Behind the Book: Hollywood Honkytonk

January 25, 2017



It's been almost two weeks since the release of my book Hollywood Honkytonk. I'd like to thank everyone who purchased a copy, wrote reviews, and sent me such sweet letters about Jack and Riley. I've been lucky to connect with a few new bloggers who shared excerpts, reviews, and even playlists for the story.

This week I'd like to try something new. Here's a little trivia and some backstory about Hollywood Honkytonk.

 

Riley, the heroine's name

Riley is the name of my friend Mark's dog, a reddish-brown puggle. As a puppy, Riley was very rambunctious, so once when we were visiting, my friend had to call her out again and again and again. After a while, the name stuck with me, and when it came time to give my heroine a name, Riley was the name in my head.

 

Waylon Jennings

While I was revising this book for the first time in 2015, I was listening to a lot of music by the Highwaymen: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. Jennings' voice is my favorite of the four, and "Honkytonk Heroes" is one of my favorite songs of his, a celebration of "lovable losers and no-account boozers." It tells the story of down-to-earth people who would feel out of place in Hollywood, who'd be outsiders just like Riley. The song inspired the title of the book, Hollywood Honkytonk, and in honor of that, I named Riley's dog Waylon. Waylon in the book looks just like my dog Frances, who sometimes gets in trouble for her howlin' and wailin' ("waylon").

 

Thai food

There are hundreds of Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, and many excellent ones in Hollywood. My favorite Thai restaurant in Hollywood is called Hoy Ka, which means "to dangle your feet." The original owners had a restaurant in Thailand where customers would sit at tall tables and dangle their feet over the river as they ate. Malibu is not close to Hollywood, but I guarantee that the people of Malibu would want their own Thai restaurant. Malibu Thai is a fictional restaurant whose delivery man interrupts Jack and Riley's first almost-kiss.

 

Riley's red carpet dress

I love, love, love the dresses of the Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad. The boutique that Riley visits for her fitting is what I imagine (daydream?) a visit to a Zuhair Murad couture boutique would be like. If you search for strapless Zuhair Murad evening gowns, you will see some examples of what Riley's dress might look like. Hers would be emerald green, to match her red hair.

 

First book

Hollywood Honkytonk is my seventh published book since 2015, but it is the first book I ever completed. Five years ago, in 2012, a friend of mine told me that she and her son wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I told my husband about this madcap idea. Participants in the program write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. My husband, an adventurous sort, said he was in. Together, all four of us embarked on our first novel writing experience. For me, the 50,000 word goal came and went. By the end of the month I had 70,000 words and by the end of January almost 125,000.

The original title of this book was Song and Dance, and the original first scene was an extended prologue where high-school aged Jack and Riley are on stage together during their final performance of Romeo and Juliet. It's the last scene. Riley is supposed to kiss Jack, stab herself, and die, thus ending the play. But Jack, who is supposed to be dead, reaches up, pins her to him, and gives her a real kiss--something he's been dying to do all his life. This leads to Riley's boyfriend Tommy beating Jack up in the parking lot, a detail that I hint at in the book. (Jack and Riley's names are a reversal of their roles in the play, Romeo and Juliet, R and J.)

In its original form, the book was a rambling, confusing, happy mess, so much so that my publisher actually first bought my second book, the sequel to Hollywood Honkyonk, Jack's older brother Sam's story, Deep Down. Two revisions plus three rounds of edits plus two rounds of copy edits transformed Hollywood Honkytonk into a lean, mean 80,000 words. When I think about Jack and Riley now, I look at them as old friends I've grown up with. I look at the structure of the book as a gentle box-step, the work of a brand-new author afraid of making a mistake. In the pages I see myself, that writer, falling in first love not just with the characters but with the act of storytelling itself. In this sense, Hollywood Honkytonk was my first real kiss. A little awkward, a little too earnest, but--I believe--the start of something beautiful.