Richard Fifield, author of the debut novel THE FLOOD GIRLS and a lifetime Jackie Collins fan, shares the story of how Jackie’s books helped save his life and ultimately inspired him to write his first novel. THE FLOOD GIRLS is available from Gallery Books on February 2nd!

In 1985, I was ten years old in the tiny town of Troy, Montana. It wasn’t easy being a gay kid, even harder to be a precocious reader. Banned from reading the adult books at our public library, I snuck in my sister’s hope chest, and discovered Harlequin romances. They were dirty, and I liked that, but there was a lack of fashion, feminism, the high stakes I had witnessed in my mother’s own marriages. At the time, my life was incredibly lonely; isolation and desperation beat me down, stronger and more cunning than the bullies at school. I thought my small town was the entire universe, and ten years was more than enough. I wanted to end it. It was fate, I think—one summer day, I found salvation in our grocery store, in the spinning rack of used paperbacks. The author photo hooked me. Jackie Collins was a ferociously beautiful woman with daring eyes; her mouth was grim and determined, just like my own school pictures.

I fell hard for “Chances,” bought the rest of her books with money made keeping score for my sister’s softball team, a group of big-haired, big-hearted broads that I worshiped. During softball tournaments, I made five dollars a game, came home sunburned and flush with paperback cash. In those books, I found hope; there was another world waiting for me. I no longer thought of suicide. I wanted to stick around long enough to war with the mafia, wear haute couture to a hostile corporate takeover. Lucky Santangelo was a fighter, and I felt we were twinned—opinionated, determined, destined to grow up beautiful and bossy.
Reading Jackie was my education, a correspondence course in business, law, self-promotion, and high fashion. In Jackie’s books, the protagonists come from nothing, end up with everything, and then unleash vengeance on those that scorned them. I wanted revenge on my bullies. I wanted to grow up and have passionate sex with dangerous men, just like Lucky. I got my wish.

Seven years later, I made my escape. At the state university, I majored in writing, but immediately found the junkies and drunks. I only wrote when I was drunk or high, but thankfully, that was often. I wore fur coats from the thrift store, showed up to writing workshops with smeared mascara and a snarl. I thought I was Lucky, but I was anything but. I shared needles and stole boyfriends, mistook danger for glamour. Lucky never had burn scars from crack pipes.
In 2005, I got sober, set fire to my old life, never thought I would write again. Seven years into my recovery, my therapist threw a blank notebook at me and ordered me into the woods. The words came. In a week, I wrote the entire first draft of my novel longhand, sitting at a kitchen table that looked out on a frozen lake. I wrote a novel about a gay kid in a small town in Montana, who spends his softball money on Jackie Collins books. It was the story I needed to tell, and I wrote it sober. Jackie saved my life once again.

Like every good gay, I followed Jackie on Twitter. On Halloween, 2013, I entered her costume contest, and sent a picture of myself dressed in hot glue gun couture, The Gay Angel Of Death. When I won, I was sure it was a sign. Jackie sent two autographed books, and I framed the inscription, hung it above my writing desk: “To Richard—Always remain strong and positive and know that you can do ANYTHING!!” The night before my book went to auction, my best friend in Troy made a shrine for luck—a photo of Jackie, a softball glove, and candles. The next day, my book sold.

Six months later, I took a chance, and channeling Lucky Santangelo, boldly sent an email to Jackie’s publicist. Within a day, Jackie had agreed to read The Flood Girls. A month later, Jackie offered a glowing review of the book, and I wept. Her blurb is on the front cover of my book, and I believe I am the last author to receive that honor.

In late September, I found out that Jackie had passed on. I will always imagine her sitting in an expensive leopard print chair, reading my book, laughing at a redneck gay boy in Montana obsessed with her novels. I imagine that she would appreciate this journey—like one of her characters, I fought my way back, and learned how to love and live without fear. Jackie Collins saved my life, and her encouragement has made me believe it is a life worth saving. I am the lucky one.