The Bette Davis Club

By: Jane Lotter

Dear Whoever-You-Are,

I don’t know how you came to hold this book in your hands. Perhaps you’re browsing in a bookshop while waiting to meet up with a long-lost high school pal. Is she late? Are you early? Maybe you received this book in a white elephant gift exchange. Maybe you’re reading it on your phone. Maybe you heard something somewhere about this novel or its author, and decided just to give it a go.

My mother, Jane Lotter, wrote this novel. Shortly after she completed it, she left this particular plane of existence. And since The Bette Davis Club is being republished posthumously, I have been tasked with introducing it.

I feared at first this forward would sound too similar to the eulogy I gave two years ago, in 2013, when I spoke mainly of my deep admiration and love for a woman who raised me and bestowed upon me her sense of humor (and love for all things Bette Davis and road trips, as this book demonstrates), and for a woman who was truly the greatest I have ever known. She was fun and interesting and smart and sometimes judgmental and sometimes bossy and always loving. She was human. And superhuman to me. She was everything I hope I turn out to be, and perhaps I will, if I am very, very lucky.

The truth is my mother’s death and the publication of her first and only novel are inextricable. She spent her last months trying everything possible to publish what she had spent so many years working to create. But she ran out of time. She needed to see her creative passion come to life before she faced the end of her own, and so she turned to Amazon’s self-publishing services. Her last day on earth, she held a copy of the book she had written, reflecting on what she had accomplished. She held her book, and she cried. And we all cried with her.

And then, many, many months later, our family was contacted by Lake union   Publishing. They wanted to publish Mom’s book for real. And here we are. It’s what she dreamed would happen, and it’s a real bummer she never got to see it. Though I think she knew this would happen all along.

I can’t remember a time I didn’t think of my mother as an author. She wrote and she read and she took care of my brother and me. She read to us and she proofread our homework and she made us memorize our spelling words and she made sure we could relate to Dickens and Twain and Shakespeare and Ephron and Capra and Hitchcock—all those whom she considered so singularly excellent at the craft of storytelling. Mom loved a good zinger, loved a good turn, and she loved a good story.

And she watched a lot of classic movies. And she made us—and any of our school friends who happened to be over on a Friday night—watch a lot of classic movies too. My mother loved watching classic movies the way some mothers love trying a new recipe. For us, dinner was always a variation on four different types of pasta. But we were served an endless array of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope and, of course, Bette Davis. This book isn’t about Davis. But in a way, Bette Davis is the reason it exists.

My mother treated writing like something that had to be done. She loved it; it was for fun and for her soul and it was something completely her own. And now she has her chance to share it with the world. With you, dear reader.

My mom was one of the special ones. Anyone who ever met her knew it. And now, you’ll get to meet her too. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Most sincerely,

Tessa Marts

Daughter, Friend, Classic Film Fiend





CHAPTER ONE

MALIBU

It is late morning, and I am drinking a double martini.

I’m sitting on a marble bench, on a bluff high above the Pacific Ocean. Nearby is the large Spanish-style house—a sort of mansion, actually—that was once my father’s, but which now belongs to my older half sister, Charlotte. The sun is shining, the water is blue, the lawn is the color of money. Perfection.

Or at least it would be, if it weren’t for all the people standing around. Unfortunately, there are about six hundred of them.

Like me, they’re guests at the wedding of my nineteen-year-old niece, Georgia. Unlike me, many of them are Hollywood filmmakers and celebrities. Everywhere I look it’s designer dresses, tailor-made tuxes, and the predatory gaze of the rich and vacuous.

Restless, waiting for the ceremony to begin, many people have crowded under several large tents pitched on the lawn, where they’re helping themselves to free liquor.

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