An Interview with Kim Boykin, Debut Author of The Wisdom of Hair - With a Giveaway

In last year's Brenda Novak Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research, I offered an author interview as part of the auction. Previous authors who have bid on and won the author interview include Jesse Petersen, Delilah Marvelle, and Angie Fox.

Book The Wisdom of Hair - a woman in an old fashioned dome dryer against a pink upholstered backgroundThis year, I'd like introduce debut author Kim Boykin! Her book The Wisdom of Hair comes out today – have a look:

“The problem with cutting your own hair is that once you start, you just keep cutting, trying to fix it, and the truth is, some things can never be fixed. The day of my daddy’s funeral, I cut my bangs until they were the length of those little paintbrushes that come with dime-store watercolor sets. I was nine years old. People asked me why I did it, but I was too young then to know I was changing my hair because I wanted to change my life.

In 1983, on her nineteenth birthday, Zora Adams finally says goodbye to her alcoholic mother and their tiny town in the mountains of South Carolina. Living with a woman who dresses like Judy Garland and brings home a different man each night is not a pretty existence, and Zora is ready for life to be beautiful.

With the help of a beloved teacher, she moves to a coastal town and enrolls in the Davenport School of Beauty. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Cathcart, she learns the art of fixing hair, and becomes fast friends with the lively Sara Jane Farquhar, a natural hair stylist. She also falls hard for handsome young widower Winston Sawyer, who is drowning his grief in bourbon. She couldn’t save Mama, but maybe she can save him.

As Zora practices finger waves, updos, and spit curls, she also comes to learn that few things are permanent in this life—except real love, lasting friendship, and, ultimately… forgiveness.

When we started the interview and were corresponding via email, Kim wrote, “The thing about this story that seems to resonate with women is that we believe if we change or fix our hair, we can change our lives. I noticed this watching women come and go from my mom's beauty salon growing up and believe that will never change. “

So your inspiration of sorts was seeing customers in your mom's beauty salon? That's very cool. What did you learn about changing hair to change lives?  I agree that when you feel like you look your best, you are more confident, and a lot of that is tied up (heh) with hair. 

Kim: Last summer I went to a conference in NY last year and pitched the book to a bunch of editors. I was in a room with 19 women's fiction writers; six of them had made a major change in their hair before they came to the conference. Throughout the years rejection while I was trying to sell the novel, I kept my hair short but had let it grow out a little before the conference. I haven't cut my hair since. So if the book flops, I guess I'll shave my head and start over.

Growing up, I remember seeing women come in, dog tired, some just happy to be there, some with all kinds of problems. My mom listened to them and made them beautiful. There were a lot of elderly women who didn't drive in our town and she'd lock up the shop and go pick them up so they could have their hair done. Most of those home bound women were so lonely. They were so grateful to get out of the house, to be around a bunch of women to talk, gossip, a little, laugh a lot. I don't care what anybody says about the outside of a woman not making a difference, I saw it growing up and I see it in today in my friends and myself.


Do you have stories about some of the women you saw growing up? What first inspired you to write a novel about hair stylists? A specific story or event? 

What sticks out most in my mind was the transformations. They say you can't make someone happy, but my mom did. She made each woman who sat in her chair feel special and beautiful, and that went a long way toward making them happy. God, I sound sappy, but all of this is true. 

I never really set out to write a book about hairstylists. I started writing a book about a mountain girl who wanted out of a bad situation. She was smart enough to go to college, but like a lot of girls, she couldn't afford to go to college and needed to be self sufficient as soon as possible. The answer? Beauty School. 

When I was in the third grade, my mom started at the Augusta Beauty College and she took me to school with her a couple of times during the summer, so I have some first hand experience.

My protagonist's beauty school is a little unusual. The owner, Mrs. Cathcart, creates an environment that makes the girls feel valuable because they are answering one of life's highest callings. She names a valedictorian of each class and even gives them a prom of sorts so they can celebrate themselves.

 

Also: why South Carolina?

It's where I grew up. I live in Charlotte now and wish I lived across the border, preferably on the Isle of Palms, near Charleston, where we have a vacation home we rent out. You spend a little time there and you'll understand why there are so many bestselling authors down that way.

The book I'm writing now is set there, it's a love story set in 1954, a culture clash between protagonists, one from Charleston high society, the other from tiny rural town. 
 


How does the stories and women you saw at your mom's shop influence your book? Is your mom's shop still open? 

A couple of years ago, out of the blue, my mom told me she had wanted us to go to college, but my dad didn't (I'm the youngest of 3 girls.) He wanted us to go to the local nuclear plant (no lie) and be a lifer like him. That was one of the reasons she went to beauty school and then opened Betty's Beauty Shop, which was open for fifteen years. She retired from the shop in 1981 when I graduated from the University of South Carolina.

The other reason was because back then, women got their hair done every week but we couldn't afford it. She's always been creative and wanted to learn how to do her hair herself. Before that, she was always sewing for us girls, seeing expensive clothes in the stores and then making them for us. 

Even for a severely ADHD tomboy like me, the beauty shop was a cool place to hang out. There were war brides, old maids, there was even a Zigfield girl named Ida Hanselman. Everybody had stories to tell. I'd play tennis or ride bikes or my horse and then go hang out there. I got paid $2 to clean a bucket of hairbrushes, back in the 60's and 70's when women wore all that spray and only had their hair washed and set once a week. Disgusting.

There's a scene in the book that's kind of a culmination of what I saw in some of the women who came into the shop. It's about a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who married the town's golden boy, whom she loves, but his family hates her.  Zora, the protagonist closes the chapter with this:

At first, it puzzled me as to why Ellie Jeffords was forever trying to change the way she looked.  But after awhile, I realized she believed that if she looked different, her world might just be different, that somehow in all of that she would find happiness.  I know that sounds crazy, but since I realized this about Ellie, I’ve seen it in other women who come to my station and look in that big mirror the same way.  They want something different, a change.  They want to be happy.

 

Is there a romance in your book? Or a romantic storyline at all?

There's a secondary love story, Zora's best friend and her beau, Jimmy. Unfortunately, Zora falls for Winston, but he's not good for her.

Here's my other favorite scene. If they ever make a movie out of it, this will be the part where all the women stand up and cheer.

It was such a slow day, before Fontaine left to run errands, he said I should just go home and put my feet up. But I stayed and restocked all the stations while Ronnie read gossip magazines out loud and made fun of what the stars wore in public. He swore he could dress every single one of them better than they could dress themselves. I agreed with him and headed for the break room to put my feet up.

I was drinking a Coke and folding towels when he poked his head in the door.

“Another haircut for you.”

Fontaine always quietly announced there was a walk-in waiting for me in the reception area. But Ronnie always made a big deal about it like they’d come in off the street begging for me.

“Thanks. This baby has been tap dancing on my bladder all day. I’ll be right out.”       

The weird thing about being pregnant and gaining weight is my weight didn’t change for a long time. In the back of my mind I thought I was getting a pass on the weight gaining thing and then one day, about my sixth month, the weight fairy came in the middle of the night, and I woke up the next morning ten pounds heavier. Not long after that, fifteen more pounds just suddenly appeared.

Ronnie always obsessed over his weight, turning sideways in the mirror a hundred times a day, sucking in his poochy belly and asking, “Do I look fat?” I knew better than to give him and honest answer, and after the weight fairy visited me, he stopped asking.

I walked down the long hallway toward the salon and stopped short. He was sitting in my chair. His face was still achingly beautiful. He was thinner, paler, almost sallow. He looked tired, older than I remembered. His hair was longer. It was funny how just seeing little tresses of it hanging through the hammock a few months ago had moved me to tears. Now I felt nothing. He ran his hand through his hair and looked at his watch. He wasn’t there for me; he was just there for a haircut.

“He’s gorgeous, and he’s all yours,” Ronnie’s whisper was high pitched, like he was giggling the words. “And just look at that hair.”

“Why don’t you take him?”

“No ma’am. He’s delicious and he’s all yours.”

If Ronnie knew who the pretty man in my chair was, he would have shaved Winston’s head or worse.  The baby kicked hard. My fingers made little circles around my belly. Sometimes I worried about seeing Winston again and having just enough of Mama left in me to be weak and foolish. But it felt good to look at him, to see how beautiful he was and know that the spell was irreparably broken.

He looked startled to see me and didn’t turn around to look at me, just stared into the mirror.

“You need a haircut?”

He ran his hand through his beautiful hair. “I wanted to see you but not like this.”

One of the seven deadly sins for a cosmetologist is a lack of professionalism. I had come a long way. I’d graduated at the top of my class, heeded the lifelong call to fix hair. I’d gotten a job at the best salon in town, and here sat Winston Sawyer in my chair almost daring me to ruin myself again.

“How are you feeling?” He sounded like a stranger in the grocery line, trying to make conversation with the pregnant lady behind him.

I slipped my scissors out of the leather sheath. How should I go about hacking up his long pretty locks? I could forget the scissors and rip out a great big handful to give him a snatched bald headed asymmetrical look. Or stick with the scissors and cut off his ear. I the very least, I should give him bangs. Paint brush bangs.

I picked up a handful of hair and let it fall to see how it would lay. The texture was the same, the color was the same. But I was different.

I trimmed about three inches until his hair was the same length it was when I first met him. I brushed the hair off of his cape and bent down close to his ear because Ronnie was watching and what I had to say was private. For a moment my body remembered everything about Winston Sawyer, and then the baby kicked hard, knocking the sense back into me. I pressed my lips close to his hear so that I felt my own breath.

“I am over you.”


Thank you to Kim Boykin for the interview – and congratulations on your book! The Wisdom of Hair is on sale today, and has already collected some very positive reviews. You can find a copy at Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

But, if you're thinking you'd like to read it, Penguin has offered 5 copies for me to give away to readers – US only, I'm afraid. To enter, please leave a comment and tell us your most memorable hair appointment – good or bad. Awesome prom updo? Horrific beehive? (My best: the first time I donated my hair. My worst: the time the hairdresser cut my ear (ow) and gave me The Worst Haircut Ever.) I'll pick the winners on Friday 8 March.

Standard disclaimers apply: I'm not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to US residents 18 years of age or older, hair optional. Void where prohibited. Brush slowly. Your hair isn't done curling until the curling iron sizzles. Then hit it with the hairspray again. 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Eherbert says:

    Probably my worst haircut, the type where you weep sitting on the john after getting a better look at the back, was just before my husband and I went to my aunt’s
    90th birthday.  *Everyone* was going to be there and so I needed a nice haircut.  Snip snip and I told funny stories to the hairdresser.  Without my glasses on.  She finished up, I put on my glasses, and looked at my reflection.  I had Ken doll hair.  Middle-aged grey Ken doll hair.

  2. 2
    emily says:

    I suppose mine was both a good and bad appointment – after years of hearing horrible self-cut bangs stories I cut mine anyway and had to go in and get someone to fix them. I got bangs that looked good and I was happy with it, but the next time I washed my hair I found out that some layers had been added that made me look like a poodle. Not exactly a wash-and-go haircut.

  3. 3
    Maureen says:

    Back in the 80’s everyone had permanents so I did too and at the time I thought they looked great until I looked back at the pictures.

  4. 4

    This sounds so good. I’m going to pick it up now. Most memorable hair appointment—I went in to have the split ends removed on my waist length hair and the stylist kept getting it crooked. By the time I left I no longer had waist length hair, I had a bob.

  5. 5
    Bee says:

    My worst haircut was the first time I went shorter than my chin. My aunt had her own ideas about what I wanted, and it resulted in me wearing my hair gelled to my head for a year. I was in the eighth grade, unfortunately, so it felt much more horrible than it might have actually been.

  6. 6
    Arloa says:

    Worst haircut I ever got was when I went to a beauty school to get it done by a student. I had to sign a waiver saying that I agreed to get whatever haircut they decided to give me, but it was only $3. I was 16 and she gave me an old lady poofy curls on top short haircut. I met my cousin at a horse show immediately after that, and while I walked through the crowd, a boy barked at me. It was horrible.

  7. 7
    Grrarrgh says:

    Worst cut I had ever had was about 12 years ago. I went to someone new and told her I just wanted a trim; just clean up the ends a little bit, etc. My hair was long-ish, probably right to my shoulder blades. This woman just could not even my hair out. She’d cut, one side would be shorter. She’d even up too high and the other side would be shorter. By the time she was finished, I was in tears and my hair was chin length.

  8. 8
    Suz_glo says:

    I have curly hair that I typically like to keep at a mid-neck length. The shorter my hair is cut, the more curly my hair becomes so it looks even shorter. I didn’t think I needed to state this hair fact but we had recently moved to a new town and I went to a new stylist. I asked for a trim and she cut off so much I looked like little orphan annie. A 30-something, brunette, very sad little orphan annie. Ugh. 

  9. 9
    Beccah W. says:

    I’m too scared to make huge changes to my hair. The worst haircut I ever got was when I cut it super short. It was a great cut honestly, but the way my hair is and my lack of ability to style it created a puffball on top of my head. Oh, and once I used the wrap-snap-and-go curlers overnight, and created a crazy fro that I had to wash out (and stayed home from school that day).

  10. 10
    Flicka94 says:

    My worst hair experience in recent memory would be where my cut came out alright and then I was also getting highlighted.  I just wanted a few blonde highlights – nothing more.  I came out of this salon with my hair Marilyn Monroe blonde!  No highlights – just all over platinum.  My husband (boyfriend at time) put on sunglasses when he saw me later on that day.  Ha ha.

  11. 11
    Heather Peffer says:

    Oh my.  I have curly hair so I have had more than my share of bad haircuts, especially as a child.  Some hairdressers just don’t realize that wet curly hair ‘springs up’ so cutting an inch off is like cutting two or three inches off someone with straight hair!

    One of the worst was a hairstyle that I got for my senior Christmas dance.  All poofy and frizzy.  I want to burn that photo!  :-)

  12. 12
    Ashleaharvey says:

    I won’t ever forget the stylist prepping me to be in a friend’s wedding who spent nearly 2 hours re-curling my natural curly hair lock by lock and pinning it up with bobby pins. I can’t figure our why anyone would look at my Shirley Temple hair and think “I need to curl that up myself!”

  13. 13
    Vandy Jones says:

    My worst was a perm—spiral—back in the mid 90s.  It was a Fantastic Sams and the hair stylist had not done a perm on long hair before and she sort of fried it.  I had a fuzz of broken off hair for the longest time.  I still had long hair, but it was not good and the perm didn’t last at all. I found a stylist at a salon after that.

  14. 14
    Megan says:

    I wore a hot pink beehive for Halloween one year :)

  15. 15
    Mary Jo says:

    I have wavy hair and was talked into a perm. Imagine Harpo Marx with brown hair and much less talent.

  16. 16
    LauraN says:

    My grandma used to have a shop in her basement.  It was the 80s and I wanted loose curls.  Loose!  All her patrons were old ladies, so she was used to the poodle cut.  I went home with tight curls and cried, my mom told me to wash it to loosen the perm, and I ended up with wavy hair.  Rinse and repeat.  I don’t know why my childish mind always thought that THIS time, Grandma would give me what I wanted.

  17. 17
    MissB2U says:

    My brother was a hair stylist and he used to cut my hair for me.  In those days I wore it almost waist length.  One day I visited him in the salon and he said he’d smooth out my split ends but could he try something different and I said sure.  So he twists sections of my hair, about as thick as a finger, and runs a candle flame up and down the section of hair.  We were alone in the shop.  About half way through the door opens and we both look over to see a fireman standing there with the truck parked outside.  I decided my brother could do the explaining, which he did.  And my hair was smoother that cat poop on linoleum.  I miss him soooo, much!

  18. 18
    Priscilla says:

    As a poor grad student, I went to one of those MasterCuts kind of places to get a cheap haircut.  The lady took over an hour for a simple trim.  It was so bad that I had to go back the next day to get it recut – bits sticking out all over, asymmetrical (and not in a cool 80s retro way).  At first I was mad, but then I pitied the poor lady who was so bad at her job.

  19. 19
    katherinelynn_04 says:

    My most memorable haircut was when I had to cut off all of my lovely locks to a very short almost pixie cut. My hair had been halfway down my back and had started to fall out due to health issues, so it had to go. Several years later I’m almost back to where I started, my hair is mid-way down my back.

  20. 20
    Stephanie B says:

    My Mom is my hairdresser so I’ve had lots of strange styles over the years – I have middle school pictures with the late 80’s early 90’s bang fan – I got a perm in middle school :/

    But I think my best experience was on my wedding day – My mom did my hair and all my bridesmaids and we drank mimosas and had a wonderful time.

    I don’t know what I’m going to do when she’s not bale to do my hair for me anymore and I have to go find a salon and actually pay for a haircut!

  21. 21
    Trix says:

    It’s a tie between the time I cut off a piece of hair that kept falling in my face when I was eight (thus giving myself an instant bald spot, and it STILL cowlicks to this day), or the mullet my hairdresser gave me when I was eleven or so.

  22. 22
    kkw says:

    Worst is hard, but the front runners:  The time I trimmed my own bangs and kept getting them crooked and finally figured I’d just cut them off entirely so no one would know – just in time for 3rd grade pictures.  Eighth grade when I dyed it blue only it was seaweed green so I dyed it black to cover it up, which would have been bad enough as I was seriously not meant to have black hair, and no one is meant to have dull flat matte black hair, but also all the initial bleaching made it come out in tufts.  Shaving it so I could look like Sinead O’Connor (I didn’t).  Shaving it so I could look like Tank Girl (I didn’t).  Shaving it so I could look like Sigourney Weaver (third time not the charm). A shaved head makes me look like a victim of Nazi persecution, and an androgynous one at that, but it’s really important to never learn from your mistakes.
    Best…some of the cuts I got as a hair model at a Vidal Sassoon in the 80s were pretty great.  The time I shaved half my head so I’d look like Cindi Lauper which was probably only a success in my mind, but god did it make me feel cool.  Also, I had a Brigitte Bardot haircut that was way too much work to maintain, but was very happy making.  Now my hairdresser lives across the hall, which is the best thing ever (except for the days I can’t be bothered, and I have to duck him in the hallways so he can’t see what I’ve done – or not done – with his creations).

  23. 23
    Justine says:

    I was so happy when I donated 11 inches of hair! I had been growing it out and my newly short hair felt so light and freeing.

  24. 24
    Teri Anne Stanley says:

    Well…there was the time my neighbor and I were highlighting each other’s hair and enjoying, um, a few cocktails at the same time…I might have been a little tardy in rinsing the bleachy stuff out.  Ooooweee. 

    I started shelling out the big bucks after that!

  25. 25
    Annblackie says:

    The worst haircut I ever received growin up was from our neighbor’s mother. My mom kept nagging me to let this poor woman cut my hair because she had been a hairdresser when she lived in New Orleans. And she would not charge anything (a sure clincher for my mom). I finally gave in and sat in the kitchen getting a haircut while she told my mom a series of strange stories, like the time she saw a kitten with topaz eyes and she’d prayed to God that her daughter would have a baby with topaz eyes. I’m getting progressively more nervous while my mom and she continued to chat and have a great time. When she finally let me out of the chair, I went to the bathroom to get a look at my hair. I looked like the Disney version of Peter Pan. I cried for two weeks and only after our neighbor saw me did I find out that her mother was living with her because she was having trouble with her memory and they thought she might have dementia. She was a very sweet lady but that haircut…yikes!

  26. 26
    Holly Gault says:

    When I was around 13 and hormones had recently changed my naturally wavy hair to fine frizz, the hairdresser wanted to give me a poodle cut. I was totally embarrassed. A few years later a stylist gave me a Greek Boy cut—exactly the same cut but SO MUCH BETTER.

  27. 27
    Emily A says:

    I once cut my hair myself and nobody knew until I told them. I haven’t done that in a long time. I really enjoyed Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik about hair salon.

  28. 28
    Hope H says:

    I have very fine, straight hair, but I have tons of it.  Stylists seem to think the only way to get some body in it is to cut layers – many, many layers – in it.  The last time I got my hair cut, my request for “an angled, layered bob” turned into “layered mullet.”  So I’m back to growing it out – AGAIN.

    When I was in first grade, for school picture day, my mom had cut my bangs evenly (for once!) and I thought it looked pretty good.  My hair was about ear-length.  One piece by left cheek kept waving outward.  I was OK with it;  my mom was OK with it.  The picture lady was not.  She licked her hand and tried to smooth my hair with it.  Forty-nine years later it still grosses me out.

  29. 29

    I let a guy friend of mine cut my hair. He was an amateur haircutter, very sweet and I was broke. The cut was terrible – uneven, weirdly shaped, with mismatched layers. It took YEARS to grow out. I never let him cut my hair again.

  30. 30
    Marie says:

    My worst cut wasn’t a “cut” per se, and much as it was a style. Suffice to say, getting a perm 2 weeks before your wedding is a sign you should NOT marry that man. Neither worked out well…

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