Hi girls! Hope you’ve all lived through the dreaded swim suit try-on drama and booked fabulous vacations. All you need now is a hot by the pool book to savor. Luckily, I met author Wendy Lawless and her new book Chanel Bonfire, while I was doing a reading of my book Blush: The Unbelievably Absurd Diary Of A Gay Beauty Junkie at the star studded Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write Literary Salon in LA. Of course Wendy and I bonded like we’ve known each other forever.
Here’s a little snapshot of our conversation — but first, you ask, who is this broad?
Wendy Lawless is a stage and television actress who has appeared on and off Broadway before hanging up her crinoline to be a domestic goddess, wife, and mother of two children. To keep from turning into the Mad Housewife, she started writing. Her pieces have appeared in the local LA press, and most recently in Redbook. Her memoir, Chanel Bonfire, was published by Simon & Schuster in January 2013. Chanel recently got a four star review in People, a rave in O! Magazine, and hit the New York Times e- book Bestseller List a few weeks ago.
Harvey Helms: What’s Chanel Bonfire?
Wendy Lawless: I like to describe my memoir as a horrible, and horribly funny story about two girls, me and my younger sister Robin, trying to survive our fashionista-goldigger mother’s final nervous breakdown without a road map or a how-to manual, as she drags us behind her through the Dakota, Park Avenue, swinging ’70s London and beyond. Recently, one reviewer stated that if Mommie Dearest and Running With Scissors had a love child, it would be named Chanel Bonfire! And just so you know, it has a happy ending.
HH: How did you decide to write this book?
WL: For years, I had been dining out on these crazy stories about my life with my glamorous, Hitchcock blonde, mink coat wearing, never baked a cookie, conga line of boyfriends mom – to make people laugh, or to shock or entertain, or to somehow pay them back for the expensive meal they were buying me. Many people urged me to write the stories down, and one day I started to do just that – I was at a stop sign in LA, had a lightbulb moment, and started scribbling.
HH: How is the book relevant today?
WL: First, I just want to say that it’s a juicy, breezy read, and people tell me it’s funny — I wanted there to be humor in the story. Many people finish it in a few sittings. So I guess I’m responsible for a lot of people calling in sick to work, or staying up all night, or not getting their homework done. There’s a lot of fun stuff in Chanel Bonfire – 1970 and ’80s fashion, celebs, exotic locales. The book also has themes that are relevant to almost everyone: mother/daughter relationships, sisters, growing up, alcoholism, and mental illness. People often write to me to tell me that my book helped them come to terms with their own childhood, or made them feel better because my book mirrored something in their lives and it touched them. Ultimately, it’s a survival story about triumphing over a difficult situation, and even being able to laugh about it eventually.
HH: What does the title mean?
WL: It started out as a chapter heading in the London section of the book. I thought it was catchy, and would get people’s attention. Then, later, I realized that it was very resonant. Chanel Bonfire is a symbol for my beautiful but doomed mother. She was achingly gorgeous and perfect on the surface, in her Chanel suit and her pearls, but underneath that there was volatility, danger, and instability.
HH: What are you working on now?
WL: The sequel of course! The girl without a roadmap for life finds herself in the gritty, exciting nadir of downtown New York. Like Chanel, it will be darkly comic and terribly misguided – an eighties party girl looking for love in all the wrong places, searching for Mr. Right, an identity, a job and maybe a free meal. Oh, and she has a crazy mother.
So as you can see, you must make this one of your top summer reads! You won’t be able to put it down.
Save me a lounge with umbrella by the pool please!
Don’t forget the sunblock!
Harvey Helms is a beauty culturist and writer, drawing on 30 years of experience in cosmetics, fashion and design. Harvey has held positions ranging from Global Director of Beauty for Revlon Cosmetics to Executive Director of Special Events for Donna Karan Beauty. Harvey currently lives and works in Silicon Valley, where he just finished writing his first book in a trilogy of three: Blush: The Unbelievably Absurd Diary Of A Gay Beauty Junkie, an engaging tell-all on the fashion industry. Follow Harvey on Twitter @harveyhelms.