing was this territory of desire. Not just the longingfor beauty, but desire of all kinds. Where do our dreamsand aspirations come from? How do our own experiencesshape our desires? How do dream merchants like Hollywoodand Glamour Companies form them? How do our dreamsshape our lives?LB: And what happens when you get your wish? Tallieprays so hard for her mother to return and when shedoes, it turns out she’s dying. Did your sister come upfor you a lot while you were working on this?AL: Here’s the odd thing. All the time I was writing it, Iwasn’t consciously thinking about my sister or my nieces,but when I read over the completed manuscript, I had thatlightbulb experience of "My God, I’m writing out of my ownhistory." I had a similar experience with Entering Normal. LikeI’m the last to know. Does this happen to you, or are youvery aware of where your material is coming from duringthe process?LB: When I’m writing and it’s going well, it’s more likeslow dreaming. Half of my struggle is to be able to stopthinking and just go along for the ride. I often tell myself,"Just be the stenographer. Your only job is to bethe stenographer."Someone once pointed out how odd it is that wecan remember our dreams, we’re aware of dream selves,but our dream selves seem to have no awareness of ourwaking life. What we call our "real" lives. You never say,"Man, I had the weirdest reality yesterday."I think that may be part of why it’s so often the casethat writers are the last to know how close the storymay be to their own experience. A story has no awarenessof its author. Which feels very odd after living witha character for as long as it takes to write a book. Theyfeel so real to us, but to them we don’t exist, can’t exist.And there’s a great relief in that, somehow. To giveyourself over and, for a little while, stop existing. Iwonder if it isn’t somehow a bit like flying a plane–which you also do. Are writing and flying planessimilar?AL: I love your statement that a story has no awareness of itsauthor. It feels odd–and a little sad–to think of charactersthat are so very real to me not even knowing I exist. I guesswe humans want reciprocity.About flying and writing: I’ve never thought about it before,but there is a connection in that both of them lift meout of my daily reality and present me with a different perspectiveof life, another way of looking at things. Both alsorequire a great concentration, the kind of intense focus thatis almost like meditation.LB: When the writing is going well, it’s a different stateof mind. It doesn’t seem to include a lot of thinking orplanning. It is absolutely the best when it doesn’t evenfeel like writing. When it’s like the deep state of playyou see kids go into sometimes. From an adult’s pointof view, the kid is playing with toys. But from the kid’spoint of view, the toys are playing with him. He doesn’thave to plan out a story for the toys. As long as he’s notself-conscious, the stories will happen by themselves.I’ve always thought that self-consciousness was anodd name for that feeling because it’s really consciousnessof others. My very WORST writing experienceshappen when I’m aware of "the reader," a reader whodoesn’t even exist because until the story exists therecan be no reader, and as long as I’m concentrating onthe reader there can be no story. My worst days arewhen I’m frozen into a state of worry about what thenonexistent reader thinks about my nonexistent story.AL: But the trick is losing self-awareness, shutting out thecritical mind. Then bliss. For me, writing flows when I don’tplan it out in advance. The only novel I never got publishedwas one I mapped out in detail first. By the time I sat downand wrote it, it was lifeless.But to leap in, not knowing exactly where the story isgoing, takes trust, doesn’t it? Some days I think writing is onehuge act of faith. You set out with that glimmer and notmuch else, and trust if you write straight and true and withas much courage as you can muster, a story will result. Thatis what is required of us.And I think the worst writing advice I’ve heard is thatwriters should have a particular reader in mind for whomthey are writing. My experience has been that putting thefocus on the reader (or editor or critic) lifts us out of thestory and can lead to some god-awful pretentious prose.LB: Plus, it’s no fun.We became friends in the early 1990s at an artistcolony where we were both working on novels. Thefirst thing I noticed about you was how much you genuinelyloved to write. You had an exhilaration about itthat I loved, and your way of talking about writing wasso unpretentious compared to many writers I’d met. Iwas just starting work on a novel that became Cruddyand felt really shaky on my feet about it. You were sosupportive and practical and helped me so much. Iknow you have many readers who would love to writea book but have no idea where to begin. What advicewould you give them?AL: Right back at ya’, Lynda. Your humor and exuberanceand honesty attracted me right from the get-go.Advice to writers? Hmmm. I guess the old chestnuts:Take risks. Pay attention. Tell the truth as you see it. Andwrite, write, write. Write not for fame or fortune or recognition,but because it brings you joy.
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