Are you a classic film buff? Then you’ll love The Silver Blonde, the new historical mystery from Elizabeth Ross, set in 1940s Hollywood. Elizabeth graciously dropped by our blog to answer some questions:
Q&A with Elizabeth Ross
Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?
The Silver Blonde is a noir mystery set in post-war Los Angeles. I was inspired by my love of old Hollywood films, particularly the noir classics of the 40s and 50s – as well as my experience working in LA as a film editor. I thought it would be interesting to explores the themes common in film noir – deceit, alienation, complicity – and apply them to a YA character.
Who would you cast as your characters in a movie adaptation?
That’s a tough one to answer. When I was writing the novel I did have inspiration pictures of actors – but they were all from the classic Hollywood era. I thought of Clara as a young Ingrid Berman, natural but with poise and intelligence. I found a great shot of a young Jack Kerouac for Gil. Babe Bannon is a composite of Barbara Stanwyck for her acting chops and guts, Lauren Bacall for her husky voice and glamor, and Veronica Lake for her incredible hair.
What kind of research did you do to write The Silver Blonde? What’s the best/most interesting/weirdest thing you learned while researching?
I did a ton of research. One of the coolest things I got to do was visit the old nitrate vaults at Paramount studios. An editor friend who was working on the lot arranged the tour. When we were standing in that narrow vault she commented that it looked like a place you might find a dead body. That chance remark was a flash of inspiration and by the end of the first chapter, Clara does indeed find a dead body in the film vaults. Also during my research I was able to attend some screenings of nitrate film prints. When you think how we consume media nowadays – on a phone or tablet – seeing a nitrate print projected up on the big screen with an audience of film buffs, I was transported. I could understand why movie stars in the classic era had such allure and star power.
How was writing The Silver Blonde different than writing Belle Epoque? Do you have any writing advice you learned during the process (or writing advice in general)?
Both books were very different experiences. I have a theory that with each book you have to relearn how to write a novel – how to write that novel. With Belle Epoque I began writing with my plain Jane character, Maude, front and center. Having her clear voice in my head made the story come easier. With The Silver Blonde it was more of a concept – film noir – and it took time to find my main characters and their histories. I spent a lot of time researching and I had a couple of false starts, but ultimately unlocking the key to this novel I found to be more rewarding as it was hard-fought. The story took me to places I hadn’t imagined when I started out. It was an intense creative journey and it tested me as a writer. Advice: please yourself, you are the first reader. Try and turn off your inner critic and ideas of perfectionism.
The Silver Blonde is set in 1946 Hollywood. What’s your favorite Hollywood film from (or about) that era?
In the novel I include a filmography of some the films mentioned in the book including Hitchcock’s Notorious, starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant – such a great pairing. One of my favourite noir films is Gilda, starring the dazzling Rita Hayworth. Another superb film from this era – about the industry of Hollywood – is Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.
The book is something of a mystery, too. What’s the trickiest thing about writing a compelling mystery?
Mystery was a new genre for me. What makes it challenging is that you’re writing two stories: the story on the page as the characters uncover clues and solve the puzzle; and the story off screen – what really happened. Nailing down the structure and sequence of events, as well as solving logic problems can be tricky. But when you do figure something out, it’s as thrilling as it is for your main character making the discovery.
Who are some of your favorite historical fiction authors?
I adore Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. How does she pull off that incredible story structure – it’s such a feat of storytelling. I’m currently reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, it’s totally bewitching. And at the top of my TBR pile is Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a TV screenplay adaptation of Belle Epoque. It’s still very much in the development stage. . .but stay tuned! And on the book front, I tend to write about places that are important to me. I spent time in Paris and Montreal, both of which provided inspiration for Belle Epoque; and of course living and working in LA inspired The Silver Blonde. I grew up in Scotland so I know there’s a Scottish story I need to tell. . . .
Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?
The Criterion channel. I haven’t gone to a movie theatre in over a year, so I have been devouring the treasure trove of classic and foreign films on Criterion. Recently I watched some amazing Japanese noir films – in particular High and Low by Kurosawa, starring the incredible Toshiro Mifune.
Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! The Silver Blonde is out now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!
The Silver Blonde
By Elizabeth Ross
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780385741484 | Delacorte BFYR
Hollywood, 1946. The war is over, and eighteen-year-old Clara Berg spends her days shelving reels as a vault girl at Silver Pacific Studios, with all her dreams pinned on getting a break in film editing. That and a real date with handsome yet unpredictable screenwriter Gil. But when she returns a reel of film to storage one night, Clara stumbles across the authosumlifeless body of a woman in Vault 5. The costume, the makeup, the ash-blond hair are unmistakable – it has to be Babe Bannon, A-list star. And it looks like murder. Suddenly Clara’s world is in free-fall, her future in movies upended – not to mention that her refugee parents are planning to return to Germany and don’t want her to set foot on the studio lot again. As the Silver Blonde murder ignites Tinseltown, rumors and accusations swirl. The studio wants a quick solve, but the facts of the case keep shifting. Nothing is what it seems – not even the victim. Clara finds herself drawn, inevitably, to the murder investigation, and the dark side of Hollywood. But how far is she willing to go to find the truth?
Also by Elizabeth Ross:
By Elizabeth Ross
352 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780385741477 | Ember
When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service – the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive. Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect adornment of plainness. Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.