Athena Wallace has spent the first thirty years of her life desperately trying to be perfect. But as her sassy, unfiltered best friend, Nadine, points out, “being perfect ain’t got shit to do with being happy.” With this reality weighing heavily on her, Athena takes on a new assignment at the magazine where she works as a columnist doing an expose on how six strangers seek happiness through the exotic venues of Manhattan nightlife. Side by side with an eclectic cast of characters – including a millionaire attorney who moonlights as a drag queen and a motorcycle-riding grandma with a ‘fuck-it’ list – Athena embarks on a soulful, and often satirical, journey to find her happiness. As she discovers, sometimes you have to look outside of yourself in order to become the person you are meant to be.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I go into more detail on my website about this, but I started writing Flawed Happiness about five years ago when I left a job in the nonprofit world for a career in finance. The work left me feeling empty and unfulfilled, so I began to write about a character who, like me, was searching for her happiness. It was a type of therapy for me, and provided direction and meaning during a time in my life when I felt like I had neither. However, I didn’t make it past the first chapter until a few years later, after my first child was born. It was the first time in my adult life I wasn’t in the workforce, so writing about Athena and her search for happiness was a creative outlet for me that also allowed me to work through my own obstacles to finding happiness. Having a child was a huge motivator for me to finish the book; I wanted to set an example for her of how to follow your dreams.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
One of the themes in Flawed Happiness is that we learn something from every person that we meet. For this reason, I infused many of the characters in the book with traits and circumstances inspired by my friends and others I have encountered along my journey. For example, one of the characters the protagonist encounters (and is ultimately inspired by) is a Bhutanese refugee. I worked as refugee caseworker for many years, and this character was a culmination of the different personalities and experiences of my clients from this part of the world.
Lately, everyday brings nothing but the usual. The usual irritating chime of the alarm clock; the usual cup of lukewarm coffee with amaretto creamer; the usual work assignments, obligations, or errands; and at days end, the usual struggle to locate my apartment keys at the bottom of my shoulder bag. They are being especially obstinate today, so I shake my bag fiercely until the jangling metal ring loops around my desperate fingertip.
I unlock one, two, three locks – click, click, click – and am immediately hit with the smell of my apartment: cardamom and antique wood. Sighing deeply, I kick off my red-soled stilettos, push on my slippers, and head to the kitchen to reheat last night’s Indian food from the place around the corner that my mom says, with her authentic blend of grief and guilt, I “spend more time doing business with than any available man.”
While the microwave is going, I pull back my hair, light every candle I own, and scroll through the docked iPod, not knowing what I am looking for until I find it. Mr. Stevie Wonder’s As seeps into me as I shuffle across the walnut plank floor, and fall into the deep tufted leather sofa with my dinner. Watching steam rise off the container of chana masala, I find myself wishing this heavy feeling that has become a part of the usual, would lift from me as freely.
Lately, I just do not feel like the Athena I am supposed to be. Maybe because I turned thirty out of what seemed like nowhere last year, or that I have been single for I do not even remember how long anymore. Or maybe my mother and father, who are Greek-American and African-American, respectively, set the bar a little too damn high when they named me after the goddess of wisdom. Whatever the reason, I am thankful my girls, Nadine and Lori, are coming over tonight. They are always good for some levity and wine.
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