Before becoming a writer, I managed Divas. So it was natural for me to write about them in my character Cassandra. But I also turned to the Divas I knew for help. And now that The Drummer’s Widow has been published, I want to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Holliday, Whitney Houston, Yvonne Jackson, Etta James, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper, Laurel Massé, Bette Midler, Gretchen Peters, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Siegel, Nina Simone, Ronnie Spector and Amy Winehouse who are not only Divas, but my Muses throughout the writing of The Drummer’s Widow. It was their voices, their lyrics, and their personal stories that made Cassandra real.
There are certainly other spectacular Divas throughout recent history but this is a personal list centered around the singers, some that I worked with, who inspired me with their courage and determination; the Divas whose narrative song-poems gave me the lines I needed to trigger my own ideas as a novelist; the Divas who kept me crying, laughing, and dancing right up to the last written page of The Drummer’s Widow; the Divas who guided me through my darkest days while they too tumbled in the dark.
Today I remember Whitney Houston who sang so encouragingly, “I didn’t know my own strength” and “not to break,” and then she tragically did. I think of Amy Winehouse who said before her untimely death, “I’m not here to be famous, I just want to challenge myself. If all goes wrong, I’ll have my music.” Both of them got lost in the maelstrom.
How would I have ever gotten through the first chapters of my novel, much less my adolescence, without Aretha demanding that you “gotta respect yourself”? How would I have made it through my failed marriage or Cassandra’s disastrous affair without Carole King’s illuminating lyrics “it’s too late” and “something inside has died”? And what about Cyndi Lauper’s ‘feminist’ rocker, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” When I first heard her belt out that song on the radio, I had to stop my car on Sunset Blvd. and get out and dance. Only a stone could resist moving to her rhythmic sound, just as Marisa, my protagonist, found her groove amidst overwhelming grief.
These days I am experiencing a different kind of grief, a kind of literary post-partum depression for my lost diva, Cassandra, as well as the character closest to my heart, Marisa. The novel is finished … edited, printed, bound, slid onto the shelves of virtual bookstores all over the world. And those two women have left me all alone.
So, feeling a bit homesick and out of place, I bought the reissue of Bette Midler’s memoir, A View from a Broad. When I peered at the glossy photos, I thought of my own small part in her story: The day her manager asked his new assistant, which was me, to pick Bette Midler up at the airport. “But how will I know her?” I asked, embarrassed. His lips turned up and he said, “You can’t miss her.”
And when the Divine Miss M strutted down that airport corridor toward me with her flaming red hair, I saw what he meant. I also knew my life would never be the same again.