Devon O’Keefe, star of a popular streaming TV series Beverly Hills Banshee, is losing her grip on life and her sudden fame. When substance abuse and erratic behavior cause production of her show to come to a halt– and after burning through all of her money on drugs and legal fees– the young Midwestern transplant finds herself alone and homeless in L.A.
Enter Nikki Barnes, notorious aging child star and Hollywood survivor with her own tabloid exploits, who waylays Devon after a twelve-step program meeting. Nikki sees a younger version of herself in Devon, having battled addiction, eating disorders and the effects of personal tragedy for decades. She offers to share her decaying Laurel Canyon mansion with the troubled actress, determined to help her avoid making the same mistakes she’s made. But soon a series of mysterious and disturbing incidents occur and the two women find themselves locked in a complex and twisted relationship that spirals downward into violence.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
As a child, I was a fan of horror movies. Monsters, zombies and ghost tales didn't scare me nearly as much as stories about the dark side of the human psyche. One of the films that scared me the most was the classic, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? about a former child star living in the past. I began to wonder what that story would feel like today, in the climate of a society where the search for fame is an elusive, highly valued entity for desperate characters. That led me to the premise for LADIES OF THE CANYON.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
While I work in the entertainment industry, the characters are entirely figments of my imagination. Having been an actor for many years, I approach my characters from that perspective, delving into motivations and figuring out their reactions to the obstacles they must overcome. Having said that, I also realized that characteristics from real life celebrities such as MacKenzie Phillips and Lindsay Lohan might prove useful.
Celebrities are always telling you not to believe everything you read in the press, but in my case it’s all true. Shoplifting. DUIs. Restraining orders. Community service. Interventions. Rehab. Rehab again. Let’s just say for a young woman of twenty-three, I’ve led a full life.
I’ll spare you a rehash of all of the above because what’s the point. If you want the gory details, you can always Google me. All that matters at this moment in time is that I’m sober. “One day at a time,” as they say. But that’s the thing about those twelve-step platitudes—and why I use them sincerely, without irony or apology—they really are grounded in truth. And today I’m all about truth.
I’m at a Sunday morning meeting and not just any meeting; I’ve been asked to share and it’s my first time. The church basement is small and cave-like and I’m feeling a little clammy. The meeting leader has one of those craggy faces that looks like it would shatter into a million pieces if he smiled. But he doesn’t smile. He just whispers into the mic in a voice so soft I almost don’t realize he’s said my name.
I make my way up to the podium and look out at about twenty-five people. It’s a typical West Hollywood crowd—film industry types, hip- sters, LGBTQ, young and old, but nobody as young as me, not even close. There’s one middle-aged woman who looks familiar but I can’t quite place her. She’s beautiful, in a ravaged sort of way, and she’s staring at me. I break from her gaze and begin speaking.
“My name is Devon, and I’m a drug addict and alcoholic.”
“Hi, Devon,” everyone responds.
I’ve decided to speak off the top of my head, no notes. I’ll save the script reading for when I’m at work. This isn’t a performance, it’s real life. “I’ve been sober for thirty-three days.”
People clap and it feels awesome—even better than any applause I’ve
gotten from the crew after a particularly good take.
“They say one of the best parts of recovery is getting your feelings
back. And, of course, the worst part is getting your feelings back.” There’s some light laughter.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m scared. I just got out of rehab where they decided my mother has been enabling my addiction—that she’s the reason I keep relapsing. Apparently, it’s not healthy for me to continue to live with her.”
I barely get the words out. Tears well up in my eyes and I bite the inside of my cheeks so I won’t cry. I hate when people get up here and cry. I take a deep breath and regain my composure.
“Yesterday she went back to Wisconsin after the social workers suggested she have no contact with me for the next few months. I’ll be on my own for the first time ever. My father’s dead. Cirrhosis of the liver seven years ago, so yeah, it’s in the genes.”
I look into the audience and see that the woman who was staring at me is hanging on my every word. Her mouth is slightly open and a tear rolls down her cheek. She swipes it away with the back of her hand.
“Thankfully, I still have a job. They put my series on hiatus for a month and I start back tomorrow. I’m grateful to have this second chance. Dealing with fame is a bitch, but when I was in rehab I met people who suffered real problems—poverty, abuse, homelessness.”
A guy in the back nods knowingly. He leans so far back in his metal chair I’m afraid he’ll crash.
“They made me realize how privileged I’ve been and how I’ve wasted so many opportunities. I’ve hurt a lot of innocent people—friends, fam- ily, co-workers. Ex-boyfriends. So I’m counting on a higher power to get me through this tough period. A lot of people are depending on me and I can’t let them down. More importantly, I can’t let myself down.”
I realize I need to wrap up, but I’m distracted by the staring lady. She’s now full-out crying, not just a few tears, but actual sobbing. The tatted guy next to her shakes his head, irritated, but the woman on the other side of her tries to console her and hands her a Kleenex, which she takes and blows her nose into. When she’s done, I get a better look at her face and it hits me who she is—Nikki Barnes, one of the most notorious child stars-gone-bad, more famous for her drug abuse and various tabloid exploits than her show-biz career. She gets up and rushes out of the room, clearly embarrassed by her emotional outburst. I’m a little rattled, not sure what it is I’ve said that’s set her off. I continue with my speech.
“Thanks for listening to me. Recovery is a journey, not a destination, so I appreciate all the support from you, my fellow travelers.” Oh, God, did I actually say that out loud? I can’t believe I ended with something so trite. I smile sheepishly, but no one seems to care because they’re ap- plauding enthusiastically.
The speakers that follow tell their tales of hardship and suffering. A few have been in prison. One woman describes being date-raped when she was too drunk to fight back. Another numbly relates how she’s been court-ordered to attend meetings. I’m sympathetic to her story until she gets to the part where she left her four-year-old in a hot car. The child survived but is brain damaged.
One speaker looks remarkably like my dad and it makes me wish my mom and I could’ve convinced him to go to a meeting. I regret he never got a chance to see my career take off—he would’ve been proud. He was a high school English teacher and it was he who got me interested in reading— books, plays, and poetry, everything from David Sedaris to O’Neill. He’s also the one who encouraged me to audition for school plays. “Read this,” he said, tossing me a copy of The Crucible one day while I was doing my homework.
“Let’s see you put some of your teen angst on stage where it belongs, my little drama queen.” Somehow he knew I had talent before I did. I was cast as Abigail and suddenly my recent break-up with one Robbie Jurgensen was no longer the end of the world as we know it. For the record, I did not give him a hand-job during Toy Story 3 despite what he told every student at Bradford High. Robbie—who I hope goes by Robert these days—was my first “bad boy.” There would be many to follow, the unfortunate result of having a dad who could be Atticus Finch one moment and Chris Brown the next.
The man who looks like my dad speaks lovingly about his family but in the next breath mentions he’s lost them to his addiction. He doesn’t even know where his grown daughter lives now. “I might be a grandpa for all I know,” he says, rubbing his stubbled face.
As riveting as these speakers are, I can’t help but be preoccupied. Why was Nikki Barnes sobbing while I was speaking? I get up and head for the lobby, hoping she’s there.
She is—standing alone next to a drinking fountain, dabbing her eyes with Kleenex. When she sees me, she calls my name, “Devon!” like we’re old friends or something.
The first thing that strikes me about her is how pale her skin is, like a vampire who’s never seen the light of day. Her eyes are impossibly large and soulful, sad actually. She has great bone structure, with prominent cheekbones, or maybe it’s just because her face is so gaunt. Her short spiky hair is obviously dyed black—very 1980s. In her skinny jeans, tie- dyed T-shirt, and Converse All-Stars she looks kind of waifish, if that’s possible for someone who looks every bit her age. There are lines around her mouth, her forehead, and her deep-set eyes. But I like her lived-in face.
When I’m close enough, she throws her arms around me and gives me a big hug that she holds for an uncomfortably long time. She reeks of cigarettes and I have to choke back a cough. I can’t tell for sure, but I think she’s crying again. What is with this woman?
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