Susanna Hoffs, 1980s pop star and cofounder of the Bangles, has written a novel: This Bird Has Flown (Little Brown, Apr. 2023), a sexy, bold, irreverent take on Jane Eyre (one of Hoffs’s favorite books). It’s about second chances at love and work and delivers intel on the music business with a protagonist whose career (her last hit was a decade ago) and relationship have hit rock bottom.
But let Jane Start tell it herself. As the story opens, our heroine is standing at the elevator bank of a Las Vegas hotel. “Elevators are like life, when you think about it: you’re either going up or going down,” Hoffs writes. Jane’s boyfriend has just dumped her for a 23-year-old lingerie model, and she’s about to sing karaoke at a private bachelor party. “It was official: this was a moment of reckoning.... At the ripe old age of thirty-three, I was an-over-the-hill, one hit wonder—and now, it seemed, a ‘Vegas entertainer’ doing bachelor parties. I should never have agreed.... But I was desperate. For so many reasons. If only my luck would change, and this would be the last dodgy gig I’d have to face for awhile.”
After this rocky start, Jane’s life begins to turn around thanks to her loyal manager and friend, Pippa, and a chance meeting with a mysterious man.
“I longed my whole life to write a novel,” Hoffs tells me. “It was a secret idea. But I graduated from Berkeley in art in 1980, and the minute I came home to L.A., I knew I wanted to form a band.” Hoffs says she “advertised” herself in a local giveaway paper, The Recycler, and put flyers up in Whiskey a Go Go (a historic West Hollywood nightclub). By 1981, she had a band, the Bangles; years of songwriting followed, with the group producing hits like “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
But, Hoffs says, “deep in my heart, I always wanted to write a book. And then, in 2015, I started writing. My son was the catalyst, saying, ‘Why don’t you write the novel you’re always talking about?’ ”
Hoffs calls the experience “unexpectedly fun and thrilling,” adding, “It became an obsession. I’d go for long walks, listen to music that became the playlist for the book. My characters came alive in my head. It was like putting on the red shoes. I couldn’t stop dancing!”
She emphasizes that she was drawn to the conundrum of love: “Can you have love? Can you ever know someone? It’s a leap of faith to be vulnerable, to have a relationship,” she says. “The other piece was to show what it’s like to be a musician. By making Jane Start a musician, I could let people know what it feels like to stand in front of an audience and worry that no sound will come out of your mouth.”
Hoffs says she kept the manuscript under wraps. “I was so afraid but wanted to know. Was I insane?”
She showed it to her friend, the writer Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures), who in turn gave it to her agent, Sarah Burnes at the Gernert Company. Hoffs remembers sending it off on her 60th birthday, Jan. 17, 2019. Burnes got the book on a Saturday and emailed Hoffs the next day.
The two met in New York City, and Hoffs recalls crying and laughing on the way to Burnes’s office: “It was a lonely walk, freezing January, and I kept thinking, a book agent likes my book!”
Burnes says her initial reaction was not original: “She’s a rock star—can she actually write a novel?” But she quickly saw that Hoffs “had a real voice on the page and inhabited all the characters, not just the musician protagonist.” She notes that Hoffs is not just a pop star but also a voracious reader. “And, although she’s written this bubbly romantic comedy, her writing is informed by books like Middlemarch.”
Burnes and Hoffs worked together on the manuscript, and Burnes submitted it widely in May 2021, getting “really nice feedback.” One of the editors Burnes sent This Bird to was Little, Brown’s Judy Clain, who passed in on to editor Helen O’Hare at Mulholland Books, telling her, “I think it would be perfect for you.”
O’Hare says, “We were coming out of the pandemic—the era of languishing. I was languishing on my sofa, excited to see a novel from Susanna Hoffs. The pitch was a woman who needs a second chance in life coupled with the fantasy of meeting a man on a plane. It took me out of my life, yet felt enough like my life.”
In O’Hare’s eyes, This Bird has a classic feel: a mystery man, a fresh take on love. “It’s dark and suspenseful but also redemptive and uplifting. I read it and was desperate to speak to Susanna; I was her first editorial call.”
O’Hare talked with Hoffs on a Thursday, then called on Friday to make the offer, but couldn’t reach Burnes, who was on a plane to L.A. Burnes got the call as she was leaving the airport. At eight o’clock that night, O’Hare was outside a restaurant, her husband inside, waiting for Hoffs’s answer. “It was kind of like a marriage proposal. Will she say yes?”
Burnes and Hoffs called together. “It was so joyful,” O’Hare says.
The deal was “a healthy six figures” for North American rights, according to Burnes. The conversation, she adds, “was to be clear that they understood Susanna’s intention, and that they saw her as a writer. I knew Helen would help Sue make the book even better and that Little, Brown would go to town, which they have.”
The book will be published in the U.K. by Piatkus, and Hoffs will adapt the novel into a feature romantic comedy for Universal Pictures.
“I love this team of women,” Hoffs says. “And I’m so incredibly grateful and happy to have this new job. I just want to keep going”.