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3Q with Karen Abbott (and a Prize Drawing)

Karen is coming! Karen is coming! Here to Atlanta. Come hang out with us Tuesday and celebrate the launch of American Rose.

January 18, 2011
Ballroom Book Bash (hosted by A Cappella Books)
The Highland Inn
644 N. Highland Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30306
Time: 7 p.m.
Contact: Frank Reiss, 404-681-5128, frank@acappellabooks.com
$10 tickets or free with the purchase of AMERICAN ROSE: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee

If you want to know a little about the book, Publisher’s Weekly raves, in a starred review: Imaginative and engaging… Abbott shares some fresh, intimate details as she develops two parallel narrative strands: the hand-to-mouth early years when Rose was plying the city-to-city vaudeville circuit with her child acts featuring her talented daughter, June, and the more gawky, reliable Louise; and the steady success of the Minsky brothers on the Lower East Side of New York City as they invested in a string of vaudeville theaters that gradually morphed into wildly successful burlesque houses. When June ran away (at age 13 to get married), Rose reinvented Louise as her last vestige of hope–and thus Gypsy Rose Lee made “her delicate, unclean break from the past.” Abbott’s work, cutting fluidly between decades and recreating dialogue, captures this dizzying, sullying, transformative era in America.

Or heck, you can just watch the book trailer.

Karen agreed to do a 3Q, and Random House is ponying up three gorgeous copies of this page-turner for you guys. YAY! You can enter to win up to four times. Each Entry requires a SEPARATE COMMENT as here on FTK, we ROLL the heartless RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR to pick winners.

Way One: Leave a comment here. Easy peasy chicken squeezy.

Way Two: Post a link to this contest on your facebook page. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.

Way Three: TWEET a link to this contest. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.

Way Four: Post a link to this contest on your Blog. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here linking back saying you have done so.
Now to the good stuff!

Get two! They are small!

JJ: Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

KA: I dedicated this book to my grandmother. She was born in 1918, just seven years after Gypsy Rose Lee (whose 100th birthday was January 8). My grandmother is a whiskey-drinking, poker-playing, cane-shaking feisty old bird, and always gives me the best gifts: authentic cloche hats, her winning gambling strategy, and stories that, without fail, are more interesting than fiction. (First, a story about my grandmother that is not fiction: I once told Joshilyn that she “churns butter.” Joss beamed. “Mine does too! Do you have any of her old churns?” I laughed and said. “No, I mean she churns butter. Like she’s in a music video circa 1985!”).

Anyway, when my grandmother told me about a great aunt who vanished in Chicago in 1905, I began researching that city and time period and discovered a world-famous brothel called the Everleigh Club, which became the subject of my first book, Sin in the Second City. Shortly before my publication date, and fishing for a new topic, I asked her about growing up during the Great Depression. She relayed a tale about a cousin who saw Gypsy Rose Lee perform around 1935. “She took a full fifteen minutes to peel off a single glove,” the cousin reported, “and she was so damn good at it I would’ve gladly give her fifteen more.” So that story got me thinking: who was Gypsy Rose Lee? I spent three years researching the answer, research that included connecting with Gypsy’s sister, the actress June Havoc, who died in March 2010 (you can hear audio clips of my interviews with her at the “audio/video” vault on my website: http://karenabbott.net/the-books/audiovideo-vault/). Gypsy was a strutting, bawdy, erudite conundrum, adored by everyone but known by few, and I had a great time figuring her out.

JJ: Your main character seems to be nothing like you. After all, you spend most of your time hanging out with people who have been dead for decades, and Gypsy Rose Lee spent most of her time making jokes half-naked on a stage. What DO you guys have in common or, if nothing, how’d you manage to inhabit shoes so different from your own?

KA: This is a good question, and, the way I interpret it, it’s also a very personal question (which, for me, also makes it an especially difficult question, but I’ll give it a shot). Gypsy lived in constant terror of the past catching up with her and obliterating every bright piece of her present. She couldn’t make a move without worrying that her mother might blackmail her, or spread vicious stories about every dark and secret thing she’d done before becoming famous. She fretted about failing at her work and being forced to live like she did during the Great Depression, eating sardines and dog food and selling her body. She was raised being told that men were worthless and untrustworthy and only wanted to “enter her room,” to use one of her mother’s many odd euphemisms, and was never able to truly connect with another human being, not even the man she considered the love of her life.

Of course I didn’t grow up during the Depression, and my early years weren’t nearly as difficult (or interesting, for that matter) as Gypsy’s, but I wholly understand the desire to bury the past and rewrite your earliest memories, and the fear that everything you’ve clawed and scraped and battled for—no matter how modest it is—might vanish overnight. I realized that Gypsy’s life was, in essence, a vast collection of uncomfortable moments, and I purposely made myself uncomfortable while writing about her. As for our differences, I write about lives I wish I could’ve lived—both the Everleigh sisters’ and Gypsy’s. Those women had the savvy and nerve to go out and make history, while I merely tap away in my office, documenting it. I’m always jealous of my subjects for that.

Me. And Trouble.

JJ: Can you talk a little about the significance of your title and how you came up with it?

KA: I don’t consider American Rose to be a biography so much as a microcosm of 20th century America, told through this fascinating, dramatic, and tumultuous life, and I wanted the title to reflect that. I like to call Gypsy’s story “Horatio Alger meets Tim Burton.” Here’s an awkward kid who is born into nothing, receives very little formal education, spends her entire childhood on the road, and is marginally cared for by an erratic, volatile, homicidal mother, who grows up to become a novelist, a playwright, a contributor to The New Yorker, an actress, an activist, a member of New York’s literati, a glamorous single mother, and the most famous entertainer of her time. It’s really the story of America itself: the dream, the struggle, the setbacks, the ferocious drive and relentless self-invention, the ultimate triumph—and at what cost? Gypsy was a true original, as fascinating as she is timeless, and I hope American Rose does her justice. I also hope an entirely new generation of people can appreciate how unique and genuine she was, especially in this age of manufactured celebrity. Who else but Gypsy Rose Lee would receive a telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt—Eleanor Roosevelt!—that said, “May your bare ass always be shining”?

JJ: Thanks Karen, and good luck in the drawing, Best Beloveds – this book is AMAZING. I’ll leave it open til Wednesday at midnight EST.

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