Hollywood in Heels: Chatting with Charity Gaye Finnestad

I have spent the last week reading Hollywood in Heels during my commute. I’d walk to the subway listening to music and then promptly unplug as soon as I was underground and not moving, and glue my eyes to my phone to read this book. I found myself devouring chapters each day, giggling at my phone, and generally wishing it wouldn’t be thought weird if I curled up with popcorn on the subway seat. I hadn’t been expecting much more than a nice chick lit read when I started, but I was pleasantly surprised by the candor Charity Gaye Finnestad had when recounting her arrival and survival in Hollywood.

When I had the chance to speak with Charity about the book, she continued to surprise me. It was as if someone read my blog about that magic moment of identifying a friend and wrote the script of our conversation.

No really, Charity called herself a bookaholic within the first ten minutes of our conversation and went on to tell me about the mentors she had found in the books she read growing up. It took all my willpower not to squeel into the phone knowing that I did the same thing. I hadn’t even asked about books and reading, which is my modus operandi in almost all conversations. I had simply asked who told her she could be, do and say anything she wanted. In addition to Charity’s mother, who she called a “self-defined original,” her answer was books: “I’m an absolute bookaholic. I read everything I can get my hands on. And when I could never find mentors in real life I started reading biographies and autobiographies, and I think I’ve read tens of thousands of books about women historically and current women who were amazing. I think my heros are actually a lot of dead people.”

This exchange cemented the connection I felt to her writing pretty clearly in my brain. What I had come back to repeatedly as I read Hollywood in Heels was the relaxed and down-to-earth voice Charity told her stories with. I’m the first person to roll my eyes when I read yet another chick lit book about a model or actress and the glamour of Hollywood, but her stories didn’t feel eye-roll inducing to me. You know why? Alongside the stories about sparkling parties and industry affairs there was an outline of the diet of a Hollywood up-and-comer (hint: it’s the same Ramen-like menu I survive on for most of the week) and a story about coming to understand that platonic relationships can end just as painfully as romantic ones. She named her car, did victory dances when something went right and bemoaned slipping from flip-flops to four-inch heels. Sure there were glitzy parties and modeling gigs because that’s how she survived the big city while getting her professional feet underneath her as a writer, but there were also temp jobs and dog walking and sleeping on couches until she could afford her own place.

In fact, if someone asked me, point blank, if this was a romantic comedy book, I’d probably say no. Yes, there are a lot of dating stories in its pages and quite a lot of sex (I blushed on the subway more than once). But the relationship that survives from beginning to end doesn’t revolve around the girl finding her prince. It revolves around Charity finding her voice and taking the first solid steps down the path that got her to write the book and get it published.

The book covers more than just making it in Hollywood. Charity is brutally honest about the ups and downs of dating in LA, sex as a commodity, and how genetic blessings like height can work in your favor. I asked her whether the voice she had cultivated was something she was comfortable with – if it felt odd to have that much of her personal life out there for other people to read? She told me, “I wrote the blog, and then I wrote the book, like I was talking to my girlfriends. And you tell your girlfriends those kinds of things. Normally in culture we’re not allowed to say those kinds of things because we’re supposed to pretend to be something that we’re not most of the time. But you do tell your girlfriends. And I kind of approached the entire book like I relate to my friends. They’re your source of strength, and if you’re not giving them the truth then they’re not able to help you with whatever it is you’re going through. [T]he truth becomes very important for anybody to actually make an impact on other people’s lives.”

Reading Hollywood in Heels felt a lot like going to brunch with my best friends. There were exploits to be recounted, horror stories to be told and much commiseration to be shared around the table. I swear this actually happens. It’s not just something you see in movies that will forever change your life.

I’m glad I got to chat with Charity about her book as it led to a conversation on writing processes*, digital publishing**, and our mutual book consumption habits***. Thanks to the changing models of publishing (see below) she is publishing her book electronically first, and if the buzz builds, in physical format. And after that, perhaps more tales of her adventures? If nothing else, I want follow-ups on her pseudonymed friends who fill her life with hijinks and support.

* Charity’s advice: Write every day. Write every single day. Make it a habit. Treat it like a job that you love. No matter what, spend time with your stories every single day.

** Digital publishing is changing the industry in the same way it changed the music industry. Charity thinks we might even someday equate it with Guttenberg and his press. I agree with her.

*** We both read too much. We both also read multiple books at the same time. There may have been some favorite titles exchanged.

Image via Hollywood in Heels

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