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.
This 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.
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.