As an author of historical fiction that focuses on life in and around Los Angeles and Hollywood during the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, one of my go-to research sites is, naturally enough, the Internet Movie Database. I spend much of my time on the parts of IMDB that are probably considered secondary: release dates, production companies, “Costumes by”, “Credited With”, Filming Locations, and trivia.
I’m sure all that information is listed in various books and reference texts but oh good lord! I’m very happy that I didn’t start writing my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels until after they invented the internet, and then, having invented it, charged ahead and put together the Internet Movie Database.
I probably jump on that site 10 to 20 times a day, checking and double-checking my historical facts, or stress-testing my latest “this actress wouldn’t have been cast by the director in that movie if the screenwriter hadn’t been neighbors with the producer who was once married to the cinematographer’s daughter” theory. So scrolling through the pages of IMDB is second nature to me now.
But to my mind, IMDB is where I go to look up other people, other careers, other biographical details. Not only are they other people, but they’re usually other dead people whose lives and careers happened before I was born, and whose accomplishments played out a generation or more before I had even heard of them, let alone started to write them into my books as characters.
So perhaps you can imagine my surprise / thrill / shock / gaping pie-hole when I saw for the first time:
Let’s rewind ten years back to when I came up with the idea to write a series of books telling the history of the golden years of Hollywood through the eyes of the people who lived at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Come to think of it, “came up with” doesn’t really describe what happened. It was more like the idea downloaded into my head, whole and complete.
I knew from the very start it would take nine books to tell the story (i.e. a trilogy of trilogies covering the 1930s, the 1940s, then the 1950s); that we would follow the lives of three fictional characters as they pursued success and love; and that they would inevitably interact with some of the legendary personalities that helped drive golden-era Hollywood to its peak.
I also could see that my idea had the makings of a great TV show. So I wasn’t altogether surprised when producers started to come a-knocking. And I was pleased to find that the one who persisted the longest – Tabrez Noorani – was as big a fan of this era as I was, and had the same vision for a translation to the screen as I did. And when we struck a deal, I knew that it would take a long time before anything came of it—if, in fact anything did. And if it did, it would inevitably find its way onto IMDB.
Nevertheless, I was still surprised—and a little bit taken aback—to find my name listed on the same site I visit countless times a day. It also makes the possibility of seeing my stories on the screen just that much more real. It also makes the possibility that one day I might get to walk through the reconstructed Garden of Allah Hotel set. And if that day does come, I might well need smelling salts because it’ll be like walking into one of my dreams.
In my last post – A Wonderland-esque road of unimagined marvels – I revealed the title, cover, and first chapter of Book 6 in the series. To those avid readers who are keen to know its progress, I just sent it off to my wonderful editor, Meghan Pinson at My Two Cents Editing. She’ll spent the next month or so fine-tuning, cutting, polishing, suggesting, YAY-ing and BLAH-ing, and otherwise slicing and dicing the manuscript.
You can find more about TWISTED BOULEVARD on my website. It is due for release November 2016.
So now that book 6 is in Meghan’s deft hands, it’s on to book 7, which I have already started work on. I thought perhaps you might like to see what these books look like on my computer, so I’m sharing here the first draft of the first paragraph of the first chapter:
When I showed this to a friend of mine, he said, “Oh? You work in green? That’s … rather … unexpected.” I realized that nobody had seen a raw manuscript of mine. As I explained to him, I write my books with a revolving point of view from three different main characters. To help keep me in the mind of the specific character whose chapter I’m currently working on, I color code them. With Marcus I work in purple, with Kathryn I work in green, and with Gwendolyn I work in orange. I find it helps keep me focused and “in character” which becomes especially helpful when I’m doing revisions and have to change something that only pertains to one specific character.
Of course, this is just a first draft. The final version might not start with this paragraph, or at the Pantages, or with Kathryn, or in March of 1951. But it does give you a taste of things to come…
I’ve read three terrific books lately that I think people who enjoy reading about the same era I write about will also enjoy. (Click on the image to link over to Amazon.)
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler – The lives of the people who live at the Garden of Allah overlapped with those who were a part of the Algonquin Round Table as well as the members of the Lost Generation. So any book that deals with these people gets my attention. “Z” is also probably the best novel I’ve read in the past few years. I loved it so much that I wrote a dorky fan email to the author…and she wrote back!
It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age by Anthony Slide – These are the edited diaries of screenwriter Charles Brackett as he worked in Hollywood from the early 1930s until he and Billy Wilder went their separate ways after making “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). Here is the entry for Nov 7th, 1939: “George Cukor took me to Don the Beachcomber, picking up Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier along the way. Other guests were Mr and Mrs Aldous Huxley, their niece, and Anita Loos. Found Mrs Huxley particularly charming.” The whole book is like that!
Such Mad Fun by Robin R Cutler – Robin Cutler is a writer/historian who has written a biography of her mother, who led a rather extraordinary life from Depression-era debutante balls in Manhattan, to being a screenwriter at MGM, and beyond. Robin sent me an ARC of the manuscript because her mother once stayed at the Garden of Allah, and Robin wanted to know what I thought. I loved her book! It turns out that Jane Hall lived a life not unlike one of the characters in my books, only for realsies!