Words with the Author

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait author Kendra Bean was so kind to take the time to answer some of my questions on the process of creating her book, as well as delving deeper into the complex lives of Vivien and Laurence Olivier. I’m loving her insightful and considerate responses to what makes Vivien’s story such an important one for our time and what it’s like to construct such a detailed illustrated biography in the age of technology. Enjoy!


 

Author Kendra Bean

You spent many, many years researching Vivien not only for this book, but also for your personal academic work. What was it about Vivien and her career that drew you to write about her in such detail?

Vivien has been my favorite actress for years. Having been a cinema lover from a very young age, her films are certainly a huge part of her appeal for me. On screen, she was magnetic, beautiful, intriguing, ethereal, often tragic. These qualities were also part of who she was as a person. She was very complex and managed to juggle a public persona that was sometimes much different from what she was experiencing in private. There has been much written about Vivien over the years, but the more I read, the more I wanted to know!

In addition to having written extensively about Vivien, you’ve spent years as the founder and sole maintainer of the VivAndLarry website and the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Facebook page. How much did those two outlets impact your work on An Intimate Portrait?

For one, the social media aspect has definitely helped keep my interest in Vivien alive. Editing a website or blog about a single, niche subject, one runs the risk of running out of things to say. By being able to “meet” and interact with other people around the world who share the same passion, I’ve not only had the opportunity to keep discussing Vivien (and Laurence Olivier), but I’m always learning new things and considering certain aspects of her life and career from different perspectives. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to meet some of these brilliant, kind people in real life and formed lasting friendships. When doing research, I couldn’t be everywhere at once, and so I really appreciated those who offered to go to their local or university libraries to help me gather information, and to send in photos from their own collections. It’s been a team effort.

When it came to publishing An Intimate Portrait, social media was and still is hugely advantageous. It has been extremely helpful in regards to marketing both the book and myself as an author. It has also allowed me to drum up interest and show publishers actual statistics to prove that there is still an audience for books about Vivien. I’ve been pretty transparent on the website and Facebook about who I am, the work I was doing, and what my goals were for this book. From the feedback I’ve received, a lot of people seem to appreciate that.

Through VivAndLarry and social media you’ve documented a lot of the interesting places you visited and people you consulted while writing the book. What were some of the most exciting aspects you encountered when it came to researching Vivien’s life and legacy?

A great question! My favorite part was the research process. I love geeking out while spending time in library archives, digging through old materials, and trying to piece together a puzzle/narrative. I used to do it for fun before someone decided to pay me, so it’s an experience I really enjoy.

I loved reading the personal letters Vivien sent to other people, particularly those she wrote to Olivier. It’s one thing to read or hear third party opinions about their relationship, but their candid personal correspondence reveals what they were really thinking and how they really felt about each other and their work.

Another thing I immensely enjoyed was finding beautiful photos that had never been published within these archives. Unfortunately, copyright restrictions prevented me from using everything I wanted to use, but just knowing these gems are out there, and what they meant to the person who kept them, is exciting in itself.

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

In capturing the relationship between Vivien and Laurence Olivier you undoubtedly faced a lot of the controversy and widely-varying opinions that have since been saddled onto their love affair and marriage. In general, what do you hope readers will take away from their relationship as presented in An Intimate Portrait?

Another really interesting question. I wrote about their relationship with objectivity in mind, and I hope that comes across in the book. So much has been written about these two as a couple, with varying opinions, and degrees of accuracy and sensationalism. They led a very private life during their marriage and didn’t open up about their personal relationship to the press until much later. It was passionate in the beginning, and extremely difficult toward the end. She was quite obsessed with him for the rest of her life and it was obvious to me going through Olivier’s papers that he cared very deeply for her, as well. Today, it seems kind of fashionable to point out both Vivien’s and Olivier’s flaws as people and as actors. No doubt they both had their fair share of imperfections – they were human, after all, and I imagine they were both difficult to live with. But what I hope people take away from this book is an understanding that their relationship was very complex, involved, and anything but black and white.

Although she might not be as extensively iconic as the more Hollywood-centric celebrities of her era, your book effectively illustrates Vivien’s impact on the world as one of history’s great beauties and greatest actresses. What do you think it is about her personal character that continues to resonate with generations of women?

I think Vivien brought a lot of herself to her film roles, so when we watch her on screen (especially in hindsight, knowing her personal story), we get glimpses of Vivien Leigh the person. She played a lot of regal women whose cool, outward steeliness was belied by a touching sense of dignified vulnerability. I think she was like that in real life, too. The fact that she struggled with personal demons but still managed to accomplish so many impressive feats as an actor is something I think many fans admire today. I’ve gotten emails from people through my website who talked about how reading about Vivien’s struggles with bipolar disorder helped them come to terms with their own struggle. I mean, if that’s not admirable, I’m not sure what is. In the introduction to my book, I highlight a quote in which Vivien said, “I hope my life will prove a useful and good one, to many people.” The fact that we’re still talking about her today and that her films are still loved by so many is proof that she succeeded.

Last but not least, with such a beautiful achievement now complete, can we expect to see more biographical writing from you in the future?

I hope so. This was such a learning experience for me, and despite it being very stressful at times, I really enjoyed it on the whole. I’ve definitely got ideas and have discussed them with my agent and an editor at a major publishing house here in London, so we’ll see what happens. Watch this space!

Author Lauren Willig

About Kendra Bean
Kendra Bean has an MA in Film Studies from King’s College London. Her writing on Vivien Leigh and cinema has been published in numerous film publications and she has participated in the production of numerous festivals, exhibits, and documentaries relating to classic film. She is the designer and editor of vivandlarry, an online historical archive and blog dedicated to Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, classic Hollywood, and world cinema. Kendra resides in London, England.

Connect with Kendra: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Buy Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble

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Today I’m very happy to host Jon Land, author of the bestselling Caitlin Strong series (including the most recent addition, Strong Rain Falling). The Brown University alum and author of thirty books has some terrific insights to share on why he chose to write about the Texas Rangers and the art of crafting such a unique female protagonist as Caitlin Strong. Many thanks to Jon for taking the time to share these thoughtful answers!


Jon Land, Strong Rain Falling, Caitlin Strong
Author Jon Land
“Rangers, believe it or not, still
do a lot of the same things
they used to do…”

Your depiction of the Texas Rangers – from the fictional to the historical – has no doubt required a great deal of research. What were some of the most surprising facts about the Rangers that your research led you to?

Great question to start off and several things actually. First and foremost, in the case of the Texas Rangers, the legends and the mythos really are accurate. They started off as the quintessential frontier heroes, going up against vastly larger forces and coming out on top more times than not. It’s also true that Rangers tracked down some of the worst outlaws in history, including Bonnie and Clyde. And another thing that surprised me was how well their well-earned reputations and prowess has carried over into contemporary times. Rangers, believe it or not, still do a lot of the same things they used to do and the lawless nature of the border with Mexico, thanks to drug smuggling, still leaves them with more than share of outlaws to deal with. The one surprising thing I learned that was not nearly as positive was how close the Rangers were to being disbanded in the early 1900s after their numbers expanded so fast because of out problems with Mexico, the organization lost its mythos. A number of very unsavory incidents occurred as a result, including a number of rumored massacres of Mexican civilians. But tradition managed to win out and the Rangers remain an elite law enforcement force today.

What motivated you to draw on the Texas Rangers at the start of this series and ultimately create the unforgettable Caitlin Strong?

Okay, confession time on that one. Caitlin Strong was actually born at a business meeting at my publisher where we were discussing what direction I should go in next. One of the heads of Forge’s sales department raised the point that thrillers are the most popular genre and the vast majority of books are bought by women so, BOOM!, a light bulb went off in my head and right there on the spot I said I wanted to create a female action hero, say a female version of Lee Child’s brilliant Jack Reacher. Well, I’d always wanted to write about the Texas Rangers so I just melded the two together and there was Caitlin waiting to burst out from the page. Hey, she may have been the product of a sales discussion, but she is without question the most complex, interesting hero I’ve ever created. Making Caitlin a Texas Ranger, and a Fifth Generation one at that, provided her with instant credibility. Rangers are the law enforcement equivalent of the Special Forces in my mind and in creating a female action hero, I needed to establish right from the get-go that she could handle herself on par with the male action figures who dominate the genre.

Strong Rain Falling, Caitlin Strong, Jon Land
Read my review of Strong Rain Falling
“[Caitlin] is without question
the most complex, interesting
hero I’ve ever created.”

Caitlin is one impressive heroine. As the author, what do you think makes her such a compelling character for readers to connect with?

Wow, that’s such a great question. For starters, I think she’s a lot more comfortable in her own skin, in that she’s come to accept who she is. The problem with that is she remains vulnerable to her own frontier gunfighter mentality. She doesn’t shy away from violence and some might even say she embraces it too much. That forms a striking contrast with the feminine and maternal instincts that surface when she’s around Cort Wesley and his sons. I guess the point I’m kind of suggesting here is that the little things, tasks, we take for granted in life, like raising kids, are actually a lot harder than chasing bad guys and often killing them. That’s because it highlights the constant push-pull in her character between the old-fashioned gunfighter that Caitlin unquestionably is and the loving maternal figure she finds herself becoming for Cort Wesley’s two sons. I think Caitlin’s scenes with those boys, most notably the opening of STRONG RAIN FALLING when she’s taking 18-year-old Dylan on a college visit to Brown University, are the scenes where Caitlin springs most to life and all her emotional conflicts are most on display. This isn’t a part of her life she’d ever expected or planned for, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything. Writing action is easy compared to writing emotion, but it’s emotion that makes the Caitlin Strong books truly special. In traditional tales, it’s the woman who tries to get the male gunfighter to give up his guns and settle down. But I decided in the Caitlin Strong series to reverse that paradigm and define the relationship between Caitlin and Cort Wesley based on his struggles as a single father and her gradually acceding to her maternal instincts to become a surrogate mother for Cort Wesley’s sons. That adds a freshness and vitality to all the Caitlin Strong books that provides me with a continuing emotional core. Stick to that core and the rest falls into place.


Pandora's Temple, Jon Land, Blaine McCracken
Pandora’s Temple, tenth in the Blaine McCracken series
“Writing, like everything else,
is a progression.”

You’re no stranger to writing a mystery series. Do you feel that your experiences writing your past novels shaped how you approached the Caitlin Strong books in any way?

That’s a really great question and the short answer is, yes, absolutely. Writing, like everything else, is a progression. Getting better at your craft and building on your accomplishments—in this case creative ones. Early on, and for a quite stretch after that in my career, my books were pretty much black and white: good guys versus bad guys with not much in the middle. But the thing I love most about the Caitlin Strong books are the shades of gray they include, the ambiguity of characters defined as much by their flaws as their strengths. Let’s look at a character other than Caitlin as an example: Colonel Guillermo Paz, the giant assassin formerly with the Venezuelan secret police. I don’t think I’ve ever created a character who speaks on his own and creates his own dialogue better than Paz. He’s an indestructible killing machine originally hired to kill Caitlin way back in the first book in the series [Strong Enough to Die], but has evolved into her protector and guardian angel since. He’s always in search of the elusive answers to provide some sort of spiritual enlightenment. When regular visits to church confessionals fail to achieve this for him, Strong Rain Falling features scenes of Paz auditing college philosophy classes where the professors, how I can put this mildly?, run afoul him—a truly bad idea, trust me. And the amazing thing about Paz (SPOILER ALERT!) was that he wasn’t even supposed to survive the first book in the series. Turned out he had plans of his own. And that’s the point, because when you shade your characters in gray, they take on much more an independent life of their own and grew organically within the context of the story.

Last but not least, what can we expect to see from Caitlin Strong next?

Ah, always my favorite question! As we speak, I’m just about to finish the first draft of STRONG DARKNESS, the next Caitlin thriller which will be published in September of 2014. In this one she takes on a Chinese villain with a plot, stop me if you’ve heard this before, to do unspeakable damage to the United States. Even more than usual, this one has strong (no pun intended!) basis in reality. The book has great potential but it’s too early in the process to say how it will compare to a book as good as STRONG RAIN FALLING. One thing that struck me the other day is how the theme of revenge seems to be the primary inciter for virtually all of my Caitlin Strong books. On the one hand, that’s a concern because I don’t want to become stale and repetitive. But on the other revenge has probably been the most powerful theme in the history of all literature and the difference in the Caitlin Strong series is that the vengeance in question is often coming from something that happened many years in the past, the basis for the historical subplots that have become a staple of the series.

About Jon Land
Jon Land is the critically acclaimed author of thirty novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, and Strong Vengeance. In addition, Land is the coauthor of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal, which was named Best True-Crime Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine. Jon Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be found on the Web at www.jonlandbooks.com.

Visit Jon: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble

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As Lauren Willig’s The Passion of the Purple Plumeria hits bookstore shelves today the author has some insights to share on the research that went into the tenth novel in her Pink Carnation series. Incidentally, if you haven’t read the Pink Carnation series yet you can still enjoy Purple Plumeria on its own (though you’ll find yourself on a mad dash to get your hands on the early books soon after – I’m speaking from experience!). To make life blissfully easy she also has a guide to the suggested reading order of the books on her website. Enjoy!


 

Author Lauren Willig
Photo credit: © Sigrid Estrada

What kind of research did you do for The Passion of the Purple Plumeria?

Every book involves a mosaic of little bits and pieces of research, often on incredibly esoteric topics. Want to know about opera houses in Dublin in 1803, the practice of “mad-doctoring” in London in 1804, or the exact construction of Talleyrand’s bedroom furniture in 1805? I’m your woman. I wish I were joking about Talleyrand’s bedroom furniture, but, sadly, it’s true. I spent three days tracking down his bedroom décor for an early scene in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria – which I then deleted.

In The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, the Ottoman sultan is pressuring Napoleon to find him a legendary jewel belonging to the Rajah of Berar lost during the siege of Gawilghur two years before. French and English spies have tracked the location of the jewel to, of all places, a young ladies’ seminary in Bath. Before writing Purple Plumeria, I spent a great deal of time reading up on Franco-Ottoman relations (fun fact: Selim III was the first Sultan to bring opera to Constantinople). My hero, Colonel William Reid, is a retired officer in the Madras cavalry, born of Scots parents in North Carolina, with a brood of Anglo-Indian children, so, for his background, I needed to know about life in India, and particularly in the East India Company’s military service, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. My hero and heroine’s adventures lead them to the underground Roman ruins that punctuate the subterranean landscape of Bath, which meant a lot of time spent squinting at pictures of Roman baths, trying to get the architecture right. Because, after all, if your hero and heroine are fleeing through a subterranean ruin, you only want them to trip over the right kind of collapsed frieze.

And that’s just the tip of the research iceberg…

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig
The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

What is the most interesting (strange, funny, etc.) piece of information you learned during the research process?

Each book brings with it its own research gems: the bits you read and think, “Whoa, that happened?”

Yes. Yes, it did. Because history is inevitably stranger than fiction. Some of my favorites, over the years, have included the mad ruler of Hyderabad who liked to strangle his concubines with silk handkerchiefs; the Irish conspirators who accidentally blew up their own headquarters while trying to manufacture rocket fuses; and Napoleon’s experiments with innovative naval devices, including a prototype submarine by none other than Robert Fulton. I’ve also had fun with the Hellfire Club (who didn’t call themselves the Hellfire Club) whose rituals really were that bizarre, and, sometimes, rather silly.

In The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, I responded to the lure of missing treasure. During the siege of Gawilghur in 1803, the rumor went around that someone had made off with the Rajah of Berar’s treasure. What really happened to the treasure? Was it just a rumor? Was it looted piece by piece? Or did someone really disappear with the Rajah’s horde?

Naturally, I couldn’t resist using that missing treasure as the basis for a book…

Author Lauren Willig
Photo credit: © Sigrid Estrada

About Lauren Willig
Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

Connect with Lauren: Website | Facebook | Goodreads
Buy The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble

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Following yesterday’s review of The Disillusioned, I’m delighted to have author D.J. Williams on the blog today to discuss his upcoming novel and some of the subjects behind it. You can read about The Disillusioned and find my review of it over here. Thank you to Mr. Williams for kindly taking the time to answer these questions; The Disillusioned will be published on May 1, 2013 from WestBow Press and is available now for pre-order (links below).


Author DJ Williams
Author D.J. Williams
“The disconnect between religion
and the poor is what kept me writing…”

Religion and child trafficking are the two central pillars of the The Disillusioned’s story. How did the concept for focusing on these two subjects come together? Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to draw the story into an African setting?

When I started writing The Disillusioned I asked myself some tough questions about today’s religious landscape. I dialed in on a prestigious Christian family and the story took off from there. I’ve been behind the scenes of many churches and I’ve walked the dirt roads of the poor. I found it intriguing that for many who pursue their calling in the church these two pillars are still worlds apart, especially in the U.S. We’ve seen how success can change religious leaders when their pursuit of sharing the Gospel becomes a life filled with self-ambition inside professional religion. I had a ninety-two year old friend tell me once that the greatest difference he has seen in today’s religious institutions is that many are pursuing a career instead of a calling. All of this is happening while the poor are still starving, still being sold into slavery, and still dying each day. The disconnect between religion and the poor is what kept me writing until the last page and I don’t think the story is over.

Now, before anyone writes me an email disputing the paragraph above I will say this…I have many friends who are leaders in churches throughout the world. I’m not saying that all of them are self-ambitious or power hungry tycoons. But, I will say that if we believe this side of the church does not exist then we are fooling ourselves and missing the mark in our faith.

As far as the story taking readers to Africa, I didn’t know that was going to happen. I didn’t even know it would involve human trafficking. The deeper I went with the characters the story just took me there. Once I realized it was an important thread I knew that there was a message I wanted to convey. Sure, I wanted the story to be entertaining, suspenseful, and filled with a shadow of mystery that kept readers guessing until the last page. I also wanted to challenge readers to look at the faith they believe in, the life they are living, and ask themselves how they can make a difference in the lives of those in need.

You’re certainly an experienced traveler – born in Hong Kong, living now in LA, with everything from the Amazon and Africa in between. Did you find that your travel inspired any of Sam’s reactions to being abroad in the novel?

I have been very fortunate to be given opportunities to travel the world. Growing up in Hong Kong immersed me in a variety of cultures and I think that shaped my view of the world from a young age. When I decided that The Disillusioned was going to Africa I knew exactly where the places would be because I had been to many of them myself. It definitely helped in the writing process because I was describing places I remembered and people who had crossed my path. I tried to infuse a bit of my life experience in both Danny and Sam, just enough for readers to relate to the adventure of traveling to a foreign land.

The Disillusioned by D.J. Williams
“I decided before The Disillusioned was finished that I wanted to do
what I could to help make a difference.”

The Disillusioned does a powerful job of raising awareness of the harsh reality of child trafficking. What can readers do to help in the fight against this tragedy?

As many of us know, millions are being sold into slavery. Human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. It is not just something that is happening in third world countries, it is happening here in the U.S. as well. Knowing that is reality I decided before The Disillusioned was finished that I wanted to do what I could to help make a difference. So, for every book sold we are making a donation to the “Let’s Respond” Campaign, which is headed up by the F.A.C.T. Alliance in Orange County, CA.

They are focused on building aftercare facilities for victims, both nationally and internationally. Without aftercare, rescue is futile, as statistically, victims tend to go back to the only life they know unless they have strong alternatives. Currently, the campaign is focused on building an aftercare village in Africa, a victim support facility in Northern California, and has partnered with The Love 146 Roundhome in the Philippines. I am excited that The Disillusioned will be a part of helping this great organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about them you can visit www.LetsRespond.com or you can contact me on my website at www.djwilliamsbooks.com

Prior to writing The Disillusioned you did a lot of work producing and directing for television. Did you find that your experience with that method of storytelling affected your approach to novel writing?

I think working in any type of creative media helps when you crossover into another aspect of visual or written storytelling. In all of these areas you’re trying to tell a story that is compelling for the viewer/reader. You need to grab their attention and then keep it throughout. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from the projects I’ve been involved in. Also, on the television side I work mainly as a producer or director so it’s a different frame of mind from writing. I’m always watching the clock, the schedule, the shots and making sure I’m getting what we need to cut an episode together. For me, writing The Disillusioned was an escape from all of that. I took my time. I wrote alone. No one read a single word until I was nearly finished. It was much more solitary than directing or producing, which I enjoyed.

Last but not least, what project (or projects) are you working on now? Readers could possibly imagine a sequel to The Disillusioned; is that something you might pursue in the future?

I have a 4-book series that has been shopped around over the last year and is still trying to find a home. I’m going to shelve it for now because there is a story I’ve been researching over the last three years. I think I’m finally ready to write it. It’s filled with rich characters from the 1920′s and present day whose lives collide. My hope is it will keep readers guessing, leaving them on the edge of their seats, trying to figure out how these two eras will unfold in the story. With The Disillusioned ready to hit the shelves I’m finding myself once again standing on the edge ready to jump back into the deep end. As far as a sequel to The Disillusioned…I will let the readers decide. I will say that I have outlined the second book already just in case. Wish me luck!

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With the DNA of a world traveler, Williams was born in Hong Kong, has ventured into the jungles of the Amazon, the bush of Africa, and the slums of the Far East, to share stories of those who are overcoming incredible odds. Williams is the co-author of Restoration Road with Mitch Kruse and ghostwrites for other fiction authors. He has also produced and directed over 140 television episodes syndicated on NBC, ABC, FOX and various cable networks worldwide. Currently, he lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife.

Connect with D.J.: Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter
Buy The Disillusioned: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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