Eve Babitz was a committed hedonist with an eye for life’s complexities. It is impossible for me to get through her books in one sitting because the writing is so lyrical, so intriguing, that I have to stop every few minutes to savor it. I want to see what she saw. But, even better than her descriptions of the events she witnesses, is her ability to turn the people she meets into characters, crafting whole story arcs in paragraphs and lovingly eviscerating them.
Here are six descriptions from her first work, Eve’s Hollywood (Number 3 on this list!), that make me want to exist in bygone Los Angeles.
Richard Green, the bluegrass breakneck violin player sounds the way The Girl in the convertible looks when she runs her fingers underneath her honey tresses at a light to free her hair for a moment from its own weight.
And there was James, salty and famished-looking from the summer, standing like a raped angel with these dark blue eyes throwing southern aristocratic landscapes all across dark smelly nightclubs where we sat in front of the impossible.
On the next best thing
[He] was always a prince to me until I grew up and then he treated me the way he treated most adults which was with tantrumic impatience and nasty remarks.
On her father’s fabulous friends
Walter and I were born on consecutive days. We always understood each other perfectly and had a wonderful time pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes until he saw the dove of peace on acid, which was a drag. But anyway, we are friends. He’s an orphan, it was part of his story.
A complete story in 4 sentences
I’ve read Proust all the way through because everyone said I’d like it, but Colette’s little sketch of Proust coming into a room after everyone had thought he’d gone and already had begun gossiping about how he was a f*g was only about three paragraphs and you could imply the other 9 million pages. Nevertheless, I liked the other nine million pages and recommend them to anyone in solitary confinement or otherwise out of commission. You can’t read Proust at the Laundromat.
The Heads of Cerberus: The First Alternative Worlds Novel
I admit I was not a fan of the last dystopian novel I read. So I went back in time a little to see what I could find. And lo and behold, the pioneer of the time travel genre herself, Francis Stevens!
I love science fiction for its timelessness. Despite, or because, it deals with the future, its tone has not changed much since it began. Sure, we aren’t still debating the morality of the microscope (like Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World), but the tension between skepticism of new technology and embracing it for the creative potential it unlocks is a consistent theme.
Heads of Cerberus was written in 1919, but it still feels current. I think part of the reason for this is because she does not try to imagine the technology that might exist in Philadelphia in 2118, which might read as silly today. Technology is stalled at 1918 levels, and society is the thing that is drastically restructured.
Stylistically, it works. Pulp entertainment at its finest!
Also, I took some liberties with the category. Rather than being recommended by a favorite author, The Heads of Cerberus was actually recommended by the Monster, She Wrote audiobook I was listening to. It has introduced me to some of my new favorites.
Writing a novel is an all-encompassing, mind-expanding affair. There is nothing like the flutter in your heart after your ideas first take shape upon the page. Your pour your heart and soul and six months of daydreaming into this world you’ve created. It is, more than anything, a labor of love.
So, first off, congratulations! The fact that it exists at all is amazing, and you made it happen. Everything that happens next is just icing on the writing-life-hustle cake. Take a moment to celebrate.
Writing is also exhausting, and time consuming, and tedious, which is to say nothing of the glacial pace at which publishers move, a pace designed to try the patience of a saint (and let’s be real, you are not a saint). Even when you get that first draft completed, there are so many steps before you can see your name in print. There are synopses to write, formatting to tweak, and proofreading to do. It’s superficial, and very important. You will need a polished manuscript before you can submit it to an agent or begin self-publishing, and it never hurts to hire someone to help you get it there.
You can expect to need, at the minimum, a content editor and a proofreader, possibly a line editor as well. There will be rounds of edits, restructuring, and rewrites. All of this adds up to hundreds of dollars and hours of your life. But there is a much-overlooked professional that can save you big in the long run. Of course, I’m speaking of the professional beta reader!
Beta readers provide objective feedback on early drafts of your work so that you can fix the problems before you invest too much time into them. From plot holes to narrative inconsistencies, badly developed characters, to an over-reliance on clichés, a talented reader will alert you to your areas of weakness and provide suggestions for improvement. This will save you time at a fraction of the cost of a content editor.
So the question is: why should you pay for this service when you can probably find it for free? First off, you can absolutely find them among your friends and fellow writers, and you absolutely should. You want as many beta readers as possible, but the ideal range seems to be five to seven. Most people do not have seven people who can give them timely, concise feedback on their work, and that is where a paid beta reader comes in. Hiring a professional comes down to three main advantages: diversity, objectivity, and familiarity.
Diversity matters. When it comes to your novel you want as many different perspectives as possible to see it to avoid embarrassing errors. Professional beta readers are trained to spot areas of insensitivity toward other cultures, religions, and sexuality. What reads as unremarkable to some will read as offensive to another, and it is your job as an author to be aware of this.
Objectivity is crucial. Your friends are not objective. Fellow writers are not objective. People who know you simply aren’t objective. Your work needs objective feedback, and a professional is going to be much better at doing this. Since it is coming from a stranger, you will be more receptive to it.
And finally, familiarity with the genre pays off. Beta readers are passionate about books, and they tend to find their niche. Although theoretically a person could work with young adult to nonfiction to adult contemporary to serialized paranormal romance, there is so much amazing work out there that specialization happens naturally. As a result, they will be familiar with your genre and better able to help you develop its themes.
With their affordability and versatility, a professional beta reader is a great investment for your novel, and when you find a good one you won’t want to let them go! Most beta readers get jobs through referrals, so ask your fellow writers who they use. If you’re not part of a writing community you can find them through advertisements on Reddit, Upwork, Goodreads, and Fiverr. There are also professional beta reader groups on Facebook. Beta readers are an underappreciated tool in your writing arsenal, don’t let them go to waste.