Monthly Archives: October 2014

The proof is in the reading…

Heddy

October 23, 2014 – I despise tpyos–damn it, typos. Those persistent and pernicious finger gaffes that sneak full of mischief into my prose. Crafty little devils with the super power to render themselves invisible by hiding in plain sight, especially when they are being deliberately hunted. Sometimes, I’m typing so fast that I generate what I call “word-os.” These appear when motor memory takes over my fingers and I write “was” for “want” or “see” for “she” or, just now, in writing this very sentence, “thank” for “that.” I diligently and purposefully try to keep these foul beasts at bay, and yet the more time I spend at the keyboard—and I spend a lot of time at the keyboard—the more the little gremlins sneak into my prose, successfully avoiding detection until after I hit “send” or worse, publish and distribute.

When I was writing City of Whoresmy invaluable and eagle-eyed editor, Alice Peck, managed to catch and corral (which I just now typed as “coral”) probably 100% of them in the last draft she worked on for me. So of course I released them all right back into the wild while revising, allowing them to breed and multiply like coat hangers. When I sent the “final” manuscript off (which I just typed as “of”)  to the talented book designer Duane Stapp and copied the precise Ruth Mullen for conversion to eBook format, I confidently (read idiotically) told them both that it was “ready for publication.”

And that’s when the grim grinning goblins of transposed words, missing letters, extra letters, and incorrect homophones and heterographs (sexy words to be sure) started to reveal themselves in all of their mortifying glory, humiliating me just like Sissy Spacek in the “they’re all going to laugh at you” scene in Carrie. Panicked, I began to test the patience of poor Duane and Ruth with several rounds of corrections and revisions. Nevertheless, until recently, the paperbacks and eBooks in circulation still had “Hedy Lamarr” as “Heddy,” “made our way” as “made or way,” (thanks Martin Turnbull for catching those), “drove away” as “drove way,” and the most recent, “world-renowned” as “world-renown” (kudos to Carl Wesch for that one). I have corrected these in all editions as they emerge, but now live with a feverish paranoia that more are still hiding in that thick forest of characters, waiting to jump out and terrorize me just in time for Halloween.

Those of you who know me can confirm that I’m about as O.C.D. about this stuff as a person can get. Being a southerner, I want everything in my world to at least present itself as neat, tidy, and nothing short of perfect. Still, as I prepared materials for my recent blog tour, I proofed and reproofed and proofed the reproof of the various excerpts, interviews, and bios I had been asked to provide. And still, when the first day of the tour arrived, there I was debuting on BooksDirectOnline with my main character listed not as “Dan Root,” but “Dan root,” instead. In the very first sentence no less. And here I am trying to be taken seriously as a writer, destroying my professional credibility from the start. Fortunately, I was able to email two of the blogs running that particular boo-boo, and they kindly corrected it for me. On a different site, two–count ’em two–rather obvious typos appeared, one fully my fault:

typo2And the other somehow managed to stowaway in my prose somewhere in transit to going public. I’m telling you, these things are devilish little living creatures who have it out for me:

typo1

Fortunately, none of these have even come close to matching my first most spectacular and memorable typographical error. This one was of the “missing letter” variety. It just happened to be a letter that radically changed the meaning of the intended word. In 1980, I was working for a small company in Atlanta called TCG (The Communications Group), writing and producing industrials (training videos and corporate annual meeting presentations and such). We had one of the very first dedicated word processors I’d ever seen, manufactured by a company called Lanier. As a writer, I marveled at the amazing technology of being able to make corrections without the use of tape or White-out, and to compose one draft of a letter, then have the machine replace the address and salutation over two hundred times so that we could send out that many personalized general query letters, hoping to solicit new business. I composed and typed that letter, and even though all two hundred or so hand signed copies were mailed with the proud proclamation that  “our firm excels at pubic relations,” we still didn’t get a single response. Stay tuned…

All the world’s a stage…

Hollywood Sign from South Windsor Boulevard October 15, 2014 – Finding the perfect locations is a crucial component of film and television production, as the settings contribute to the overall look and mood and provide a key ingredient in the alchemy of verisimilitude. The same proved true in the writing of my novel, City of Whores. While working on the book, I made a point to visit the real places where the story unfolds (except, of course, for the ones that are sadly no longer with us). I drove up Stone Canyon Road in Bel Air to see the home of infamous agent Henry Willson (which I only recently learned would have been brand new in 1952), to get a sense of how long it would take Dan/Dexter to make the drive.

Milford Langen's Final Resting Place

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where some of the biggest names in show business rest in the shadow of Paramount Studios, has long been a favorite spot of mine, so spending hours walking its grounds and taking photos was a pleasure. I took long, leisurely strolls in beautiful Hancock Park (another favorite) looking for just the right house for my characters (and never finding its real life counterpart). In the earliest drafts, Milford and Lillian’s streamline modern mansion was situated on South Plymouth Boulevard, until one day while exploring the area on nearby South Windsor, I looked up and saw what I consider to be the quintessential view of the famed HOLLYWOOD sign, perfectly framed by twin rows of towering palms. That image was indelible, and I made a point of working it into the story and relocating the fictional showplace. I smiled one afternoon when I saw a gorgeous photo of that signature view in full HD color as the scenic backdrop on Ellen (inexplicably, the TV is often on mute in my kitchen while I’m writing, though usually tuned to Turner Classic Movies).

El Palazar Apartments

A few of the locations in City of Whores have played a significant role in my personal life. The El Palazar apartment building on Sycamore (where Dan/Dexter resides for part of his time in Hollywood), holds many fond memories for me as the place my former wife and I lived when we first moved to Los Angeles—until, that is, the Whittier Earthquake hit in 1987 and we watched our foyer wall crack as we cowered in a doorway. After that, we moved to a spacious duplex on North Gower, a block from one of the city’s most charming districts, Larchmont Village, which is adjacent to Hancock Park and also figures into the storyline. During those early years, I was working in the legal department at 20th Century Fox, first in an office on the lot, then later in the Fox Plaza building (the iconic location from Die Hard) which stands on a site that once marked the entrance to the sprawling Fox back lot (long gone, I’m afraid). I spent every lunch and coffee break exploring, and still wish I’d had the gumption to try and convince someone to show me Darryl F. Zanuck’s notorious underground tunnels. Fox remains my favorite studio lot, so having my characters work there was never in question.

Hollywood Center Motel

My first episode of television, the third season premiere of The Wonder Years entitled “Summer Song,” used the fascinating (and now deliciously creepy) Hollywood Center Motel on Sunset Boulevard as the late 1960s era setting of the Arnold family’s vacation to “Ocean City,” so naturally it was my first choice for Dan and Tally’s lodgings their first night in Los Angeles. When our beloved dog Max died, my then wife and I took him to be cremated at the pet cemetery in Calabasas—a trip that would later provide rich details for the book. People who work in real estate say you cannot overstress the importance of location, and that applies to all forms of fiction, as well. The settings aren’t just the stages upon which the action takes place; they also help bring the story to vibrant life, with the power to fully immerse the viewer or reader into the world being created. I guess it took writing a novel to realize that I’ve been subconsciously hoarding these special places, making Whores a personal tribute to this fascinating city, and an homage to the time I’ve been privileged to spend here. Stay tuned…

Always, always inquire further…

EvePosterOctober 3, 2014 – Recently, a very gracious and charming neighbor invited me to a cocktail party in her spectacular 1920s era English cottage (just down the street). I had heard through the grapevine that the house had been built by Suzanne’s grandfather who had some connection to Hollywood’s golden age, but had never bothered to inquire further. (Note to self: Always, always, inquire further.) “Some connection” would turn out to be a woefully inadequate description. As we toured the gorgeously appointed interior, libations and canapés in hand, I spotted a framed photograph of a man posing with Cecil B. DeMille and inquired if that was the grandfather in question. I was subsequently flabbergasted and delighted to discover that I was in the home of Victor Milner, Academy Award-winning cinematographer of the 1934 Claudette Colbert version of Cleopatra, and the man who shot one of my favorite films of all time, The Lady Eve, starring Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, and written and directed by the incomparable Preston Sturges. Well, we had a thing or two to discuss once that cat was out of the bag, including how my adoration of all things Stanwyck had led to my specifically working her into my novel, City of Whores, along with a reference to The Lady Eve. After Suzanne had read the book, she dropped off a lovely handwritten card (recall I used the words “gracious and charming” to describe her). With her permission, I’m sharing an excerpt. For those of you who’ve read the book, you’ll know the Dexter she refers to is the stage name of my protagonist. For those of you who haven’t, what is wrong with you?

The only thing better than a good book is one you can’t put down. Thanks for the many enjoyable nights I spent reading City of Whores. I particularly liked your style and the cadence of your phrasing, which when combined with the storyline was so riveting I felt as if I wasn’t just reading, but was really there.

Your characterization of Barbara Stanwyck was particularly apt. The kindness with which she treated Dexter was well known in my family. One day during a break in Lady Eve, my grandfather was talking to Ms. Stanwyck (who he affectionately referred to as “Missy”) when he received a telegram on the set. In it, he learned that his son, my dad, who was a pilot, had been in a terrible plane crash, and was in an ICU in Texas with burns throughout his body. At the time, the movie was already over budget, and the production was under a great deal of pressure to finish the film. It was pretty close to wrapping with only scenes of the principal characters remaining.

Barbara Stanwyck did everything possible to encourage my grandfather to leave the set and go to his son, but my grandfather was resolute about finishing filming. He knew if he left he’d be instantly fired, and might not get work on another film in the future if this happened. The next morning, however, when he came on the set, it was announced that Ms. Stanwyck was horribly ill. She stayed “sick” for 10 (ten!) days until my dad was out of ICU—making it possible for my grandpa to see him. What a lady. And that was only one story, albeit my favorite.”

I just adore everything about this story, and am both thrilled and a bit awed to receive such nice words from a lovely neighbor with Hollywood in her DNA. When I called to ask if I could share this on my blog, she immediately said yes, and told me she’d dig around for more stories and material related to her grandfather.

I fully intend to inquire further this time. Stay tuned…