As I mentioned almost a year ago, I’m a fan of the blogger and screenwriter who also lives in my hometown, Vickie Lester. Her Beguiling Hollywood site has become a regular haunt of mine. This year, she launched into something big not only for her site’s readership, but those looking for something good to pore over. Her first novel, It’s in His Kiss. With a scenario made for those of us who enjoy a good mystery, right along with a bit of Hollywood intrigue, sounds like the perfect summer novel to get into:
“Hollywood. The Dream Factory A camera-ready world of fantasy fulfilled, artifice and bone-deep glamour — or a place of dark reality, depthless closets, failed love, false prophets and untimely death. Anne Brown must find where the truth lies. Truth. Lies. It’s in his kiss. Vickie Lester has written the ultimate Hollywood insider murder-mystery with gasp-worthy plot twists and plenty of delicious, naughty moments…”
Vickie, who covers this unique company town of ours like few others — through her observations and the impressive pictures she shares — kindly gave me a chance to conduct my first author interview. Let’s hope it’s not my last.
Q: “Right off the bat (who uses this idiom anymore? Don’t answer that) why “It’s in His Kiss” as a title?”
A: “There’s a lot of information passed between two people when they kiss…but, that’s not the reason for the title.
When I was growing up I was the youngest of four kids. I think someone taught me how to use the stereo when I was five and I remember seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show (it was a huge deal in our house) when I was three. I don’t remember the performance, much. But I remember the anticipation and the excitement and how everyone became hushed when the TV was switched on.
A friend of mine’s mother was a backup singer for recording artists in the mid-sixties. I remember piles of albums and dancing the Twist, the Pony, and the Jerk—to The Supremes, Nancy Sinatra, The Ronettes, and Betty Everett—who sang the Shoop Shoop Song, on an album called It’s in His Kiss…”
Q: “I was secretly hoping Betty Everett’s cover hit, or even better Merry Clayton’s original cut, of “The Shoop Shoop Song” had something to do with it. Thank God, it wasn’t Cher’s ;-). Love the first line in the book. Had it come to you one day, or used it in one of your screenplays, and held on it for just this purpose?”
A: “Hold on, I have to grab the book and see what it is…
“There’s no mistaking death.” Got it!
The prologue was written after the first draft of the novel was completed and my agents started giving me notes. I wanted to set the stage; the corpse, the desert, the early hour. There’s a certain groove writers hit when the work just flows—I think it must be the same for painters, dancers, singers, maybe even mathematicians—unedited, creative, you set your own rhythm, and for me it’s one of the joys of writing. The line came out of the moment.”
Q: “Great, as it leads into a question that always interests me with authors. Are you an outliner (don’t worry, some of my best friends are) or do you let your creativity flow out onto the page without any rough idea where you’d like to take it?”
A: “I’m a spontaneous writer. I don’t outline. Usually I have a vague notion of where the story is going but, (my startling admission) I like to be surprised as I go. After everything’s tapped into the computer I start rewriting, there’s always a lot of rewriting. And during the final edit I went through passages and pages and read them aloud, it has to sound right, it has to hit that point where it sounds like a conversation between the author and the reader. At least that’s what I shoot for.”
Q: “I first came across your work via your blog, which is a regular stop for me now. Did your online writing have any affect on your work with the novel, or, vice versa?”
A: “The weblog is an interesting thing, I write daily, but it’s not the same as working on a novel because there is no narrative. I think of myself more of a curator of photos and bits of information in regards to my Internet presence.
The third gentleman listed in the novel’s acknowledgements, Robert Winter, gave me notes over a four month period. He was introduced to me through a friend I met on the blog—and his is probably the most influential voice, besides my own, in the finished book.
Robert and I had a great rapport, it is rare now (extremely rare) to have an editor as attentive and involved.”
Q: “In your bio, you stated your family came “…from Moscow and a London slum called Whitechapel.”, which has loads of literary connection just by their mention. Dostoyevsky and Arthur Conan Doyle, for starters. Were these or other authors an influence in your family or work life?”
A:”Mother’s side from Moscow, Father’s from London…
My mother’s father was a criminal attorney who read his kids Shakespeare’s plays in the evening (taking all the parts himself) because he didn’t want radio rotting their brains. Her mother was a librarian… As for Dostoevsky, my favorite of his works is a short story called, “A Novel in Nine Letters”, clever, funny, and all about how people use social networking (1840’s style) to hoodwink, elude, and jab at each other. It’s brilliant, and a departure from his more serious works.
Arthur Conan Doyle! I read every single Sherlock story around the age of twelve or thirteen. It’s funny, I can’t really remember the stories, except in the broadest strokes.
Both my parents were readers. My mother would explain texts that baffled me in High School. My father would read every book I brought home from the library. We talked books in the house, a lot. I remember bringing a friend home for Christmas when I was in college, and she cracked up at the dinner table saying she felt like she was in the middle of a Woody Allen movie (this was in the late seventies, before things got freaky for Mr. Allen.)
My husband is always encouraging me to use more pronouns and descriptors, or as calls it, “Complete sentences.” Probably the biggest influence on my writing style is the shorthand used in screenplays, I wrote three of them.”
Q: “No surprise to hear your parents were readers. Or that you all talked about the books you’ve read. The written word seems like something you’ve grown up closely with. What exactly got you into writing screenplays, though?” Books and screenplays can have quite a chasm separating them.”
A: “Misguided youth?
I’m not entirely joking. I worked in the film industry, everybody I knew worked on movies. We worked on low-budget films, sometimes with spectacularly bad scripts. I remember reading one opus that used every declension of “effulgent” possible in describing the light. Not only was this just personally annoying (it’s an ugly word) but it’s one of those words that has nothing to do with what you’ll see on the screen. My thought at the time was, “Well, I couldn’t do any worse…” It kind of frees you to try anything, and I did. I wrote my first screenplay at 28. When I went to meetings with producers one of the first questions they would ask was, “Is this based on a book?” The last screenplay I wrote, I remember very distinctly my agent’s comments, he said, “This is a novel. You should be writing novels.” I was so angry, it took me years to figure out he was right.”
Q: “Okay, let’s cut to the chase (I tell ‘ya, I have a million of ’em). Why write a Hollywood-insider murder mystery? Not that this sleepy little town of ours couldn’t use the excitement, heaven knows.”
A: “Why not? What’s funny is, while I was writing it I wasn’t thinking about the genre. I was thinking about the characters and their interactions. Before I wrote the novel I had a particularly unpleasant, but completely typical, experience with a script of mine that was in development for eighteen months. The producer was a well known actor, with a well known beard, and I think some of my irritation about the situation and how it played out must have seeped into the book. Is there any wonder I killed someone off, fictionally?”
Q: “Now you have me thinking of bearded actors! Did using an East Coast novelist as your protagonist offer you an interesting idea or contrasting perspective as she explored the doings in Hollywood and Palm Springs? I mean, besides our terrible weather and wonderful traffic?”
A: “I wanted Anne to be a fish out of water, even though her ties to Hollywood ran deep. I wanted her to have had the kind of upbringing that would have forced her to think, and get a job. Too many sons and daughters of prominent Hollywood people don’t have the skills to make it on their own because nothing in life has ever been challenging. I remember a whole tribe of college-aged kids who would take over their family homes in the desert (when it was so hot you couldn’t believe it and their parents wouldn’t have been seen dead there) and lie by the pool all day, and get toasted on various substances at night. Also, one of the weird things about growing up in Hollywood, is that at a certain point, natives begin to believe the myths. I wanted her to be able to see through all the concocted fantasies of Hollywood’s life into its heart.”
Q: “You certainly succeeded. Was there anything in the world of Hollywood and/or filmmaking you’ve experienced that helped prepare, or hindered, you for publishing your first novel?”
A: “Prepare, or hinder — whew! I think what took me so long to do this (self-publish) was an innate faith in the system, in the hierarchy: first you get an agent, then they find you a publisher, then everyone performs as contracted… (See, I believed the myths!)
Seriously, publishing is a world in transition, and the mighty arbiter of it all — is how we connect now through the Internet. Nobody knows exactly how it works, or how to control it. You can’t finesse it, you have to be true. In a certain way it’s hierarchy AND Hollywood busting.
Preparation-wise, I think my stick-to-it attitude (after the publishing deal was no longer) came from watching producers push a project for years on end, go into production, shut the picture down in pre-production, pick it back up, send it through development again, and sometimes they’d end up with a movie, and sometimes they wouldn’t.
I only had me to look out for, not a crew of one hundred, and the product was completely under my control. If I couldn’t get this novel out there that would have been very bad, indeed.”
Q: “Well, you’ve pulled it off! Given what you said about song and your book’s title, do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what?”
A: “Now you’re making me laugh. I DO listen to music when I write. Sometimes I have to turn the music off if it’s too danceable. When you get to be my age you pretty much listen to everything. Although when writing I steer towards classical, or American Standards, and away from Die Antwoord.”
Q: “Any plans in the near future to add another publishing avenue for your novel, like an audiobook? As an enthusiast for the audio medium, I think this would work well. Especially with a woman narrator delivering your words. I heard the clip of you reading a portion of your book.”
A: “I did learn something reading those two excerpts of the novel out loud, and that was to…slow…the…hell…down. Or at least enough to be intelligible. I know nothing about making recordings. I would have to get serious help (and hire an actress) to do an audiobook.”
Q: “I’m going to cheat (as in stealing) something from a good friend and book blogger I know. Jen Forbus over at Jen’s Book Thoughts. Something I’ve always found fascinating, and you’ll be glad to learn has nothing to do with Barbara Walters, or trees. Jen finishes her interviews by asking, “There’s a book call Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be your six-word memoir?””
A: “Okay, okay. Let me think about this.
‘Embittered screenwriter turned embittered novelist 😉.'”
Many thanks to Vickie Lester for putting up with my newbie attempt at an author interview. Have to admit this was a lot of fun, speaking for me anyways. You can catch Vickie over at her blog, Beguiling Hollywood. Her reading a snippet of the book can be found there, too. Her novel is available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.
Full disclosure: not one bit of compensation was had during the writing of this post. Dammit! The author did generously provide moi with an electronic copy and paperback of her novel for my interview preparation. But I was planning on getting a copy anyway, so there. No animals were harmed during the making of this movie.