Eleven years ago when I was building the website for our Disney memorabilia business–www.FantasiesComeTrue.com–I, quite literally, started from scratch. I’d been a travel consultant for 18 years–what the hell did I know about building websites?
Enter: Websites For Dummies. I opened it up at page 1, did what they said, then turned to page 2, added to what I’d already done, turned to page 3, added some more, had a OH! I SEE! moment, turned to page 4 and continued like that until, hey presto, six months later, I’d built our website and launched it upon the world; or at least the corner of it where the Disney collectors huddle to compare their Pinocchios, Dopeys and Mickey Mouses.
Fast forward 11 years and I sat down to build my author website to find that the world of website building had changed dramatically. 95% of everything I knew about building a website was now redundant.
Enter: WordPress. For those of you who have never ventured down this path but think at some point you might need or want to, you’ll be faced with dozens and dozens of choices, options, and companies to go with. Most of the websites where you reserve your domain also offer you the option of building and hosting your website with them. And they probably do a very good job. I’m sure Google websites do a great job too.
But at the risk of sounding like a big ol’ lazybutt, I decided to go with what I already knew. I’ve used WordPress for this blog you’re reading so it seemed like a good idea to use them for my website as well. Why go to the hassle of embarking on yet another steep learning curve when you’ve already slid up and down one like Percy the Penguin during spring thaw?
So I went with WordPress and am very glad I did. You’re still on your own to figure things out (with the help of a member’s forum) but it’s actually not all that hard to work your way through. Some of it is, Hmm what happens if I click this box? Oh! That happens. Not what I was hoping it’d do but good to keep in mind. After three weeks of that, I’m nearly finished.
Self-publishing your book is all very well but once you’ve burned through the interest, generosity, patience, and support of your family, neighbors, friends, Facebook friends, friends of Facebook friends, and the strange Croatian lady who runs the mini market two blocks down, how is the rest of the world going to find you? The market for my novels is any one who’s interested in old movies, Hollywood, Hollywood history, L.A. history, movie stars, and movie studios. (And I ask you: who isn’t interested in that? Apparently all 45 literary agents I approached…but let’s not dwell on the past…)
So, I cleverly figured, if people are interested in the golden years of Hollywood, they might jump onto Google and search on words like Hollywood… MGM… Garbo… Cukor… Garland… Gable… Gone With The Wind… Crawford… Paramount… Technicolor… Louis B. Mayer… David O. Selznick… Warner Bros… Jazz Singer…
So, I cleverly figured, if I built a website which contained not only just those words but information about them, then Google would find it and return my site to anyone searching on them et voila! They’ve found me!
Therefore what I’ve done is build a site that not only contains information about my novels, but also information about the history of Hollywood.
For the first year of work on these novels all I did was read and read and read: historical accounts, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, photo collections, newspaper articles (every article ever published in the Los Angeles Times is available and searchable online…thank you Los Angeles Public Library!) As I read, I made tons of notes. Out of those notes came ideas. Out of those ideas came an outline. And out of the outline has come the novels. But I needed a way to keep track of the information I was reading about so I started two files:
In order to weave my fictional story around actual events, I needed to know what happened, and when, and how, and who it affected, and what resulted from it. As far as I’m concerned, my characters were real people living in Los Angeles from the 1920s to the 1950s and I need to know about the sorts of things they read about in their morning paper. So I started building a timeline which kept track of what happened when, not only in Hollywood and the movie business, but in the U.S. and the world at large. It ended up being quite a file and have now added it to my website.
I wanted to set some of my scenes in the places where Hollywood people met, flirted, argued, dined, got drunk, tried not to get drunk, broke up, made up, beat hasty retreats and made glamorous entrances. I wanted my scenes to feel authentic so I started building a file detailing all the different restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs (in pre-television days, nightclubs were a huge part of the social scene), dance halls, hotels, apartment buildings, drive-ins, soda fountains and theaters. My books span 32 years over which time these places changed hands and names and styles and cuisines so I needed to know, at any given date, what the joint was called and what sort of place it was. I ended up with another large file–complete with pictures whenever I could find them–which I have also added to the website.
By the way, my favorite place is the Zulu Hut which was on Ventura Boulevard in Universal City in the 1920s. It served corn pones (cornmeal bread baked or fried on a griddle), squab and fried chicken in thatched huts. The waiters there actually wore black-face…! It was in a time when white people painting their faces black for purposes of entertainment was perfectly acceptable so I guess nobody back then thought anything about it. They were, after all, dining in a place called the Zulu Hut…oookaaay…
I’m now almost done but before I launch it officially, I’m looking for some feedback. If you have a chance, could I ask you to go to the link below and check out my site and let me know what you think.
Do you like it?
The color choice? (I’m going for a muted, sepia-toned sort of look.)
The lay out?
Do you find anything misleading? Confusing? Objectionable?
Do you see any typos?
Any feedback you’d like to take the time to give (positive, negative, or anything in between) would be very much appreciated. I’m all ears!