Five Questions for...Alix Strauss
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
August 2010
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
August 2010
This week, the witty and talented writer Shari Goldhagen, author of Family and Other Accidents, peered into the dark, honest, edgy and always humorous mind of trend journalist and author Alix Strauss, who’s currently on tour with her new novel, Based Upon Availability. Known for some of her more gritty titles, The Joy of Funerals, an award winning collection of interwoven shorts, and the non-fiction, Death Becomes Them; Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious, the author talked about her passion for hotels, her obsession with human behavior, and her desire to bring back the 26-city tour. 1. Based Upon Availability delves into the lives of eight women, each who pass through the Four Seasons Hotel. While offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, the hotel captures their darkest and twisted moments as they grapple with family, sex, power, love, and death. What made you choose a hotel for your setting? The travel writer in me wanted the reader to get a true feel for the inner workings of a property while showing the unattractive, often dirty reality of daily hotel life. The fiction scribe wanted to ask and answer the age-old question ‘what happens behind closed doors’ while examining the walls we put up as we attempt intimacy, and then inspecting the ruins when they’re knocked down. Hotels are sexy and offer a strange kind of anonymity and a retreat from our lives. I love the idea that you can be anyone from anywhere and that once you're gone the rooms – hopefully -- are stripped down, wiped clean and all traces of you are erased, as if you'd never been there. I’m also fascinated by human behavior and the strange, odd and outrageous things people do. And I wanted a place where all of my characters passed by each other, even bleed into each other’s lives that was very self-contained. 2. Why Manhattan’s Four Seasons? I’m a huge fan of the hotel. It’s such a signature, classic and high-end spot for many New Yorkers and out-of-towners, with instant name recognition. It’s perfectly situated in midtown and attracts a rather specific, higher-end clientele. There’s a vastness that the hotel exudes because it’s so large –over 350 rooms, so there’s a feeling that much is going on behind closed doors that we’re not privy to. And yet, there’s still a feeling of interconnection. 3. Rumor has it you actually stayed at the hotel as one of the characters, is that true? It is. I spent a lot of time sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons and even stayed in one of the suites, checking in as Unlimited Lou the Courtney Love-like character. She’s the drugged-up rock star who’s sent to the hotel by her publicist to dry out. To give it an authentic touch, I dangled an unlit cigarette from my lips, slapped on some removable tattoos, brought a bottle of vodka with me – have you seen the prices for a mini bottle of booze? – and played a lot of rock songs I thought the character would like or have written herself. Of course I remained sober for the experience – though I did walk around naked – as the character does, but this may be far more info than anyone wanted to know… 4. I know you do a lot of unusual outreach and self-promotion, like themed parties. Do you think this helps sales? I think anything you do to help promote your book is important because no matter how great your publisher is, and Harper Collins has been terrific, there’s only so much they can do, and so much time they can spend on an author. I still believe in the book party, and now that we’re an instant gratification nation, I rely on the bloggers and dotcomers to cover the event and help spread the word. For each book published, I try to theme a place and space. Based was held at the amazingly special Four Seasons Restaurant. In the goodie bag were items like monogrammed BUA slippers and tins of mints – exactly what you’d expect to get at a hotel – where were donated by The Oriental Trading Company. The Joy Of Funerals party was held at Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Home – complete with coffin, harp player, and funeral attire was requested. Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicide of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious, had its kick-off at 675 Bar, an underground lounge where each room was delegated to a dead celebrity. We served Hemingway sliders, and loosened guests up with libations like the Virginia Woolf – a blue concoction with a Swedish fish to portray the water and the fact that she drowned. Of course a themed goodie bag worth salivating over is also a must. For Have I Got A Guy For You: What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up, I created the kind of swag one would need to get ready for their big date – and if they got lucky, what they’d need in the morning; Bottle of Sebeka Wine – because some dates look better blurry, Prescriptives Good In Bed moisturizer - because we hope he is, Benefit Dear John moisturizer - because sometimes he’s not…And a Grow Your Own Date – because sometimes the one that can’t answer back is all you need. 5. What about touring? Many publishers don’t believe it in anymore, but glancing at your events page, past and upcoming ones, it looks like you’ve about 50 scheduled for this year. Isn’t that a lot of work to do? I won’t lie, setting up a tour can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. But I love the readings, having a chance to make the characters come to life, doing the Q&A and hearing the feedback from audience members or book clubbers. Speaking gigs are terrific because I get paid to do what I’m passionate about. Part of my outreach has been to hotels because I really wanted to pair a venue with the theme of the novel. Every hotel I’ve worked with so far has been terrific. Trump Soho decided to open the reading to the public, Fashion 26 did an invite only event, the Liberty Hotel served character themed cocktails and held the program in their $6,000 per night Ebersol suite, letting invited guests experience a different part of the property. Many pre-purchased books and some, like Ink48, did a four-part reading series. The press and excitement we’ve generated – not to mention word of mouth and opportunity for cross promotion -- has been amazing, and so that’s been well worth the hard work and effort. It also makes for a great reason to FB and Tweet about the tour and to let followers feel like they’re on the ride with you.

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