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.
I met Martin Turnbull several months ago when I happened upon ‘The ‘Garden of Allah’ novels blog. At the time he was shopping his novel to agents. I liked his energy and sense of humor, so started following his blog. I chimed in with some words of encouragement. As he kept hitting brick walls, I sez, Hey, just because agents don’t think your book is a good fit in the current market, doesn’t mean they’re right. Have you thought about self-publishing?
Martin did think about it. He did the research, figured out what was involved and decided to go for it. This week it paid off. The Garden on Sunset went live on Amazon. Whoo hoo! I bought the ebook a few days ago, read it and am happy to report that I am most pleased Martin didn’t let the nay-sayers dissuade him.
(from the book description)
When Marcus Adler’s father runs him out of Pennsylvania, he can think of only one place to go: 8152 Sunset Boulevard, the home of luminous silent screen star Alla Nazimova, who visited him on his sickbed when he was a child. But when Marcus gets to Hollywood, Madame Nazimova’s home has been converted to a hotel. Marcus checks into The Garden of Allah and starts his new life. He soon finds friends in Kathryn Massey, who ran away from her overbearing stage mother to become a journalist, and Gwendolyn Brick, a hopeful actress from the Other Hollywood—Hollywood, Florida—who wants to try her luck in Glitter City. The three naïve hopefuls band together to tread water against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-the-world zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in blackface, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos. But how will they get their feet inside Hollywood’s golden door?
(Odd thought, pardon me, but it’s on my mind. What exactly determines “historical” fiction? Rule of thumb in antiques: fifty years makes it vintage and a hundred years make it antique. Would a story set in the 1920s-1930s qualify as a period piece or an historical? I think my rule of thumb will be, anything older than me is historical. I can do that. This is my blog.)
What really intrigues me is Martin’s passion for Hollywood. Hollywood in its glory days. The Hollywood that set the standard for glamor and style. Ever since Martin ended the agent-quest, he’s been writing articles about historical Hollywood. He writes about the movers and shakers, movie stars, and legendary places. The Mocambo nightclub, Schwab’s Pharmacy, Sunset Boulevard, Bullocks Wilshire, and famous theaters like Earl Carroll’s and the Palladium. If you have any interest at all in the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll love Martin’s well-researched and highly entertaining articles. Just as cool, too, has been following Martin’s own Hollywood-story starting with his article, My Big Fat Hollywood Meeting, about his first encounter with a movie producer. It’s a hoot.
The Garden on Sunset didn’t disappoint. Martin brings Hollywood and its stars to life. But wait, there’s more! There’s dish on journalists and gossip columnists and studio heads and talent scouts, too. I fell in love with Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn (Oh, that Gwendolyn! You never know what that girl will do in order to be discovered. Her antics had me laughing and wincing) in their struggles to follow their dreams and their hearts, and it’s a tough town for that. It’s a story, too, about friendship and love, mostly learning how to love yourself and be yourself in a place where such values aren’t usually valued.
Good job, Martin. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.
Discovered: The author’s blog
Bought: on Amazon for my Kindle, January 4, 2012, $4.99