Charity Gaye Finnestad knows Hollywood and she isn't afraid to tell the secrets she has learned. What started originally as a popular blog, Hollywood in Heels, where Finnestad chronicled her "misadventures while dating in Hollywood," is now a fascinating and humorous memoir by the same name. I interviewed Finnestad on her journey in Hollywood, her transition to writing and what's next in her exciting (and unpredictable) life.
Tell us the story behind the story. What inspired you to write the memoir Hollywood in Heels?
In an odd way I wrote Hollywood in Heels for closure. I had a blog by the same name for a year. When I met my husband, fell in love, and quit dating, I stopped writing the blog. I was left with the sense that I had only given my readers half the story. I'm one of those people who hate incomplete stories. I need a beginning, middle and end to make me happy.
From the beginning, the Hollywood in Heels blog has excited television industry players and producers. Several times it has come close to becoming a show. I've ridden an emotional roller coaster with the process and found myself frustrated with my lack of ability to push it through. The thing is, a show requires not only millions of dollars invested, but it also requires gazillions of people on board. It takes time to make all that happen. One day I was stressing about my need to have some sense of completion about the project, and my husband suggested I write a book. I thought, he's right -- I may not be able to finance and make a television show on my own, but I can certainly write a book. So Hollywood in Heels was born. When I wrote it, I tried to stay true to the nature of the blog by having each chapter exist as a whole complete story in and of itself, but also tell an overarching story, like in Tina Fey's Bossypants or any of David Sedaris's books. The end result is a series of short funny stories about my first five years in LA. I like to think any girl could pick it up and use it as a humorous manual of what to (and not to) do while chasing a dream in Hollywood.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Hollywood in Heels?
Being as honest with the world as you are with yourself and your friends is an intimidating thing. You make allowances for your weaknesses and failings, because you know the secret sorrows and moments that have made you who you are. Your friends are the same way. They know the whole you and because of this there is grace to cover your humanity. That is not something you can count on or expect from the world. There is the very real potential they will be ruthless and cruel, pouncing on your every flaw or weakness with the intent to eviscerate. This is why so many people mask or hide their truths, and why so many books are written as novels instead of memoirs. It's just safer. It gives you a wall to hide behind. But hiding behind that wall also takes away half of the power of the message. When you come out from behind the wall, you allow for real connection and identification to take place, and you engage in an honest dialogue with your reader. It's like sitting down with a friend and hearing their story. It provides you with something and someone to relate to that makes you feel less alone. I wanted to be less alone, and I wanted the people who read my book to feel less alone. Truth is the only way to accomplish that. So I told my truth.
Do you worry that someone will be able to identify themselves in your book?
No I don't worry about that at all -- I'm absolutely certain they can! I tried my best to make them unrecognizable to others, but let's be clear -- the people in it will know who they are and recognize what they did. I knew I would never be able to prevent that. All I could prevent was others knowing. My hope is that everyone who reads it has the ability to laugh at themselves and their actions as much as I laughed at myself. We all need to take ourselves a lot less seriously. We are these bizarre-shaped balloons of water and bones running around on a vast planet trying to figure out how to be happy. If that's not funny, I don't know what is.
What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
Don't look to anyone else outside yourself to give you direction, purpose, or worth. It's all inside you. You just have to let it shine.
Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
I like to joke that my boss is a real bitch. The truth is I treat writing like it's a job, and I'm punching a time clock. When I'm in the middle of a book, I don't even let myself have sick days. (See what I mean about that bitch.) I write every day Monday through Friday and take the weekends off. I drop my son off at school, hike Dante's Peak (a straight up hill that has earned its hellish name in every way), and hit the Love Shack (my magical writing studio). I get about five solid hours of writing in before I go pick up my son and call it a day. I've found if I don't enforce this kind of rigid routine upon myself, I will never get anything done. I have to create a mental space in which to be creative. Oddly enough I write most of my books in my head on my hellacious hike and find myself rushing back to the studio to get it on the computer. Physically moving seems to get my brain moving. Whenever I hit a writing block, I just strap on my tennis shoes and head out the door. Inevitably on my hike, ideas start coming again. I don't outline, but I do have the whole mental skeleton of a book in my head before I start the first page. Writing becomes filling in the flesh.
What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Anna Karenina. I realize I am the last person in the western hemisphere to read this book, but since I missed it in college, now seemed as good of a time as any to explore it. I'm loving Tolstoy's character description and feel that he has effectively transported me to another time and place. I recently finished Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser, which was utterly fascinating. I also have a stack of Vagina by Naomi Wolfe on my nightstand, and at last count I had given away twenty copies. I would make this book required reading for every living person if I could, male and female.
Which authors inspire you?
My all time favorite is Anais Nin and her series of journals. They were such a massive undertaking and so fascinating in their honesty and femininity. My favorite poet is Pablo Neruda. My favorite modern author is Jeannette Walls. I loved The Glass Castle. The truth is I am addicted to non-fiction. I read histories, biographies, and memoirs like other people read rag mags. I'm a junkie for true stories.
What have you learned from this experience?
I've learned so many things, but my biggest take-away is how good it feels to complete something. Before this I had many half-finished projects that I dropped like crumbs along the way. There is such a strong sense of satisfaction in writing "the end" on the final page of a book. When you start you think the good feeling will happen when you find a publisher, or when other people read it, but when you finish, you realize nothing can compete with that bone-deep sense of completion. It's like giving birth. You have no idea how the child will turn out or where their life will lead them, but you know in the fibers of your being you have made something special. You have brought it to life, and now it is up to the fates to take it where it will go. That is a really good feeling.
What is your advice for aspiring writers? And, what is your advice for people who want to come to Hollywood to find fame?
For aspiring writers I would say just write. Write every day. Be disciplined. Don't worry or think about publishers, agents, or audience. Write for yourself. Finish your story. Complete your project and then start the process of finding a way to get it out there. When you have gotten to that point, I recommend utilizing the greatest equalizer of all, the Internet, and blog to find your audience. Until then don't waste your time with anything but finishing your book, play or film. So many people I encounter (and I used to be one of them) can go on for hours at a cocktail party about their great idea for a book, or books that they have started, but that means nothing. An idea or a half completed project is worthless. Until you have established to the world your street cred and ability to complete projects in a brilliant manner, your ideas mean nothing to anybody but you. You have to turn your ideas into a real physical thing so other people can have the opportunity to discover them.
For the people wanting to come to Hollywood to find fame, I would try my hardest to convince them they have it all backwards. Fame as an objective in and of itself never brings happiness even to those who obtain it. Trust me, I have met them. It only isolates them more and leaves them yearning for some missing thing they can never find. The happy famous people are the ones who receive fame as a by-product of their work and creations. These people need not rely on the ever changing winds of public opinion to find their own sense of worth or value. They obtain it in the hard work and their commitment to it. If you want the world to adore you do something worth adoring and do it well. I agree with Ashton Kutcher, who said "Opportunity looks a lot like hard work." Don't make praise your objective, make the creative endeavor itself your goal. Then you might stand a chance of succeeding and finding happiness. And if not, you will at least have had an amazing journey to write home about.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Honestly this is the hardest question in the whole interview and it makes me a little sad. I yearned for advice and guidance in my first several years in LA, but no one ever bothered to give me any. I had to learn many things the hard way on my own. So I guess the best piece of advice I can share comes from the gut and was hard won. "Never ever give up!" Failure is not failure until you quit, so don't ever quit. You will eventually find your path, even if it is not the one you started down, if you just don't stop. Ask my five-year-old son what our family motto is, and he will repeat those words. I figure besides love the most important thing I can teach him is dogged determination.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a novel titled Mercy Me. I am madly in love with it. It is night and day from Hollywood in Heels, but it is also a big part of who I am and is a magical story. I just finished the first draft and typed "The End" on page 315. Of course I'm not really done. Not even close. I still have to go back through it and add in the descriptive elements that will enrich the story. But the character has completed her journey and that feels like a wild accomplishment in itself. When I really do finish and say goodbye to Mercy, I'm going to miss her the same way I would miss an old friend. Characters become living breathing entities to authors. We grieve the end as much as the reader.
What is one of the craziest Hollywood stories you've ever heard?
This town specializes in crazy, so narrowing it down to one could take some work. I guess I have to go with the very famous actor who was such a lush when they ran out of booze on set he would just start drinking Old Spice. All I could think was what must it be like to kiss him?
To find more Hollywood insider information and to read about Finnestad's wild journey, check out Hollywood in Heels. Thanks, Charity, for taking the time to explore your Hollywood life with us.