A book is considered great if its plot moves us. Invariably, though, real life is often strange — and just as tragic — as fiction.
At least that has been the case for author Jackie Collins, whose life has been bittersweet on the subject of love and loss.
She nursed two men through terminal illnesses. The first — her husband of 27 years, the nightclub impresario Oscar Lerman — died of prostrate cancer in 1992. Two years later her fiancé, Los Angeles businessman Frank Calcagnini, was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 1996.
Although personal loss is a typical plot device, Collins, who has penned 27 best-selling novels, is the first to see the irony. “If I’d written all that’s happened to me, my readers would have found it hard to believe.”
In her latest book, Poor Little Bitch Girl [St. Martin’s Press], a renowned star is murdered, and her daughter — one of the heroines in the book, to whom she was estranged — has to come to terms with it. “My own experiences gave me the tools to write about loss. That’s why personal tragedies enter into all my stories at some point.”
Collins offers this sage advice for moving on after a personal loss:
1. Take time for closure, but don’t dwell on the past.
“Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, each one of us is touched by tragedy — even the rich and famous,” explains Collins. “But what got me through it was celebrating their lives, as opposed to dwelling on their deaths.”
2. Let friends and family nurture you.
Collins raised three daughters with her husband. “They grew up in Beverly Hills. Believe it or not, that can be hard on a child because so many kids are indulged here, and are raised by others. I was a hands-on mother, and I enjoyed every moment of it.” Now that they are grown, she appreciates the roles they play in her life. “They are all wonderful women whom I love and appreciate dearly.”
She also has a close set of girlfriends with whom she has lunch with frequently. This is something Collins always looks forward to. In fact, she is her clique’s de facto photographer. “I love iPhoto! I take pictures of my friends, then at home on my computer, I’ll crop and print them.”
3. Date again, but choose wisely.
Says Collins: “There are so many bad boys out there, especially in Hollywood. And yes, I know so many of them. I loved writing about them, and you love reading about them. Unfortunately, that type attracts many young, naïve girls who don’t know better, but I do. With age comes experience.”
4. Get involved — with the world at large.
“I’m at a part of my life where I seek out opportunities to inspire others, particularly other women. With all that is happening in the world, each of us needs to get involved. I’ve had the good fortune to do so through my writing, as I have written some wonderful female characters who are not afraid to stand up for themselves. Lucky Santangelo, whom I’ve written into six books through two series, is a great example of that.”
There is no doubt that Collins is a born storyteller. “I truly feel I was blessed with a gift. I love that it makes others happy, too.”
Josie Brown‘s next novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives [Simon & Shuster] will be in bookstores on June 1, 2010.