Guest post by Alix Strauss
Returning to fiction is like sitting down and having stiff drinks or strong coffee with old friends you’ve not seen in years. You miss them deeply, and are so happy to see them, and you can’t believe it’s been so long since you’ve all gotten together. I wrote my first novel, The Joy of Funerals, in 2003. This month, HarperCollins releases my new novel, Based Upon Availability. In between that time and now, I penned two nonfiction books, and so I’ve been looking forward to getting back to a place where one doesn’t need to fact-check, and I can just create the people and situations.
I’m so fascinated by human behavior and the strange, odd and outrageous things people do. And I wanted a place where all of my characters passed by each other, even bleed into each others lives that was very self contained. Based Upon Availability, centers on 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, and 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.
Truth be told, I have a love affair with hotels, and I secretly long to live in one.
Hotels are sexy and offer a strange kind of mystery, 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 ask and 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.
As a travel writer, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels—some amazing, some, sadly, not so much—and so for Based Upon Availability , I really wanted to bring some of that experience to the page. I wanted the reader to really get a feel for the inner workings of a property while showing the gritty, sometimes dirty, reality of daily life. I spent a lot of time sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel and stayed in one of the suites. I pretended to be one of the characters—Unlimited Lou, the aging rock star who’s in dire need of detoxing….in fact, she’s brought to the hotel by her publicist to dry out, having failed at the rehab centers. To give it an authentic touch I dangled an unlit cigarette from my lips, slapped on some removable tattoos, brought a bottle of vodka with me—have you seen the prices for a mini bottle of booze?—and played a lot of rock songs I thought the character would like or have written herself. Of course I remained sober for the experience—though I did walk around naked, as the character does, but of course, this may be far more info than anyone wanted to know. . . . Oh, the need to be honest.
I chose the Four Seasons because I’m a fan, mostly because it’s such a signature, classic, and high-end spot for many New Yorkers and out-of-towners, with instant name recognition. It’s also incredibly large with over 350 rooms so there’s a feeling of vastness and anonymity. Hopefully readers won’t have to get on a plane to feel as though they’ve traveled to New York and stayed at the hotel. But rather Based Upon Availability will make them feel as though they have.