Sample Chapters from New York Dolls by Catherine L. Hensley

With the release of my novel, New York Dolls, from 48fourteen Publishing, I’m pleased to share the first two chapters here on the 48fourteen blog. Enjoy!

*****
CHAPTER 1
2008

“The show’s at fifty-seventh and seventh. Here’s your press badge and mini mic. If you see anyone, just be casual, make chit-chat, see what they think of the show. We’ve heard Amber Donovan may be there, but nothing’s confirmed. Just try to blend in, have some drinks. It starts at five thirty. Oh, and remember…you’re Anna Creel.”

Right. My first assignment! I never thought it would involve false aliases and conversational spying for Glitter magazine, but…my first assignment! At New York City’s Fashion Week nonetheless. Something I had absolutely no experience or serious interest in, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that tonight. I’d be Anna Creel. She knows all about the fashion in-crowd. Right?

“Isn’t Anna…?” I started to ask my boss, Liz. “She’s our fashion and beauty editor,” Liz replied. Right. Then why isn’t she…

“We have too many shows booked this week. She already has Malandrino and Posen tonight. She doesn’t
have time for Isla Dominici. Just smile and keep your eyes and ears open when you get there. Be yourself!”

“As Anna Creel,” I muttered.

“Right!”

Liz was friendly. Maybe not one hundred percent genuine, but this was Glitter after all. You don’t get to be chief editorial assistant of the country’s biggest and most popular celebrity magazine by being your real self. I’d heard she was a Manhattan import, just like myself, but from some little town in Michigan. She hid it relatively well. No accent, three-inch stilettos, a skin-tight suit dress, and a conspicuously obvious D&G belt can make anyone look like a tried and true New York power woman. But Liz was plumper and didn’t look quite as polished as some of the other reporters, and she spoke with a monotone, to-the-point voice, all of which kept her from entirely fitting the Glitter mold. If I ever needed someone in the office to watch my back, I knew Liz, with our shared outsider origins, could do the job.

Watch my back? At Glitter? I couldn’t believe I was thinking so ruthlessly. But this place was cutthroat. I could tell after only a few days. (I bet the editorial assistant underlings at Martha Stewart Living weren’t so fearful. On second thought…maybe they were.) You didn’t advance at Glitter through sheer hard work and determination, and it certainly didn’t involve climbing the traditional corporate ladder. Getting the scoop—or the source—was your most important job function. Even if it meant seducing the married hunk who’s on the number-two-ranked drama on television.

“If something like that were to happen…and of course it does not… We obviously don’t condone that kind of behavior here,” Liz had told the other two EAs and myself after the office gossip broke on my second day.

“But that wasn’t me.”

To get to the top of the hottest weekly celeb rag, apparently the rules of deception were the rules of the game. Anna Creel I would be then, for tonight at least.

I came to New York two years ago, with lofty ambitions and grandiose ideas of what I could do and who I would become by living in the Big City. I guess every modern Manhattan immigrant feels something like that. Where else can you live surrounded by eight million strangers and still believe that that one golden opportunity with your name on it is waiting for you just around the next city street corner? Would professional celebrity reporter impersonation get me across that street? I can’t say it was exactly at the top of my list of career goals. Hell, who was I kidding? That wasn’t even in the running for an alternate space. But here I was, about to crash the Dominici show in search of something worth writing about.

What a riddle—something to write about. I could never seem to come up with anything in a way that really satisfied me. I had written for my high school and college papers. I had a bachelor’s in English. I took short story writing classes, poetry seminars, “Writing the Travel Essay” workshops, and I devoured celebrity magazines like they were going out of style. My teachers read my papers to the class, pulled me aside to praise my “natural” talent with the pen, my gift for always answering the essay prompts exactly as they should be answered. And so there I was in the Big City, with an M.A. in creative writing and culture from NYU and my first “real” job writing (and apparently spying) for the biggest tabloid in the land. Denton Hodges reporting for duty! I’d been told I had a gift. I also had absolutely no passion pushing me to use it.

Writer’s block is one thing, but writer’s guilt is an entirely separate kind of beast. Maybe that’s why I really came to New York—for inspiration. The not-knowingness had become akin to my calling card. My family at home was always asking me “Why did you go so far away?” or “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know…” I’d say, and I’d trail off about my ambitions to grow as a writer or something like that. It was always some variation of “something like that,” prefaced with the “I don’t know” awkward filler. How do you explain to someone in Independence, Louisiana, about how your personal fulfillment journey is tied to New York City when you don’t even understand it yourself? I wanted to know. I wanted to know what was pulling me to the city, what was making me walk the city streets hoping that just around that next gilded corner, I’d find exactly what I was looking for. New York does that to you. It makes you think all things are possible even when you don’t know what all those “things” are. Maybe if I’d had an essay prompt I could’ve quantified it better for myself. “Explain the evolution of your writing skills and the development of your inner person since moving to New York in seven hundred fifty words or less.” Okay, maybe not.

New York City is what you make of it. “What you make of it” piled on loose dreams of who you might be
in another life. But would this other world be worth all the dreams? What would it be like when it was real? Real… and not just Frommer’s pocket-poster edition or Carrie Bradshaw’s version. The city that never sleeps. A concrete jungle. If you see something, say something. On the 6. Stand clear of the closing doors. I couldn’t help but wonder… Give my regards to Broadway! Take a bite outta the Big Apple. New York, New York!

“Why do you want to move to New York City, Denton?”

It was almost as bad as “What do you want to do?”

It was a kind of direction I felt I was always seeking, something that would really get me writing in the orgasmic way I’d dreamed a writer would do, with the words just pouring out of my soul in the most gratifying tangent of personal expression imaginable. I wanted so desperately to really care about using this so-called talent and to stop feeling guilty for not exercising it regularly in profound and creative ways. It would be like finding my own inner prompt. I would know, once and for all, what to write about. For now, though, the direction came from Glitter, and Liz rarely gave much of it.

“So I should be on the lookout for Amber Donovan?” I asked, as she handed over the press materials.

“Okay, you’re not a lighthouse,” she said. “It’s a party. Just hang out. Have a few drinks. If you see anyone, introduce yourself, say you’re from Glitter, and ask ‘em what they think of the show, get ‘em talking.”

“Won’t they stop talking if they know I’m from Glitter?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said, “but we try to be honest.”

That was usually about as much direction as I got. In the three weeks since I’d been hired onto the editorial team, I’d been given a crash course in writing something out of nothing. As editorial assistants at the nation’s most circulated celeb zine, we weren’t exactly covering the press line at the Oscars. It was more like, “Angelina Jolie’s been spotted shopping at FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue! Get over there ASAP with the pocket cam! She’s with one of her kids. See what she’s wearing…and if she buys anything! We need the report ASAP!”

That particular Jolie spotting was MD’s first reporting assignment. We were the new batch of EAs—MD, Olivia, and myself—taking over the low-level reigns from those who were now assistant editors or reporters or, in Liz’s case, head of editorial.

“Oh my G, I am so there!” MD’s enthusiasm for the Jolie trek was infectious. She was so bubbly, so stun- ningly beautiful, so blonde that abbreviations seemed to encapsulate her very existence. Whole words—and whole names—weren’t necessary with someone like MD. What you saw is exactly what you got. She really was unnervingly nice and unendingly perky and im- possibly gorgeous, and to my great shock, I didn’t feel intimidated or jealous of her. MD was such an extreme that you had to simply acknowledge it and move on. Olivia was quite the opposite, very grunge-like, very deadpan, very…likely partially stoned half the time. I had heard she was somehow related to Glitter’s publisher.

I guess I fell somewhere between MD and Olivia, though I hoped I was leaning toward the MD side. I wasn’t blonde or buoyant, but I definitely wasn’t grungy chic and out of it. I was…terrified and so completely fish out of water, I felt like I might start flopping around for air at any second. What am I doing? My mind was racing. I’m about to walk into Fashion Week impersonating the fashion and beauty editor of one of the biggest magazines in the country, and I’m wearing twelve-dollar kitten heels from Payless that are city- scuffed, and I don’t even think I put mascara on this morning. And if Amber Donovan shows up? I’m just supposed to walk on over and be like “Hey! What’s up?” to Hollywood’s number one party girl? Oh my G… How did I get here?!

“Oh my G! How excited are you? So excited, huh?” MD said, hustling over to me after our meeting with Liz dissolved. Maybe she sensed my nerves and was hoping her excitement could get me on board. More than likely, though, she saw my outfit and felt called to duty.

“So what are you going to wear?” she asked me.

“Uh… I… This?” I said, apologetically tugging at my gray Gap cardigan. She tilted her head a little to the side, and scrunching her brows slightly, she seemed to be showing genuine concern rather than judgment.
“Wait one sec!” she said, perking up and dashing over to her desk. We sat in a four-square kind of low cubicle arrangement, with Liz closest to Mara, the assistant to the editor-in-chief. The cubicle walls throughout the space were about waist-high. Some employees had actual offices with glass walls and doors, like a few of the senior writers. The openness and design transparency was perfectly fitting of Glitter. You could always hear—and, for the most part, see—everyone else’s business. Like Liz struggling to get some kind of functionality out of Olivia.

“…the fashion polls… Get down to Rockefeller Center. This is a rush for the next issue. It’s closing tonight,” Liz was telling Olivia, who was noticeably displeased with the assignment.

“That is an intern job!” she protested.

“We’ve already got two interns at the shows, and another is going with MD to FAO,” Liz said.

“What about…?” Olivia was blanking on the name.

“Alyssa? Yeah. We don’t know where she is,” Liz said, but not with any serious concern.

“Great,” Olivia sighed.

“Just a hundred votes. If you head down now…”

“Got ‘em!” MD said, grabbing my wrist and pulling me past the intern cubes. We were heading toward the ladies’ restroom, which had to be up there on the list of most inconveniently placed bathrooms. To get to it, you literally had to walk across and through the entire expanse of Glitter’s office space, around the front reception area, and part of the way through Moving Rock’s bordering offices. The two mags shared the whole second floor of 1267 Avenue of the Americas.

Moving Rock was one of the oldest music and culture magazines, though it had been veering decidedly toward pop and entertainment culture ever since Olivia’s supposed uncle-publisher took over Fenner Media, LLC, four years earlier. Glitter’s archive and library—not to mention bathroom—were firmly entrenched in MR space, and it was like crossing over into a completely different world—relatively quiet, properly cubicled, and packed with guys who looked like they had rolled right out of a hairy Judd Apatow movie.

MD passing by on a trip to the ladies’ room wasn’t just your average guys-staring-at-a-hot-girl display; it was an event unto itself. It was as though all the guys shared a mental alarm that went off like clockwork whenever she walked into the area. Like dominos, first one guy would stand up, then a few would lean back in their chairs. One or two perched leaning over their cubicle walls. And invariably one would win the race, making it first to the copy machine that stood directly across the hallway from the women’s restroom. Yanking me inside, MD seemed blissfully unaware of the hormonal explosion she was causing.

“Okay,” she said once we were in. She squatted down over a small-size duffel bag. “Now, you have to start with these.” She handed me two of the biggest, sparkliest, most tiered and bejeweled chandelier earrings I had ever seen—emerald tear-drop beads dangled in layers among gold-link, interwoven chains. Round, iridescent ear studs at the top sparkled in reflection. They were so big and so gaudy that they were fabulous.

“Oh my…no, I can’t borrow these from you,” I said.

“Why not? They’re ferosh!” she said, practically throwing them at me.

“They’re too nice. I can’t…”

“Oh G, please! I got these at Avenue Fifty-Six on Bowery. They were like ten bucks! Come on! You have to rock them!” she said, going back over to her bag. As she leaned over to rummage in it once more, her hair fell over her right shoulder in shiny waves of blonde. During the workday, she’d toss it back over her head or twist it up and away, but no matter what she did, it still looked as though she had stepped right out of a salon ad. She actually has hair like that? I thought. How do you walk around the streets of Manhattan and your hair looks like that? Looking at MD was like looking at a living, breathing rhetorical question—an impossibly modelesque and human one.

A panoramic, chest-high mirror surrounded the dressing area we were in, and I couldn’t help but look at my reflection. I had my hair wound up in one of those big, chunky, straight-from-the-nineties tooth clips, and it spit out like a chestnut-colored waterfall from the back of my head. Pair that with my cardigan, black top, and gray slacks, and I was just about ready for…

“This!” MD jumped up and held out…a black silk nightie?

“You have to wear this!” she said, holding it up by my shoulders to size. “It is so hot. Don’t you love it?”

“Yeah…it’s…” I said.

“It’s so hot,” she repeated. “So amazing!”

“Really…uh…I…uh…I don’t know. I don’t know…I…really…uh…if this is me?” I stammered.

“Denny,” she said, much less excitedly. “Who is you? I mean…” She paused, and you could almost see the gears in her brain trying to turn over. “Who are you? I mean…this dress is so hot, and you can’t go into
Dominici looking like some library lady!”

I looked at myself in the mirror. She had me beat, and we both knew it.

“Okay,” I said, taking the clip from my hair and forcing a doubtful grin.

“Yay!” she bounced, thrusting the dress into my hands. Grabbing her bag, she was heading out the door but stopped. “I’ve got to get to FAO or Liz is gonna die. Have so much fun! Text me!”

The door was closing behind her as she offered her last piece of advice: “And don’t wear a bra!” Right.

CHAPTER 2
It’s easy to forget why you’re living in New York. Maybe it’s the sirens—the never-ending ebb and flow of the NYPD, the FDNY, and every ambulance from here to Jersey City—when you’ve got a pounding headache, directly above your right temple, and they’re whining and whizzing by, and they won’t stop. And the subways, so environmentally friendly, so ergonomically efficient, so…hideously awful at 5:30 on a Thursday evening when you’re smushed into the last packed-to-capacity car on the uptown A express. It’s so packed that all you can smell are the other people, and you’d put money on the two Gotti-twin guys you’re wedged between having not taken showers in the last week (at least).

But then there’s Mamie’s Bake Shop, tucked snugly around the corner of East 63rd Street and 3rd Ave- nue. If it weren’t for the silver bells that go jingling when the door swings open and close, you’d almost miss it because of the bright lights of Bloomingdale’s glowing up the avenue. You might be going along 63rd Street, heading nowhere in particular, just walking because you kept on heading east after a stop to marvel at the twirling skaters on Wollman Rink in Central Park. Without those bells, you’d still be daydreaming of twirlers and twinkly lights, and you’d miss the tray of buttercream-frosted vanilla cupcakes that had just been put out. And those cupcakes…the whipped buttercream was enough to convince you that right here, right now was exactly where you were supposed to be, biting into a mouthful of the richest, most perfectly sugared confection in the whole wide world.

Outside, Manhattan was always madness. A cabbie, slowly trying to round 63rd Street through streaming pedestrians, might roll over the foot of a young man stepping out at the start of the crosswalk. Or maybe the young man steps out without looking both ways and puts his foot right in the way of the cabbie’s wheel. It could happen either way. The man’s companion will pound the hood of the cab with his tall umbrella, while the cabbie, hanging out of his window, yells profanities and honks his horn, all in a kind of pulsing rhythm, like the blinking of DON’T WALK, DON’T WALK.

And to think, you might’ve missed all this if not for the little bells.

*****

www.catherinehensley.com
www.facebook.com/NewYorkDollsTheNovel

@NYDollsTheNovel

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