After gaining a reputation as an expert on sex, celebrity and the glamorous life, Anna David comes clean about her own out-of-control past in her debut novel, Party Girl
By Humberto Guida
With the Britney Spearses and Lindsay Lohans of the world getting so much attention for their problems with drugs and alcohol, the climate is right for a book like this,” Anna David tells the host of a television news segment about her debut novel,Party Girl(HarperCollins). This is a few days after Spears went in and out of rehab, and David is a guest on the segment, breaking down the psychology of the epidemic rampant among today’s young celebrity women – partying way too hard. David, who is regularly featured on television and in magazines as a pop pundit on all things sex and celebrity, explains to the show’s host how “easy it is for young women to get caught up in the kind of lifestyle where drugs and alcohol are abused.” If anyone would know firsthand, she would.
A week after her TV appearance, I meet with David at a West Hollywood café to talk about her book, which comes out this month. It’s easy to spot her when she walks in, considering she’s holding a bright-pink, prerelease copy of a book splashed with “Party Girl” on the cover, and looking pretty much like she does on television – a sexy, purposeful brunette. I dart toward her even before she can pan across the room. “How’d you know if was me?” David asks, a steady, unintentionally seductive smirk on her face. “Um, there are pictures of you on your website?” I answer and ask at the same time. She nods. I feel like I passed an exam, and quickly come to the conclusion that she’s the sort of person who sizes up the intelligence of everyone around her. For the record, I love that in a woman.
To the naked eye, David is one of those perky, ambitious, attractive women who seem right out of Sex and the City. The perception shared by most people she comes in contact with is that she’s utterly and absolutely fabulous – enough to earn the moniker “Party Girl” and have written a major magazine column and now a book by the same name. The again, the reality, as she is now comfortable pointing out, was less divine. “When I began to work at celebrity magazines, I would show up and tell these stories about last night, with this person, that celebrity. To keep up with all the going out, I began to obsess over cocaine. For a while it worked, but then it turned my life upside-down. Everyone seemed to think I led this fabulous life, but it wasn’t really like that,” David explains.
“I was an out-of-control party girl my whole life, and I didn’t realize it. It didn’t seem that strange,” she continues, as a nearby table turns its full attention to our conversation. “Through the years, I got crazier and crazier with partying and out-of-control behavior and drugs. My life got really small.”
Like her life, the semifictional Party Girl can be misconstrued if judged strictly by its glossy cover. While both contain ample amounts of Hollywood-style debauchery, celebrity schmoozing and characters fit for films like The Devil Wears Prada, this novel is not just chapter upon chapter of lipstick revelry. Set in Tinseltown and lined with amusing disasters, the story chronicles the main character’s struggle with addiction. The book was inspired by David’s own experiences from a particularly confusing, self-destructive time in her life.
“I changed the names of characters involved in the plot so as not to get people in trouble, or myself, either. But most of the things that happened to me when I moved out to L.A. and began working in the entertainment media happen to the protagonist,” explains David, who was raised outside of San Francisco and got her first real magazine job at (in all seriousness) Parenting magazine.
The protagonist in Party Girl is Amelia Stone, a quintessential L.A. scenestress known around the celebrity gossip mag, where she works as a writer, for sharing wild stories about getting invites to Hollywood’s most exclusive, star-studded events, where she indulges in a lifestyle replete with sex and drugs. During the book’s first act, when much of the real partying takes place, Amelia is given the chance to prove herself by interviewing several high-profile stars, only to engage in larger and larger amounts of “Alex” (her affectionate term for cocaine).
Rather than wallowing in self-pity, David tells the story with utmost self-deprecation. While she paints close-to-home portraits of bosses, friends, love interests and a publicist named simply “Nadine,” she doesn’t make fun of anyone more than the literary embodiment of herself. She also takes our heroine on a tour of the darnedest situations, such as having to creep out of a neighborhood bar after an awkward dinner date with the two groomsmen she wanted to have a ménage a trios with, or completely passing out by the curb next to a Barney’s Beanery after a two-day binge.
The turning point of the novel comes when Amelia loses control of both her personal and professional lives, and she heads to rehab. Once reformed, the true hilarity ensues. That’s when Amelia is offered a job at a major publication, and all they want is a column chronicling her uber-fabulous sex life and insatiable glitterati adventures. Naturally, the new column’s name is “Party Girl.” She takes the gig and the twists of irony that come with it. The rest of the story centers on Amelia’s balancing act between the extroverted, social-scene impresario everyone thinks she is and the recluse who attends AA meetings.
So how close is Amelia’s life to Anna’s? Well, David did work at magazines such asPeople, where she did party a lot and was let go. She also did 30 days in a Los Angeles rehabilitation clinic. And while she still seems like she’d be the life of any party, she has been clean and sober for six years. Yet she says she’s holding on to her “comical sensibility” now more than ever.
“My addiction had gotten so bad and I was so in denial I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I had been lying to myself about everything. I didn’t have anything spiritual in my life,” David recalls about hitting rock bottom. “Plus, I never developed respect for authority, and I had this habit of yelling at the boss if things weren’t going my way. As you can imagine, the equilibrium didn’t hold.
“My path has been very fortuitous and random,” she continues. “Inside, my life was closing in on me even as it seemed more and more exciting. I went to rehab, cleaned myself up and was released back into the world. The funny thing was that my first job out of rehab was working for Premiere magazine writing this column called ‘Party Girl.’ It seemed rather ironic. I was out covering premieres and exclusive parties. It was an excuse to quote celebrities, but the editors wanted me to play up the whole party-girl image. The whole time I’m leading this other life as a reformed addict. I was going to meetings and standing up in front of groups to talk about my problem with drugs and alcohol, and then I’d go to a party and drink water and everybody would probably think it was vodka.”
David ultimately broke out as a “sexpert” after a story she wrote examining the love lives of young women in Los Angeles and New York was published in Playboy. Since then, she has regularly published work in magazines such as Details. Razor, Maxim, Us Weekly andCosmopolitan. She also currently hosts a segment on sex and relationships called “In Your Pants” on G4’sAttack of the Show. Her first novel has been getting rave reviews from peers such as Jerry Stahl and Sex and the City executive producer Cindy Chupack, who calls Party Girl “funny, honest, caustic and no-holds-barred.”
I end our conversation by asking if her mom, a fellow writer known to be much tamer than her daughter, has read it. David’s eyes wander for the first time since we sat down. She answers, “She says she did. I gave her a copy to read. But she took it so well I’m suspicious she didn’t read it, because there are scenes in there I just know she couldn’t handle.”