So, your first week on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List, you were #8; you were recommended in People magazine for ‘Great Fall Reads’; you had a full page in the New York Times Sunday Style section, a half page in the New York Post, you’ve done many radio shows, and Connie Martinson’s PBS television show Book Talks. And, well, how do you feel with all this success?
When did you decide to write your memoir, and why?
I knew I would write when I was ten (in 1953!), when I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and I wanted to escape my molesting, child-beating stepfather.
I started writing in 1988 to talk to young people coming into the hairdressing field, to share about this town and the celebrity hair history of the ’60s and ’70s. I wanted to share about being a woman and breaking into an all-male field, life before credit cards, cell phones, and when a drive-by meant a visit, not a shooting. And most importantly, I wanted to talk about recovery in many areas.
How did you come up with the title Upper Cut?
I had the title before the book.
Then everyone said that Uppercut sounded like a boxer’s story. But I didn’t relent. I defended the title! I was the Upper hair-Cut-ter, in the upper echelon town—Beverly Hills. And I knocked myself out with drugs and alcohol (okay, so there’s a bit of a boxing metaphor going on there).
However, I have a code: if ten people tell you that you have a tail, you better turn around and check your butt! So I thought about it, then did what I do best, I cut it. Into two parts. Upper Cut.
Luckily my agent and publisher never questioned my title.
Why did it take so long to write the book? From 1988 to its release date on September 20, 2011?
I started when people didn’t have personal computers. I wrote my book by hand on twelve Steno pads. In 1990 I got my first computer, handed down by a friend. I hired someone, as I read from my Steno pads, to transcribe my book into my computer. Finally one night I wanted to write. I pushed that power button and said to myself…’I’m going in!’ I still salute on bended knee: Cut and Paste, my best friend.
In the years to follow, it was writing, re-writing, vacations, romantic distractions and new hobbies, my own photography shows, poetry readings. (Helloooo, it was the hip 90’s, with the hip-hop and poetry slams.) I was on NPR with my poetry, recording my poetry, including presenting my own poetry show with the best poets of this town, every Sunday night at a popular coffee house called Lulu’s Alibi. People didn’t even know I was a hairdresser. Finally, though, I’d heard the painful question one too many times: ‘Are you still writing that book of yours?”
I stopped everything and enrolled in Jack Grapes’ writing class. For the next two years I immersed myself in his two books of writing assignments. When I completed that, I hired the teacher’s pet and my favorite writer from class, who was starting his own editing class, Chiwan Choi. He worked with me another two years…guiding me with no frills, just strong direction to expand on this, and eliminate that, and get deeper. As he insisted, I started Upper Cut all over from scratch.
My Steno pads, and previous renditions of Upper Cut became flash card notes.
Chiwan was a 36 year-old, Korean NYU literary snob. I knew if I could keep his interest, I would have a good book. His poetry book The Flood and soon-to-be-released Abductions are so stunning. I knew he wouldn’t tolerate shallow writing and would challenge me to do my best.
Writing is so isolating. Did you feel alone all those years?
Never. All of my people, and all of the memories in Upper Cut, were so alive in my house, before I even flipped on my computer. I would sense Billy lighting his Sherman cigarette, Richard rolling a joint, hear the music of the Rolling Stones, the bubbles dancing at my nose from the champagne in my mind, and I would feel my children running all through the house with my Newfoundland, Max, sitting by my side like a big sleeping bear.
Now I feel alone. Now they are all out in the world. It’s so quiet in my house. I have empty-nest syndrome.
Can you believe that you’re published by Simon and Schuster/Atria Books?
No, but here it is, so it must be real. I slept with my galley the first two nights. I kept looking at my words printed on pages, words and sentences I had written and re-written a million times.
Can you share a little wisdom with hopeful first-time writers?
I say finish your product to the best of your ability before you let anyone you want to do business with see it. If you get an advance and are just starting… you will now have a boss!
What if Salvadore Dali had a backer, and halfway through he said to Dali: “Hey, what’s with the melting clocks buddy? Dump them!” But when finished, you know the guy would say, “Wow, fantastic… and I love the melting clocks!”
What is your bottom line message?
Never give up.
Any regrets with Upper Cut?
I regret that my beloved Michael Crichton is not here to know all the wonderfulness that finally happened for me and the book. His recommendation to his agent, Lynn Nesbitt, changed my life. He didn’t even think she herself would take me on, but he thought that if I was represented by her agency, I would have a good chance of getting published. Well, she did take me on, and I am forever grateful to him.
Do you have new goals?
Of course, Upper Cut...the movie. Upper Cut the Musical! And dare I say: Book 2.