City of Mirrors by Melodie Johnson Howe
Running out of money, Diana Poole is forced to go back to the only work she knows: acting. Her much-loved husband and movie-star mother have died, and now Diana is forty. In Hollywood that means she might as well be dead. Still, a few key people remember her talent, and she lands a role in a new movie.
But an actress should never get her hopes up, especially when Diana discovers the young female lead’s murdered body.
Raised in her mother’s shadow, Diana knows people in the business will go to dangerous lengths to protect their images. When her own life and career are threatened, Diana decides to fight back and find the killer.
But unmasking the surprising identity of the murderer isn’t so easy, Diana discovers, especially as she begins to uncover what’s real—and unreal—in her own life.
Has your acting background helped you in fiction writing, if so, how?
There are many things a writer can learn from acting. Having been an actress, I had to say all kinds of dialogue from the very worst to the very best. I leaned to really hear the words I spoke. The ones that sounded real, the ones that sounded stilted. I began to understand the pace of dialogue and how can it can slow a scene or sped it up, creating more tension. Comedy has its own kind of pacing. The one thing I know for sure is people don’t speak using colons, semicolons, or dashes.
An actor needs to have a goal in a scene, something that gives her focus, and a reason for being on stage or in front of the camera. It’s the same with a character in a book. Otherwise your character, like a bad actor, stands around flapping her arms.
What challenges did you encounter while writing CITY OF MIRRORS?
I didn’t want CITY OF MIRRORS to be just another suspense novel about the glitz, glamour and shallowness of Hollywood. I understood Hollywood in a different way, from a working actress’ point of view. Hollywood is a business where the people in it never take a day off. So I guess my biggest challenge was avoiding the giant cliché that Hollywood basically is.
What will your readers love about your protagonist Diana Poole?
I think readers will like Diana Poole because she is older, with a history that gives her a certain amount of standing and at the same time vulnerability. She’s a survivor in a business that many people, especially women, don’t survive. Her relationship with her dead mother is something many readers can identify with. The competition that can happen between a mother and daughter, and the different forms it can take. Also, Diana doesn’t take herself too seriously. I hate very serious protagonists. Especially in thrillers. They’re a bore. Diana has suffered the loss of a loved one, which I think most readers can identify with. Her intelligence and wit is what gets her through life.
You deal with challenges women face in Hollywood in CITY OF MIRRORS; did you interview people in the business to shape Diana? If so, what kinds of questions did you ask?
I didn’t need to interview anyone. I knew the business intimately. Times have changed for the better for women since I was working in Hollywood. There are more women directors, executives, producers, etc. But for actresses? I don’t think that much has changed. I still think it’s a short period of time you have to make it.
The men and women in charge want to be seduced (metaphorically or maybe not) by their female leads. So the choice to pick an actress for a role can be a very personal decision that the actress has little control over. There was a producer who would never hire me because he didn’t like that my nose had a tendency to cast a small shadow on my face. Go figure.
However, TV has changed since I was acting. There are more roles for older women who might not be working anymore. But it’s a game of numbers. There will always be more good actresses than there are roles for them.
Any interesting facts you can share with us that you encountered during your research for CITY OF MIRRORS?
I’m a native of Los Angeles. I grew up around “Hollywood.” But I live in Santa Barbara now. Your physical surroundings change very quickly in southern California. Something “old” gets torn down and something “new” pops up in its place and suddenly you can’t remember what used to be there. So I got in my car and drove down to Malibu and cruised around. I quickly learned that what I remembered and what “is” are two different things. Actually, for me, the writer, it was kind of wonderful blending my memory of the past with the present in this novel.
What type of reader do you think will enjoy CITY OF MIRRORS?
I think any reader who loves a good, faced-paced thriller with a complicated mystery and a strong female protagonist would enjoy this book. But readers have all kinds of tastes and personalities. If I thought about what kind of reader would like my book I’d go crazy, and for sure I’d write a bad book. So I think I’ll leave it at that and let the reader discover for her or himself if they like CITY of MIRRORS.
Without giving away any spoilers; which scene in CITY OF MIRRORS was the most fun to write, and which scene was the most difficult to write?
I’m not sure fun is the right word. The opening paragraphs were the easiest to write. I wrote them for another novel, and they came easily then. But I could never make that novel work. So here they are in chapter one of CITY OF MIRRORS. They set a tone and theme for the whole book. A writer should never, never throw anything away.
The most difficult scene for me was the moment in my book where Diana discovers Jenny Parson is not at home when she knocks on her condo door. She returns to the lobby intending to leave, but stops, and realizes she can’t. She wants to make sure Jenny is not inside her condo unable to answer the door. But she has to talk the doorman into letting her in. This has to happen naturally; I can’t force it on her or force the doorman to let her in. But luckily I gave Diana one of the great props for an actress to use in that scene. Because of that prop it worked on all levels. It’s a small moment really, but I wrote it with both drama and humor. A difficult balance. And her decision not to leave without seeing Jenny Parson ripples through the book affecting every character in it.
“The moral decay of the movie business has rarely been so deftly portrayed and with so little sentimentality as in Melodie Johnson Howe’s CITY OF MIRRORS. Jet-propelled narrative drive, non-stop action, a dark and twisting plot, and a mega-tough yet sympathetic heroine make this one impossible to put down.” –John Lescroart, NEW YORK TIMES best selling author
“CITY OF MIRRORS is deftly written and smart. On top of that it is entertaining as hell.” –Michael Connelly
“In CITY OF MIRRORS, Melodie Johnson Howe’s deliciously wicked sense of humor and insider’s knowledge of Hollywood combine to give readers unforgettable Diana Poole, a perfectly cast detective for this complex, intelligent tale. Howe writes beautifully.” –Jan Burke, Edgar award-winning author
Melodie Johnson Howe is the author of two novels, the Edgar nominated THE MOTHER SHADOW and BEAUTY DIES; a collection of short fiction, SHOOTING HOLLYWOOD: the DIANA POOLE STORIES; and a play, THE LADY OF THE HOUSE. A native of Los Angeles she was discovered at a cocktail party and soon signed a contract as an actress with Universal Studios. After many movies and TV shows she quit acting to do what she had always wanted to do—write. She now lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and two dogs.
To learn more about Melodie, please visit her website.
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