Before I wrote Damned I stalked Jane Fonda for weeks. I knew what she ate and drank. I even slept in her bed. Before Jane I’d shadowed Goldie Hawn, and before Goldie was Caroline Kennedy. Before Caroline, I lose track. My obsession was either Irvine Welsh or Maya Angelou or Deepak Chopra, and before you call the cops I assure you that I broke no laws.
I was on book tours following closely in the wake of their promotional book tours. Luxury hotels know that a steady stream of writers is always circulating the nation, and this means deep-pocketed business travelers, so why not designate one nice room as an “Author’s Suite” and capture that lucrative market?
Some Author’s Suites feature a cozy gas fireplace. Some have a separate sitting room with a wet bar. But what they all include is bookcases, and lining those shelves are the books written by everyone who’s ever slept there. Each book spine represents a night in that bed. The custom is that the hotel manager sends your latest book, the one you’re promoting, to the room with a note asking if you’ll autograph it. You check in, sign the book, and leave it for the hotel to display.
Go ahead, check into the Author’s Suite in your city and there will be my newest book, Damned, a novel about a little girl who wakes up in Hell. Her name is Madison Spencer, and she’s eternally damned to Hades without a clue regarding her cause of death. She just has to muddle through and make the best of a very bad situation. As do we all, from time to time. For little Madison Spencer, Hell is a place--like a hotel mattress--of accumulated dead skin and loose hairs. Hidden boogers. Dried fluids.
Of course we all know that a hotel bed is, for want of a better word, shared. In the children’s bedtime story, the Three Bears might want to know, “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” But the rest of us do not. In the Author’s Suite, unfortunately, a glance at the bookshelves tells you the entire resume of your mattress. There’s David Sedaris, Amy Tan, Paula Deen, Michael Chabon, and a thousand others. The autographs are usually dated, and if you’re determined and creepy, like me, you can puzzle out exactly who’s played Goldilocks in the nights immediately preceding the day of your arrival. And if you’re truly neurotic, like me, you’ll examine that suite the way a police detective scours a crime scene.
My novel Damned is patterned after the Judy Blume classic Are Your There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. In Blume’s book a girl finds herself relocated to the suburbs and forced to adjust. It’s the same crisis we find in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption. It’s the same sickening anxiety we all suffer on the first day of a new job, or the first day in a new school, or on every day of a coast-to-coast book tour. That’s why we love these stories.
When you check into an Author’s Suite, most likely Judy and Stephen’s books and dead skin will still be in residence, there. Chances are some of my other books – Fight Club, Pygmy, and Choke--are also on the shelf, and each represents a night I’ve lolled in the adjacent bed. This background is something you might or might not want to know before spending the night.
Such knowledge is a slippery slope. Trust me. Once I realized that Jane Fonda had occupied “my” bed the night before me--that my book tour was following so closely in her gorgeous footsteps--I was like a dog with a bone. Be warned: Room service waiters can be bought. So can bellmen and car service drivers, and when prompted with cash they usually sing like canaries. It’s not my goal to get anyone fired for tattling, but Jane likes to order cucumber slices to diminish any puffiness around her eyes. Very thin, chilled slices. And woe to the room service waiter who delivers thick ones at room temperature. Goldie likes Fiji water.
My interest in these matters is not prurient. My point is: Jane and Goldie and Caroline know how to be famous. Luxury hotel suites. Chauffeurs. Room service. These are just part of their everyday landscape. My own background runs to trailer houses situated on gravel roads accessed by dented pick-up trucks. I’m desperate to learn the ropes of being famous, so I bribe everyone. I comb each Author’s Suite for stray hairs, fingernail parings, little forensic clues. I strip off the bed sheets and mattress pad and hunt for stains. I interrogate the staff. Like my pitiful narrator in Damned, poor Madison Spencer, I’m trying to learn a new system, make friends, get along. And I’m trying like crazy to figure out how I got here in the first place.
God knows I didn’t get here by being nice.
Now, if you’ll forgive me, I need to go slice some chilled cucumbers.