Cover image for The accidental diva
The accidental diva
Williams, Tia, 1975-
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Publication Information:
New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, [2004]

Physical Description:
245 pages ; 24 cm
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Also published by the Penguin Group.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Bookmobile
FICTION Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Urban Fiction

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A vivacious, hilarious, and genuinely universal new voice bursts onto the scene with Tia Williams's fiction debut about love, work, and friendship. Billie Burke is a twenty-six-year-old beauty editor at the world's leading fashion magazine, Du Jour. A black woman in a traditionally white industry, Billie has worked hard to rise to the frothy top of her trade, where paying tribute to the perfect pink lip gloss is serious business. But the crazy days and long nights are about to pay off, as Billie finds herself poised to make a plum career move. Enter Jay Lane, a charismatic performance artist from the projects of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a man who has seen a darker half of the world than suburban-born Billie. When the two meet, the chemistry is instant and a side of Billie is awakened that she didn't know existed. But as well matched as they are, Jay and Billie come from different worlds, and the closer they become, the more their past lives threaten to tear them apart. The Accidental Divais an irresistible read that marks the debut of a major new voice in women's fiction.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Billie Burke is the young, middle-class daughter of Louisiana parents. She has grown up never being comfortable with her parents' hippie lifestyle or confident about her own attractiveness. Now the beauty editor at the world famous New York magazine Duour, Billie's unpretentious aura, natural eloquence, and workplace savvy make her the prime candidate for a promotion. When she meets performance artistay Lane at his one-man show, both are smitten.ay's past is full of unmentionables and a complicated history with a childhood friend. He finds it impossible to explain that relationship to Billie. Once the two finally meet,ay is forced to explain his associations, and both are devastated by his dishonesty. Billie accepts a professional opportunity in London to escape her pain.ust as she is about to embark on a new career path, she is lectured about what is really important and encouraged to reconsider her plans and rethink her relationship withay. A well-written first novel about the joys and pains of the beauty industry. --Lillian Lewis Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Word? Diva-licious. Set in New York City in 1999, Williams's sparkling debut in the overcrowded and almost bitched-out chick-lit genre stars Billie Burke, a young African-American beauty editor who hasn't had sex in five years and is "wound tighter than 400-thread count sheets." Billie, along with close pals Renee, a hip book editor, and Vida, a hotshot publicist (with a rapper boyfriend named Git TaSteppin), inject a black Sex and the City vibe while invoking cultural clashes with caustic glee: "She no longer tried to understand the particular brand of white girl who felt compelled to use late-eighties `homegirl' slang.... As if she might feel disoriented and at a cultural loss without a `you go girl' in every exchange." Burke lives for her glam job with Du Jour, a top women's magazine with a predominantly white staff, when her uptown world is dizzily disrupted by downtown Jay Lane, an up-and-coming writer/performance artist and former street hustler. Lane's impoverished, complicated Fort Greene past collides with Burke's happy family history as they try to build a lasting relationship. Williams's gift for sexy if sometimes purple prose ("They were ravenous love junkies") and insider ear (" `Moment' and `situation' were industry speak for what was happening at that very second") save this energetic romance from being just another uptown girl meets downtown boy tale and signals the arrival of a sharp new talent. Agent, Mary Ann Naples at Creative Culture Inc. (May 24) Forecast: Williams, the beauty director at Teen People magazine, appears regularly on MTV, CNN and Fox. Aimed at young black women, the book should also appeal to white readers who won't mind a black heroine who's a bit critical of her white sistahs. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1. so media-genic There's nothing new to say about mascara," announced Billie Burke to the adjoining cubicles that made up the beauty department of Du Jour magazine. She needed a headline for her mascara caption and was utterly tapped out. "Read it out loud," suggested Sandy Fuller, Du Jour's associate beauty writer. She was one of those pink-skinned strawberry blondes who always looked on the verge of tears. " 'The newest must-have mascaras plumpen, elongate, and sex-ify lackluster lashes. The result? Sinfully sultry bedroom eyes fit to make Ava Gardner wail with envy.' " "Cute!" said Mary DeCosta, the plucky beauty assistant. "But I'm not sure 'plumpen' is a word," Billie said, unconvinced. "Plump up?" offered Sandy. "Hmmm. That's so good," Billie said, quickly typing in the change. She could barely suppress a grin. She knew there was more to life than lashes, but honestly, she lived for this stuff. Billie had almost forgotten how not to speak in hyperbolic, insanely descriptive beauty editor rhetoric. When her friends asked her for makeup and hair advice for parties or first dates, she'd wax on about "burnished blush, copper-kissed lids, dewy, sunlit skin-think Iman on safari," or "disheveled, devil-may-care hair, and lips drenched in diva-red, Heart of Glass gloss . . . you know, a red so deeply divine you'll want to bathe in it." Billie was as moved by James Baldwin, nineteenth-century gothic lit, and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" as much as the next English major, but something in her just delighted in the whole beauty thing. It was so entertaining and campy and intrinsically girly. Like Regis Philbin. "Okay, now I need a headline," continued Billie, on the cusp of panic. "The Azucena lunch starts in two seconds, and it's way downtown. I can't think, I can't think!" Azucena del Sol, like all major beauty companies, launched new products with lavish events that it was Billie's job to attend. The events were always themed. Recently, for example, a line of wine-colored lipsticks had been launched with a wine-tasting. The same week, a more ill-received event had been a breakfast introducing a line of punky-bright hair dyes. It involved fluorescent dry ice and Day-Glo ribbon dancers who, at the climax of their performance, pelted the bleary-eyed editors with multicolored Styrofoam popcorn. It was 8:30 in the morning. "How about 'Lash-Out'?" asked Mary. "No, that's the name of a L'Oréal mascara, shit. Hmm, 'Bat Your Lashes' . . . 'Batter Up'?" Mary, who was from Staten Island, said batcha lashes and batta up. " 'Batter Up' is a little abstract, but not uncute," said Billie. " 'Lashes to Lashes'?" suggested Sandy. "Morbid." Billie stood up and yelled over the partition in the direction of the clothes-strewn fashion cubicles. "Somebody help me! I need a headline for a mascara caption, quick." "Ummm . . . 'Lash Gordon'?" a lanky fashion editor offered. "How about 'Lash in the Pan'?" Mary suggested, giggling. "Why don't you kiss my lash?" Billie said saucily. "Oh, wait, no, I got it, I got it. 'Lash of the Titans.' 'Lash of the Titans'? Is that stupid or cute?" "That's so cute," said Mary. "Yeah, and it just screams major lashes," said Sandy. Billie crowned her caption "Lash of the Titans," printed it out and dropped it in the in box of the oft-absent executive fashion and beauty director. Paige "Beige" Merchant was heavily tanned and heavily peroxided in a way that made her skin and hair color look indistinguishable, hence the nickname. Despite her eerie coloring, Paige was a ravishing beauty whose face and supermodel figure were frequently splashed all over society pages. She was old money, as a result of the chain of office supply stores her great-grandfather had started 150 years ago. After fifteen years in the industry, Paige was over the whole "working" thing, so she was always on vacation-at the moment, in Capri. She trusted Billie, the senior beauty editor and her number two, to unofficially run the department; they'd worked together for five years, since Billie was a twenty-one-year-old assistant. Billie pretended to resent picking up the slack for her lady-of-leisure boss but secretly relished it. "Okay, I'm gone. see you guys later," Billie said, grabbing her bag and heading for the elevator bank. "Take the train, you'll never get a cab," Sandy called after her. "The Azucena people sent a car to pick me up, thank God. Bye!" Billie said over her shoulder before stopping abruptly and running back to her cubicle to retrieve her forgotten cell phone. She managed to make the elevator just as the doors closed. It wasn't until she reached the forty-fourth floor that she realized she was heading up rather than down. "Jesus Christ," she muttered, rubbing her temples. She had a migraine that could've killed a horse. ··· The second Billie located the Lincoln Town car with a card reading "Burke" in the window, her cell phone started to ring. It was Renee. "Girl." "Hey," said Billie. "Lemme call you right back, I'm on my way to this thing-" "No. I'm so excited. You have to listen to me." "Wha-at?" Billie said, climbing into the car while balancing the phone between her ear and shoulder. "This better be so important." "It is, it is! I found my next writer, and he's so perfect I could scream!" And her history was full of hunches that had turned into gold, which was why, at such a tender age, she was a full-blown book editor at Crawford & Collier Books. Starting as an editorial assistant, a college grad usually filed, typed, and read appallingly bad manuscripts from authors who weren't even good enough to get agents. If an assistant actually found something publishable, she turned it over to her senior editor boss, who then immediately took credit. Even once you got an entertainment budget with which to wine and dine agents-who had the good manuscripts-you'd discover that they'd rather sip an arsenic spritzer than submit something readable to a junior editor. Success in book publishing was all about instinct, luck, and a boss who likes you. Renee Byrd had all three. At twenty-four, she'd had her first success with The Women, a book of new essays on female identity in different decades by great women writers. It included chapters like "Is Love Ever Really Free?" and "Carol Brady has Left the Building." Sue Snyderman had fairly drooled at the idea. She was one of those civil rights-era Jewish women who considered black women special sisters in arms, and found tough-talking, brilliant Renee delicious. She knew everyone, and was able to convince Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem to add essays to the project, then handed it back to Renee and allowed her to edit it, herself. Renee became the darling of C&C Books. She followed up this success by discovering the "Black Jackie Colllins"-best-selling Amy Parsons-and publishing Sun, Moon, Water, You, a well-reviewed collection of short stories by a Rastafarian named Columbus that were serialized in The New Yorker. Just Columbus (his first name was Just, pronounced Yoos). "Anyway," continued Renee, "have you read New York magazine and the Village Voice yet?" "Please, I'm still carrying around last week's that I never got to." "Well, you saw The Times's Sunday Styles section last weekend, right?" Billie was embarrassed. "Fashion Week started last weekend! On Sunday, I was too busy memorizing the smoky eye at Marc Jacobs to be literate." Renee huffed impatiently. "Anyway, there's this guy, Jay Lane. He has a one-man show called Nutz & Boltz, where he acts out these brilliant monologues based on five characters." "Uh-huh," Billie said encouragingly. ". . . and they're being compared to Whoopi Goldberg's early character sketches, and he's getting major, major buzz. But in the Voice, he says what he loves most is writing the parts, not the performing! He's fascinating. We're talking about a twenty-seven-year-old orphan from the projects in Brooklyn, a former hustler-" "Hustling what?" "He doesn't say. Crack? I mean, what else, really? Dave Mathews tickets?" "True," Billie said, with a chuckle. "Anyway, he has all this shit against him, and he ends up at Columbia's creative writing program? And now he's getting fabulous reviews. And he's so hot. He's got this, like, dangerous smile and a scar and dimples and perfect cornrows. Oh Billie! He's so media-genic!" She paused for effect. "I must own him." "Then own him you will, goddammit." Billie loved it when Renee got in "taking over the world" mode. "I'm seeing the book as a series of stream-of-consciousness vignettes based on his show, and unseen material." Billie realized Renee was not really talking to her, she was plotting her next steps out loud. "I have to see Nutz & Boltz right away." "You should, definitely." "Let's go tonight. Come with me!" "What? I can't-I have to go to the Sam C. show tonight, and Vida's going, too." Vida was the third in their trio of friends. "What's your boyfriend doing?" "Moses?" It was as if Billie had suggested sprinting into oncoming traffic. Renee rarely gave him much credit. "No, you have to come. I need a trustworthy second opinion. What time's Sam C.? Can't you come after? And bring Vida, too, though God knows that girl has zero attention span." Renee was the type of person who would relentlessly stalk a "no" until it converted to a "yes." Billie agreed to meet her at the East Village playhouse at ten and hung up, pissed. --from The Accidental Diva by Tia Williams, copyright © 2004 Tia Williams, published by The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. Excerpted from The Accidental Diva by Tia Williams All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.