The Los Angeles Public Library recently featured me in their Local Author Spotlight series (more about that later). I was very flattered to be included, but it wasn’t until the interview was published this week, that I began to reflect on my journey as a writer.
Five years ago, I didn’t have a novel to my name; I knew nobody, nor anything about this publishing business; and nobody knew who I was. And yet now, here I am prepping the publication of my sixth novel. Looking back, I’m glad I had no idea that publishing my work would lead me down a Wonderland-esque road of such unimagined marvels, connections, and people, and that every corner I’ve turned has been a marvelous surprise.
I guess I’m in a “Wonderland-esque road of unimagined marvels” frame of mind because I am now ready (and excited!) to reveal details of the next book in my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series.
Book six takes us into Los Angeles of the late 1940s where Hollywoodites, still recovering from the HUAC hearings, look to the horizon where a tiny screen of flickering black-and-white images threatens to upend everything.
Book 6 in the Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull
When the Red Scare ends, paranoia lingers. Can Tinseltown recover to take on television?
After an exile from MGM, ousted screenwriter Marcus Adler is looking for his way back into the biz. When he hatches a plan to start over with a disgraced movie star, a Hollywood censor reminds Marcus that the misdeeds of the past aren’t soon forgotten.
Hollywood Reporter columnist Kathryn Massey is always looking for a hot tip. She never expected it would come from Lauren Bacall, and point her toward a new career high. But when a trip to the set of Sunset Boulevard reveals a haunting glimpse into her past, Kathryn isn’t sure who to trust, especially when a hot new rival hits town.
Gwendolyn Brick thought her new store would be a hit, but she never realized it could become a target. Threatened by Los Angeles’ most notorious madam, Gwendolyn will need a Hollywood-style miracle to keep her store alive.
Twisted Boulevard is the sixth installment in the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah saga. If you like richly woven details, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and characters who come to life, then you’ll love Martin Turnbull’s captivating historical fiction series.
And here now is the first chapter:
Gwendolyn Brick was surprised at how different Sunset Boulevard looked from twenty-five feet in the air. Its effervescence always quickened her pulse. New stores, bars, and nightclubs opened, replacing old ones whose time had waned or whose owners weren’t the savvy impresarios they’d imagined. But standing on the roof of 8623 Sunset, Gwendolyn discovered she’d never wondered what the view was like from the top.
“You’re on top now,” she told herself. “In a few hours, you’ll be one of those guys. Let’s hope you’re as shrewd as you think you are.”
The afternoon sunlight slanted across the traffic. It caught the bold stripes of the awning over the front door of the Mocambo as the club’s sign flickered to life. Several blocks east, the lights at Ciro’s illuminated the white columns around the entrance. The neon “C” glowed like a halo.
Dazzling personalities had surged through this town, loaded with talent and handed opportunity like it was caviar on a silver tray. Gwendolyn had watched them glitter and sparkle in the Hollywood stratosphere, only to see their egos crash land like the Hindenburg. A speck of doubt caught in her throat.
Could she really compete in a city full of experienced couturiers?”
She glanced at her watch; it was now-or-never o’clock.
A brisk February wind blustered up the boulevard, whipping her emerald silk dress around her calves. She peered over the edge of the roof to double check that the tangerine cloth she’d hung across the sign of her brand-new dress shop was still in place, hoping it would stay there for her grand unveiling.
She scuttled across the graveled rooftop and was climbing down the ladder as graceful as a calf-length skirt permitted just as a dark blue DeSoto pulled into the parking lot. Three figures emerged holding boxes crammed with the stuff of which successful launches were made: booze.
Gwendolyn had known Kathryn Massey and Marcus Adler since the week they all moved into the Garden of Allah Hotel. She’d arrived from the other Hollywood—the one in Florida—knowing nobody, and she didn’t like to think where she’d be without them. She certainly wouldn’t be opening her own store along the same stretch of road that boasted some of the most famous addresses in America.
“How many people are you expecting?” Kathryn asked.
“We bought four dozen bottles of champagne, so we’ll just make it,” Marcus teased. “And Oliver’s got a surprise.”
Oliver Trenton was Marcus’ . . . Gwendolyn wasn’t sure what to call him. Paramour? Lover? Suitor? Beau? Whatever the word, Oliver was a sweet fellow who made Marcus happy.
Oliver pulled a brushed silver hip flask from inside his jacket, unscrewed the top, and handed it to her. “I call it the Gwentini! Champagne, gin, and lemon juice, which we’ll serve in a martini glass. Ice optional.”
It was bubbly and lemony, and packed a wallop.
“By about nine o’clock, the glass will be optional, too.” Kathryn tilted her head toward Gwendolyn’s back door. “I’m dying to see what you’ve done with the place.”
Gwendolyn led her friends through the back room and ushered them into the salon.
She’d had the walls painted in mottled crème tinged with pink and trimmed in dark turquoise with matching chintz curtains to soften the hard edges, then carpeted the place in deep plum. Her counter was on the right and a full-length tri-fold mirror stood on the left. Overhead, the pale lavender glass light fixtures held a hint of pink—her years at Bullocks Wilshire had taught her plenty about the importance of great lighting.
“Oh, Gwennie!” Kathryn pressed her hands together. “It’s perfect! And the sign? Can we see it?”
“Not until the unveiling. Did you see it when you drove in? Tangerine to match my scarf—OH!!” Gwendolyn’s hand shot to her neck. “My lucky scarf! Where is it?”
Ordinarily, she wasn’t inclined to superstition, but she’d lent that scarf to Edith Head on the day Howard Hughes flew his Spruce Goose, and when Edith returned it to her at the Garden of Allah, she saw Gwendolyn’s portrait and told her it could be worth a small fortune. Gwendolyn had been wearing that same scarf when she learned what the painting fetched at auction, and was wearing it the day she found this store. Marcus had his lucky purple tie and Gwendolyn had her lucky tangerine scarf. She knew it was ridiculous, but the thought of opening without it sent her into a panic.
“We’ll help you look,” Oliver said.
“People will be arriving soon. I need you to set up the bar.” Gwendolyn pointed to her counter and let the boys get about the business of preparing for a crowd whose thirst was likely to be as deep as Sunset Boulevard was long.
“Where did you last see it?” Kathryn asked.
Gwendolyn dismissed the question with a wave. “Never mind. I’m being silly.”
“Nonsense. Surely we don’t need a whole hour to find a scarf.”
Gwendolyn followed Kathryn into the spacious back room, which could easily accommodate the several dressmakers she’d need if the couture side of her business succeeded the way she hoped. She’d enjoyed her time at Bullocks Wilshire, but as she looked at her dress forms, her worktable, her boxes of notions and bolts of material, she knew she could never go back.
The fleck of doubt she’d felt on the roof caught in her throat again when Kathryn grabbed her hands.
“Gwennie?” Kathryn fixed her with a penetrating look she usually saved for her Hollywood Reporter interviews with recalcitrant movie stars with secrets they’d rather not share. “I want to tell you how proud I am of you before things get crazy.”
Gwendolyn blinked away unexpected tears. “You mean ‘drunk’?”
“You came here with nothing but moxie and talent—”
“You mean my acting talent?”
“Your lack of acting talent made room for your real one.” Kathryn squeezed her hands. “And now you’re about to open your own store! On the Sunset Strip! And it’s gorgeous! I couldn’t be more thrilled for you.”
Marcus appeared in the doorway, waving her silk scarf. “We found this under your counter.”
“Thank you!” Gwendolyn wound it around her neck, draping the ends on either side of her right shoulder.
“So these Gwentinis you mentioned,” Gwendolyn said, “when do I get to taste one?”
* * *
Gwendolyn and Kathryn, Marcus and Oliver had scarcely finished their first cocktail when Gwendolyn’s neighbor Bertie Kreuger burst through the door. Bertie was not the type to doll herself up, so Gwendolyn was touched to see she’d put some effort into taming her unruly hair with a dozen pins clustered around the back of her head. She’d even squeezed into a pair of patent leather mules. For someone who spent the day on her feet, Gwendolyn knew what a sacrifice this was.
Marcus’ sister, Doris, trailed behind Bertie and held the door for Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who were back in town to pen a remake of Ernst Lubitch’s The Shop Around the Corner for MGM. Gwendolyn had missed chatting with Frances and Albert around the Garden, and she was pleased to see them.
More people showed up: neighbors and their boyfriends; her boss from Bullocks, even Chuck the bartender from her long-gone days as the Cocoanut Grove’s cigarette girl. Before she knew it, her store was crowded with smiling faces and fizzy laughter, but the special guest she’d been hoping for failed to show.
Kathryn nudged her. “Expecting someone else?”
“You keep looking at the door.”
“No, no,” Gwendolyn said. “I was just hoping—never mind.” She clapped her hands several times. “Outside! Outside!” She herded everyone toward the sidewalk and arranged them in a semi-circle around her front door.
“Wait! I don’t want to miss this bit!”
Dorothy Parker was tottering up Sunset from the direction of the Chateau Marmont, waving a white lace handkerchief. She was back in Hollywood to adapt Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan for Twentieth Century-Fox. Gwendolyn thought Dottie was brave to take on Wilde, but if anybody could pull it off, Dottie could.
Oliver slipped a Gwentini into Dottie’s hand as Gwendolyn cast around one more time. The face she wanted most to see was still absent.
“Welcome, everybody! This is a big day for me—” an outburst of cheering forced her to pause “—and whether this store of mine is a resounding success or an embarrassing floperoo, I want you to know that your being here means the world to me.”
To raucous applause, she yanked on the green ribbon she’d sewn to the tangerine cotton covering her sign. Cecil B. DeMille himself couldn’t have orchestrated a more picturesque puff of wind to billow beneath the curtain and send it fluttering to the sidewalk.
Modiste & Couturier
Fashion for All Occasions
She’d been thinking about this sign for so long that to see it like this was overwhelming.
The evening flew by in a montage of roaring laughter, air kisses, and increasingly slurry toasts. A woolly haze of contentment blurred Gwendolyn’s edges until Marcus gripped her elbow and directed his eyes toward the front of the store. The trim figure in a suit of midnight blue was barely over five feet tall, and yet seemed to fill the doorway like a bulldozer.
Marcus slid two fresh Gwentinis into her hands and she elbowed her way through the crowd toward Edith Head.
Gwendolyn didn’t need approval from one of Hollywood’s leading costume designers, or her blessing, but it sure went a long way towards dissolving Gwendolyn’s qualms that she might have blown all her dough on an unfeasible pipe dream.
Gwendolyn and Edith pressed cheeks.
“My dear!” Edith murmured into her cocktail, “I’m so frightfully impressed.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Sorry to be so late. I got caught up with William Travilla over at Warner’s. They’ve got him designing ballet costumes for an Errol Flynn/Ida Lupino picture.” Edith read Gwendolyn’s thoughts. “I know! So incongruous! He was having trouble with the designs and sent me an SOS this afternoon. That’s when we heard about Leilah.”
“What about Leilah?”
To her left, Gwendolyn smelled Kathryn’s gardenia perfume. The animated chatter around them broke off and everyone turned to look at Edith. Leilah O’Roarke was the wife of the head of security at Warners, but more importantly, she ran a trio of swanky brothels up in the Hollywood Hills.
Edith knocked back the rest of her Gwentini. “She’s been arrested! For pandering!”
The crowd gave a collective gasp. Marcus’ sister piped up. “What’s pandering?”
“It’s the legal term the police use when they arrest prostitutes, pimps, madams, and owners of bordellos.”
“So it’s finally caught up with her?” someone said wistfully.
“Big deal,” somebody else put in. “With her connections, she’ll be out before we stagger home from this shindig.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Edith replied. “She was arrested at dawn this morning and she’s still behind bars. That means even her husband’s LAPD connections haven’t been able to spring her. Everyone at Warners is speculating that they must really have the goods.”
Kathryn looked at Gwendolyn out the corner of her eye. “Maybe pandering is just a cover.”
What most people didn’t know—Edith Head included—was that Leilah O’Roarke and her husband were also behind a shady land grab around the newly minted mobster-ruled playground, Las Vegas. Gwendolyn’s ex-boyfriend discovered the scheme and became so frightened that he ran away to Mexico. Which was all very well for Linc, but not so reassuring for anyone who had done business with Leilah the way Gwendolyn had—legitimate and otherwise.
“So what do you think?” Gwendolyn asked.
Edith blinked knowingly. “I think that anyone with even so much as a passing acquaintance with Leilah O’Roarke needs to watch out. If she goes down, you can be sure she’ll take as many chumps as she can with her.”
Twisted Boulevard is due for release November 2016
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I was recently featured in the Local Author Spotlight series run by the Los Angeles Public Library, in which they focus on L.A.-based authors. You can read the interview HERE.
A sampling of recent reviews for Martin Turnbull’s
Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels:
The Garden on Sunset: “My intention was to order a true history of the Garden of Allah hotel. Since there was no other new book to read I went forward, fully intending to take up some of my daily reading time, then give the book away. I was blown away! My reaction was completely unexpected. This book was great; kept me glued to the pages. After writing this review I’m going to see what else Martin Turnbull has to offer. If, like me, you like reading about old Hollywood and you’re not much of a fiction fan, I highly recommend you try this book anyway. I’m not a convert to fiction, but am to Martin Turnbull.”
Citizen Hollywood: “Very well written and very hard to put down. I have been buying this series one after the other. Reading from cover to cover and really enjoying the feel of them all. I live 50 miles from Hollywood and am like the rest of the world fascinated with it. This is even better. These are the stars I seen in movies growing up in black and white, when glamour did not need color.”
Reds in the Beds: “I’m no slouch when it comes to Hollywood history and Mr. Turnbull has an uncanny knack for intertwining his three fictional leads with all the characters and red-letter and events of old Hollywood. And they always seem to dovetail flawlessly. The man has done his homework.”