I “met” Martin Turnbull through his blog. I fell in love with his humor and enthusiasm and persistence in bringing to life his novels about the Golden Age of Hollywood. When I read his first Garden of Allah novel, The Garden on Sunset, by damned, double the pleasure, the guy can write. His characters, Marcus the screenwriter, Gwendolyn the actress, and Kathryn the reporter, enchanted me and I wanted more. I’ve been waiting, rather impatiently, for Martin to finish the second novel, The Trouble With Scarlett. Now it’s here and it doesn’t disappoint. Aside from the three main characters, what makes these novels so much fun to read is how Martin brings the period to life. It’s like being a fly on the wall at a Hollywood party. Name-dropping, gossip, machinations, scheming, struggles, feuds, glamour, fashion and places so real you can hear the music and smell the food.
I asked Martin about The Trouble With Scarlett and how it fit in with his series. This is what he had to say:
I was about 15 when Gone with the Wind was theatrically re-released and I couldn’t wait to see it. I was the kind of kid who, if I wasn’t spending my after-school hours with my face wedged in a book, I was watching old Hollywood movies on TV. I had my favorites, of course—Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall—but generally speaking, if it was made during the golden age of Hollywood, I tuned in. But I’d never seen the movie-to-end-all-movies. And at last I was going to get to see it.
I wasn’t disappointed. From those opening chords of Tara’s Theme all the way through to the closing credits, my eyeballs were super-glued to the screen the whole time. Still half-dazed, I wandered out of the Forum Theater in downtown Melbourne promising myself that I’d read the book one day.
To help survive the exams at the end of high school, I dangled a carrot in front of myself: on the day of the French final, my last exam, I planned to ride my bike directly from school to the local book store and buy myself a copy of Gone with the Wind and, by golly, I’d spend the rest of the month reading it! That’s what happened and I passed the first few weeks of my post-high school life sprawled on my bed burrowing my way through 1000 pages.
Why a bookish teenage kid from Australia would be so thrilled about a tempestuous, willful, spoiled, determined Southern belle from halfway around the world and 100 years before is beyond me. Who’s to say what characters we are drawn to in fiction? I’m sure more than a thesis or two has been written on the subject, but my guess is that it’s probably got less to do with the outer circumstances of the character and more to do with that character’s inner life, struggles and ambitions.
At any rate, fast forward 30 years and I am now living in Los Angeles and I conceive a series of historical novels set in Hollywood during its golden age, centered around life at the (real) Garden of Allah hotel which sat on Sunset Boulevard from 1927 (the dawn of Hollywood’s golden era) to 1959 (the dusk of the Hollywood studio system.) My Garden of Allah series of novels follows the lives of a screenwriter, a gossip columnist and an actress. Gwendolyn, the actress, is from the South (in fact, she’s from Hollywood, Florida) in part because, from the get-go, I wanted her to want the role of Scarlett O’Hara so badly she’d do practically anything for it.
Fast forward another four years and the second novel in my series is released. It’s called The Trouble with Scarlett and looks at life in Hollywood from 1936 to 1939 when Hollywood—not to mention the entire country—was obsessed with all things Gone with the Wind, and especially the casting of the central role of Miss Scarlett O’Hara. The list of actresses who were considered for the role is as long as it is varied, and sometimes startling. The list ended up totaling nearly 130 names which included Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Tallulah Bankhead, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, Katharine Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Pola Negri (!!!), Paulette Goddard, and Susan Hayward. I knew that if I was going to write about life in Hollywood during the late 1930s, I couldn’t not write about the book and the movie that gripped a country in the same way it gripped the imagination of my 15-year-old self all those years and all those miles away.
Nowadays, we live in the world of monthly blockbusters, billion-dollar mega-hits, Harry Potter warlocks and Twilight witches, but back in the 1930s, enormously popular, game-changing books like Gone with the Wind came around once in a generation. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it remains so popular—after more than 75 years, the book still sells an estimated 75,000 copies a year. Or maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to look any further that Miss Katie Scarlett O’Hara herself. Love her, hate her, admire her, loathe her, fear her or just flat out are baffled by her, there’s no denying that she provokes a reaction in just about everyone, and that’s why I thought it was worth my while to take care of the trouble with Scarlett.