Interview with ‘City of Mirrors’ Author Melodie Johnson Howe
Former actress Melodie Johnson Howe introduced her series heroine, Diana Pool, to readers with 2012’s Shooting Hollywood. Diana returns in the City of Mirrors, a twisty thriller that takes you deep into Hollywood’s dark side. As Micheal Connelly says, “City of Mirrors is deftly written and smart. On top of that, it is entertaining as hell.” Johnson Howe answers our questions about Diana’s latest adventure.
What would you like readers who haven’t met Diana Poole yet to know?
Diana Poole is one of those actresses that you would recognize if you saw her in an elevator or the market, but you probably wouldn’t remember her name. She is not an ingénue. In her early forties she is a struggling professional actor who has lived in her movie star mother’s shadow and is now carving out an identity of her own. She’s strong, intelligent, witty, and has a wry gimlet-eyed view of Hollywood. But she knows how to play the game. When confronted with murder, Diana becomes a reluctant detective, using her intelligence, instincts, and acting ability to find the killer. I think if readers met her they would love to sit down and have a drink with her. I know I would.
In City of Mirrors, Diana is forced to return to acting. What kind of research did you do to make her Hollywood life seem so authentic? Did you draw mainly on your own experiences?
I lived the Hollywood life so I really didn’t need to do much research. The little I did was to make sure I was up to date on the ‘New Hollywood’. The Universal Studios that I was under contract to was very different from the one that exists now. The process of acting and getting a movie made is pretty much the same; but the money and the egos are bigger now.
Hollywood always seems like the perfect setting for mysteries to us, but what appealed to you personally about the genre?
William Faulkner said, “Hollywood is the only place where you can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” But that could also be said of politics, pharmaceuticals, or any big business. I think what makes Hollywood a great background for crime is that you are never sure what is real. Hype becomes the truth. The people who live and work there range from those who have never made it, to ruthless business men, to the creative movie makers. They are all very different, except for one thing — they are all obsessed with making it, even the losers. Hollywood has a breadth and an array of characters that make it a writer’s delight. I think the difficulty in writing about Hollywood is to avoid the cliché.
You always wanted to write, and eventually left acting to pursue it fully. Can you tell us a little bit about making that choice?
There’s an old joke about a guy in the circus who walks behind the elephants cleaning up their poop. When asked why he doesn’t get another job, he says, “What? And get out of show business?!” Hollywood is seductive even if the reality of it can be ugly. But where else can you be bigger than life except on a movie screen.
As you said, I’d always wanted to be a writer, even as a child. I couldn’t give up that dream. While acting, I went to UCLA Extension and took writing courses. I was also an avid reader. I wrote a play that was produced in Los Angles, and yet I sill clung to acting. It was my identity.
One day I was up for a part, sitting in a room with four other blondes, and I thought if I don’t commit now I’ll never be a writer. Swallowing my ego, heart pounding, I got up and left. I hadn’t intended to make that decision at that moment. But I’d been thinking about it for some time. I drove home and created an office space for myself. I never looked back. I found the real me in that room, at that desk, writing down words. It wasn’t an easy journey from actress to writer, but it was one that I had to make. And I’m glad I did.
What can readers expect next from you (and Diana)?
I hope my readers can expect another suspenseful thriller. I have a great need to entertain. I did as an actress and I do as a writer. I don’t look down on the fact that our genre is sometimes treated as just entertainment. Diana Poole is my star in that sense. In the new book, Diana will have made some money and has been able to get her old Jag fixed so that the heater and the door lock work. Almost. She has a new wood deck and has even attempted to decorate her house. Almost. For the first time in her life she’s trying to create a real home, which she has never had. But when she and Ryan Johns, her friend, witness an automobile accident their lives are turned upside down. Again Diana is put in the position of being the reluctant detective. Her love interest, Hollywood fixer Leo Heath, will return, along with many new intriguing characters. One might even continue in future novels. Unless I kill her off.
What books are currently sitting on your nightstand?
Oh God, I have books on the nightstand, the floor, everywhere. I even have e-books on my virtual library shelves I have yet to read. I like straight fiction, biography, non-fiction, and all genres of mystery and suspense. Let me see what I have here. Right now I’m reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Waiting in the wings are Visitation Street by Ivey Pochoda, The Double by George Pelecanos, and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, which I have a need to reread at least once a year, or any other Chandler book for that matter.
Melodie Johnson Howe is the author of two novels, The Mother Shadow, nominated for an Edgar award, and Beauty Dies; a collection of short fiction, Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories; and a play, The Lady of the House. After a career in movies and television, she quit acting to write novels. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband.
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