Q & A with author Tina Sloan
Chasing Cleopatra author Tina Sloan:
“HOW TRANSFORMING FROM ACTRESS TO AUTHOR HELPED THIS SOAP OPERA STAR STAY IN THE GAME”
Question: Did your past acting credits and experience on the screen help influence any of the drama that happens in your new book, Chasing Cleopatra?
Tina Sloan: My acting career hugely influenced Chasing Cleopatra. As I was writing Cleopatra, I became her just as I would become my character of 26 years, Lillian Raines, on Guiding Light. The words that came out of her were from me being her. For some reason her words were flowery, which is very far from how I talk but she somehow just spouted out these words. As an actress, I am always studying people for why they do things and how they do them. This habit allowed me to become many of the characters in the book, and then I would know what they would do next, as if they sort of wrote the book themselves.
Q: What parallels are there in Chasing Cleopatra that makes some of the events in the book authentic to your life?
TS: The book takes place in interesting places in the world that I have visited, such as. Honolulu, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and Paris, France. I ran the Honolulu Marathon and visited there many times—the Banzai Pipeline is one of the greatest places on Earth! I’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, so the climb was very authentic in the book and I’ve also spent months living in Paris as well.
I really did work on being authentic in this book, I interviewed friends in the CIA and former black ops to answer questions about terrorism to make it real. I worked on a television show and movie sets for most of my life so when I use the makeup and hair room and the interviews on Cleo’s TV show, it is as real as can be.
Q: How did your self-help book, Changing Shoes, and the advice you give to people in that book inform Chasing Cleopatra?
TS: Changing Shoes urges people to stay in the game. I’ll be turning 77 on the day the book is released, which I think is a great example to readers who are trying to stay in the game. I urge people to change their shoes—which means keep moving on, don’t get stuck. In the memoir and in my second book the characters do change their shoes quite drastically. The advice I give in Changing Shoes is to stay in the game and to understand how hard that can be at times. This rings true for many of the characters in Chasing Cleopatra.
Q: How does your voice as a self-help/memoir author differ from your voice as a novelist?
TS: My voice in my memoir is just my own voice, it was much more practicable and sensible. With Chasing Cleopatra, my voice is gutsier, and full of fun and fantasy. The voices change though with every character who narrates the book—including Cleo, Miranda, Julia, Tripp Mohammed, and Didier, who is my favorite character.
Q: Cleo, Miranda, and Julia are all in very different stages of their lives but can all be considered heroines who get what they desire most in the end. Why did you choose them to be the heroines?
TS: Cleo is a gorgeous, 44-year-old TV star and secretly-trained Krav Maga killer. Julia is 24-year-old, young and full of fun. Miranda is a 52-year-old wife and mother and is comfortable with who she is, devoted yet not curious. They’re all different types of women. Yet they’re all being betrayed by the men in their lives.
The female characters in this book, however, are not the victims. They’re strong, prepared women. They grow by the end of the story. I was a young actress in the 60’s, so I have a lot to say about the #MeToo Movement and how men treat women.
Q: And at any age, too?
TS: Since I have lived through all the ages of the women, this was authentic to me since I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve been the girl waiting for ring at 24 like Julia and then been Cleo at 44 on TV, and then Miranda, holding her husband and motherhood closely in my 50s – this was authentic too. I think the wisdom of aging allowed me to be all these women and to understand them.
That’s what I really enjoyed about writing this—to have a character who is not your typical young female heroine. Showing age is a positive thing. Heroines can absolutely be older, just as a charming, 24-year-old like Julia can. To entertain, surprise, and broaden people’s knowledge and ideas of age, gender, and love is my goal.
Tina Sloan is best known for her 26-year-role on CBS’s soap opera Guiding Light and as the author of Changing Shoes: Getting Older – Not Old – with Style, Humor and Grace, based on her autobiographical one-woman show. Some of Sloan’s most notable on-screen appearances include roles in Law & Order: SVU, Third Watch, Celebrity, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The Brave One, Changing Lanes, The Guru, People I Know, and Black Swan. Her latest projects include being part of an all-star cast on the soap web series Beacon Hill and Venice, and she continues to be a sought-after speaker. She divides her time between Florida and Maryland with her husband of 44 years, where they enjoy time with their son, his wife and 2 grandchildren.
DECEMBER 21, 2011
It was all because of a man, but then again…. it always is.
I was very young when I learned it was necessary to protect myself. As I grew up, I kept up the barriers, though they were certainly not visible to others. I choreographed a life that kept me safe and looked so normal to those on the outside. I lived alone in a spectacular, breathtakingly beautiful house, an oasis. And I trained constantly in the martial arts, primarily Krav Maga. Krav Maga is a military self-defense and fighting system that was developed for the Israeli Defense Forces. Not only is it self-defense, more importantly, Krav Maga is a fighting system that can be used to kill. I had work I loved and was very glamorous. I surrounded myself with wonderful people who enjoyed me but would not get too close. No one knew what I was not letting in.
Then in a day, no, in an hour, everything changed. It changed forever and kept changing at an enormously fast pace. Things turned upside down and I became me. A nightmare? Or a dream? Both, I think. Let’s go back to the beginning. To the hour that changed it all.
The accident had been all my fault. I had just finished an especially grueling Krav Maga session with Walter, the Navy Seal who trains me three days a week. Usually, Walter eases me into the hour with a series of explosive calisthenics exercises to get my heart jumping. But today, I was feeling anxious and so I asked if we could go straight into combat work. Having been a
Navy SEAL for nine years, Walter was more than happy to indulge my request and skip the jumping jacks, push-ups and sit-ups.
“Okay, Cleo. Pretend you’re at the ATM down at First Hawaiian when someone approaches you from behind,” Walter said as he slid his arm pads on. “It’s dark and you don’t know whether it’s a friend or foe.”
I knew what to do. I balled my hands into two tight fists and turned to the left before punching Walter hard in the throat. In real life, Walter would not have the luxury of defensive pads. He would have been stunned by the force of my fist first, choked second, and gone down on the ground third. After practicing turning to the left side first, I turned to the right and did the same.
“Okay, now you’re on the street, texting, when someone questionable approaches you head on. Go.”
Without hesitation, I hit Walter with fast, effective kicks to the groin until he threw his hands up in the air and conceded that the threat had been neutralized. And on and on we went. I loved our sessions and on days off, I couldn’t wait for the next one. Krav Maga is my drug and oh, I am addicted for sure. When I first started seeing Walter four years ago, I had the feeling that someone was out to get me. My trainer before Walter was also a former Navy SEAL but had decided after two years in Honolulu, that it was better to raise his young family on the mainland back in Nebraska where his parents were.
“Fear is common, Cleo. And it’s real,” Walter assured me. “Our objective is to get past that fear. The hope is to train your body and mind so relentlessly that you are capable of making tough, split-second decisions to defend yourself.”
“And it doesn’t hurt getting in a good workout as well,” I had joked.
My skills sharpened as the hours and years went on but unfortunately, I am not immune to injury. Towards the end of today’s session, I was practicing an inside chop and hurt my neck, which often triggers a migraine.
I was rifling inside my purse for a small bottle of Excedrin which works on my migraines if I take it right away and at the same time my car was rolling out of my driveway, rolling straight into his car and meeting his temper head on. My whole body jolted forward as metal crashed into metal. He was yelling at me before he was even out of his Jeep,
“What the hell, lady?!”
As I step out of my newly dented yellow convertible to assess the damage, I catch my lavender sundress on the door handle and rip it. It was almost comical. Not a great day so far… I don’t say a word, letting him blow off steam before I try to explain my side of the story. Of course, I don’t really have a side of the story and of course, I was completely at fault.
He kneels by the trunk of his Jeep, surveying the damage I had done. It was bad. There was a sizable dent on the fender, trunk and on part of the back door. It’s a miracle that neither of us are injured. His car looked drivable but rather pitiful. If I were him, I would probably be screaming at me, too.
“Jesus. Were you even looking?” he seethes, half to me and half to himself.
I approach him silently. He hasn’t even glanced over at me yet.
“Seriously, what were you thinking?! Well, clearly you weren’t… It’s a fucking rental, you know. I’m gonna have to have to go all the way back to there and explain this. Do you have
any idea how long that’s gonna take? And on my vacation?!” He glances at me briefly but not long enough to get a good look.
Still, I keep quiet, riding out the worst of his temper, hoping that like a storm, it will pass if I wait long enough. He marches over to the driver’s seat, leans down and presses a button. The trunk doesn’t budge and just makes a sad, whirring noise. Oh, dear.
“Oh, great. Wonderful. Now I can’t even open the trunk!” he continues to fume, pacing back along the car. “Where am I going to put all the tennis racquets and golf clubs? On our laps?!”
He sounds like a spoiled 3 year old child who refuses to go down for naptime. He leans down by the large dent, surveying the damage again.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize finally.
Then, oddly, I start to laugh. Nerves? I seldom get nervous, but for some reason, right now, I am more nervous than I’ve been in a very long time. My apology infuriates him enough that he finally looks away from his precious Jeep and up at me. Looking at me seems to temper his temper. He gets up off his knees.
He stares at me. And keeps staring at me. We stand in silence for so long that it becomes disconcerting. But also, rather exciting. I know I should break the moment, but I can’t. He is so devastatingly handsome and suddenly, I don’t care at all about social graces. His dark curly hair is combed straight back like some sort of Greek God or an ad for Giorgio Armani cologne. He’s younger than I am. Oh yes, he’s much younger, that I know for sure. Probably fifteen years. I turn forty-four in four days, on Christmas, and he can’t be any older than thirty. Twenty-eight or
twenty-nine, more likely. No wonder he’s acting like such a spoiled child. He removes his sunglasses, showing me his piercing blue eyes.
He almost smiles and sort of whispers, “Jesus. Who are you?”
My heart starts to beat so hard that it fills my ears. “I’m so sorry,” I apologize again. “It was my fault… I am just glad you seem alright.”
Grumpy and spoiled, but alright.
“Right,” he murmurs, clearing his throat. “Well, do you have your insurance? I should probably take down your info,” he struggles to sound businesslike. He keeps staring at me, which takes away from the professional facade.
“Everything is at my house. It’s at the top of this driveway,” I point behind me.
“Okay, I’ll follow you.” He waits a moment before delivering the punch line. “From a safe distance…”
He cracks a real smile for the first time. And this smile devastates me. Part of me wants to start sobbing. There is something about his smile, something brand new… and yet something so very familiar. He’s shaken me. He walks back to his damaged car and jumps into it. It starts up, thank heaven. I get into my car. And I think about the men in my life and the way I have forbidden them to really touch me. But he seems so familiar to me – like a dream. My barriers seem to be cracking like a volcanic fault. He is stirring something in me that I recognize. Oh, God.
He follows me back to my house, up the long, curving driveway. As we get out of our cars, Jimbo Isom bikes past and gives us a friendly wave, pointing to the dented cars. I smile and wave back. There is always something a trifle dangerous in Jimbo’s demeanor, even when he
smiles. This makes him very exciting to women, though not to me. Never to me. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I first saw him, I thought he was glorious with his platinum blonde hair and lean, muscular build but I found out quickly that he has little interest in the women who are so interested in him. His Ironman competition is his mistress and he is a very loyal lover.
Shortly after becoming my friend, Jimbo became my tenant too. My property is quite isolated, so knowing that Jimbo is a mile down the path in the gardener’s cottage is a huge comfort to me. Years ago, I had a man stalking me, presumably a fan of my local talk show, Close Encounters. Jimbo saw the stalker a couple times but never was able to catch him. But he is omnipresent, all over the island training for his beloved Ironman contest. It’s his raison d’etre and consumes him totally. His only goal in life is to be in the top five of the Ironman. So far, he has come in 11th, 9th and 9th. He thinks this will be his year and oh, I hope it will be.
“Who’s that?” my accident victim asks.
“Oh, that’s just Jimbo,” I tell him.
“Yes, he’s my tenant,” I smile. “He lives down the road in an old gardener’s cottage that he redid.”
“Yes, he did a great job. It’s quite gorgeous.”
“Just like its owner…”
He’s flirting with me.
“It’s perched on a cliff and overlooks the ocean,” I say, doing my best to remain matter-of-fact and to not flirt back. “He’s has a far better view than I have.”
“Not better than me,” he smiles.
Hmmm, Oh so definitely flirting with me. There is an awkward silence as we walk towards my house.
“Have you ever been spelunking?” I ask him, trying to fill the silence.
He looks over at me as if I’m speaking ancient Greek.
“Spelunking,” I laugh. “There are cliffs here on my property that are actually pretty wonderful for it.”
“Oh. Right. Yeah, I’ve heard of it. A British friend of mine is pretty into it,”
“Jimbo could show you around them if you like. Or perhaps you prefer sticking to country club sports?” I ask, perhaps flirting a bit myself. But I mean, spelunking? Really, Cleo?
He shrugs, not the least bit interested in the world of spelunking or in Jimbo either. Who can blame him? As we head towards my main entrance, his head keeps turning, taking stock of my property, which isn’t the only thing that he’s checking out. He tries to be subtle through the cover of his sunglasses but his Ray Bans aren’t nearly as tinted as he thinks. I can see exactly what he wants to do, starting with the top pearl button on my newly ripped sundress.
“What’s your name?” I ask him, realizing I don’t know it.
Jake. I used to hate that name. So trendy and without any real substance behind it. But for the moment, I love it. I really, really love it.
“Come on in, Jake. I’ll get my papers.”
But he lingers, looking at the huge French doors with their pale green shutters. I wish I could take credit for choosing that wonderful shade of green myself, but it was selected by the owners before me. Quite aptly, it’s called Sweet Dreams, as is the house. The house, a nineteenth century villa, has four wide stone steps leading up to the front door. Six years ago, when I was first introduced to the property, I fell madly in love with it even before I stepped inside. And when those French doors opened into a huge inner courtyard with a happily spouting fountain as the centerpiece, I was in thrall. Now the courtyard’s fountain is surrounded by cascading white flowering trees that my father gave me as a housewarming gift, when he came to help me move in. The tiny white lights are this year’s Christmas addition, so it is a fairyland by day and night.
And the flowers. My father, Didier Gallier, loves to remind me of my mother’s favorite saying, “the earth laughs in flowers.” He was always sending them to me after she died. Didier also bought me my vintage, pale yellow convertible and himself a beat-up old MGB-GT, which stays in the garage for when he visits. I would’ve bought my house for the courtyard alone but the Tuscan architecture, which rambled all over, was a fortress of solitude and peace. Nothing jarred; it was pure serenity. I have my mother, who was never serene, to thank for this tranquility. She left me one of Matisse’s Odalisques, auctioned at Christies by my friend Anne Bracegirdle for an amazing sum of money. This single painting allowed me to buy Sweet Dreams and generally afforded my self-sufficiency too.
Finally, Jake follows me inside. The interior is full of fresh air and flowers and sunlight. No animals, no children, but filled with photos of my family and travels. I am seeing it through his eyes and recognizing what a blessed life I have.
When I return with the papers, Jake has already made himself very much at home on the long white sofa in my living room. There are huge bouquets of white roses decorating the room and it’s my favorite part of the house. He takes the papers, takes my arm, and then takes me onto his lap. I stop breathing. The air between us is so heavy, I feel like I’m going to pass out. How dare he… but also, how dare he not.
I wanted this. I wanted a man who would just take me and not be afraid. A man who would push me up against a wall and kiss me, hard. A man who would not stop kissing me until my legs would crumble and I was lying on the floor waiting for him. A man who would melt my unrelenting frigidity.
I wanted this very much. I am shocked by how much… this goes against the entire life I’ve carefully cultivated. I am terrified, but for good reason, for very good reason. This time, the real collision occurred. I collided with more than I could have imagined. I collided with some part of myself that I’d always kept hidden away. The part of myself that had never been opened. Only one other time have I let myself get this close to a man and now, here, it is happening again. Happening with this man I don’t even know and who is so many years younger than I. He’s simply glorious. Jake looks at me and I’m stunned. The hugeness of him smashes my hard won protection. I had fought long and hard for peace and serenity and his masculine presence derailed it in less than a second’s time. The force field, that’s what it feels like, a space, outer space capture of my life; the force field expels such sexual tension that I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. I become someone else; someone I’d never known existed. And I like her. Oh, I like her very much. I have slept with men of course, but never really let go till now. I had wept at how isolated that made me, but that was how I’d chosen to live my life.