It's been a fun week for me. And I got my cowboy boots broken in! I hope you've enjoyed it, too. Now I'm excited to be going back to work on my next novel, which is about a stripper who gives a lap dance for Stephen Hawking (who wrote A Brief History of Time
), which changes her life. (Did I mention that I love my job!?)
This is one of my favorite moments of the research for that book: One night, I found myself walking down Bourbon Street with a woman who worked at Rick's Cabaret. She had big brown hair, big brown eyes. She was pretty, but in an ordinary sort of way. She was wearing a simple floral-print dress. She wasn't turning heads. I asked her why men go to these clubs, why women work at them.
"It's not about sex," she said. "If you think it's about sex, it'll mess with your head and you won't last two weeks. There's a high turnover. You have to remember that it's about fantasy. It's desire. People can live without sex, but you can't live without fantasy." It was nighttime, but Bourbon Street was bright as neon.
She usually worked during the day, she told me, when things were more laid back. "The later it is at night, the younger and drunker and cheaper the crowd is. They don't get it. They just want beer and tits. But during the day, it's men who want to see a pretty girl and talk to her. And you don't even have to be that pretty. Some days, I look at myself and I think, I can't do this, I'm too fat, my hair's too frizzy, whatever. But they don't really care. For a guy who walks into the club, it's about being in a place where any girl he sees wants to talk to him, wants to know his name. It's more important to make eye contact than to be beautiful. You've got to make that kind of connection. You can make a good living, but you've got to know you're not going to be doing this until you die. There's a girl who's been dancing for twenty years. She's raised two kids, bought a house in Metairie. But I don't want to do it much longer."
I asked her, "What do you want to do?"
"I'm writing a book," she said. "I've already got an ISBN number." We passed a street musician, a tenor saxophohist shaping sounds like wishes.
I didn't tell her she didn't need to get her own ISBN number. She wasn't asking my advice.
"I've got so many stories," she said. "That's another reason they go there. They want to tell somebody their story."
The next afternoon, I went to Rick's. When she saw me, she rushed over to me and unfolded a Xeroxed piece of paper ? a copy of her application for her ISBN. "I'm going to do it," she said. "I'm not going to be here when I'm forty-five."
The DJ called her name ? it was time for her set ? and she was still holding the paper. She folded it up like a dollar bill and tucked it into her garter as she walked up the stairs onto the stage, and Ella Fitzgerald started singing "Isn't It Romantic?"
Well, thanks for listening to my stories this week. And I didn't even have to go to a strip club to get you to do it! Although maybe fiction-readers and fiction-writers have more in common with strip-clup patrons than we like to admit: we can't live without fantasy, either, though usually, it's a different fantasy! I hope my stripper friend takes what she's learned from stripping when she writes her book: Even when fiction looks like it's all about revelation, or plot, at its best, it's really about eye contact, about human connection.
I do love talking with people about stories (especially mine!), so I hope it's not inappropriate to mention here that I've started doing phone chats about His Lovely Wife with book clubs, and people seem to be enjoying it. The way it works, if you're interested, is that you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we set up a time. Then I'll call you, and you can either put me on speaker phone or, if that's not loud enough, you can pass me around, or one person can be like my interpreter, repeating everything I say (except not in a different language!). So let me know if your group wants to do it. And I know book clubs plan pretty far in advance, so you may not get to it for a while, but it's an open-ended offer.
Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you!