Chronicle: How Oceanside author Holly James turned a dark time into a windy book

In the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown was in its sixth month and Oceanside resident Holly James was in bed having an epiphany. Two months later, she had the first draft of a book.

“I had been working from home for five months and I distinctly remember lying in bed thinking about how much time I was saving by not doing my hair and makeup and wondering what to wear. And I was struck by the fact that it was really enjoyable,” said James, scientific research manager for a local technology company.

“I started thinking about how a story could be framed around that. What if a woman decided to stop following those expectations? It had been floating around in my head for a few weeks. One day my husband was watching (the movie) ‘Liar Liar’, and I thought, ‘What if a woman spends an entire day not being able to lie about anything?

The result is “Nothing but the truth,” James’ bright and airy debut novel about what happens when a Hollywood publicist drinks a possibly magical cocktail and wakes up on the morning of her 30th birthday to find she can’t lie, even to herself.

From there, it’s a life-changing, nail-biting ride as heroine Lucy Green finds personal and professional fulfillment freeing herself from spin classes, diets, cat calls from doofus men and little dramas at work that are all exhausting and not Gain.

But as Lucy relishes in the thrills of eating bagels, ditches her shapewear and says exactly what she thinks of her disappointing boyfriend, James also asks her heroine to tackle the many ways women come to terms with the assumptions and narratives that hold them back.

And to do that, James had to come to terms with his own assumptions. Starting with the kind of books she thought she was supposed to write.

When she signed with her literary agency in 2019, James was writing adult psychological thrillers. As a reader, thrillers were her favorite genre, but as the pandemic progressed, dark side writing began to lose its appeal. Life was dark enough as it was.

“I went a little crazy. As a thriller writer, I thought of myself as a dark, complicated, brooding person, which I guess I’m not,” said James, who will discuss “Nothing but the Truth” at the Diesel Bookstore in Del Mar July 12.

“The stress of the pandemic pushed me towards a desire for humor and lightness. It was my first attempt at comedy. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I guess it worked, because here we are.

Like the mysterious lavender-colored cocktail the man Lucy calls “Hot Bartender” makes the day before his birthday, “Nothing But the Truth” is sweet, bubbly, and refreshing. But true to the spirit of the drink, the book packs a punch, too.

Along with dressing for comfort and treating her Hollywood clients with surprising outspokenness, Lucy must confront the ugly truth of sexual harassment.

The stalker is the co-founder of his company and the kind of man who hugs your knee and says, “I’d like to know how engaged you need to advance your career. So on the day she hopes to land a big client and get the promotion she so richly deserves, Lucy must confront a serial sexual stalker who has the power to ruin her life.

It’s a lot to ask of a wise heroine and a book designed for poolside reading, but as someone who’s worked in academia and the tech industry, James had some things that she meant about being a woman in a male-dominated world. world and the satisfaction that comes from being seen, heard and respected, despite the obstacles.

“When I started the book, I wanted to write something funny and relatable. But when I delved into it, I saw there was a kind of deep statement to be made here,” said the 33-year-old author.

“Lucy is in a very misogynistic industry, and it was cathartic to watch her face her struggles and get through it with the support of her colleagues and friends. She’s not fighting on her own, and that’s something I lived in my own career.

Speaking of career, as James continues to work in her technical work, she has completed her second novel and is now writing her third. These new books aren’t thrillers either, but if the answer to “Nothing but the truth” is any indication, a light-hearted book may still give the goosebumps or two. Especially when it introduces readers to the thrill of being themselves.

“The most gratifying thing is that I’ve had readers reach out to me and say, ‘Reading this made me want to stand up for myself. It made me want to talk about something. It’s more than I could ever hope for, that someone could find inspiration in this completely fictional thing that I came up with.

“In the same vein, I would appreciate if readers adopted the attitude of, ‘Oh, the makeup is kinda ridiculous.’ Or, ‘I should eat whatever I want.’ Or, ‘I actually hate spin classes.’

Holly James discusses “Nothing But the Truth” with author Kristin Rockaway (“Life, Unscheduled”) at 6:30 p.m. July 12 at Diesel Bookstore, 12843 El Camino Real, Suite 104, Del Mar.

Lola R. McClure