Monday, March 18, 2013

Featured Author: Kim Boykin

I'm happy to have Kim Boykin here today to talk about her just released novel, The Wisdom of Hair. The chick lit book, published by Berkley Books, has been touted by NYT bestselling novelist and author of Ocean Beach, Wendy Wax, as, "A lovely, engaging novel...witty and eloquent." In addition to an interview with Kim, we're treated with a guest post and a book excerpt.

About the book:

"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.

Interview with Kim Boykin 

Welcome, Kim! I love the title of your book. How did you come up with it?

I was at a pitch conference in New York and the editor who eventually bought my book that was titled Separate Ways at the time said, “Yeah, but what’s the book really about?” I told her it’s about the wisdom of hair, that women change their hair to change their lives and she said, “THAT’S your title.” And she was right.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. I spend most days writing in my pajamas. I admire those folks who hold down a job or have little kids and write. They are probably way more organized than I am, which isn’t hard.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I never use an outline and have little to know idea of where the story’s going when I start out. I just listen to the voices as they carry me along. I’m not ashamed to say I do hear voices and would be devastated if I didn’t. When my characters get stuck or something’s not making sense, I stop and figure things out, but for the most part, I just put my people in a box and see what they do.

Did you have any say in your cover art?
The only real say I had was with the first proof I saw. The background was steel gray, the hair dryer was red, and there was hardly any of the woman’s face showing. I complained that it didn’t look at all like the story inside, and they made it gorgeous, purples and green, more of the model’s pretty face. I LOVE IT!

I do too! Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Without a doubt-Sara Jane Farquhar. She’s a big gorgeous woman with a mouth on her and the best friend a girl could wish for. Heck, even I wish I had a Sara Jane Farquhar in my stable of friends.

I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

Interesting question. Initially, her name was Shirley, a good sturdy Appalachian mountain name, but I thought I needed a sexier name and Zora came to me. I have a book of names I look up the meanings of names to see if they’re on target with their characters and lo and behold, Zora means “the light of the dawn.” It’s a fitting name since The Wisdom of Hair is a coming of age story.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
For all the indie bookstore fans, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve tried, but I have a really hard time reading “real books” these days. I’m a Kindle girl so far because I read faster and way more with an eReader. I’m writing a romance now, so that’s what I’ve been reading. Too many titles to mention. Everything from Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series to Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek Series, to Why We Never Danced the Charleston by Harlan Greene, and everything in between.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Right down the road on a little island called the Isle of Palms near Charleston, South Carolina. Conde Naste travel magazine proclaimed Charleston the number one tourist destination in the world, and of course the US. We have a vacation home there and it gets harder and harder to leave each visit. Phenomenal weather, food, and people. Y’all come!

What are you working on now?
A love story set in the Charleston Lowcountry during 1952. It’s loads of fun to write.


Kim's Guest Post

by Kim Boykin

I was born in the ’50′s in a time when women were encouraged to stay home and dream for their husbands and their children, for anybody but themselves. Somewhere in all that, my mom decided she wanted to go to beauty school.

To this day, even at 81 Mom is still gorgeous and has always enjoyed the latest styles and fashions. Working at the Bomb Plant (we’ll save this topic for a later blog) and with three daughters, my dad thought he should save every penny rather than opening his wallet which would certainly have resulted in financial ruin. Mom was a resourceful woman. She figured out how to whip up the latest styles, but in a time where women had their hair washed and set once a week, and by set I mean girded in lacquer so that it was like a pretty plastic helmet, she was stumped. She wanted to learn how to fix her hair, and with my older sisters nearing college age, she wanted to be able to send us to college, something my dad wasn’t totally on board with at the time.

Out of all this, Betty’s Beauty Salon came to be in a shabby little row of buildings on Main Street, New Ellenton, South Carolina. Mom worked hard and worked her way into a nicer building, and while the digs changed significantly, one thing NEVER changed. Women came to her shop to find themselves, to nurture themselves, something that wasn’t at all en vogue like it is today, and to find their dreams.

Maybe they were drawn there because it was a safe place to be yourself, to speak your mind, to share your joys and your sorrows. Aside from a phenomenal haircut, great color, or a scalp massage that often had her clients purring, I believe they were drawn to Mom’s dream itself. Whether it was her or the dryers and shampoo bowls or the building with the little wooden sign over the door, Betty’s Beauty Salon represented a dream that one brave woman dare to dream; and it actually came TRUE! And isn’t that what we all want? At least once?

I’ve got my dream, it’s 292 pages long and debuted 3/5/13. My wish for you is that you find yours, and if you haven’t found it yet, answer the call to find it, even in the most unassuming places.

Excerpt from The Wisdom of Hair

According to the brochure, beauty school was supposed to be The Beginning of an Exciting Career That Will Last a Lifetime. But the first thing that caught my eye when I walked through the front door of the Davenport School of Beauty was a sign on slick white poster board posted by the cash register.  A bubble over a pair of legs said, NO MORE THAN THREE ABOVE THE KNEE. Looking down at my uniform, I didn’t need a ruler to tell me that I was out of line. 

I pulled at the sides of my uniform, trying to lengthen the hem like a lot of the other students. I could just picture us all after school let out, sitting around our respective homes with scissors, big red tomato pin cushions, and spools of white thread scattered about, undoing our hemlines.

Nobody looked anything like the proud confident blonde on the cover of the brochure, except for one girl.  She was the only one not worrying with her dress. Hers was an inch or two below the knee and had a sassy little slit up the back. From the neck up, she looked like a movie star, and the way she carried herself made you forget that she could probably afford to lose fifty or sixty pounds.

As attendance was called, we were supposed to introduce ourselves. Some of the girls stammered or giggled.  My own voice came out just above a whisper, but the big girl spoke in a deep, sexy drawl with a proud confidence that every single girl in the room coveted. We looked at Sara Jane Farquhar in awe, and there wasn’t a single soul in that room, even our instructor, who didn’t want to be her.

“Now, ladies, I am Mrs. Cathcart, your instructor here at the Davenport School of Beauty. I’d like to welcome you, the winter class of 1983.” She paused, waiting for us to applaud ourselves. When we didn’t, she did, and we all joined in. “As students, you’ll learn the art of fixing hair over the next six months. Along with the latest fashion trends, you will master vital skills like pin curls and finger waves. And though perms and color will be your bread and butter, if you can learn to do an upsweep, you can make a fortune these days.”   

“Class, if you can give a woman a good hairdo, she will crawl to you on her deathbed for you to fix her hair.  A woman whose hair has been properly colored is a customer for life. Let me assure all of you, there is great honor in making a woman in your charge look and feel beautiful. This is indeed one of life’s highest callings.”

We stood there applauding for all we were worth, completely mesmerized by Mrs. Cathcart’s address to the Class of 1983. I looked around the room. There were twenty-three of us. One girl was crying. Later on, when she dropped out, Mrs. Cathcart would say she was called elsewhere.    

After the applause ended, Mrs. Cathcart led us past the area with all of the dryers and shampoo bowls to a large room in the back that was both storage room and our classroom. Each workstation had a faceless mannequin head with glossy black hair.  All of them were identical, except one or two looked newer than the others. 

Most everyone leafed through the blue clothbound textbook at each station, except for the crying girl. She ran her hand over the top of Cosmetology Today and started to cry again. She bawled at the drop of a hat, everyday. I think it must have had something to do with her being pregnant, although I don’t think she knew she was at the time.

Sara Jane Farquhar leafed through her book, and then shoved it onto the little shelf under the top of her workstation. She looked at Mrs. Cathcart like she already knew it cover to cover and was ready to go to work. Mrs. Cathcart gave Sara Jane a dirty look and told everyone to open her texts to page one.
All of Mrs. Cathcart’s lessons were drawn out on the back of old maps, the kind teachers pull down like window shades.  They were old and yellow and torn in a couple of places, but when she pointed her yardstick to Cosmetology, an Introduction and started teaching, it was clear that she was a very good teacher.

I was the only one who took notes; I may have been the only girl there who knew how to take notes. Mrs. Cathcart liked that. She smiled and nodded at me every time I recognized something important and wrote it down. She went on for at least two hours before she told us we could have a break. There was a rush for the Coke machine, which by the time I got there only took exact change. 

“You need dimes?”

I looked up and saw Sara Jane Farquhar smiling at me with a Coca-Cola in her hand.

“Thanks.” I handed her my quarter, but she gave it right back.
“Keep it. I always have change.”

“Thanks. I’m Zora.” 

“I’m Sara Jane Farquhar,” she said, the way Marilyn Monroe might have introduced herself. Sara Jane wasn’t putting on; that was just the way she talked. “So what do you think about all this?”

“I’m excited and a little nervous, how about you?”

A group of girls were huddled together listening to a bony girl with a bad perm mimic Mrs. Cathcart’s speech to us. All of them kept cutting their eyes around to make sure she didn’t come around the corner and catch them.

“They shouldn’t be making fun of her,” I said.

Sara Jane nodded. “The joke’s on them. Everything Mrs. Carthcart said was right.”

“She’s sweet, but don’t you think she’s a little overly dramatic?”

“Maybe, but women come to a stylist because they want to feel beautiful. Even if it’s just for that one hour they sit in your chair, even if their hair looks like hell the next morning. For an hour, they had the undivided attention of someone focused on making them beautiful. They don’t get that in real life unless they give it to themselves, and a lot of women just seem to give up on that.” Sara Jane took a swig of her Coke. “But I don’t have to tell you that. You’ve been to a stylist; you know what I’m talking about.”

I nodded, and hoped she couldn’t see my embarrassment. I’d never been to a beauty salon; never had anybody cut my hair but Mama and Nana. I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about, but I believed every word Sara Jane Farquhar said.

“So, where do you live?”

“Just off Main in a little apartment on Beckett Street.”

“You’re lucky to have your own place. I live with my parents.”

Mama had embarrassed me so many times when prospective friends came over, the thought of inviting someone like Sara Jane Farquhar to my apartment made me nauseous. But after two days in Davenport, I was lonely, and gawking over Winston Sawyer hadn’t helped any.
“Do you want to come over today--after class?”

“Sure.” Sara Jane smiled, and pushed one of her perfectly bleached blonde tresses off of her face. “That would be fun.”

I explained the arrangement I had with the owner and she said that was fine by her. She would keep me company while I cooked. She also showed me how to pour salted peanuts into my Coke bottle during one of our breaks. She said it was a good, quick snack because you could eat and drink at the same time. The salty and sweet tasted good to me, but I almost choked the first time I tried it. 

It’s funny how neither of us ever really said anything about being best friends that day, the way you might on the first day of grade school, but after two fifteen-minute breaks and a lunch together, we just were.

About the author:

Kim Boykin learned about women and their hair in her mother’s beauty shop in a tiny South Carolina town. She loves to write stories about strong Southern women and is an accomplished public speaker. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes.

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