Anna David now considers herself a "reformed party girl," but not all that long ago, she thought nothing of getting high, getting drunk, and partying her ass off, all while writing for publications such as Parenting and People. Now sober, the West Hollywood-based journalist, blogger, and talking head brings us her debut novel, Party Girl (HarperCollins), a recovery story disguised as a dishy, dirty beach read. Party Girl takes us through protagonist Amelia Stone's sexual (mis)adventures, celebrity flirtations, and rock bottom moment (getting fired for doing coke in the bathroom at work). From there, she enters rehab, where she begins to see other ways of living based on living cleanly, though from there, her journey is just beginning. Based largely on her own life (including an ex), David has been up-front about the real struggles she faced getting sober. (An exclusive excerpt of Party Girl can be found here!)
David has already completed a second novel, Kept, based on her research into the world of high-class prostitution for a Details article, is the sex and relationship expert for the "In Your Pants" section of G4's Attack of the Show, and blogs for Fox News on reality TV, group author blog The Debutante Ball, as well as her own Annalytical. Here, she emails with Huffington Post about "skin-crawlingly earnest" recovery memoirs, writing while high, and why she's insulted by the term "chick lit."
Why did you decide to write a novel versus a memoir? What were the challenges and also the easy parts of using your life as source material?
With the exception of Permanent Midnight, all the addiction and recovery memoirs that I read came across as almost skin-crawlingly earnest once the writer got sober and I'd find myself savoring over their tragic stories of sucking on crack pipes or sucking on other things in order to get the money to put crack in their pipes and then becoming incredibly bored by their stories of sobriety. And I read most of them when I was already sober! So I knew I wanted to avoid that.
Also, one of the main things I learn in my sobriety isn't how addicted I was but how insane my thinking always was─how self-absorbed and utterly filled with self-pity I've always been. And I wanted to be able to mock myself─to create a character that's funny because she's always getting in her own way and utterly incapable of ever seeing that─in a way that I didn't think I'd be able to do in a memoir. As for the hard part of writing it, I feel like I'm supposed to say that writing the drug scenes was difficult because it brought me back to this painful part of my past but the truth is, those were my favorite scenes to write. I did drugs, after all, partially because it was highly enjoyable at first and on a certain level, it's a guilt-free way to go back and relive that, but also follow it with the inevitable horror that comes once you get a substantial habit. The hardest part was coming up with plot points that weren't lifted directly from my life. I struggled with the ending, for example, because, of course, I'm still living my life and the ending for it thus hasn't been written.
What do you think of the idea that artists, especially writers, need to have some sort of addiction, in order to create? How has your creative process and writing output changed since becoming sober?
Well, the first time I did cocaine alone, I wrote a spec script for Third Rock From The Sun, a show I'd never actually seen, that was actually good, in a night. I thought, Okay, I've found the not-so-hidden secret: this is how I'll manage to be as prolific as I've always fantasized I could be. And you wouldn't believe how quickly that sharp dialogue that was practically flying onto the page devolved into me staring numbly at the screen, unable to move and thoroughly terrified that my computer was going to ask me if I wanted to save (which it did if you didn't touch a key for over a minute) because the beeping noise that accompanied it always made me jump about five feet in the air when I was as high and jumpy and paranoid as I always was then. I think I literally spent two years rewriting one line in a script, with a whole lot of jumping into the air every sixty seconds. Still, I was scared when I got sober that I wouldn't be able to think of anything without having a chemical numbing my mind to all those negative you-can't-do-this-that's-a-stupid-idea thoughts or at least freeing me up so that I could access my imagination.
For my first year of sobriety, I chain-smoked while writing, telling myself that it was necessary. When I quit smoking about five years ago, I was able to see that the only thing that actually helps me write is sitting in the chair and churning it out. I'm slightly more open to creative ideas when I'm a little more relaxed, which is why I brainstorm by taking a hike or getting a massage (an amazing way to justify that expense). And it certainly does seem like many creative people struggle with addiction─but who's to say whether people with alcoholic temperaments gravitate toward work like that because they'd feel confined by working in, say, an accounting office, or whether that kind of work is painful or challenging or somehow causes people to want to escape?
You've posted on your blog about the topic of chick lit and how you don't want your book labeled chick lit at all, and yet, to my reading, it does have all the elements of chick lit, and is called Party Girl, which, I think, regardless of the content would make some people think it's chick lit anyway. What do you find problematic about the label, and how else would you classify it?
Before I had this book out, I didn't understand why people made a big deal about the "chick lit" thing─whether they were offended by it or defended it as worthy, I just didn't see how it mattered that much. I remember my agent telling me we couldn't have a high heel on the cover because then people would think it was chick lit and I sort of shrugged and nodded. But I wasn't prepared for how insulted the label was going to make me feel once it was being used to describe my book. It's probably because of the self-absorption I mentioned before─because it didn't have to do with me directly yet, I guess I just didn't care. Now, of course, I'm borderline obsessed with making people understand the book isn't chick lit.
To me, chick lit describes the kind of book that focuses on a girl with very simple and superficial needs─there doesn't tend to be a great deal of subtext, the characters don't seem very nuanced and the biggest lesson is often that a girl is much happier when she has a guy. These books, as the label suggests, don't tend to appeal to men at all. So I was offended when, say, a certain website that's too frothy for me to even read said that they wouldn't cover my book because it was "too chick lit-y." Here I wrote a book about the most important and profound experience I'd ever had─getting and staying sober─and it's being categorized among books about wearing Manolo Blahniks while trying to land a guy?
Of course, I'm not the first to point out that there doesn't seem to be an appropriate label for fiction by women that isn't considered literary. Even the word "literary" makes me flinch. Who's to say something isn't literary? The publicist I've been working with has said things to me like, "Oh, we can't submit it to him─he only likes literary things." I kept wanted to remind her, "Hey, Jerry Stahl called my book an epic for the generation!" But I don't know why certain books get classified in this way and others─say, White Oleander or Prep─don't. I'm not even trying to compare my talent or book to those authors or those titles but it does seem like people will use the words "chick lit"─or even "not literary"─to describe something by a woman that they either haven't read, don't like or want to deride for whatever reason. As for the title, quite honestly, I'm not sure it was the right way to go. As I said, I honestly didn't think I cared about being labeled "chick lit" until my book started getting it, so I didn't worry about having a more substantive or serious-sounding title. In retrospect, however, perhaps The After-Party, which was the title we had when we sold it (because a book called Party Girl had just been released) might have been the way to go. My friend had a funny idea; she suggested releasing two version of the book─one, Party Girl, with the cover as is, then another called Redemption with an all-black cover. She thought it would be interesting to see how differently people react.
Anna David and Rachel Kramer Bussel will be "in conversation" at Borders, Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, New York, on Thursday, June 28th at 7 p.m., followed by a reading, Q&A, and booksigning by David.
Follow Rachel Kramer Bussel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raquelita