Tag Archives: Katherine Center

excerpt: Get Lucky

Get Lucky comes out in less than a month!

(And if you live in Houston, save the date for Saturday, April 10, 5:30-7:30: A cocktail-hour book launch party at Brazos Bookstore!)

Here’s how it begins:

GET LUCKY: A Novel — Chapter 1

First:  I got fired.  For emailing a website with hundreds of pictures of breasts to every single person in our company.  Even the CEO and chairman of the board. Even the summer interns.

Looking back, I may have been ready to leave my job.  I’d like to give myself the benefit of the doubt.  Sometimes the crazy things I do are actually very sensible.  And sometimes, of course, they’re just crazy.

I knew the company had just lost a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit for some very big money.  I knew we were now enforcing our zero-tolerance policy.  I knew somebody somewhere in the chain of command was looking to make an example.  But I didn’t think about all that at the time.  Here’s another thing I didn’t think about: I’d just nailed the ad campaign of a lifetime, and I was finally about to get promoted.

In my defense, it wasn’t like these people had never seen a breast before.  In fact, our whole agency had been awash in them for months.  We’d just finished a national campaign for a major bra
company, and I’d led the creative team.  I’d even come up with the concept—ads directing women to do all sorts of crazy things with their chests while wearing one of these bras.

“Dip ’em,” one ad read, while our push-up-clad model leaned into a swimming pool, dunking her boobs in the water.  “Scoop ’em,” read another, while she pushed her boobs up toward her chin with two enormous ice cream cones.  “Lauch ’em,” ordered a third, as she arched her back up to the sky. And on and on: “Smack ’em,” “Mug ’em,” “Wash ’em,” “Flush ’em,” “Flash ’em,” “Love ’em,” “Lick ’em,” “Leave ’em.”

I’d spent innumerable hours with those boobs—weekends, nights—working my butt off to turn them into the most famous cleavage in America.  Which, by January, they’d become.  No small feat.

The model for the campaign was nineteen years old and profoundly anorexic with the most enormous augmented chest you can imagine.  I didn’t even know her name, actually. We just called her “the Tits.”  She was a petulant teen who spent all her time between shots wearing earbuds and drinking lattes and then asking people for gum.  The question “Do you have any gum?” will forever take me back to that summer.

She was a pretty girl, though the freckles, bumpy nose, and squinty eyes would have required retouching.  If we’d used her face.  In the end, we zoomed in so close that her face didn’t even come into the shots.  When it came to bras, who needed a face?

That’s really how I used to think.  I’m not exaggerating at all.

If I sound crass here, that’s because I was.  If I sound unlikable, that’s probably true, too.  I was, at this point in my life, after six years in advertising, a person who needed a serious spanking from the universe.

And don’t worry.  I was about to get it.

I was proud of the ads.  They were saturated with color, eye-catching, naughty, and delightful.  Everybody was ecstatic, and I was strutting around the office like a diva. The Boob Diva.  That was me.

But something was off. Being the Boob Diva wasn’t as great as I’d expected.  I’d been so underappreciated at that job for so long that when appreciation finally came, it felt false.  Maybe I’d built up too many expectations.  Maybe all the pep talks I’d given myself about my coworkers being idiots were finally kicking in.  Or maybe external validation is always a little disappointing, no matter what.

The books I’d been reading weren’t helping, either. I had a whole stack by my bed that chronicled the ways advertising was making us all miserable.  Who knows why I kept buying them?  It’s a chicken-egg question.  Did I hate my job because I was reading the books?  Or was I reading the books because I hated my job?  Either way, I couldn’t get around what they had to say:  That an economy based on buying stuff needed to keep us all dissatisfied and miserable, needed to keep us focused on what we didn’t have instead of what we did, and needed to convince us that things like happiness and peace and beauty could be bought.

Not the greatest water cooler chitchat.

Later, it would occur to me to wonder if advertising in general was screwing over the entire world or if my firm in particular was screwing over just me.  I certainly wasn’t paid enough.  Or recognized enough.  Or appreciated. But questions like that are a long time in the making.  First, I had to have a little thing we might call a breakdown. Or an epiphany.  Neither of which was my intention.

Here’s what happened, to the best of my recollection:  The night before our big final presentation, my sister happened to send me an email link with the subject line “Boob-a-palooza!”  Because I was too wired about the next day to go to bed, I clicked on it.  And there, I found miles and miles of mug shots of anonymous breasts belonging to real women. No faces, no bodies, just breasts.  Breasts au naturel. Breasts in the wild. Breasts as Mother Nature intended.

My sister just thought it was funny.  But I had a different reaction:  I could not stop scrolling through.  I’d seen a lot of breasts on TV and in movies and on magazine covers in my life.  Who hasn’t? But I’d never seen anything like these real things.  The variety was spellbinding.  High ones, low ones, flat ones, full ones.  Close together, far apart.  Lopsided.  Droopy.  Walleyed.  Googly-eyed.  Water balloons.  Bags of sand.  Jellyfish.  Cactuses.  Bananas, prunes, and pickles. And this was the eighteen-to-thirty-two-year-old category. These were boobs in their prime.

Under each photo there was a caption written by the owner of the breasts.  And each caption read something like this: “These are my breasts. They’re pretty droopy (or lopsided or small or dimpled or ugly or embarrassing or pickle-shaped).  Wish I could fix them.”  The comments ranged from vehement hatred to mild distaste, but nobody, absolutely nobody, said:  “Here are my boobs. Aren’t they great? I find them delightful, and hallelujah!”  Nobody.

I was slated to hit the office at nine the next morning in my stilettos to present the “Boob ’em!” campaign to everybody who mattered.  But instead of getting to bed early, as I’d planned, I stayed up until three in the morning browsing the photos.  Something about the
realness of the pictures on the site underscored the fakeness of the boobs in our ads.  Something about the dignity of the real things made our hyped-up things seem ridiculous.  The whole campaign suddenly seemed brash and loud and stupid and just plain rude in a way that I couldn’t ignore.  How had I never thought about this before?  We were about to put a picture of a woman’s cleavage getting branded on every bus in America, for Pete’s sake.

I thought about all the normal women who had taken off their bras for the cameras.  I thought about the bravery of stepping forward with your own imperfections to help others feel better about theirs.  And all at once I felt ashamed of being part of the problem. I scanned the site until the images and the words bouncing in my brain became a cacophony of women’s dissatisfaction and despair, building louder and louder to a crescendo that I could not shush.  That is, until four a.m., when I clicked Forward on my sister’s email, selected the company-wide distribution list, and hit Send.

I sat back and nodded a little so-there nod.

Then, in the quiet that followed, I realized what I’d done, sat straight up, choked in a little breath of panic, and started looking for a way to unsend that email.  Knowing all the while that there wasn’t one.  That’s the truth about emails:  You can’t take them back.

In effect, I fired myself. Though the guy who actually did the firing—discreetly and several hours after our slam-dunk presentation—was a VP named J.J. who everybody called “Kid Dy-no-mite.”  Even though he wasn’t dynamite at all, just another ad guy at Marston & Minx.  A guy I’d started with six years earlier.  A guy who’d been promoted over me based on work we’d done together.  A guy I’d slept with back in the beginning until he called me a workaholic and broke things off.  Now he was married to a girl who wore pink Bermuda shorts when she brought him lunches in a picnic basket at the office.  But I guess I was even less dy-no-mite than he was, because I wasn’t married to anyone, nobody ever brought me lunches, and now I was out of a job.

J.J. said, “I’m sure you know that email was inappropriate.”

“Was it?” I said.

He gave a short sigh.  “People were pretty offended. Yeah.”

We were standing in the now-empty meeting room where our “Boob ’em!” campaign would later win promotions for seven people on our team.  We were surrounded by enormous blowups of bra-clad breasts in every direction.  Breasts larger than our bodies, in full color.  Valleys of cleavage the size of La-Z-Boys.  The “Steer ’em” ad showed boobs wrapped in barbed wire.  “Munch ’em” showed them resting on a giant sub sandwich.  And “Whip ’em” had a close-up of a whip just before impact.

“J.J.,” I said. “Look around.”

He looked around.

I said, “What does stuff like this do to real women?”

“Real women?” he said, cocking his head.  “Real women are overrated.”

Then he gave me a flirty smile, patted me on the shoulder, and told me the case was closed.  It was lunchtime.  He had a meeting. “Be graceful about it,” he advised as we headed out.  “And if you upload your own photo to that site,” he opened the door with one hand and pressed the small of my back with the other, “shoot me an email.”  Then he added, “You’d totally win that contest.”

“It’s not a contest,” I said.

“Everything’s a contest,” he told me, and then he walked away.

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Filed under events, excerpts, Get Lucky, katherine's books, prose

I love wrinkles

In March, while I was on a book tour, I was also on a blog tour.  Random House set it up with the lovely Dorothy, who had me contributing guest essays at blogs around the web.  

But it all went too fast.  I was racing from town to town, blog to blog.  And I promised myself I’d do a best-of later, when I could savor it more.

So here is a favorite post from the tour.  It originally appeared at In Bed With Books.

My friend Nicole's restaurant, Adrift.

My friend Nicole's restaurant, Adrift.

March 11, 2009

The Lives We Hoped For

 

I just had my birthday.  I turned 37, and now I am old.  Boom.  Just like that. 

I knew it was coming: 37.  Though I wasn’t thinking about it too much—or even seeing it as a Big Birthday, the way 40 will be.  It was just another birthday, and, like with many things in life—a due date, say, or a book coming out—it snuck up on me.

I’ve always been struck at how not-at-all different you are when your birthday finally arrives after all that buildup.  It’s almost a letdown.  You wake up, and you’re still just you.  Same old, same old.

But this year, washing my face just before I woke my kids for school, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw wrinkles.  Deep, significant, there-to-stay wrinkles.  And I swear they weren’t there the night before.

And so it was really lucky for me that I happen to be a big fan of wrinkles.  I’ve even joined the Bring Back Wrinkles group on Facebook.

I guess the downside of wrinkles is that they remind you you’re not young anymore.  But guess what?  I already knew that. 

And I’m not even sure that I would want to be young again, frankly.  As fun as it was. 

I’m on a book tour this week, and one of my stops has taken me to a little town north of Seattle where one of my best friends from college lives.  Last time I saw her was at my wedding.  Nine years ago. 

She’s hanging out with me right now at a hotel room, working on her computer just like I am working on mine.  We both have a lot going on, and it’s pretty quiet in here, except for the typing.  But every few minutes, one of us will pipe up and say, “Remember when we got obsessed with dominos and couldn’t stop playing?” Or, “Remember when we found that train-car diner in Maine?”  Or “Remember that time we played that drinking game watching When Harry Met Sally?”

A lot has changed since then: I’ve had two children and written two books.  She’s opened the restaurant she always dreamed of.  We are, in fact, living exactly the lives we hoped for.

And so I’m not going to complain about the wrinkles.  Or that I’m not twenty-two anymore.  Or that life carries you away from people and places you loved.  Or that the joys of living have to be spaced out over time.  You can’t have everything all at once.  That’s what memories are for.   And also, gratitude:  You loved them once.  You really did love them.  And that just has to be enough.

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you really can’t have everything

Here is the first in a series of 3 videos I am making that feature excerpts from my essay “Things to Remember Not to Forget.”  The essay was just published in an anthology called “Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond,” edited by Andrea N. Richesin.  The photos are from an amazing site of “American vernacular photography” (i.e., found snapshots)  called Square America

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Filed under anthology: because I love her, excerpts, for writers, katherine's books, prose, videos, visual art

first week roundup!

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Emails and responses are starting to roll in for Everyone Is Beautiful, and I thought it would be fun to share some of the things people are saying:

I just read Everyone Is Beautiful and it was such pure joy!  I was so tired and ready for a nap but picked it up to read a chapter or two and ended up finishing that night.  I could not put it down!  

–Minette

I found myself laughing out loud just as I did in the first book and “noodle” has become new terminology in my household.

–Amber

I just today finished reading it and I loved it !!!

–Jenifer

I hear your book is taking off in big ways – one of my nearest & dearest cried in the first 12 pages. That’s…a good sign! 

Gwen Bell

I already finished Beautiful and loved it!!!!  You capture the life of a stay-at-home Mom so eloquently and again, I loved the characters and was rooting for Lanie!

–Stephanie

Loved everyone is beautiful!  What a lovely, nitty-gritty, poignant, hilarious description of the madness family life can be–with a lovely love story to boot!

–Abigail

Your book makes my life feel important.

–Sarah

 

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Filed under blogs, everyone is beautiful, katherine's books, reviews

I want to marry BOOKLIST!

Just got word of a terrific review for Everyone Is Beautiful from Booklist, which calls it a “superbly written novel filled with unique and resonant characters.”  Please see the whole delicious concluding sentence below:

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“Center takes a woman at her most vulnerable time

and sets her on a journey to find herself

without losing what she holds most dear

in a superbly written novel filled with

unique and resonant characters.”

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it’s official: the audiobook

Random House has chosen an actress to read (perform?) the audiobook version of Everyone Is Beautiful, and she’s adorable!  Kirsten Potter–you may have seen her guest spots in Medium or Judging Amy–will record the book in January.  (The audiobook goes on sale the same day as the hardcoverFeb. 17, 2009!)

02

Look at that great smile!  It’s almost as good as her fantastic voice!  Listening to her demo reel, it sounds like she’s got exactly the right sass for the job.  And seriously.  How cute is she?

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Filed under everyone is beautiful, katherine's books, news!

Love. Marriage. Chocolate cake.

Here’s the cover for the British edition of Everyone Is Beautiful!

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 I’m fascinated by the tag line on the front.  I think if I were writing a tag line for Everyone Is Beautiful, it would go something like:  “Love.  Marriage.  Chocolate cake.”

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Filed under everyone is beautiful, katherine's books, news!