Announcing an exciting discovery of costumes and trunks once owned by Alla Nazimova

Once upon a time…there was a great dramatic actress by the name of Alla Nazimova. She took Broadway by storm in the 1910s, earning a well-deserved reputation as being one of the great interpreters of Ibsen. Inevitably, Hollywood called, waving a huge contract at her–reputedly worth $13,000 a week–luring her westward. Madame Nazimova heeded the call, and at first she was very successful. But in time she saw the real money was to be made in producing movies, so she set up her own production company. However she found that producing a financially successful movie was harder than it looked. She made two high profile movies — Camille (1921) and Salome (1923) — but they both flopped so badly, Nazimova was all washed up in the movies and she returned to the stage.

Once upon another, much later time…I came across Alla Nazimova when I started doing research for my novels set around the Garden of Allah Hotel built around what was once Nazimova’s movie star mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Hardly any of her films are now available, and ironically, the only two viewable online are the two that sunk her financially, Camille and Salome.

It was Salome that particularly caught my eye. It’s years ahead of its time, especially in terms of production design, sets and costumes. It’s far-out stuff today, let alone to the audiences of the early 1920s, and it’s no great mystery why the expensive film flopped.

And what particularly caught my eye in Salome was the striking headdress she wore: a wig of short dreadlocks topped with beads made out of some sort of luminous material designed to reflect the light. Or perhaps glow in the dark.

salome nazimova 3 salome nazimova 2 salome nazimova 1But Salome was made in 1923 and by the time I discovered her (around 2005) Alla Nazimova’s name and career had all but completely faded from public consciousness. But I continued to research her and admire her for her accomplishments.

I started publishing my Garden of Allah novels, and created my Facebook page, and this blog. Eventually my path led me to Jon Ponder and his website, Playground to the Stars, which covers the history of the Sunset Strip. We discovered in each other a mutual admiration for “Madame” (as she liked to be called) which led to our establishing the Alla Nazimova Society dedicated to preserving and promoting the memory of an unjustly forgotten woman.

We launched the Society in 2013, a full 90 years after the release of Salome, and as much as we wished and hoped and prayed we’d somehow somewhere find artifacts associated with her, we knew the chances were slim-next-to-nothing-okay-we’ll-admit-it-virtually zero-just-ain’t-never-gonna-happen.

Yeah. Well. So much for ‘never’…

I should have learned my lesson back in October 2013 when Jon and I tracked down something I never thought I had a hope in Hades of seeing: the scale model of the Garden of Allah Hotel built after the hotel’s demolition in 1959 and displayed in the mini-mall bank that replaced it (see my blog post here).

In the Fall of 2014, the Alla Nazimova Society was contacted by a Jack Raines, from Columbus, Georgia. He wrote to say that his family was cleaning out his grandmother’s house and came across five steamer traveling trunks, each with the name “NAZIMOVA” stenciled across them.

“What’s in them?” we asked.

He said that they hadn’t opened any of the trunks yet. They just saw the unusual name on the top, googled it and found us.

“Can you open one of the trunks and send us some photos of whatever you find inside?” we asked, now getting a teensy bit excited.

So he and his family did that, took some photographs of the contents, and sent them to us.

We opened the files and just about fainted. The very first one we looked at was this:

nazimova salome wigIn the Nazimova world, this is akin to finding another pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Charles Foster Kane’s sled, Rosebud. If anybody had ever asked me, “If you could have just one of any of Alla’s possessions, costumes, props, or memorabilia, what would it be?” I wouldn’t have even hesitated to reply: “The beaded headdress from her 1923 production of Salome.” But never–NEVER–did it occur to me that it could possibly–POSSIBLY–still exist. Let alone in a forgotten traveling trunk stored in a backyard shed in Georgia.

As it happened, four of the five trunks were empty, but one of them was filled with all sorts of costumes and clothes which once belonged to Alla Nazimova. They were packed away by Nazimova’s long-term partner, Glesca Marshall, and taken with her to Columbus, GA when Glesca moved in with her new partner, Emily Woodruff, a Columbus native and relative of Coca-Cola Company president, Robert W. Woodruff.

So the lesson here is: never–BUT NEVER–assume anything is lost forever. I never thought I’d find the Garden of Allah model, and I certainly never thought Nazimova’s most iconic costume would rise to the surface. Never give up hope, and never assume that the one thing you’d sell your soul to find again isn’t hidden away in a forgotten 100-year-old steamer trunk down in the back yard of a nice house once owned by the grandmother of an inquisitive college student from a town you’ve never heard of sitting on the western border of a state you’ve never been to.

The Alla Nazimova Society has put together a complete inventory of the contents of the Nazimova trunks the Raines family discovered. You can view (and download) the inventory: Click Here for PDF.


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Announcing the release of Book Four of Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels: SEARCHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS

Searchlights and Shadows (Book 4 - Garden of Allah novels) Cover

“Searchlights and Shadows”
by Martin Turnbull
Book 4 in the Garden of Allah novels

I am very happy to announce that my next novel “Searchlights and Shadows”
is now available.

The story picks up in January of 1942, a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor.


At the dawn of 1942, the dark days of Pearl Harbor still loom over Los Angeles. America is now at war, and posters warn home-front Hollywoodites that loose lips sink ships.

Wartime propaganda is the name of the game, and the studios are expected to conjure stories that galvanize the public for the war effort. Marcus Adler is an MGM screenwriter whose latest movie was stolen out from under his whiskey glass, and he’s determined it won’t happen again. He comes up with a sure-fire hit, but his chance to triumph is threatened by a vicious rumor: “Marcus Adler is a goddamned Commie.”

Gwendolyn Brick is the handiest gal with a needle this side of Edith Head. After losing her job at the Cocoanut Grove, she dreams of opening her own dress store. But banks don’t make loans to single girls. However, wartime in L.A. opens the door to an opportunity that will rake in the bucks. But will it be worth the trouble if it drags her back into the orbit of Bugsy Siegel?

At the outbreak of war, the Hollywood Reporter’s circulation starts to shrink like a food rations coupon book. Its lead columnist, Kathryn Massey, realizes she can no longer ignore the obvious: her boss, Billy Wilkerson, is gambling away his fortune—and her future. Could their very survival depend on a place nobody’s heard of called Las Vegas?

In the city of searchlights, suspicions can lurk behind every shadow.


The first chapter is available to read on my website: CHAPTER ONE

Martin Turnbull "Searchlights and Shadows"



Searchlights and Shadows is available in all formats:

Amazon (US) paperback

Amazon (US) Kindle ebook

Amazon (UK) paperback

Amazon (UK) Kindle ebook

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Apple iTunes ebook

Kobo ebook

Book Depository paperback (free worldwide shipping)

For more information see the  Searchlights and Shadows page of my website.


And when you have read it (and assuming, of course, that you enjoyed it), if you have the chance and inclination, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on whichever site you bought it.  Just give it the number of stars you think it deserves and perhaps mention a few of the things you liked about it. If you can, that’d be great, but if you’d prefer not to, that’s perfectly fine, too.


Have you read Book One yet?

It’s currently available for FREE in ebook format.

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull

The Garden on Sunset

is available in all formats

More information can be found on my website:


You can also follow me on

Facebook: gardenofallahnovels


And a personal note to everyone who have read The Garden on Sunset and The Trouble with Scarlett and Citizen Hollywood, and took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed it:
Your support has been wonderfully encouraging.
All the best,
Martin Turnbull



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The Week I Topped Three Different Amazon Top 100 Lists

A short while before I was ready to hand over my next novel – Searchlights and Shadowsto my editor, Meghan Pinson,  I sat down with her for a chat about the manuscript and the sorts of things I wanted her to focus on as she clawed her way through the story.

Once I’d checked every item on my Be Sure To Tell Meghan list, I thought we were done but then Meghan looked at me, all serious like, and said, “I think you should make your first novel free.”

I don’t know what expression registered on my face, but my head was saying, “She wants me to give away a book I spent a year researching and then another year writing. Is this woman high?” Come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what my expression was saying because Meghan went on to say that this tactic had proven highly successful for another client of hers, Pamela Fagan Hitchens who, like me, has a series of books out.

The principle is the same as what drug dealers use: make the first hit free and if the customer gets hooked, they’ll come back and readily pay for the next hit, and the one after that.

While I wasn’t sure I wanted to use the friendly neighborhood heroin dealer as my model, the idea made sense — especially as I’d have a new book coming out in a couple of months. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to shake things up from time to time. Try something new, do something bold. And if it didn’t work or resulted in unforeseen consequences, then I could put everything back the way it was and pretend it never happened.

And that’s what I did. I made The Garden on Sunset free in all ebook formats and then applied to BookBub to be their featured Historical Fiction author in one of the daily emails they send out alerting their huge subscriber list of free or discounted ebooks. A number of sites do what BookBub do, but they’re the biggest. Consequently, they’re the hardest to convince that they should include your book in one of their emails. But I guess I presented a strong case because they accepted me and said I’d be included in their email of December 9th, 2014.

So, December 9th dawned and at around 8am my BookBub email came in and there I was.

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull on BookBub, December 9, 2014I was really just doing this all on faith and had no idea what – if anything – would happen. Imagine my surprise when, a couple of hours later, I thought to check my rankings on Amazon, and found this:

"The Garden on Sunset" Amazon rankingsUmmm…WHAT THE…???

I did one of those long, slow, exaggerated blinks you only see people in the movies do because I couldn’t fathom that within four hours, I was now sitting at #1 on Amazon’s Free Historical Fiction Top 100, AND #1 on Amazon’s Free Contemporary Fiction Top 100, AND sat at #2 in the Free Kindle Store (meaning of all Kindle books being offered free, in any genre, The Garden on Sunset was the second most popular.)

I actually didn’t believe it – or more likely decided that I misunderstood what I was looking at so I clicked on each link.

Lo and behold:

#1 top 100 free Historical Fiction #1 top 100 free Contemporary Fiction #2 Kindle Store (09DEC2014)So then I wondered–actually first, I picked my jaw up off the floor and then I wondered– how many people had downloaded the book. Turns out that over 25,000 people had downloaded it, a number that would rise to over 35,000 over the course of the following week during which time I stayed at the top of those charts for more than three days.

It’s an understatement to say that I’m flabbergasted and gobsmacked at the reaction, as well as thrilled to see The Trouble with Scarlett and Citizen Hollywood sell in unprecedented numbers.

Who knew those drug dealers were so smart?



Searchlights and Shadows (Book 4 - Garden of Allah novels) Cover SEARCHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS” – due out January 2015


Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull - on Amazon


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The ebook version of “The Garden on Sunset” is now FREE.

In anticipation of the release of the fourth book in the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series

“Searchlights and Shadows”

SnS border 86KG

I am excited to announce that the ebook of the first novel in the series is now available for…

free 2


“The Garden on Sunset”


Right before talking pictures slug Tinsel Town in the jaw, a luminous silent screen star converts her private estate into the Garden of Allah Hotel. The lush grounds soon become a haven for Hollywood hopefuls to meet, drink, and revel through the night. George Cukor is in the pool, Tallulah Bankhead is at the bar, and Scott Fitzgerald is sneaking off to a bungalow with Sheilah Graham while Madame Alla Nazimova keeps watch behind her lace curtains. But the real story of the Garden of Allah begins with its first few residents, three kids on the brink of something big. They learn that nobody gets a free pass in Hollywood, but a room at the Garden on Sunset can get your foot in the door.


For more information on The Garden on Sunset, see my website.


So if you’ve been meaning to download this book and jump into Hollywood of the 1920s, or you’ve enjoyed the book and know someone who will like it too, the time is NOW. This is a limited-time offer — procrastination is not recommended!

This free ebook is available through these online retailers:

amazong logoBarnes-Noble-logokobo_logo_FINALPMS
iBookstore logosmashwords


And if you do download The Garden on Sunset, and you enjoy it, could I ask you to take the time to write a review on whichever website you downloaded it? Each review helps boost the profile of both a specific book and its author, so I’d really appreciate it. Just give it the number of stars you think it deserves and perhaps mention a few of the things you liked about it. That’d be great, thanks!


five covers anna~~oOo~~


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Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels – book 4: “Searchlights and Shadows” – blurb and first chapter

This morning I delivered the manuscript for my fourth Garden of Allah novel – “Searchlights and Shadows” – to my editor, Meghan Pinson at My Two Cents Editing. While Meghan spends November waving her editorial magic over it, I thought I’d give readers a taste of what is to come.

The fourth book is set during the sobering days of World War II, so the overall tone of this book takes a darker turn. After the attack on Pearl Harbor caught America unaware, and plunged her into war, life became very serious, very rapidly. The rosy, frothy future that Americans assumed was theirs could no longer be taken for granted. They now had to deal with getting drafted, ration books, victory gardens, kissing their loved ones goodbye, and waiting for their return. Factories were converted, women took their menfolk’s place on the assembly line, and in Los Angeles, the Hollywood studios were needed to make movies that helped sell the vital WE MUST WIN THIS WAR! message to the war-bond-buying public.

Which isn’t to say that “Searchlights and Shadows” is all gloom and doom. Opening a month after Pearl Harbor, the book continues to follow Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn in and around the Garden of Allah Hotel and wartime Hollywood, where the party didn’t end—it was now a whole different kind of party.

Searchlights and Shadows (Book 4 - Garden of Allah novels) Cover

To give you a better idea of what to expect, here is the book’s back cover blurb:


Book 4 in the Garden of Allah novels

by Martin Turnbull


At the dawn of 1942, the dark days of Pearl Harbor still loom over Los Angeles. America is now at war, and posters warn home-front Hollywoodites that loose lips sink ships.

Wartime propaganda is the name of the game, and the studios are expected to conjure stories that galvanize the public for the war effort. Marcus Adler is an MGM screenwriter whose latest movie was stolen out from under his whiskey glass, and he’s determined it won’t happen again. He comes up with a sure-fire hit, but his chance to triumph is threatened by a vicious rumor: “Marcus Adler is a goddamned Commie.”

Gwendolyn Brick is the handiest gal with a needle this side of Edith Head. After losing her job at the Cocoanut Grove, she dreams of opening her own dress store. But banks don’t make loans to single girls. However, wartime in L.A. opens the door to an opportunity that will rake in the bucks. But will it be worth the trouble if it drags her back into the orbit of Bugsy Siegel?

At the outbreak of war, the Hollywood Reporter’s circulation starts to shrink like a food rations coupon book. Its lead columnist, Kathryn Massey, realizes she can no longer ignore the obvious: her boss, Billy Wilkerson, is gambling away his fortune—and her future. Could their very survival depend on a place nobody’s heard of called Las Vegas?

In the city of searchlights, suspicions can lurk behind every shadow.

Searchlights and Shadows is the fourth in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.


And here now is the first chapter:



Gwendolyn Brick’s head throbbed like a son of a bitch, but she didn’t care. The traffic thundering along Sunset Boulevard bordered on painfully loud, and the midday sun shone so bright it hurt to open her eyes. But that didn’t bother her either. All that mattered was her brother’s telegram. She clutched it in her hand as she waited for him on the sidewalk outside the Garden of Allah Hotel.

“I can’t sit here anymore!” she declared, springing to her feet, but it made her head throb even harder and left her breath jagged, so she sat down again.

Kathryn yawned. “Aren’t hangovers the worst?”

Gwendolyn had never been much of a drinker—which made her a rare bird at the Garden of Allah Hotel—until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Her brother, Monty, was stationed there, and the navy had listed him missing in action. As the grim days that followed blurred into wretched weeks, Gwendolyn made up for lost time by downing whatever booze lay at hand. At the Garden, there was always something within reach: champagne, gin, punch, brandy, martinis, daiquiris, manhattans. She kept it up through a dismal New Year’s Eve, but Western Union brought her bender to a halt.


Gwendolyn and Kathryn sat on the low brick fence next to the red and black pansies. Gwendolyn usually enjoyed their smoked-honey scent, but today the smell annoyed her. “Maybe they hit traffic?”

“It’s all of three minutes past twelve,” Kathryn said gently. “I’m sure he’ll be along real soon.”

They said nothing more until a black Cadillac with shiny chrome trim slowed to a stop opposite them. In the back seat, a young bride wrapped in a veil sat next to a handsome young man beaming in his army uniform.

“I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of that now,” Gwendolyn commented. “Guys asking their sweethearts to marry them before they ship out.” She watched the Cadillac head east into Hollywood. “Do you think either of us will be married before the war ends?”

Kathryn started to say something, but cut herself off. “Is that a jeep?”

A fatigue-green vehicle, roofless and doorless, bounced up the boulevard toward them. Two men in white sailor caps were up front, but that was all Gwendolyn could see. She clutched Kathryn’s arm as they got to their feet.

It wasn’t until the jeep came to a stop that Gwendolyn could be sure it was her darling, damaged Monty. She raced to the curb, unaware she was crying until Monty’s grinning face blurred and wobbled. “Oh, Monty! It really is you!”

His driver, a beefy Italian, jumped out with a pair of crutches in his hand. “Don’t even think of trying to help,” he told her. “Mister Independent don’t like that.”

It took all of Gwendolyn’s self control to let her brother climb out of the vehicle under his own steam. He took the crutches from his buddy, hooked them under his arms, and swung himself onto the sidewalk. “See?” he declared. “Almost good as new.”

The tendrils of Gwendolyn’s hangover unfurled. She felt lighthearted and clearheaded as she wrapped her arms around Monty, crutches and all, and let her tears soak the shoulder of his dark blue uniform. He hugged her back as best he could. “Honest, sis, it ain’t that bad. These here crutches? Just for show, mainly. More like an insurance policy.”

She took a half step back and studied his face. A graze across his forehead was still healing, as well as some purple bruising down the left side of his neck. But most noticeable of all was a deep slash carving a line from under his right ear, across his cheek, to the middle of his chin.

Monty looked past Gwendolyn. “Hi, there. Kathryn, isn’t it?”

Gwendolyn broke her hold on Monty to let him shake hands with Kathryn and noticed that his ride had driven off. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go inside and—”

Monty pulled back. “I’ve been cooped up in that dang hospital for weeks. Can’t we go out?”

“Got somewhere in mind?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.”

“Anywhere you want—it’s your big day.”


* * *

The girls slid into a booth and watched Monty pitch himself unaided onto the seat opposite them.

“I know we told you anywhere,” Gwendolyn said. “But—here?”

C.C. Brown’s ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard was just down from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and was famous for inventing the hot fudge sundae. Last time they were there, Monty confronted a guy who was bothering Gwendolyn. It would have been gallant, had it been anybody but Bugsy Siegel. Monty neither knew nor cared who that was, but Gwendolyn and Kathryn did, and so did their friend Marcus. They’d fled out of Brown’s with their hearts in their throats and hadn’t been back since.

“Hey!” Monty swiped a hand through the air. “That meatball left you alone, didn’t he?”

Siegel had eventually taken the hint, not because of anything Monty did that day, but Gwendolyn let her brother think he’d come to her rescue.

After they ordered a round of sundaes and coffees, Gwendolyn faced her brother. “Your telegram said you got banged up, so I’ve been picturing the worst. You seem to be mobile.” She flickered her eyes toward his crutches. “When you pulled up—”

He laid a hand on top of hers. “Sis, I’m okay,” he said quietly. “I won’t lie, it was touch and go for a while. There was a serious infection and—ah, skip it. You don’t want to hear about all that.”

“But I do,” Gwendolyn protested. “All I got was one lousy telegram. Honestly, Monty, you could have taken the time to scribble a note, just to let me know.”

“If I’d been conscious, sure I could’ve written you. Maybe even called.”

“Not conscious?” Kathryn butted in. “How serious was the infection?”

“There was talk of losing a leg—”

“MONTY!” Gwendolyn squeezed her brother’s hand.

“—but it didn’t come to that. Once they got me stateside, the quacks down there in Long Beach tried something else. It worked and I’ll be as good as new.” He shrugged away the rest of his story.

“I bet it was mayhem after the attack, huh?” Kathryn asked.

He flinched. “I ain’t got the words to describe what it was like. Destruction on that kind of scale,” he shook his head slowly, “it’s like nothing you can imagine. The noise! You shoulda heard it. On second thoughts, nobody should have to hear them sounds.”

Gwendolyn leaned on her elbows. “I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. I’m surprised you’ve held onto your sanity.”

Monty started to chuckle.

“What’s so funny?”

He laid down his spoon and grinned at her. “I thought I was going to be able to get away with it, but I guess not.”

“Meaning . . .?”

He took suspiciously long to reply. “I was—er, when the Japs hit, I was in the brig.”

“In jail?”

“I had a two-day liberty pass, so I tied one on. Got into a bar brawl with some other seadogs. I don’t recall much of anything after about twenty-two hundred hours, but someone told me the MPs arrived and I took them on, too. Landed in the brig sometime before midnight. The first thing I knew of the attack was when the brick wall of my cell started crumbling and the tin roof pinned me to the bunk.”

The waitress arrived holding sundaes piled high with vanilla ice cream, smothered with hot fudge and crushed peanuts, and crowned with a cherry. Monty dug in, cramming as much as he could into his mouth.

Gwendolyn shook her head. “Oh, Monty. The things I’ve been imagining.”

He pointed his chocolatey spoon at her. “That drunken bar brawl saved my life. If I was sober and awake that morning, I’d have been supervising hull maintenance on the Arizona.”

A thousand soldiers had lost their lives on that battleship, which now lay shattered and ruined at the bottom of the harbor.

They ate their sundaes in silence until Monty said, “Truth is, I’m ashamed I wasn’t with my buddies. That two-day drunk may’ve saved my life, but it’s wrecked my pride.” His sky-blue eyes lost their focus for a long moment. “Can we just leave it at that?”

“Mo-Mo, I’m so sorry—”

“How’s about you, Googie? Did you get your job back at the Cocoanut Grove?”

“Oh heavens, no. I’d been slinging tobacco around that place too long. I need something new.”

“Like what?”

Gwendolyn watched an old guy in gray overalls paste a “For Lease” poster to the front window of an empty store across Hollywood Boulevard. “All I’ve done is sell cigars and cigarettes since I got to LA. I don’t know what else I’m good at.”

Kathryn’s burst of gunfire laughter took Gwendolyn by surprise. “What else you’re good at?” she asked. “Are you kidding?”


“You’re the best damn seamstress I know.” She turned to Monty. “You should see the dresses she makes for me. I get compliments everywhere I go.” She slapped Gwendolyn’s wrist. “If the studios knew what you were capable of, they would be falling all over themselves.”

Gwendolyn resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose. Between the cattle calls, her disastrous screen test for Gone with the Wind, and her two so-called big breaks at A-list movies, she hadn’t had the best luck with the studios. They were the last place she wanted to work.

She scooped up the last of her sundae and slipped it into her mouth. The warm fudge was so thick and gooey it was almost chewable. Her eyes drifted back to the empty store across the street. The early afternoon sun shone over the roof of C.C. Brown’s and directly onto the spacious display window. It wasn’t a large store, but it was opposite Grauman’s and three doors down from the Roosevelt Hotel, which was a great location.

Best of all, it was available.


Searchlights and Shadows” by Martin Turnbull is due for release January 2014


For tons of photos and information about the places and people mentioned in the Garden of Allah novels, visit Martin Turnbull on Facebook.


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The Garden of Allah novels – Book 4 – Title and Cover art reveal

I am very happy to announce the title of the 4th book in my Garden of Allah series:


And just yesterday, I received the artwork for the cover:

Searchlights and Shadows (Book 4 - Garden of Allah novels) Cover Artwork by Daniel Yeager at Nu-Image Design


The book is due for release January 2015. Meanwhile, watch this space for the official back cover blurb and first chapter, or — even better — sign up to the Garden of Allah novels mailing list and be among the first to read it!


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Martin joins the Great Literary Blog Hop.

I was recently approached by editor/author Caroline Kaiser to participate in the Great Literary Blog Hop.

As part of the blog hop, I’m required to answer four specific questions about my work. At the end, I’ll provide links to the blogs of some writers who are taking up the challenge to continue the hop. So here we go!

  1. What are you working on/writing?

I am currently at work on the 4th book in my series of historical novels set in and around the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Boulevard from 1927 to 1959. My three protagonists (Marcus, an MGM screenwriter; Kathryn, a gossip columnist for the Hollywood Reporter; and Gwendolyn, an aspiring actress) are tenants of the residential Garden of Allah and we follow their lives as the golden years of Hollywood unfold around them.

The first three books take us from the opening night party of the Garden of Allah in early 1927, to December 1941, the eve of WWII. The 4th book follows Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn through life on the Hollywood home front during the dark days of WWII.

I’ve finished the latest draft and yesterday, I sent the manuscript off to six advance readers to get their feedback. I’ve got until the start of November to fiddle and tweak it (or major-overhaul it, depending on my readers’ feedback…) On November 1st, I’ll be handing it over to my kick-ass editor, Meghan Pinson.

  1. How does your work/writing differ from others in its genre?

As a writer you’re always hearing the (sensible) advice: Read deeply in your genre. So when I started work on this series, I Googled and Amazoned but found very few books in my genre. Most books I came across that are set during Hollywood’s golden years are murder mysteries or have a supernatural element, often featuring the ghosts of long-dead silent screen stars.

My work differs from the few non-mystery/non-supernatural Hollywood novels largely because the other books tend to make up studio names, like “Stupendous Pictures” and movie moguls “Lionel B. Mahr.” I went the opposite way with my books. The real-life Garden of Allah claimed many famous names among its residents: Ginger Rogers, Bogie and Bacall, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, Rachmaninoff, Robert Benchley, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, and many others. To my mind, the whole point about writing a series of novels set at the Garden of Allah was the opportunity to have all these famous people – and so many, many more – come in and out of the narrative. Life at the Garden of Allah (and by extension Hollywood at large) was all about getting drunk with Tallulah Bankhead, flirting with Errol Flynn, playing charades with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. Why make up fake stars and fake studios and fake moguls when the real thing was so much more interesting, and complex?

3. Why do you write what you do?

I had previously written three novels, and while they were each better than the one before, none of them were good enough to publish, so I was casting around for a zinger of an idea. I happened upon an online article about the Garden of Allah Hotel and on reading about the caliber of people who stayed there, (for a full list, go here) I was intrigued and the idea of telling the story of the history of Hollywood through the eyes of its residents was born. It drew together my love of history, especially both Hollywood and Los Angeles history, fiction, old movies, architecture, and photography.

  1. How does your writing process work?

I start with an outline, which is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what happens, who’s involved, where, when, what’s at stake or at risk. I’ll throw in reminders of what was happening historically at the time, ideas for songs playing on the radio in the background, snatches of dialogue.

Once that’s done, I go back to the start and write each chapter in chronological order. This is the “chuck in everything” draft. I include every detail, color, sound, smell, feeling, background, foreground, lots of adjectives, interjections, physical bits, actions and reactions. I’m throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick. The next draft is when I carve out the obvious fat, and the draft after that, I get really cruel and cut out as much excess as I can. I shorten dialogue, abbreviate description, cut out extraneous action or perhaps strands of plot or character development I was hoping to cultivate but didn’t, or saw it wasn’t necessary.

Once I’ve cut and reshaped as much as I can, I give the manuscript to my advance readers. By this stage, I’ve been working on the book for 7 or 8 months and have completely lost my objectivity. The work now needs new eyes to tell me if the plot holds together, do the character arcs ring true, am I repeating myself. I then sort through that feedback, tweaking and fiddling, correcting and improving. Then, when it’s as good as I can possibly get it, I hand it over to Meghan who will take it to the next level.

Once I’ve finished making the editing adjustments Meghan has suggested, I get my computer to read the whole thing out loud to me – there is something about hearing your work read out loud to you that gives you distance – just in case there’s any last minute tweaking I want to do. Then I give it to my partner, Bob – aka The World’s Best Proof Reader – who always catches the errors that the rest of us have somehow managed to miss.

And once I’ve made those corrections, I am ready to publish…which is a whole other (exhausting and exacting) process.


So now I’ll hand it over to my fellow hoppers:

Debra Ann Pawlak writes from southeastern Michigan. Her latest book, Bringing Up Oscar, The Men and Women Who Founded the Academy, is available online in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio versions. Her work has also appeared in various publications such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, Scoliosis Quarterly, Aviation History, Pennsylvania Heritage, The Writer and Michigan History Magazines. To learn more, please visit her website at  or her Facebook page (Hollywood: Tales from Tinsel Town). You can follow her on Twitter too: @dapwriter.

Debra’s blog


Mark B. Perry is an Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning writer-producer whose credits include Revenge, Brothers & Sisters, Pasadena, Party of Five, Law & Order, Picket Fences, Northern Exposure, and The Wonder Years. As a third grader, he knew he wanted to become a writer thanks to The Dick Van Dyke Show, and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies sparked his life-long love of classic Hollywood. In seventh grade, he wrote a stage sequel to Gone With The Wind which he produced, directed, and played Rhett Butler. City of Whores is his debut novel.

Mark’s blog


By age eight, Cat Robson had been around the US three times, journal in hand. She let her parents drive. Twelve years later, she had studied throughout Europe and discovered she wanted to be a writer. Her motley history as an actress, temp, sculptor, film editor, book promoter, student of Depth Psychology and entrepreneur, has proven as much of an asset as a checkered past. Fed on classic cinema and hard-boiled detective fiction, she brings to her debut noir novels of the Hollywood blacklist, The Mocambo Affair and its sequel Chamber of Liars, the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood. A dystopian novel, The Salamandrine Fires, and Keeping Mum, a novel about ESP, are in the works.

Cat’s blog


four covers anna

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