Everywhere…there is Evil Under the Sun… (part of the Beach Party Blogathon)

Hey all! Today I’m participating in the Beach Party Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Kowabunga! Here’s my entry…a little gem that is completely underrated.

You know those art deco travel posters that are all the rage? The ones advertising trips to Juan les Pins or Biarritz featuring stylized, tanned 1930s rick folk in belted maillots and swim caps? Imagine one of those come to life. That is Evil Under the Sun.

From its lovely watercolor sketch titles to its breezy Cole Porter soundtrack and its exotic Mallorca locales (standing in for an island off Albania somewhere), this movie has always ranked among my favorites.

Title

Not singing to you yet? Then throw in who I consider to be the best Hercule Poirot of all time– Peter Ustinov, who reprised him in several films in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Appointment with Death, Death on the Nile, and Thirteen at Dinner. I found Albert Finney monumentally stiff and boring in Murder on the Orient Express, and I never warmed to Suchet. I know– the British TV purists will tut-tut at me, but it’s true. To me, Ustinov really wears those little grey cells. He comes across as a cuddly teddy bear of a man innately proud of his abilities, but also supremely amused at not only others’ foibles, but also his own. When the agent at the London Trojan Insurance Company laments having to pay out, Poirot tells him this is one of those times he must “laugh and lump eet.” Then chuckles at his own humor.

If that’s not enough to bring you onboard, imagine (for you youngins) a cage match between Lady Olenna Tyrell of Game of Thrones (Diana Rigg) and Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downtown Abbey (Maggie Smith). Yep, you heard me. Intriguing you a bit now?

If you know your Christie, you know the plot will be convoluted and inexplicable, and it doesn’t disappoint here. The movie locale has been transferred from the book’s original island off the coast of Wales, but the snappy dialogue and costumes carry you along on a wave of 1930s bliss. It’s the perfect beach movie (with a little mean-spiritedness thrown in for good measure).

The story begins when the insurance company asks Poirot to speak to Sir Horace Blatt, a millionaire industrialist who has recently tried to insure a diamond with them that is a cheap knock-off. Since Sir Horace is not in London, Poirot must travel to the South of France to visit Sir Horace on his yacht, the Jolly Roger.

Sir Horace explains that he recently met a showgirl whom he bought the diamond for, but she’s evidently had the diamond copied. He wants to confront the woman, Arlena Marshall, and he knows that she’ll be at “Daphne’s Place,” a fancy inn on an island paradise for society folk. Daphne herself is the former mistress of the King of Tirrhenia, who bought her the inn to keep her quiet when he married the Queen. However, since Poirot cannot handle boats (le mal de mer, unfortunately), he must take the train, and says he’ll meet Sir Horace there. But Sir Horace is delayed sue to his “piffle valve.”

When the guests arrive, Poirot doesn’t endear himself to Daphne, what with his unusual demands for “a good valet, a tisane de Montpoivret at 8:00 every morning, and beeswax for his shoes. That’s all.” Oh, and don’t forget his requests for creme de cassis or sirop de banane instead of the Sidecars and Between the Sheets cocktails she favors.

His hilarious “swim” involves him walking shin-deep in the cove, waving his arms in a swim-like motion, but barely getting wet.

PoirotSwim PoirotSwim2

“Great day for a swim, Poirot!”

“You saw me?”

Of course, with a name like Evil Under the Sun, someone has to die. This time, it is Arlena. She’s  a bitchy, gold-digging chorus girl who has recently given up the boards for marriage and stepmother-hood. She is found strangled on the beach in one of the island’s cove. And coincidentally enough, as it goes with Dame Agatha, everyone on the island had a reason to do her in.

This time, the suspects include:

Sir Horace (Colin Blakely) – Thrown over for Kenneth Marshall, and now made to look like a fool since Arlena kept the real diamond and gave him a forgery. He’s plenty mad.

Rex Brewster (Roddy MacDowell) – Fey theatre maven and worshiper of Arlena, who dug a little too deep for his recent biography, and can’t get it published because she doesn’t like what it reveals (her real birthdate, and how she got her role in Flames of Eternity). Oh, and he’s already spent the advance.

Kenneth Marshall (Denis Quilley) – Arlena’s new husband, who discovers she not only hasn’t given up her single-girl lifestyle, but booked her lover into the inn.

Patrick Redfern (Nicholas Clay) – A married, but extremely attractive lothario who romances Arlena, but leaves his wife mopey and miserable.

Christine Redfern (Jane Birkin) – A bit of an unmade bed in the looks department, and a bundle of neuroses as well (she has vertigo, skin that burns easily, and loves pity parties).

O’Dell and Myra Gardner (James Mason and Sylvia Miles) – Husband and wife Broadway producers who sank a mint into their last show, Hail and Farewell, starring Arlena, only to have her quit and leave them holding the bag.

Linda Marshall (Emily Hone) – Arlen’a stepdaughter. At about fourteen or so, she’s at the age when any cruel word can do extra damage to a psyche, and Arlena provides a battery of them.

Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) – The proprietress of the inn. She and Arlena performed together years ago, and their dislike for each other is palpable. Besides, Daphne’s sweet on Kenneth (and he likes her too).

Poirot has to put two and two together as usual, this time taking into account the following clues: a watch, a bathing cap, a mid-day bath, a bottle of suntan oil, and the noonday gun (fired every day at noon to commemorate the victory of the Tirrhenian Army against an opposing force of Bosnians in 1183).

Guy Hamilton (who also directed Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from 1980) helms the catfight expertly. Hamilton was also the mastermind behind several Bond films (Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever, and Man With the Golden Gun). And in addition to Ustinov, several of the others here are Christie regulars. Jane Birkin and Maggie Smith both appeared in 1978’s Death on the Nile. Denis Quilley and Colin Blakely were both in Murder on the Orient Express.

Anthony Powell outdoes himself with the costume design here. Mostly Arlena’s. A silver lame’ number with turban the first night is not-to-be-believed. And another of stretchy, body hugging red lame.’ Then there are the bathing costumes– one white with huge multicolor dots, matching turban, bangles, necklace and cape. And another with a diaphanous Asian print coverup and a pointed Chinese red hat. In addition, there are Myra’s elaborate hats and Rex’s sailor suits.

SilverLame

Silvery!

PolkaDotSuits

Dots versus nautical deathmatch…

ArlenaRedDress

Red and slinky…

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The Gardners are not amused…

ChineseHat

The Chinese hat (fashion accessory or murder prop? You decide…)

The dialogue is side-splitting in certain places. “She runs like a dromedary with dropsy!” Arlena cruelly says of her stepdaughter.  Or “Linda, don’t just stand there like a cough drop, say hello to Monsieur Poirot.” And Daphne throws out expressions like “diggity boo” with no irony whatsoever.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you’re missing out. Pour yourself a sirop de banane, rub on some Coppertone, and prepare to have some fun.

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Here are the other Beach Party Blogathon entries. Enjoy!

Blue Hawaii (1961) Speakeasy hqofk.wordpress.com/
Beach Party (1963) Silver Screenings silverscreenings.org
Hula (1927) Movies Silently moviessilently.com
Lord Love a Duck (1966) Font and Frock fontandfrock.com
Great White (1981) Mike’s Take on the Movies mikestakeonthemovies.com
Point Break (1991) Brian Doan http://bubblegum-cinephile.blogspot.com/
The Black Camel Caftan Woman http://www.caftanwoman.com/
To Catch a Thief Old Hollywood Films www.oldhollywoodfilms.com
Horror of Party Beach Sister Celluloid www.sistercelluoid.com
Beach Blanket Bingo A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
The Fat Spy Forgotten Films https://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/
Jaws 2 Cinematic Catharsis http://cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com/
Jaws / Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper Tales of the Easily Distracted http://doriantb.blogspot.com/
Road to Singapore Now Voyaging nowvoyaging.wordpress.com
Flipper (1963) and Flipper’s New Adventure (1964) The Movie Rat themovierat.com
Clambake Once Upon a Screen aurorasginjoint.com
Drive a Crooked Road Shadows & Satin https://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/
Some Like It Hot The Filmatelist filmatelist.blogspot.com/
The Palm Beach Story Critica Retro http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com
Piranha Prowler Needs a Jump https://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/
On an Island with You (1948) The Stars are Ageless http://stars-are-ageless.blogspot.com.au/
The Talented Mr. Ripley BarryBradford.com Www.BarryBradford.com
Local Hero Moon in Gemini https://debravega.wordpress.com/
Open Water (2004) Movie Movie Blog Blog http://moviemovieblogblog.wordpress.com
Malibu Beach (1978) Cinema Monolith https://cinemamonolith.wordpress.com/
Creature From the Black Lagoon The last drive in Http//:www.thelastdrivein.com
The Endless Summer Wide Screen World http://widescreenworld.blogspot.com
Orca (1977) Film Grimoire http://www.filmgrimoire.com
Such a Pretty Little Beach Make Mine Criterion! https://makeminecriterion.wordpress.com/
The Palm Beach Story The Stop Button http://www.thestopbutton.com
Gidget (1959) Phyllis Loves Classic Movies http://phyllislovesclassicmovies.blogspot.com/
The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) A Classic Movie Blog aclassicmovieblog.com
Holiday Camp (1947) British Film Classics britishfilmclassics.wordpress.com
Girl Happy (1965) Old Movies Nostalgia http://oldmoviesnostalgia.com
The Seventh Seal CriterionBlues http://www.criterionblues.com
Tarzan’s New York Adventure. Wolffianclassicmoviesdigest https://wolffianclassicmoviesdigest.wordpress.com/
Stromboli (1950) The Wonderful World of Cinema https://thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com
All is Lost Hitchcock’s World hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca
And God Created Woman GirlsDoFilm https://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/
A Summer Place Pop Culture Reverie https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/
The Ghost And Mrs Muir In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/
Bikini Beach Smitten Kitten Vintage http://smittenkittenvintage.wordpress.com
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini Classic Film & TV Cafe www.classicfilmtvcafe.com
Lord of the Flies Part Time Monster http://parttimemonster.wordpress.com
Captain Blood Sourcerer http://sourcererblog.wordpress.com
Gidget Chasing Destino http://chasingdestino.com/
Open Water Herheadache http://www.kkherheadache.wordpress.com
Teen Beach Movie Victim To Charm http://victimtocharm.com
Plein Soleil Ramblings of a Cinephile http://ramblingsofacinephile.com/
Dr. No (1962) The Doglady’s Den http://thedogladysden.com
Die Hard With A Vengeance Le Mot du Cinephiliaque http://cinephiliaque.blogspot.ca/
Night Tide The Last Drive In http://www.thelastdrivein
La Mer (1895) Century Film Project https://centuryfilmproject.wordpress.com/
Point Break Everything Noir everythingnoir.com
Key Largo (1948) B Noir Detour bnoirdetour.wordpress.com
The Significance of ‘The Beach’ in Hitchcock’s REBECCA (1940) No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen https://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/
Italian Film ‘Il Compleanno’, in English – ‘David’s Birthday’ (2009) No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen https://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/
Jaws The Cinematic Frontier https://cinematicfrontier.wordpress.com/
Back to the Beach Silver Scenes silverscenesblog.blogspot.com
Bikini Beach The Hannibal 8 https://thehannibal8.wordpress.com/
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday The Stop Button http://thestopbutton.com/
Whale Rider portraitsbyjenni https://portraitsbyjenni.wordpress.com
Summertime. 1955 In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/
Humanoids From The Deep Destroy All Fanboys! http://fanboydestroy.com
Miranda (1948) Mildred’s Fatburgers www.mildredsfatburgers.com
The Beach Back to the Viewer https://backtotheviewer.wordpress.com/
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero It Came From The Man Cave! http://www.mda4life.blogspot.com/
Female on the Beach Movie Fanfare http://www.moviefanfare.com/
Beach Blanket Bingo Thrift Shop Commando http://thriftshopcommando.blogspot.com/
Dangerous When Wet Love Letters to Old Hollywood loveletterstooldhollywood.blogspot.com
Beaches Plucking Of My Heartstrings http://pluckingofmyheartstrings.com
Evil Under the Sun Sepia Stories https://sepiastories.wordpress.com/
Evil Under the Sun Vivien Leigh http://vivienleighlegend.blogspot.com/
The Old Man & the Sea 365 Days 365 Classics https://365days365classiccinemareview.wordpress.com/
“The Raft” in Creepshow 2 (1987) Reel Distracted www.reeldistracted.com
Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953) The Stalking Moon thestalkingmoon.weebly.com
Beach Party Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings http://www.laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com/
The Blue Lagoon (1980) confessions of a broccoli addict https://broccoliaddict.wordpress.com/
Lonesome (1928) Nitrate Diva nitratediva.wordpress.com
Mosayile Kuthira Meenukal Totally Filmi totallyfilmi.com
Girls on the Beach SixtiesCinema sixtiescinema.com
beach movie influence on fashion/pop culture Outspoken & Freckled http://kelleepratt.com/
Creature from the Haunted Sea U.P. Schlock: The Good, The Bad, And The Retro http://upschlock.blogspot.com/

Get into the groove…

I love it when the writing is going well. Most of us do.

For me, I love getting past the first draft drudge and moving into the fun part– once the pieces are basically in place, and I can begin to customize the language and let my writing flower, beefing up descriptions and polishing my slang.

It sounds strange, but I NEED my day job to be productive. When I’m at home, I’m terrible about finding excuses– I need to clean the house, I want to work in my garden, I have home improvement projects I need to finish… but when I’m at work, I have around an hour in the morning and an hour at noon that FORCE me to be productive. Bit by bit, the novel expands, and the detail gets polished.

I’m looking forward to visiting Los Angeles again in September, where I can do more research to tweak certain scenes.

How is everyone’s writing going? What are you working on? And are you liking what’s happening with it?

Choosing a cover…

Aah, fall and winter. When my day job keeps me so busy that all I’m capable of doing is chowing down a quick dinner before falling into bed at night. Fortunately, spring is around the corner, and I can see some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel!

The last week or two, I’ve been entering the truly fun portion of the book release process– picking my cover!

I used The Book Designers, and they did an AMAZING job. I fell in love with the covers on their webpage the minute I saw them, so it was a no-brainer for me. Yes, they were a bit pricey, but whether you believe the old adage or not, people WILL judge your book by its cover. I might have bought more self-published books myself the last few years, but some of the covers I’ve seen have been downright awful.

Since this is my first self-publishing venture (but not my first PUBLISHING venture), I didn’t want to be treated like a red-headed stepchild. I wanted my book to be indistinguishable from that coming out of the major houses– in terms of my writing, and in terms of the cover. Considering roughly half my rejections were for stuff like “I don’t know who this person is and I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care” (even though she really existed and lived an amazing short life), I decided to concentrate my marketing efforts toward the Classic Hollywood fandom community. It’s an entire subculture, and I knew that was there my audience lay.

I was allowed three iterations of the cover, but I had a definite vision. I was to email them my most recent manuscript, my most recent synopsis, covers I like, covers of books that fall in the same family as mine, and my vision for it.

Some of my qualifications were:

    • Sepia sepia sepia (you couldn’t guess that from my blog title, could you?) – There’s just something about those hazy black/white/gray/dull brown scenes on covers that takes me to my happy place. The Alienist? Devil in the White City? Yup. Keep em comin!
    • An actual photo of Olive in that sepia tone. Whichever one I could get licensing for.
    • Some possible background images of old-time New York, the Ziegfeld Theatre, etc.
    • An image of an old ocean liner, signifying her trip to Paris.
    • An old-fashioned silent movie camera.
    • A decorative graphic frame type element.
    • A design that can be easily duplicated and modified for future books on the actresses I’m planning. Think of how readily identifiable the books by Christopher Moore, Carl Hiaasen, or Philippa Gregory are.

Then, I let them go to work. Here are some of the ideas, and how I came up with the final product. There were two that arrived with these that I discounted right off the bat. They had some strange rose designs over the top of the whole thing that didn’t work for me at all. Didn’t want them to keep working that angle. But these others were possibles:

1. #3

I like the graphic elements, but they’re a bit more 30s than teens, and I’m not fond of the font at all. Next!

2.#4

I like the film strips down the side, but #1, the woman in the picture isn’t Olive. #2, I’m still not fond of that font. But I think the film effect would look great on a back cover.

3. #7

I like the colours, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald-y font, but it’s just lacking something for me.

4. #6

This was generally the second favorite among friends and co-workers. But being a period purist, I was bothered by #1, the Hollywoodland sign went up in 1923 (3 years after Olive’s death), and #2 the picture of Hollywood with the searchlights and palm trees would be more suited to the late 1920s and after. Not the dusty, orange-grove filled place it was when Ollie knew it. Plus, her face is upside down! Why?

5. #5

The favorite among just about everyone. I wasn’t crazy about the purple and blue, and the camera in the bottom left looks like someone dripped water on the cover, but I knew this one had potential for multiple designs in the future– especially the top graphic element portion. And I ADORE this font. It also looks good in thumbnails, which are your selling point on Amazon.

So another tweak, and I had this:

Rejected

I had suggested the warm colours from the other designs, but figured there would be a gold along with the green and orange. To me, the green and orange by themselves were a bit too fluorescent marker-ish. And the fact that Ollie got the green and orange filter too was a drawback.

I asked them to PLEASE make Ollie sepia-toned again, beef up the contrast, and make the frilly parts off-white again. I thought the green and orange on them was a bit much.

So one LAST tweak, and we arrived here:

OllieFINAL

It’s so gorgeous, I can’t stop gazing at it! The reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I posted it in one of my Facebook groups, and have already had a PM from a complete stranger squeeeing over its release, asking how they can get a copy, and wondering how they can spread the word. I’d call that successful.

How have everyone elses’ cover designs gone? Stories to share? Funny tales of designs gone wrong? Or perfectly nailed? Share them with us!

The first few steps up the self-publishing ladder…

oliveinwinter

So it’s been a few weeks since I made my decision. I’ve already found a cover designer I ADORE. It might cost a bit more than some of the others that are out there, but I think it will be totally worth it.

I got some recommendations from a friend on editors who might be good with my genre. It was hard choosing between the two, but I made my decision this past week, and will be getting edited in January. So excited! Also beginning to build my email list.

After studying the ecopy, I ordered a hard copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self Printed, so have been tabbing pages and underlining important content.

I’ve been setting up my marketing plan ever since I made my decision, hoping I’ll be able to get everything I want done. One of my ideas is to try to set up a table at Cinecon, but I have to see if they find my book suitable (since it’s fiction based on fact). If I can’t, I’ll have to network and print off a bunch of advertising postcards and/or bookmarks about it and just attend the festival.

The folks at the Hollywood Heritage Museum have already expressed interest in having me host a launch party there (so that’s the biggie!).

Yesterday,  I stumbled across my friend, Kim Grabas’  post on her blog, “71 Ways to Promote and Market Your Book.” Thanks, Kim! There are a few more ideas here I need to put into effect.

Is your book underway? Mostly finished? Complete? Have you thought about your marketing plan yet? Your editor? Your cover designer?

Then what are you waiting for?

All right, all right. I’m ready.

I’m not sure what brass ring I was trying to grab, but I’m done.

Before summer of this year, no one could convince me of the merits of self publishing. I was determined to get an agent, and that was it. I know I’m a good writer, and I knew that if I just talked to the right one, everything would fall into place. Dreams die hard, don’t they?

After the conference this summer, I was on Cloud 9. I had an agent who thought my work was the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow…and all those other 1920s expressions I toss out so much in my work. She loved my platform, she loved my first chapter, and effused over everything. She even approached ME in the bookstore, before I even had a chance to meet with her. I was convinced that at last, I’d found THE ONE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

rejected red square  stamp

Nope. Another rejection.”Too depressing,” she said.

And I was flummoxed. Because although I mentioned that my main character had died tragically at 25 and her ghost was narrating the book, somehow this suggested lollipops and roses to this person.

“Fiction is supposed to be better than real life,” she said.

Um…OK. Read “The Fault in Our Stars?” or “Gone Girl?” “Of Mice and Men?” Anything by the Russian writers? Are we talking better or happier? They’re NOT the same.

Also, although I said I was writing about “forgotten actresses,” she was annoyed she couldn’t find anything with my main character in it. Ummm…Blockbuster isn’t around anymore, and there aren’t that many silent films on Netflix. There is, however, this thing called youtube (where a search of her name comes up with several hits for viewing), and another called Amazon, which has a DVD or two of hers. So at this point, I’m thinking I’ve dodged a bullet. Do I want someone that incapable of the research if they really want to find the stuff? No.

This was the last straw. I’m ready to self publish. I’ve got big plans for this baby.

Recently, a self published friend recommended Catherine Ryan Howard’s “Self Printed” to me, so as soon as I could download the 3rd edition that just came out, I did. I’ve been studying it for days to give me the advance skills I need. And although it will cost a little more, I’m having a gorgeous cover and interior designed for me AND getting everything converted to ebook too.  Anyone gone through this same internal struggle? How did you handle it? And how did it turn out for you?

Next summer will be ignition. Stay tuned, y’all.

 

Life gets in the way, sometimes…

I know. It’s been a couple months since I’ve posted, but I TOTALLY had a good excuse.

After a summer full of house hunting, my husband and I finally found the place for us. Beautiful huge backyard, great deck for entertaining, big enough for all our books…

You get the picture. After several years of getting back on our feet in Canada and renting in a less-than-perfect neighborhood, we’ve finally got a piece of the pie, as the Jeffersons used to say.

A week of unpacking, followed by two months worth of home improvement (so far) have finally begun to pay off a bit. I’ve still been writing, in the mornings before work and at lunch. In fact, book #3 is now up around 304 pages of the first draft (and finally starting to flow as it should…), but the blog has definitely suffered for it.

On the bright side, I know our IKEA like the back of my hand now, I’ve painted the inside of my linen closet, and our upper floor bathroom is an ongoing experiment in “how to de-80s” the world’s most hideous bathroom.

I know, I’ve been naughty, but I’m determined to rev this sucker up!

What’s the longest break from blogging you’ve taken, and what was your lamest excuse?

 

Climbing the Tree (or, maybe I’ll just drink like John Cheever…)

Here is the piece I originally wrote for a compilation our writers group did for the Edmonton Public Library. Unfortunately, my piece was a bit too adult for the age group they were going for. I like my title. Didn’t feel like changing it. Because sometimes, a Bailey’s on the Rocks makes the sting hurt not quite so bad.

The Big Tree - live oak

It’s always something, isn’t it? If it’s not those insistent little voices in your head screaming to get their stories out, it’s the darker ones that tell you you’re no good and you should just quit while you’re ahead.
But there’s nothing quite like having the last laugh on the voices—for the first bunch, developing their personalities and making them come alive. For the second, proving them wrong.

 
You can, you know. Anybody can say they want to be a writer, or that they have a great idea for a book. Distinguish yourself by saying it and meaning it. Harlan Ellison once said, “Anybody can be a writer. The trick is staying a writer.” The only way to do that is with lots and lots of practice.

 
The early birds like me grab a java before work and get in our 1000 words sipping Starbucks or Second Cup at 6:30 a.m.

starbucks_coffee_1

If I can, I write at lunch as well. Boom. I’m done for the day. Moms can squeeze in a few words while the baby naps. Nights owls and insomniacs stay up until 3 a.m. and rarely feel it the next day. Do whatever works for you. But do it regularly. You want to keep those writing chops in shape. You don’t have any time but lunch at work? Grab something that you can hold in your hand (sandwiches were invented for just this purpose…), and write for your half an hour, forty-five minutes, or an hour. Keep a notebook with you. Start scribbling.

 
Yes, people may laugh or joke, or call you eccentric. But when you can pay your electric bill from a royalty check (or face it, order a Tim’s double-double, it’s far more realistic), you stop being a joke and start becoming an inspiration.

 
I once heard the struggle for publication compared to climbing a tree. The low-hanging branches are the ones everyone can access. We all start there, simply trying to finish something. Once you’ve gotten that far, pat yourself on the back and climb up a limb. Statistically, you’re an oddball. Few people who say they’re going to write a book ever do.

 
But first drafts are crap, right? So then, the real fun begins—rewrites. I’m one of those people who love rewrites. I’m actually a better RE-writer than I am a writer. Last book? Twenty-five of them. And I’m still not convinced that’s enough. Done with your rewrite? It’s up another branch for you.

 
Once you think you’re ready, you have to do what writers equate to having their fingernails pulled out, slowly, one by one—the dreaded query letter. You’ve got approximately three or four paragraphs to make an agent fall in love with what you’re selling, whether it’s sparkly vampires or boarding school wizards, or something even cooler—you.
“Why do I need an agent?” you ask. “Isn’t print dead?”
The answer isn’t a simple one. Print is still around, and bookstores are still around. We don’t know for how long, but the truth remains—as long as they are and you (like me), want to walk into a bookstore and see your baby on the “New Releases” table, an agent can be your best friend at offering well-intended suggestions and criticisms, and getting you the best deal for your money. But obtaining one is a long hard slog. You’ll send out queries. LOTS of queries. E-queries. Paper queries. Or you might even summon enough gumption to pitch your idea to an agent at a conference. Climb another branch.
But if you do finally find the person who actually gets you, and what you’re trying to bring to the world? Who understands what you want to say and wants to help you spread it to that wider audience? That person is worth their weight in some sort of precious metal. If you find one, climb up another limb. And this time, buy yourself a drink to celebrate. That is a milestone, my friend.

 

The rejections—from agents, from publishers, or from just about anyone who reads you and decides to rate your writing as sub-par will mess you up. It’s no exaggeration, so prepare yourself. Imagine holding up your beautiful new baby, and some wiseacre saying, “That’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.” This is exactly what it feels like. Imagine no one ever saying anything nice about your precious creation. Imagine them asking if your kid has a lazy eye or Down’s syndrome. They’ll never say, “That kid’ll grow up to be president!” However, they will be sure to point out his numerous flaws.

 

But here’s the thing. Melville, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, even Stephen King have all felt the nasty sting of rejection, and look where they are—the upper echelon. You all wear the badge of honor. Climb another branch. You’re in good company.

 

While all this is going on? Learn about the art of writing. Master your craft. We all have weaknesses, so it helps to figure out what yours are. Join a writing group and get critiques of your baby. Not family, because they can’t be impartial. They’ll always tell you your baby is beautiful, even if it has three heads. Get beta readers to check out your stuff. Don’t know any? Join a website like www.absolutewrite.com and hang out in the forums. If you socialize and make friends, you can find betas to give you tips on what’s working, and what’s staler than 10-day old Bundt cake.

 
It’s hard. Really hard. But someone once said that a professional is just an amateur who didn’t quit. It’s corny, but true. Hang in there. Keep getting better and keep reading a lot in the genre you want to write (and every other genre too). You want to be able to recognize the good stuff so you can aspire to it, and know the bad stuff so you don’t imitate it. Pretty soon, you’ll be hanging in those top branches with the best of ‘em. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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A visit to the Hollywood Heritage Museum

After making a trip to the Hollywood Heritage Museum (also called the Lasky/DeMille Barn), I look back and wonder how I existed as an old Hollywood fan before.

It’s been moved twice from its original location at Selma and Vine, but early on it became the gymnasium for Paramount, and then in the 1950s, it was moved to Highland, right near what is now the 101 freeway.

I absolutely loved this place. It sounds a little woo-woo, but when I walked in, I felt the most incredible combination of extreme peace and nerve-thrumming excitement. If I have to get absolutely technical, I felt like I had been there before, but I’ve never visited it. OK…enough of that.

The front area is a small reception desk and a bookstore (uh-oh. I’m in trouble). Just to the right of the entrance is the area that used to be Cecil B. DeMille’s office. They have it decorated with period antiques and memorabilia to give it just the right look.

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Cecil’s office, looking toward the screening room area in the back

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More shots of Cecil’s office 

Sorry for the blurriness. Still learning to wrangle my cellphone camera.

Supposedly, Cecil was quite fond of his wastebasket. He could simply lift his feet up, lay his boots across it, and when they hosed out the stables in the back, he could keep his boots clean.

As you progress toward the back, you see a middle room with lovely wall hangings that have been created to look like the fronts of famous Hollywood landmarks. I’ve posted some of them below.

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Did I mention the gorgeous old makeup kit?

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Here’s an old bottle of spirit gum, for adhering beards, moustaches, etc.

One of the displays was a tribute to the Garden Court Apartments (RIP). Their destruction was what first fired up historical preservationists in Hollywood. Included under glass is one of the old caryatids that used to decorate the exterior.

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Garden Court caryatid and pictures of the building

In the very back, where the horses used to hang out, there are tons of antiques pertaining to old Hollywood. Old cameras, programs, playbills, posters, props, etc. Get a load of this stuff.

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Old home screening camera

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Old poster for Universal Studios (before it got Disney-fied)

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Old menu for the Paramount Italian Kitchen

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Price list for home kinetoscopes

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Incredible old movie camera

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Case full of incredible history

Thank God those in charge back in the early formative years had the foresight to preserve this incredible building and the history it contains.

Here is more information on the museum:

http://www.hollywoodheritage.org/

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.