Today, it’s a pleasure to present Kim Boykin, author of The Wisdom of Hair. As part of CLP Blog Tours, Kim will be answering a Q&A and offering an excerpt of her novel for our enjoyment.
Tricia: Hi, Kim, and welcome! Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
Kim: I started writing my first novel when my kids were 5 and 2. It was bad, so bad I kept it in the top of the linen closet for years. Somewhere with all our moves it got lost and that’s a good thing. But I kept writing, my kids are 25 and 23 right now and the Wisdom of Hair is my debut novel. That means it’s not my first novel, but the first one I was lucky enough to publish. I’m glad I got better at writing because I also love to cook and garden. Nobody ever got fat writing a novel, maybe from sitting too much but not from the writing itself. And I’m pretty sure nobody’s rosacea ever flared up from the dirt and the sweat of pounding out a book. Unless they’re writing romance, and then I say more power to them!
Tricia: When did you begin writing?
Kim: The common answer is,”I’ve always written.” And that’s true, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I remember the feel of that fat number 2 pencil and the manuscript paper with those broken and solid blue lines. Most everyone always groaned when the teachers gave writing assignments, being extremely ADHD in a time that meant I just needed “to apply myself,” because I was HORRIBLE at math. I was the kid in the back of the class that said YES! Later on, after my kids were born it was an escape, the one thing that I could control, the one thing that was mine. I think it’s important for women who are pulled in a million different directions to have at least one thing they claim for themselves. That one thing won’t let us stay lost in the fray, it reminds us who we are.
Tricia: Can you tell us about The Wisdom of Hair?
Kim: The book is a coming of age story about Zora Adams, a young girl who finds her calling at beauty school and meets her very first BFF in Sara Jane Farquhar and that last F really means forever. Zora has a hot romance with the wrong guy and learns what real love is and what real love isn’t from a cast of quirky women. If you were going to compare it to a movie, I’d say it’s like Steel Magnolias without the diabetes and nobody dies. Well, nobody important.
Tricia: How did you get the idea for the book?
Kim: Although she winds up on the Carolina coast, Zora is from the Appalachian Mountains. I met a woman who was a professor and grew up in the mountains. She came from a family where women didn’t go off to college, they just stayed home and married the first alcoholic they fell for, and when he died, they got themselves another. She called them “drunk daddies.” But it made me think about how a woman might get out of that situation, she’d need to be self-supporting fast, and one of the best ways to do that is beauty school. Add in the fact that my mom was a hair stylist and I knew something about the profession and the story just took off.
Tricia: I absolutely love the title. Was this a title your chose, or did the publisher have a say?
Kim: The book has had a BUNCH of titles, and when I pitched it to the editor who eventually bought it, it was called SEPARATE WAYS. She asked me what the book was really about and I told her, “It’s about the wisdom of hair, how women change their hair to change their lives.” She said, “THAT’S your title,” and she was right.
Tricia: What role does the beauty shop play in your characters’ lives?
Kim: Aside from being Zora’s lively hood, it’s a place where she learns about human nature. She comes to understand how important she to her clients, what she does for them, and what a privilege it is to share her gifts with them. And the reader (I hope) sees the true value of Zora as a stylist and hopefully that will translate to their own stylists. If one reader closes the book and calls up their stylist to say, “I love you. Thank you for what you do for me” I will have immeasurably succeeded.
Tricia: They say beauty is only skin deep, but for many women, a new hair-style isn’t just a superficial change in appearance. How does this apply to your characters?
Kim: There’s a scene where it finally clicks with Zora as to exactly what that change means. It’s about a beautiful young client from the wrong side of the tracks who married the town’s golden boy. His parents will never accept her, and although she’s madly in love with her husband, she’s miserable in the marriage and constantly changes her hair from straight to perm, from long to short, from brown to red to blond. Zora ends the scene with this, “After awhile, I realized she believed that if she looked different, her world might just be different, that somehow in all of that she would find happiness. I know that sounds crazy, but since I realized this about Ellie, I’ve seen it in other women who come to my station and look in that big mirror the same way. They want something different, a change. They want to be happy.
Tricia: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your novel?
Kim: I’m prolific, never get writer’s block, but I’m a HORRIBLE copy editor. I write so fast that I drop words and when I re read what I wrote, my brain inserts the missing word. I have some good friends who do that for me now and I thank GOD for them!
Tricia: What book are you reading right now?
Kim: Lately? All I’ve been reading is publicity stuff for The Wisdom of Hair, but I’m going to the beach this weekend with my eclectic Kindle and hope to catch up with Ruthie Knoxx’s new romance HOW TO MISBEHAVE and I absolutely can’t wait for Julie Kibler’s CALLING ME HOME to come out. I WILL stop everything I’m doing to read that. It’s a highly anticipated novel complete with a SOUTHERN hair stylist! Sound familiar?
Tricia: What projects are you currently working on?
Kim: I’m writing a love story set in the SC Lowcountry in 1953. It’s about a Charleston bride who escapes the biggest wedding in the city’s history and runs away to a little crossroads community about 50 miles from Charelston called Round O. Of course she meets the love of her life, sparks from their culture clash fly.
Tricia: Thank you, Kim, for joining us. I can’t wait to read your book! For those readers interested in grabbing a copy of the book, it is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now, please enjoy this excerpt generously provided by the author…
(EXCERPT SETUP: Zora has fallen for Winston’s pretty face and is trying NOT to be like her mother. To take her mind of of her hot landlord, she cleans her garage apartment, and lo and behold finds something from his late wife!)
I woke up that next morning with Winston Sawyer on my mind and started cleaning. I wiped down the countertops and cabinets good. The steamy water full of pine cleaner cleared my head but had a tough time cutting through years of greasy dirt on the hood over the little stovetop. I flicked the switch on the fan back and forth to see if it worked, but it didn’t. Then I heard his car door open. He started the engine up.
I used an old cloth with some scouring powder I found under the sink. The thought of Winston with his hands on that steering wheel made me scrub around the burners so hard that a little piece of enamel about the size of a quarter rubbed off. I stood there fingering the spot, while his engine revved louder. When I peeked out the window, he was raising the hood. I went over to the stove one more time and wiped it down again like I was minding my own business. Then I pulled some old pots out from the little drawer under the stove to keep busy.
I tried hard not to think of him bent over that little black sports car, with tools in his hands that would make it do what he wanted. God, I wished I’d had some sense and a little piece of steel wool that day. Maybe things would have been different.
I took a swig of sweet tea out of a glass I’d brought from home, marched myself into the bathroom, and scrubbed the toilet twice. The old tub was a sight with I-don’t-know-what stuck in the drain: hair, dead bugs, dust, and dirt. A bunch of old Glamour magazines were stuffed in a basket; one was opened to the “Dos and Don’ts” page. I flipped through the May issue from four years ago and tried to twist my hair up like the model’s on page 53, but it didn’t look good.
I took an armload of those magazines into the living room and arranged them on the coffee table by the couch before I started on the tub. After awhile, the bathroom looked nice, except the floor looked like the toilet had overflowed at one time. A piece of the linoleum was torn off, and there were wavy lines in the exposed plywood. I got down on my hands and knees to see if it was as bad as it looked, thinking maybe I could find a little second-hand chenille rug to cover it up, maybe a blue one to match the walls that looked like they might once have been the color of robin’s eggs.
It was hot for early June. Between cleaning and getting myself all revved up over Winston, I was tired. I turned my face in the direction of the box fan wedged in the bedroom window, and closed my eyes. The breeze blew across my face and ruffled about under my shirt.
When I opened my eyes, I noticed a box hidden under the bed. It wasn’t a pasteboard box like you might store winter clothes in when you were sure spring had finally arrived. It was crimson with fancy gold letters across the top that was slick to the touch.
I don’t know how I knew it was Winston’s wife’s, I just did. I also knew it wasn’t right to even think about looking inside, but I couldn’t help myself. So I closed my front door that was propped open to air out the musty old place and pulled down the shade on my solitary window before curiosity killed me.
The box was from a little shop in town called Serendipity. There was a layer of dust on the top of it, and not thinking that I’d just spent all morning cleaning, I blew it into the air. My nose stung like someone had swatted me. I sneezed twice and got on with my plundering.
The box opened easily, like Pandora’s must have. The receipt was on top of the prettiest dress I have ever seen. I have to say I felt guilty going through a dead woman’s things, but that didn’t stop me from taking the dress into the bathroom and locking the door. I’d never touched silk before that day. I drew it up to slide my arms in and let the slippery fabric ripple over my body. The dress was the color of the sky at sunset; a perfect fit that felt like a whisper across my body.
I looked in the tiny medicine-chest mirror, but not in the primpy sort of way I had earlier. It was more like the fearful expressions of those bwanas in the old Tarzan movies when the jungle drums suddenly stopped beating. I took that dress off, wadded it up in a ball, and sat on the toilet in my underwear.
After a while, I folded the dress up and put everything back the way I found it. The receipt had fallen into the bottom of the box. $194.56. Even today that would be a lot of money to pay for a dress, but in 1983 it was a fortune. Before I was done cleaning, I found several more boxes from other stores, all full of pretty things Emma had bought and squirreled away for herself.
I left everything where I found it. I’d caused myself enough trouble just by trying on that dress. But I did step out for a little while and walked to a hole-in-the-wall of a grocery store on Main Street. Along the way, I passed three of the shops Emma liked to frequent and felt myself blush hard, like somebody might look at me and know what I’d done. Some boys about my age were sitting outside the pool hall. One of them whistled at me, trying to turn my head, but I’d seen their type with their smokes in their T-shirt pockets, looking like they hadn’t bathed in a week, and just walked on.
I had twenty dollars in my pocket but didn’t buy anything more than a little boiled ham and some loaf bread. Tomatoes were too high to touch, so I settled for a small jar of mayonnaise, figuring that when times were tough, I could just eat mayonnaise sandwiches. I spent a little over nine dollars of my own, so I splurged and bought myself a Coke.
I put the groceries away after lunch, rinsed off my plate and dried it with a little checkered dishrag from home. I tried to put it on the top shelf of the cupboard but it wouldn’t go. I tried again, shoving it so hard it’s a wonder it didn’t break; finally I climbed up on the counter to see what the problem was. Another hidden treasure. Now I did hesitate with this one because it was wrapped.
I took the box down carefully. It was small, no bigger than my hand, maybe three or four inches deep. The wrapping paper had sweet peas on it, pink and blue ones intertwined, making little hearts as they met. The Scotch tape had yellowed and looked like it might come undone if it wasn’t handled just right. I sat there, turned it from side to side, shook it a little and listened to the odd sound it made.
All at once, my senses came about me, and I threw that little box of Emma’s into the silverware drawer. I slammed that drawer shut and sat down at the kitchen table, red-faced with shame. Still, I tried to fool the side of me that wasn’t too far gone by saying there was no harm in taking a little peek inside. Then I thought about Mama and how pathetic she was over the men in her life. I was a part of her. As much as I hated the fact, her weakness made me look at right and wrong like they were identical twins I couldn’t tell apart.
I opened that drawer three or four times, then slammed it shut. Once I nearly slammed my hand in the drawer. I was sure that was Nana speaking to me from the dead. I could just see her and Winston’s wife, Emma, perched on the same cloud.
Nana would shake her head while she pleaded my case. “You know, Zora really is a good girl.”
“Well, she must not be too good. She’s tried on all my new clothes, and look at her now. She’s thinking about opening my present.”
Kim Boykin learned about women and their hair in her mother’s beauty shop in a tiny South Carolina town. She loves to write stories about strong Southern women, because that’s what she knows. While her stories are always set in South Carolina, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes.