OUR OTHER FEATURED BOOKS THIS WEEK, “PAISLEY MEMORIES,” BY ZELLE ANDREWS AND “WALKING OVER EGGSHELLS,” BY LUCINDA E. CLARKE, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.
PUBLISHED IN: 2012
THE AUTHOR: Pam Alster
THE EDITOR: Edan Lepucki and Les Plesko edited different drafts through the Master Writer’s Workshop at UCLA.
SUMMARY: Robin’s Blue, Pam Alster’s debut novel, is an epic coming-of-age story set against the disco 70’s through the Reagan-era 80’s, when divorce was the norm and casual sex and recreational drugs were ubiquitous. Robin Daniels, a runaway from a violent and emotionally desolate upper middle-class home, repeatedly navigates her world without guidance. After a failed marriage, she discounts love as an option and moves through a series of jobs and men. A futile attempt to live as a kept woman compels her to become a high-class call girl. She searches unsuccessfully through the resulting transient experiences and escalating drug use for the one lesson that will resolve her omnipresent question of purpose.
Before AIDS and addiction became household words, Robin’s Blue speaks to a generation that basically raised itself. Robin’s journey takes her from suburban Philadelphia to Miami to the South of France and ultimately to New York City where she is obliged to make peace with the girl inside she left dormant at sixteen.
THE BACK STORY: Back in the day, we didn’t bother walking to school uphill – both ways – in the snow, we simply hitched a ride and ran away.
Coming of age during the late 70’s and 80’s makes today’s lifestyles look tame. AIDS didn’t exist, most people thought cocaine was non-addictive, beating a children sending them to boarding school to “get them in line” was commonplace. Addiction, therapy and 12-Step Programs were almost non-existent, so growing up was something many kids figured out on their own.
I am a survivor and product of the 80’s. Like many teenagers, I ran away from a loveless family, but, thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones. Despite experiencing the drug culture and living in the fast lane, I figured it out and found my way. I discovered people can survive the worst of themselves and rise above the ashes to find love and happiness.
The journey of writing about Robin’s life began with an idea based on a collection many characters I met on my journey. I started with the question of what happens to the still-young girl who finds herself in a too-early marriage for all the wrong reasons. Without a family and money, where does she go, where does she end up? Robin and her accomplices are all fictional compilations of thematically-based characters. It is not autobiographical, however, some things and experiences I have re-created from the book. As a writer, I am compelled to draw on anything absurd or fantastical I’ve come across or imagined.
Robin’s Blue took me 10 years and as many drafts to complete. One of the challenges I experienced was the first person narrative. To be an adult with hindsight and wisdom who is writing as a teenager who knows nothing of the world, through her eyes, was very limiting for me. I almost had to remove my adult brain and to “see” what Robin saw at every turn. What her choices, with her inadequate sense-of-self, low self-esteem (for which there was no definition at the time) and lack of worldly knowledge would produce for her. Without the available psycho-babble we have available to us now, it was a particular struggle, since there were no words for the themes of loss, depression, addiction, abandonment. Everything in the book is created through that restricted lens.
The book I’m currently writing is in the third person. I have so much freedom. I highly recommend it.
WHY THIS TITLE? At first, I kept seeing the book cover. Black and white, awash in robin’s egg blue. Robin’s egg blue is the signature color of Tiffany’s. I felt Robin ultimately struggled with deep loss and sadness who hid behind a Tiffany lifestyle. And, she was very blue. First, the working title was Robin Blue. I had a lot of feedback throughout the process. One person advised that I title it “Call Girl” but I believed it was so much more of a character study and it would also be pandering to the salaciousness of it to be so “on-the-nose.” A friend of mine read a later draft and suggested Robin’s Blue. It spoke to many themes throughout the story that it stuck with me. So that’s why the title.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?
#1 Amazon Bestseller Contemporary Coming of Age Fiction
Robin’s Blue, is a page-turner that immerses readers into the life of a teen run-away during the 1980’s as she unapologetically looks for the answers to love and happiness through drugs, men, and a series of jobs that leave her choosing between life and love.
Timeless, poignant and controversial, Robin’s Blue, explores and evokes themes such as the indelible influence life in the 70’s and 80’s had and is continuing to have on today’s children, how guilt or victimization can become a driving force behind one’s poor choices and the impact an absent parent – through death or emotional detachment can have.
Robin emerges as a girl and woman who is her own best friend and worst enemy, but I believe every woman can relate to her doubts, fears and insecurities as they follow Robin’s life journey to find a family where she belongs.
“The philosophers say ‘know thyself’ but the admonition carries its own dangers for the heroine of Pam Alster’s stunning novel, a brutal yet compassionate exposé of her protagonist, Robin, a paragon of honesty and self-deception, a cunning dissector of her own foibles and those of her lovers, friends and enemies. Under Alster’s sure touch – a mash-up of a calibrated literary eloquence with the punk directness of a sucker-punch – Robin emerges as a girl and woman who’s her own best friend and worst enemy: a tender masochist, an unrepentant liar and fearless truth-teller – or maybe the other way around – a subversive infiltrator of her own heart. Read this book. It may be trite to say: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. But I did.” –Les Plesko, author of Slow Lie Detector
“Robin’s Blue is a brilliantly vivid time capsule of blank generation 80’s decadence fused with a poignant and sensitive coming of age tale that’s totally timeless.” — ~Erik Himmelsback, Contributor, Los Angeles Times
“The colorful characters in Robin’s orbit help bolster the coked-up story, and the final part proves to be the best. Realistically captures the rough road to rock bottom.” ~Kirkus Book Review
AUTHOR PROFILE: Pam Alster studied Master Fiction Writing at UCLA under the tutelage of the great late Les Plesko and is a former television writer who created the ABC/Lifetime TV show Girl Club. She wrote and performed the critically-acclaimed plays Shop Bloomingdales, Find Mother and Millennium’s Eve, both workshopped and staged in Los Angeles at the HBO Workspace, Hudson and Black Box Theaters. A former stand-up comedian, Alster performed with Gotham City Improv in New York City and is currently a contributing blogger to Elevate and BlogHer.com. She is an original member of Tertulia – a salon of professional writers and artists based in L.A. and has been honored to read at Lit-Crawl L.A. She lives in Southern California with her patient husband, old-soul daughter, baby girl, and two well-fed mutts.
AWARDS: Robin’s Blue, Pam Alster’s first novel was honored as a FINALIST for a 2014 International Best Book Awards in the categories of Chick-Lit/Women’s Fiction, a FINALIST for the 2014 Indie Excellence Awards in the category of Chick-Lit, a FINALIST for the 2013 USA Best Book Awards in the categories of Chick-Lit/Women’s Fiction, a 2012 FINALIST for a Kindle Book Review for Literary Fiction and recently honored for an indieBRAG Medallion in the category of Contemporary Fiction award.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “It’s my hope to offer an experience of what it was like to be in the head of a young girl during the changing and ignorant times of the 70’s and 80’s, that the scenery is painted with authentic imagery and that the reader is fully absorbed in the era.”
by Pam Alster
I waited in the designer living room for my boss to surface from the recesses of his house. He told me to come by after work and pick up inventory. Though I was technically the hotel lifeguard, my duties included manning the suntan oil sales cabana. I got the job two weeks after coming to Myrtle Beach, despite Melanie’s insistence that I’d make more money at my first job slinging disco cocktails with her. But I wanted my nights to go out and the gig allowed me to be paid for being in the sun all day.
“There’s vodka in the fridge,” Joe called from the down the hall.
For some reason, I called him Joe McClure instead of just Joe like everyone else. The whole name fit him, and it was our private joke. I’d say, hey Joe McClure! whenever he came by my pool. He
was well-liked and popular, the big daddy of the beach and I felt at ease with him, more of a friend than an employee.
I wiped a smudge off the framed picture of him and his wife holding clubs in front of a golf cart and put it back on the end table. She was attractive for an older woman. She looked confident, deserving and rich. Prettier than my stepmother, but she reminded me of her just the same, how she possessed the Kodak moment the way her leather-gloved hand held the irons. I shuddered at the thought that I might become that.
I found the vodka in the well-stocked bar and smiled at the mirror behind the sparkling bottles. My hair was in a greasy ponytail and I was still in my shorts from work but I felt sophisticated retrieving the sturdy highball glasses, even stood a little taller when I walked to the kitchen, as if cocktail hour was as natural an occurrence for me as breakfast cereal.
The refrigerator was full and there were Tupperware containers with celery and carrot sticks. I thought I’d eat healthy too if I had a nice house. I found the tonic and poured it over ice.
I was squeezing a lime when Joe emerged, showered and changed, renewed, like he’d molted. His golf shirt had drip spots from wet hair, and it was tucked, as usual, into belted Bermuda shorts.
“Hey there, Joe McClure,” I said, smiling.
He took the drink from me, stirred it with his finger and drank half of it. “Ah,” he said, grabbed cigarettes, then sat at the kitchen table.
I took a sip from my glass and the lump of ice splashed the cocktail on my face. I thought how silly I must have looked but laughed as I grabbed a napkin. I knew more than to be embarrassed by my klutziness, it worked better to let stuff slide, anything else seemed childish.
“You don’t have to be nervous, I’m not going to attack you,” Joe said, his chuckle neither harmless nor threatening. He smiled, patted the chair next to him, lit a smoke, offered me one. “You’re eighteen, aren’t you, Robin?” he said.
I’d worked for Beach Buff for a month and the issue of my age had never come up. I was suddenly nervous and thought about lying, but then decided that it didn’t matter. I was selling suntan oil, not booze. “You know I’m sixteen,” I said. “How old are you?”
“Thirty-six,” he said.
That explained the golf. It’s what grown ups did. It was their religion. My father not only played, he designed courses. It’s how we first found Myrtle Beach. For years, he traveled weekly back and forth from Pennsylvania to South Carolina overseeing whatever project.
Joe was only a couple of years younger than Daddy, but a hell of a lot more fun. Every week he held a barbeque for all his employees at the Pool Boy house, a kind of dorm for the beach and pool lifeguards. There was always a keg and live music. Joe partied and danced with everyone.
Here, he seemed fidgety and preoccupied, exhaling smoke over his shoulder, tapping ashes in the crystal.
Maybe his wife was on the way home. I’d heard she was an interior decorator. “Where’s the Missus?” I said, retying the string of my bikini top which was digging uncomfortably into my neck from under my t-shirt.
“Clients in Charleston. She’ll be there for a few days,” he said, impatient.
I was worried I’d done something wrong, when he pulled an amber bottle from his pocket. “You do coke?” he said.
“Sure,” I said, hoping he didn’t see the lie on my face. I was flattered he trusted me.
He spilled the vial of white powder onto the table and used a credit card to divide the pile into thin lines. Then he dug in his pocket, produced a short straw and handed it to me. “Ladies first,” he said.
“You go ahead, I’m going to have a little more of my drink.” I wasn’t afraid, I’d done plenty of other stuff. Various pills, pot. But I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do and hoped to stall long enough to fake it.
He held one nostril closed and inhaled the powder through the straw up the other, then he snorted hard. His eyes watered and he shook his head like a dog. “Good stuff,” he said. He stuck his finger in the residue, rubbed it on his gums and licked his lips.
Low orange sunlight reflected off the toaster, making me squint. I took the straw, pretending I’d done it a million times before, it was how I got by hanging out with college kids all summer. The coke burned a little but I didn’t feel anything except awake. I was relieved that I wasn’t instantly addicted and I didn’t feel like jumping out of a building. I copied what Joe did with the gums. It tasted bitter and my mouth got numb.
Joe’s expression changed, he was a greedy cat and I was the bowl of canned food. My face got hot with embarrassment. In spite of his thin frame, his pot-belly hung over his pants while he straddled the chair. “You’re very pretty,” he said.
It wasn’t a revelation but I’d never heard it from him and I vainly liked that he thought so. I drank the rest of my drink and a relaxed dizzy haze settled in with the liquor. The curtains ballooned from the open window and I held my up hair for the faint breeze to dry the day’s stickiness from my neck.
He tilted his chair toward me, then reached over and brushed the inside of my thigh. I wasn’t shaken, but we’d never touched beyond a friendly squeeze. “I see how the guys fawn over you. You’re getting around this summer.” He said this quietly like a secret he knew about me.
I hadn’t realized my recklessness was so obvious. I let go of my hair, fanned myself with my hand, tried not to look at him.
“You’re a horny little girl, aren’t you?” he said, tossing his allegation at me like a basketball from the free-throw line. His usually bland marble eyes turned feral.
I blushed at his directness. No one ever talked to me this way before. Despite the privacy of the house, I looked over my shoulder. I didn’t feel safe, uncertain where it would lead. “Maybe,” I said, unable to think of anything clever to deflect his confusing scrutiny.
I tasted the coke settling in the back of my throat and went for the cigarettes but before I got to them, Joe reached over and pinched my nipple through the shirt.
“Nice tits,” he said.
I batted his hand away. His vulgarity shocked me. But it was my own fault for assuming he wouldn’t put the moves on me. That he should’ve been looking out for me was immaterial.
I got up, filled my glass with ice, tried to act casual. Would it be unbearable? It’s true, I wasn’t hot for his body but maybe since he was experienced he’d know how to make me come. Up to now, I’d been with boys my own age and they didn’t know any more than I did. Sex had hardly been the explosion I’d expected.
Joe put out his cigarette, finished his drink, stretched.
“What about your wife?” I said.
His arrogant smirk suggested I had already consented. “We have an open relationship,” he said, shrugging, as if I should know what he meant.
I hoped it implied secrecy. There were sure to be some advantages to it. A better deck assignment, drugs. He was clearly a liar and a letch, but not dangerous. Otherwise, why would all my co-workers have stuck around? The thing that scared me the most was the seediness of it all, but maybe he’d let me drive his Mercedes. I poured more vodka than I needed and took a gulp.
Classical music from a passing car floated in and then disappeared down the street.
Joe came from behind me where I stood, stuck his hand down the front of my pants, moved the crotch of my swimsuit to the side and shoved a finger in me. I tried wriggling free but he was persistent, and I realized I’d finally got myself into a mess I wasn’t getting out of. Whatever was going to happen, I’d deserve it. I should have run right then. He was disgusting. But what if he wouldn’t like me anymore, or worse, fired me? I’d have no way of explaining it. Melanie would love that. And, shamefully, it felt good.
I resisted, turned my head so he couldn’t kiss me but I let him pull me to the floor and open my legs on the kitchen tile. The crickets chirped beyond the screen door in the waning daylight.
He was presumptive, pushy, lacking self-consciousness. He shoved his face up in it. “You’re so clean,” he said.
I thought: wasn’t everyone? I hadn’t even showered.
The year before I was sent to boarding school, my best friend Donna and I hitched to Center City. We walked into a head shop and I danced in my brown corduroy Levi’s and a pink angora sweater to Play That Funky Music for the stoned Indian owner while Donna lifted a pipe and some incense from the front of the store. The guy didn’t touch me but I saw then how easy it was.
I hovered like my ghost, eyes squeezed shut, while Joe dined on the remains of my innocence. And though I thought how a nice girl wouldn’t dare give herself to a married man with twenty years on her, or use her body for personal gain, I also knew nice was boring and I never wanted boring. I felt brave for permitting this and surviving it. It was like ripping off a bandage to minimize the pain of what I knew the adult world held for me. Men whose cruelty could only be managed if weakened at the altar of my sex.
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CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Find Pam Alster on Facebook, Twitter @plexigirl and in between writing, editing and producing, my blog can occasionally be read at Posts From the Evolution at http://www.pamalster.com