How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2

After learning oodles more about writing when I was in Santa Barbara, I headed out on the next part of my vacation.

Funny story: In one of the SB workshops (Ernie’s humor workshop), I read an excerpt from my second book where a silent movie actress has to ride an ostrich. This was a hit, but they wanted more detail. How would that ostrich farm smell? In particular, the poop? I told them I had no idea. How would I discover that? Turns out, Solvang, California is just up the road from Santa Barbara (through the Los Padres National Forest, but that’s another story…), and there’s an ostrich farm there.

So, off I set, in search of research tidbits to liven up my scene. You can actually spend $1.00 for a pan of food, and those guys polish it off PDQ. Peck. PECKPECKPECKPECK!! Until it’s all gone. Then they look at you in that funny sideways way they have, wondering where the rest of it is.

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One of my new friends at Ostrichland, USA

After Solvang, I headed for L.A. (with a stop in Oxnard for a Panera lunch and a Target visit). Yes, I really wanted to stop at one of the charming Danish-loooking cafes in Solvang, but I really wanted to make tracks south before rush hour. And yes, I know we have Target in Canada now, but it basically sucks, since the shelves are always empty, and I REALLY needed new underwear!

What was I up to in L.A.? Well, since I write about old Hollywood stars, how could I do that successfully unless I know about old Hollywood? Which streets are where? How visible is the Hollywood sign? And other questions I’d never know unless I saw this stuff up close.

Now, when I say OLD Hollywood, I mean OLD Hollywood. Even the ’40s are too late for me. I’m talking orange groves and The Ship Inn, Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties and heading down to Tijuana so you could drink legally. OLD old.

Friday evening, I knew the minute I checked in to my B & B (Hollywood B & B- Go see William and Nina. They’re great! Nina is an artist, and you will be amazed at the breadth of her work in that house, trust me) that I wanted to get to the Larry Edmunds’ Bookshop. It’s been a pilgrimage I’ve wanted to make for some time! How much money did I spend? OK, an obscene amount. But it was totally worth it. The nice guys there gave me a box to put all my books in. I took my box and looked around for vittles. Turns out Musso and Frank’s is almost directly across the street. If I was looking for an old-fashioned Hollywood experience, unpolluted by Spiderman movies, Kardashians, and Seared Ahi Tuna, I knew I couldn’t do any better. Despite people staring at me and my box, I took notes on the interior, ordered Shrimp Louis (does it get more California than that?) and mineral water, and contemplated my plans for the week.

My first day, Saturday, I needed to do research at the downtown library– old city directories and old newspaper microfilm. Plus, I managed to score a tiny blueprint of the Hall of Justice before its renovation, and information on California’s Wright Act, a piece of pre-Prohibition state legislation. Yay me!

Sunday, I saw a bit of downtown, including the Hotel Alex. Stupid me, though, I forgot the ballroom has been preserved, and I missed it. God, what an idiot I am. Grrrrr…. I pinpointed where an old bank would have been (demolished now), and where an old lawyer’s office would have been (also gone).

Monday, I had an appointment at the Margaret Herrick Library (affectionately referred to now as “Aunt Maggie’s– I can’t take credit for that). Managed to work the entire day and skipped lunch (stupid, I know). By the time I left, I was voracious! Wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Tuesday, it was back to Aunt Maggie’s for various reference needs. The librarian found me a great bio by Mary Astor where she talked about her adventures filming The Rough Riders in San Antonio. Perfect!

Wednesday, I was meeting Philip Mershon for his Felix in Hollywood tour. A terrific guy, with lots of insights on old Hollywood. I took him to lunch afterward, where we ate at Off Vine. Unbeknownst to me beforehand, it used to be Earl Carroll’s girlfriend Beryl’s place. They have photos of her on the walls. A beautiful old Craftsman. Try the Grand Marnier souffle! It’s dreamy!

Thursday was my Paramount VIP tour. I loved the history, and finding out which studios were around when. The neat part is that the pages are given tablets so they can play movie and TV clips, so you can see your current location in the clip. We saw the Paramount Theatre (with amazingly comfy chairs), where they do test screenings, and they use the lobby to film lots of stuff. Rizzoli and Isles was filming in “New York” while we there. We also got to see the archives, where old costumes, old jewelry, etc are stored. We had lunch outside at the studio under the trees.

I must have caused a lot of confusion. I had no “official passport” when I arrived. I had an email receipt for my ticket that I had printed. The guard at the gate said nothing about printing a passport, so I didn’t know I needed one.

But I saw those passports everyone else was carrying (which had a map of the studio, AND which I needed for research) and asked our page about them because I wanted the map. Some fellow tour members said “Here, you can just have ours.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” they said. “We don’t need it.”

Turns out, they actually ask for that passport when you leave through security. I hope they didn’t have too hard a time. Sorry folks! I blame the security guard on the morning shift.

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The ID culprit in front of the Bronson Gate

Friday, I visited the Hollywood Heritage Museum (also called the DeMille-Lasky Barn) on Highland (originally at Selma and Vine). SO glad I went! What a delightful little slice of history, with a copy of The Squaw Man playing on an endless loop, lots of neat artifacts, and Cecil B. DeMille’s old office made up much like it would have looked in the old days. Chatted quite a bit with Dave Bower, who was working that day, and is now pretty excited about my 2nd book. Now I just have to hope I can get the damned thing published soon! Also got an invitation to have a book release party there, which would be the most wonderful thing I could think of right now.

For food, I recommend takeout from Eat24. Wish we had it in Edmonton! On those nights where I was so exhausted I couldn’t even THINK about getting back out into L.A traffic and wanted something yummy. The Enchiladas Suizas from Gardens of Taxco were good, as were the Coconut Lamb Curry from Anar Indian Restaurant and the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce from Asakuma Rice (Heaven! WHY do Chinese people in Edmonton not know about this DISH?!! I’ve missed it!).

Also met a cousin at Canter’s Deli, another slice of history on Fairfax. Everybody’s eaten there. Everybody.  The Reubens are HUGE. Don’t count on finishing! Plus, they had me at 1 1/2 hours of free parking!

Stay tuned for more details about that ever-elusive 2nd book.

How I spent my Summer Vacation, Part 1

So I recently posted about my upcoming trip to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and now that I’ve had a chance to recuperate from that week, and the following one in Hollywood (doing research on a new book), I can post about my adventures!

On my drive up from LAX, I headed up the coast on the 1, passing Thelma Todd’s old place (thanks to Scott Michaels for the great website, findadeath.com).

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I wanted to stop for a moment to really appreciate the look of the joint, but I was on a mission, and was actually pretty tired already.

I was booked around the corner from the Hyatt in SB, at a little inn called the Parkside (also owned by the Hyatt, and a little cheaper). I was prepared to be mightily disappointed, since I’d wanted to book at the Hyatt, but surprisingly the Parkside was comfy, and only a short walk down the street. For someone who’d been trapped inside during a long cold Edmonton winter, the walk past lush bougainvillea, jacaranda trees overflowing with lilac blossoms, and oleander trees dripping white fronds everywhere was totally worth it every morning.

The first night I ordered room service (thank God, the Hyatt delivered, even to the Parkside!) and crashed.

The next day, registration began around noon-ish, so I made a jaunt into town, found a Panera for breakfast, and did a little shopping. Didn’t buy much, because I knew the tsunami of spending that would follow!

The first night at dinner, I was delighted to find two more ladies from Edmonton at my table! We spent the rest of the week hanging out and getting to know each other. I’m convinced that Lesley and I were separated at birth.

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New Edmonton friends Heidi and Lesley

I browsed around the hotel, tickled at its age. I have a scene in one of my WIPs where a writer has to come to Santa Barbara and speak to old Hollywood director Sidney Olcott and his wife, Valentine. This would be PERFECT. There were even some old photos that had been framed in the one common area of the hotel around 1930. I began framing the scene in my head and making notes about the interior.

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Sidney and Val

After entering a low ebb with my writing, debating about self-publishing after racking up oodles and oodles of rejections (more than you can imagine. Seriously), I was pleasantly surprised to see the reactions to my readings during the workshops.

The speakers were delightful, the ones I saw. I had to miss Caitlin Rother and Maile Meloy, but I was really glad I got to see Jane Smiley, Mark Childress, and Laura Moriarty.

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Jane Smiley

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Laura Moriarty

More later, but I did want to begin sharing some of my impressions of my amazing experience.

Less than a week!

Back in 1995, I bought a book at Borders when I was still merely dabbling in writing, The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction, by a fellow named Barnaby Conrad.

At the time I had no idea who he was, other than that he worked with the folks at this thing called the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

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I loved that book. I loved reading it and daydreaming about writing, the writing lifestyle, and visiting glamorous Santa Barbara. And as I’ve gotten older and learned more about it, I wanted to go even more.

In 2006, I visited my third cousins at their home near Montecito and loved it. But I so wanted to be able to go to the writers conference one day. Life got in the way of that for a while. But….flash forward a few years.

I have the most wonderful husband in the world. When it looked like we might not be able to buy a house this year, he knew I was bummed, and knew that an instant way of cheering me up would be to let me go to a writers conference.

When I began looking at what was available, I realized Santa Barbara was coming in June, and I couldn’t sign up fast enough! I’m incredibly sad that Mr. Conrad and Ray Bradbury, both longtime stalwarts there, have both passed away. But I’m still incredibly excited to be around other writers, agents, editors, and the staff.

I leave on Friday. Can’t wait to let you know what I learn!