Alix Strauss – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Based upon Availability (June 8th, Harper Collins), centers around eight women who pass through the doors of Manhattan’s signature, ultra swanky Four Seasons Hotel –either for an hour, for several days, or number of weeks – offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, even despair. Here, they grapple with family, sex, power, love and death as they explore the basic need for human connection while seeking to understand themselves better.

Readers will meet Trish who obsesses over her best friend’s wedding and dramatic weight loss. Then there’s Robin who wants revenge after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her older sister. Anne is single, lonely, and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Drug-addicted rock star Louise needs to dry out. Southerner-turned-wannabe Manhattanite Franny is envious of her neighbors’ lives. Sheila wants to punish her boyfriend for returning to his wife. Ellen so desperately wants children that she insists she’s pregnant to her disbelieving husband. And Morgan, a manager at the swanky Four Seasons in Manhattan, who’s haunted by the memory of her dead sister and is the thread that weaves these women together.

Tell us something about yourself.

I never thought I’d be a writer or trend journalist. I started out as an actress, and when I was 23 decided to write a play, thinking ‘if I write it, they have to put me in it.’ It was very clear I was a better writer than I was an actress.

I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and am an only child. In fact, for a far back as you can trace in my family tree, everyone has always has more than one child except my parents who could have had more and decided to have just me. (Insert deep sigh here.) All I ever wanted was a large family and siblings. And so I think this became one of the themes in my work – longing, and a need for connection. I’m also fascinated by human behavior and the strange, odd and outrageous things people do. So many of my characters are dark, edgy, painfully honest and raw. I really lean towards dark humor with a commercial and pop-culture twist.

I think we often confuse dark with something honest – and honest doesn’t necessarily mean unattractive. I’m fascinated with they way we’re all interconnected, which is why in all of my fiction, my stories and the characters are linked together – either by the situation, family, or by life’s unsuspecting challenges.

What inspired you to write this book?

Hotels are sexy and offer a strange kind of anonymity, a retreat from real life. I love the idea that you can be anyone from anywhere and that once you’ve check out, the rooms are stripped down, wiped clean and all traces of you are erased, as if you’d never been there. That was an intriguing concept to play with. I wanted to asks and then answer the age-old question; ‘what happens behind closed doors’ while examining the walls we put up as we attempt intimacy, and inspecting the ruins when they’re knocked down.

How do you do research for your books?

As a travel writer, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotel, and so for Based Upon Availability I really wanted to bring some of that to the page. I spent a lot of time sitting in the lobby of the Four Season’s hotel and stayed in one of the suites – which was a real treat. I pretended I was one of the characters – Unlimited Lou, the aging rock star who’s in dire need of detoxing…. Of course I remained sober for the experience.

What are you reading now?

I’ve been reading a few things: Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Apples & Oranges for a new memoir group I’ve joined, and recently reread Elizabeth Wurtzel’s More. Now. Again.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

If you believe in the work, someone else will, too. But you’ve got to give them something to read. Make time to write. Then make time to rewrite. Then find people to read it and give you feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Then be willing to go out and get it.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I still believe in the book party, and now that we’re an instant gratification nation, I rely on the bloggers and dotcomers to cover the event and help spread the word by intriguing readers, FBers and Tweeters to buy the novel, because the event sounded interesting. For each book published, I try to theme a place and space. The Joy Of Funerals party was held at Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Home – complete with coffin, harp player, and funeral attire was requested. Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicide of the Brilliant, the Famous and the Notorious, had its kick-off at 675 Bar, an underground lounge where each room was delegated to a dead celebrity. We served Hemingway sliders, and loosened up guests with libations like the Virginia Woolf – a blue concoction with a Swedish fish to portray the water and the fact that she drowned. Of course a themed goodie bag worth salivating over is also a must. For Have I Got A Guy For You: What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up, I created the kind of swag one would need to get ready for their big date – and if they got lucky, what they’d need in the morning; Bottle of Sebeka Wine – because some dates look better blurry, Prescriptives Good In Bed moisturizer – because we hope he is, Benefit Dear John moisturizer – because sometimes he’s not, Trish McEvoy Sexy collection kit – because dinner can sometimes lead to breakfast. And a Grow Your Own Date – because sometimes the one that can’t answer back is all you need.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

If everyone has a moment, it would be really lovely if you’d stop by: for a look around. Many thanks.