Sadie Frost, one of the characters in ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW, is partly me. All my characters are in the sense that they came from my imagination, but Sadie and I have something in common—an awe of what I can only call Success in the City.
Growing up in Connecticut, New York was (and is) the ultimate measure of cool. Connecticut can be a lovely place to live, filled with pretty towns and abundant farmland. But it’s not cool.
When we were little, our parents would take us to NYC for a day, and it was so different and amazing. We’d see kids our own age walking down the street, often alone, and be amazed at their confidence, their knowledge of all those streets. How could we be the same age, and yet so different? They had life skills I still lack, growing up in the beautiful countryside as I did.
Sadie goes to school in New York, and wants to become an artist, the kind who shows in SoHo and is recognized in sleek restaurants. She looks around at the in crowd and wonders, same as I did (and do)—how did they pull it off? How do they afford to live in those buildings, or buy a dress that costs $4000 (more than ten times what my wedding dress cost)? What do they do for a living?
I married a New Yorker—McIrish was living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn when I first met him, then Chelsea, then Greenpoint, so ahead of the wave. He knew which subways to take. He had a black leather jacket, oh, hell yes, he did. But his sweetness (and poverty, let’s be honest) made him a normal person. Not one of those New Yorkers.
The first time I went to meet my agent, I got to the city two hours early. I walked up Sixth Avenue and made sure I knew which building was hers. Then I went across the street to the Hilton and hid in the second floor ladies room, sitting on a stool in front of the mirror, telling myself I had an agent for a book, and I belonged here. It didn’t work. I was still shaking when I met Maria, still in awe. I still am, let’s be honest.
A couple of years ago, I left Harlequin, my first publisher, to work with Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House, the biggest publisher in the world. It was a thrilling, terrifying and momentous career move, even written up in Publisher Weekly.
Once again, I took the train into the city. This time, I knew where to go and didn’t need two hours of self-affirmation. The executive team took Maria and me out to lunch at a beautiful restaurant, and the head honcho ordered champagne and oysters, and we had a wonderful, fun meal. As I walked back, I passed a little Irish pub called the Pig and Whistle. My dad and one his friends used to go there, way back when. I thought about my father, gone so many years, and said to myself, “Hey, Dad. Check this out. Your little girl is a successful author, and her publisher just took her out for a champagne lunch.”
It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t, to be honest. Even in middle age, I’m still a kid from a farm town in a little state, still wondering how on earth people make it in the big city and
what it would be like to live in that posh apartment building or townhouse. I still can’t bring myself to buy shoes or clothes or jewelry that could feed a family for a week or a month or a year. I wouldn’t want to.
Sadie—and my younger self—find out what success really means. It’s being yourself—your best self—working hard and taking care of the people you love. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don’t forget that preorders benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and if you buy two copies, you can get a free short story. Details at www.kristanhiggins.com/always-the-last-to-know. Thank you, gang!