Blau's first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, was a San Francisco Chronicle "Best of 2008" and selected as a best summer read by The Today Show, New York Magazine, and the New York Post.
Jessica has graciously agreed to share this Book Tour Tale of Terror, about the risks of telling the "truth" in fiction.
When my first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, came out, I wasn’t worried about running into the people who were characterized in the book. Everyone was pretty well-disguised and, more importantly, I had finished school pre-Facebook and so had lost touch with most of the people from my past.
And then I went to Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. After getting lost, I arrived late and almost immediately went up to the podium. I opened my book and began reading the loss-of-virginity scene that I had been reading the whole tour. It’s a moment of bad, awkward, almost-sad sex, and sort of fun to read since my life appears to be past bad, awkward almost-sad sex (for now!). I had read it so often that it was pressed into memory, allowing me moments to look up and scan the audience.
The faces looked generically Northern Californian (healthy, handsome) and unfamiliar. And then I spotted an old friend, Karen S., whom I had known since second grade. We had barely seen each other, if ever, since senior year of high school. She appeared exactly the same as she had at 17: silky straw brown hair cut short, light blue eyes, no make up, and a complexion so pale you could see faint traces of freckles underneath the skin. My heart thumped. My hands shook a little. In sixth grade, she had told me a secret. And I repeated that secret. Word for word. In the book.
It’s something that comes out during a conversation between the 14-year old protaganist, Jamie, when she’s alone in a bedroom with Pam, the 17-year old daughter of the family therapist (this was California in the 70’s, the family went to group family therapy). Here’s the dialogue:
“I’m adopted, too,” Pam said.
“Where are your real parents?”
“No one will tell me—my adopted mom said she doesn’t know, but I don’t believe her. I think my real mom is Carol Burnett.”
That’s it. Karen S. told me that she thought her real mom was Carol Burnett. And she made me swear on my life that I’d never, ever, eeeeever tell a soul.
In the book, the scene moves on to a moment when Pam convinces Jamie that she can put her in a trance. She does some hocus-pocus and Jamie pretends she’s in a trance so as not to make Pam feel bad. But then Pam feels up her breasts and Jamie doesn’t know how to get out of it since she faked being in the trance in the first place.
After the reading, Karen S. approached the podium. I leaned in and hugged her. Immediately I blurted out, “Oh my god, I told your secret in the book!”
She said she knew, she had already read it, and then she handed me a stack of about eight books to sign. “I’m buying them for all my friends,” she said. “I’m going to give them out and tell them that they have to find my secret!”
We had coffee with a few people after the signing. At one point, Karen leaned in and whispered in my ear, “I never tried to put you in a trance and feel you up like that, did I?”
“No!” I told her. “Someone else did that. I just gave her your secret!”
Karen was relieved, although I wasn’t. I was about to go read in Santa Barbara where the fake-trance-feel-up girl lived.
Lucky for me, she wasn’t there. Although I should point out, we recently became Facebook friends.