Gwen Cooper, Diary of a South Beach Party Girl
My earliest memories of being in Miami is playing hide and seek with another little girl, eating sugar cane and being encouraged to great everyone with "Hola!" But there is nothing so innocent or sweet about this book which takes place in South Beach.
Gwen Cooper is a fourth generation Miami Beach native so it was likely that the book would take place in a setting she knows well. I think Gwen might have had a few wild nights on the South Beach party scene in order to write such a intriguing expose on what goes on behind the velvet ropes of the hippest, hottest clubs. Diary of A South Beach Party Girl reminds me of hearing wild stories from a saucy friend: you can't help but want to know more- especially the sordid details. Secretly you can't believe you have a friend that's so....bad!
Diary of a South Beach Party Girl is a fun summer read, a book to bring to the beach. Don't forget the sunscreen, vodka optional!
I couldn’t help but think about the song “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash as I was reading the book. What song or songs do you think of when you imagine the South Beach party scene?
That’s a really uncanny coincidence—because I swear the song I think of is “White Lines” too! I remember the day when I sat down and wrote the first chapter of DIARY OF A SOUTH BEACH PARTY GIRL; that night, I went to a party in New York for the 20th anniversary of the movie Scarface. The first song I heard as I walked in was “White Lines,” and I remember thinking: “If my novel had a theme song, this would be it!”
And it’s still the song I play when I’m psyching myself up for something related to the book, like right before I do interviews or readings.
But there’s so much great music that was played in South Beach clubs and bars during the era covered by the book—techno, house, trance, electro pop, salsa, merengue, disco, standards. Some of the best DJs in the world—people like Fatboy Slim, Victor Calderone, and Paul van Dyk—were spinning on South Beach back then, and still are. There’s actually a lot of music referenced and quoted in the book. I always say that it’s a book with a soundtrack.
The main character Rachel surely does her share of cocaine and drinking. Do you worry that the book glamorizes the use of drugs?
I tend to be a contrarian by nature, so there was definitely a part of me that wanted to avoid the typical path you see in books or movies that feature drug use, where the minute a character comes into contact with drugs, they become a hopeless junkie.
Don’t get me wrong—addiction is obviously very real and a very real part of the club scene, and there are characters in DIARY who end up in rehab or worse. But it sometimes seems to me that the only story being told about drug use is that story we’ve all seen a million times, where the main character spirals out of control and has to slowly, painfully rebuild his or her life.
The most important thing to me was to keep DIARY fun, and if I’d taken Rachel too far down a dark path, I think the book would have lost a lot of its fun. I also wanted to show the reality of drug use—the people who go too far and also the people who don’t.
So you’ll see, in DIARY, that sometimes Rachel goes on a bender and has a great time, and other times she goes a little wild and gets into trouble. (Actually, Rachel gets into a lot of trouble!) The drug use is mostly there to create the craziness, drama, and occasional bad luck in the character’s life that keep you turning the pages to see what happens to her next.
I’ve read lots of books that take place in New York City and lots that take place in Los Angeles but not many that take place in South Beach. Why do you think that is? What is the appeal of the South Beach party scene?
It’s an interesting question, why there haven’t been more novels written about South Beach, and I’ve heard it asked quite frequently. It’s tough for me to answer, because South Beach provides such rich source material for a writer that it’s hard for me to imagine other writers not being inspired by it.
I think part of it is that there used to be an unwritten code on SoBe that none of the “insiders” would write about what was happening on the scene, because doing so might jeopardize the scene’s existence. But so much of that has changed in the last few years with the rise of 24-hour celebrity news coverage—and so much of the grittiness you used to find on South Beach has been cleaned up anyway. So I think we’ll see more South Beach novels fairly soon.
There are a lot of reasons why South Beach is such an appealing place, but I think the primary one is that it’s just so incredibly beautiful—both the place itself and the people who live and party there. Sheer, physical beauty will always be seductive. And it’s a place that both encourages and forgives a lot of excess. I always say that one of the most alluring things about partying on South Beach is that you can have a constant tan there; so you can drink until sunrise, do an eight-ball, indulge in every vice you can think of…and the next day, you can look at yourself in the mirror and think, “Well, I’ve got a tan—I must be healthy!”
Would you like to spend a wild weekend in Rachel’s stilettos if there would be no repercussions?
Hell—I’d spend two wild weekends in Rachel’s shoes if I could get off consequence-free!
Rachel is such a party girl that all the hip clubs and places in South Beach know her and whisk her through the velvet ropes.
Would you like to have your pictures taken wherever you go or be written about in every local magazine for your wild ways and daring cleavage?
Wow—that’s a tough question to answer honestly, but I’ll try! On the one hand, it’s undeniably exhilarating to put on a glamorous gown, walk down a red carpet, and have a slew of photographers take your picture. I was talking about drug addiction earlier, but that particular rush can become it’s own kind of addiction, where you end up being obsessed with where and how often you see your picture in print.
A law of diminishing returns sets in, and you have to get more and more attention to achieve the same “high.” At least in the context of a small town like South Beach, though, you realize eventually that having everybody know where you were and what you were doing there can become somewhat claustrophobic.
What are your fondest memories of growing up in South Beach?
I think what I love most about the South Beach of my childhood is that three generations of my family lived there before I did. I’d drive around with them and they’d show me the apartment building my mother grew up in, or the bakery where my grandfather would get bagels and kugel on Sundays, or the place where my great-grandfather’s store used to be.
South Beach has always been beautiful, but it was so run-down and abandoned back then that it was more about the beauty of possibilities—you could close your eyes and imagine how glamorous it must have been when people like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor were there all the time. That’s part of what’s been so miraculous for me, as a native, in watching South Beach’s rebirth of the past two decades. Everything that I thought South Beach could be when I was a child has been so far surpassed by what it’s become.
Five words to describe South Beach…
Sexy, seedy, glamorous, exotic, and way over-the-top (okay, so that last one was more of a phrase…)
Everyone thinks this book is your semi-autobiography. How different are you really from Rachel Baum and how are your similar?
Rachel and I come from very similar backgrounds and follow very similar trajectories in our lives. But I’d say that Rachel starts out being a little bit more sheltered than I was, and consequently becomes a tad more reckless than I used to be back in my own South Beach party girl days.
What are you planning to shock and amaze us with next?
I plan to indulge in a shocking amount of celebrating and sleeping once I’m done promoting this book! But I’ve already started on the next one—and while it’s at an early enough stage that I don’t want to say too much about it, I think that people who like DIARY OF A SOUTH BEACH PARTY GIRL will love what I’m working on next…