Curling Up by The Fire would like to welcome Brad Geagley, author of Year of the Hyenas and Day of the False King, historical thrillers that blend history and adventure into taut thrillers that take you back into an exciting time period. His new noir thriller, The Stand In, was published on December 13th, 2011, and is available on Kindle and Ebook. The Stand In, set in Hollywood in 1957, is also full of mystery and intrigue. Take a look:
Louis Solomon, head of Centurion Studios, is deep in production on his very troubled wide-screen spectacular, “A Tale of Two Cities”. Riddled with drugs, extremely volatile, Rick has been the cause of a five-week shutdown for beating his leading lady and one-time lover, Lola Chandler, half to death. While she recovers, Louis must find the money to complete the picture and keep the truth away from the press. Unfortunately, this is precisely when Darren Cates, captain of the Ramparts Division of the LAPD, brings Louis the even more horrifying news that Rick is suspected in the strangulation murders of a series of blond starlets up in the Hollywood Hills. Louis must scramble to complete his picture, save his studio, and keep his leading lady alive.
Enter Eddie Baines, a small-town actor from Texas, hungry for fame. Unluckily for him, he bears a striking resemblance to Mr. DeNova, which has prevented him from getting any parts. But when Rick’s photo double goes missing, Eddie is hired to replace him. Seeing the uncanny resemblance between Rick and Eddie, Solomon hatches a diabolical plan – if anyone in the press discovers that Rick might be linked to the murders Eddie will be blamed. The young Texan is the perfect foil and the perfect fall guy. But in Hollywood, as ever, nothing is as it seems.
1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing mystery/thriller novels?
This is the part I hate, talking about myself! I grew up in southern California, a child of the 50s – yes, that puts me at 61 years of age, officially a geezer, but emotionally still an adolescent. I always loved writing – won my first contest in third grade – and it always seemed so easy that it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I thought I might be able to convince someone to pay me to do it. I majored in film, not writing, when I was in college and have worked as an interactive experience designer (game, display and virtual reality) and as a producer at various studios. My first love was – and probably still is – historical fiction. But when I decided to become a novelist full time, historical fiction wasn’t in vogue. So I wrote a historical mystery, which was in vogue. I actually learned how to create a mystery by writing one. Of course, I studied the masters – Hammett, Chandler, et al – but the writer I most admire is Martin Cruz Smith, he of “Gorky Park” fame. I would kill to write like him!
2) Can you tell us a little about your new novel, The Stand In?
It’s set in 1957 Hollywood, and asks the (hopefully) intriguing question – what would you do, Mr. Studio Mogul, if you discovered that your Leading Man on your extremely troubled and costly new wide-screen feature might actually be a serial killer? How do you protect your studio, your film – your Leading Lady? (Hint: the answer is in the title.)
3) What inspired you to write The Stand In? How much research was involved in the writing?
The story was actually inspired by a rumor told to me by an Important Person in the film industry, that a major actor from the 50s had actually had many of his scenes filmed by his photo double. Actually, I didn’t do much research at all. I love the history of the film industry, and am always reading books about it. Besides, it was the era I grew up in and part of the fun was remembering what it was like to be alive then.
4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?
Actually, this is a novel that went extremely quickly, I don’t know why. The real challenge was in the plotting – I wanted something that kept reversing the reader’s expectations up to the final sentence in the book. I think I achieved that.
5) In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge?
Thank you for saying they’re interesting and intriguing. There were two characters that I loved writing – Nadine Nugent, the gossip columnist whom I describe as a “fatty-face, mean-eyed, trailer park hussy” and who always dresses in her signature color of magenta – this, despite the fact that she’s a radio columnist and no one can see her. The other was Louis Solomon, who heads Centurion Studios. He is indeed the wise King Solomon figure, but with just a touch of Beelzebub in his icy cold veins. (I also have a soft spot for Tensy Delago, the drunken landlady of a murder victim - very fun to write.)
6) I loved The Year of the Hyenas. Were you surprised by the success of this novel, as well as by the sequel? Are you planning on writing more novels in this series? Is there a genre you would like to tackle but have not yet had the opportunity?
I wasn’t surprised, I was just grateful that “The Year of the Hyenas” was so critically well-received. I had no idea whether or not people would respond to it, but I knew I had done my absolute best and that’s all I had to give. Whatever happened after that was pure gravy. Any novelist, I think, will tell you the same thing. It’s all a roll of the dice.
Though I have seven Semerket novels outlined, I don’t know whether or not I will continue them. First, mysteries are a genre field, and historical mysteries are a genre of a genre. I don’t want to limit my audience (or sales). And I want to write in a variety of voices – third person, first person, epistolary, whatever. I want to challenge myself each time out. This may be a bad business decision, since I won’t be able to fit snugly into one description – you tell me. But the only designation I want my readers to have of me is that “he tells a damn good story.” I was surprised when Simon and Schuster wanted two novels, actually, much less one. And I was fairly ambivalent to writing the second one. But Semerket is such a great character, that I’ll probably go back to him if I live long enough.
7) What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Write sober. The pages may come easier when you’re drunk or stoned, but none of it will get published. I tell my students this, too. Set up a schedule and write every day at the same time. Writing is like a muscle, the more you do the more developed it gets.
8) How do you feel your writing has changed and developed? Or do you feel it has?
Finally, it’s all about simplicity – the hardest thing to achieve. I think I’ve finally broken through wanting to impress people with the “beauty of my prose”, and instead try to make all the effort seem invisible. There should be nothing between the words and the reader, not even the author.
9) What are your thoughts on the publishing industry at the moment, especially now that you have entered the self-publishing market as well. What are the advantages to self-publishing?
In a word, the publishing industry has its head up its ass right now. It’s flailing. The only advantage they gave an author was space on bookstore shelves. (And book tours, which help only the book stores and not the author.) Now that the bookstores are closing, what use are publishers? They take 9/10s of all your profits and leave the author high and dry. They are reaping what they have sown. Years ago, at an Author’s Guild meeting, the speaker said there was no need to have a publisher any longer because with the Internet you could precisely aim your book at your precise audience. (This is less true for fiction, but even that is changing.) Still, publishers gave you services that are hard to duplicate, mainly in the proof reading category. (I’m terrible at it, and miss my proof reader; still, next time out I’ll hire one of my own.) The advances were nice, too. Hopefully, an author will see much more money with self-publishing and can forego the advance.
10) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
A cup of coffee, a good computer, and an idea. I have no writing ritual other than to place my butt in the seat and take a swig of coffee. After that, the muse joins me.
11) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you?
Right now, I’m writing a screenplay with a fellow producer, a new kind of mystery series for television. If it doesn’t go, I may turn it into a novel. But the real work I’m doing right now is a book entitled “The Confessions of Mammy Pleasant” – a first person memoir of Mary Ellen Pleasant, one of the most amazing women in American History – one of the first black millionaires, a civil rights pioneer, freedom fighter, and the so-called “voodoo queen of gold rush San Francisco”. After that, I’m writing the story of West Point on the brink of the Civil War. I also have started a non-fiction book about the Ptolemies of ancient Egypt, called “Cleopatra’s Family” – perhaps the gaudiest, raunchiest, most despicable group of geniuses that ever ruled a country.
12) Favourite authors? Role models?
As I’ve said before, I love the works of Martin Cruz Smith. Most of my favorite authors are from my childhood – Pearl S. Buck, Mika Waltari, and, best, Shirley Jackson – the so-called “Virginia Werewolf of American Fiction.” Boy, can she turn a phrase – making you shiver with terror and laugh out loud all in the same moment.
As far as role models go, I don’t believe in them or heroes. Everyone has feet of clay. Make yourself into your own role model; then you won’t have to depend on or be disappointed by anyone else.
13) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?
My ultimate luxury is any time away from the computer. Who was the author who compared writing to going over to the typewriter and opening a vein? Well, that’s just what it is. This may not jibe with what I said earlier about writing being so easy for me. That’s true, too. But the more writing you do, the more successful you get at it, the higher the stakes. The better I get at it, the less sure I am about it.
14) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I’ll share what Dorothy said in “The Wizard of Oz” – “Never give up! No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow!”
Thank you for visiting Brad, and good luck with all your future endeavours!!