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!
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.
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.
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
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 DebraAnnPawlak.com or her Facebook page (Hollywood: Tales from Tinsel Town). You can follow her on Twitter too: @dapwriter.
MARK B. PERRY
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.
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.