A Hollywood Story In 'Everything Lovely'

Birdie Baker is a beautiful and ambitious woman who walks away from her small-town life to seek success in Hollywood. Host Scott Simon talks to Jenny Hollowell about her first novel, Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon.

Birdie Baker is a beautiful and ambitious woman who uses her derriere to get ahead in Hollywood. You can take that phrase in all ways. She ran out on her life in a small town in Virginia - where she had a nice husband, close family, active church - to go to Hollywood, where she struggled and strived for nine years. But so far her best gig has been to have her derriere double for the backside of a Hollywood star.

She auditions almost every day, once in a while she gets a line in a commercial. The way Birdie Baker tries handle the guilt of leaving her family, her desire to get ahead, frustration, and loneliness, is all at the heart of Jenny Hollowell's new book, her first novel "Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe."

Jenny Hollowell joins us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. JENNY HOLLOWELL (Author, "Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe"): Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: You know this territory, both professionally and personally. Dont you?

Ms. HOLLOWELL: I do. I grew up in a very religious family. We were Jehovah's Witnesses, so that aspect is certainly personal. And then I've also worked as a producer for TV commercials for the past 10 years, so I've had a lot exposure to that, to that world - a lot been sitting through a lot of auditions with actors who are very hopeful, trying to get the part. And so I've seen sort of that struggle take place in front of me as well.

SIMON: In this novel, Birdie, well, she had a lot of reasons to be mortified, from her point of view. She's at, her age, which I guess is what - about 29?

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yeah, 29 or 30.

SIMON: She's still house-sitting...

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yup.

SIMON: ...in the guest house of a very successful, wealthy producer. She is the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: She's the derriere...

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yeah.

SIMON: ...of a better-known star. And then when she gets a good offer, it's for a tampon commercial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yes. Yes, she has had a series of disappointments. And it's funny how the things that feel like victories at first begin to feel like disappointments. Im sure the first commercial role, there was a big celebration. You know, thats an exciting thing to happen. But after nine years and still being a body double, still getting those one lines, you know, I think she certainly had hoped for more.

SIMON: She feels some guilt for leaving her husband, Judah, who just seems in the early chapter like an awfully nice guy, but not enough to keep her in small town Virginia.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: It's true. Well, she seems certainly like a person who didnt examine the reasons for marrying him very closely before actually doing it. And I...

SIMON: He really did understand her.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: I think so. And I think, you know, I mean it's hard to say why people do what they do. But I think in my mind, the reason she left had less to do with him and more to do with herself. I mean I know it sounds sort of like a it's-not-you-it's-me kind of thing. But, you know, he was a nice and decent man. But you know, she certainly was ambitious and the nature of their life and their marriage was not going to fulfill whatever it was that she felt like she needed to do.

SIMON: One day Birdie meets a beautiful and beguiling young actor, Louis.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yes.

SIMON: She thinks a guy that good, she can't be any good for him.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: I think that he has this realness. And Im saying real sort of with air quotes, in a very Hollywood way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLOWELL: He has a realness that she has sort of been known for, and I think maybe is a little afraid of losing, because she's been in Hollywood for an awfully long time. So not - you know, I dont think she's completely aware of how she's in some ways a vampire...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLOWELL: ...in his life, you know, trying to suck out some of that realness for herself.

SIMON: People outside of Hollywood think of Hollywood, understandably, some of the concentration - a lot of the concentration is on major names, recognizable stars, the kind of people who have to wear sunglasses to avoid being recognized.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Thats right.

SIMON: This is a Hollywood novel you write about - or is it a Hollywood novel? It's set in Hollywood and you write it about the kind of people who stand close enough to Harrison Ford or Katy Perry in a Starbucks line to touch them, but feel that they're in a separate universe.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Yes. You know, I think that that is one of the strange and difficult things about living in Los Angeles, if you are an actor. Im not an actor but Im, you know, I am person living in Los Angeles and it's bizarre the proximity you have to very famous people sometimes. And I think, you know, being an actor in this city, you do have this proximity to the people who are doing what it is that you want to do. You are literally this close to what it is that you want, and for it to remain unattainable would really be maddening.

SIMON: Am I wrong reading this book to infer that you make some kind of link between faith and show business - you know, let us celebrate the mystery of creation?

Ms. HOLLOWELL: I think youre right about that. I think that it's something that really sort of fascinated me. I was having trouble understanding how this could be, how we could as a sort of American culture be obsessed with celebrity to the degree that we are, but also be in this period of real sort of religious fervor. And from an outside viewpoint, it seems sort of contradictory. But I think that the promises of celebrity in many ways mirror the promises of religion. The idea of being special and remembered - and that's a really human sort of desire. And whether youre acting that out in your religious faith, in trying to build a real relationship with God, or whether youre a very ambitious, you know, young person standing in line at a reality show, youre still trying to be seen and to be remembered in some way.

SIMON: Jenny Hollowell, her new novel, "Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe."

Thanks so much.

Ms. HOLLOWELL: Thank you.

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