1. What inspired you to write about an aging teen idol mixed with a Beatles convention?
As they say, “write what you know.” I’m a big fan of The Beatles and The Monkees and the teen idols of the 60s-70s. In a college playwrighting class I wrote a one-act play about an aging teen idol that meets a middle-aged fan. The play was a finalist in a playwrighting contest and one of the judges said he “could see a bigger story here.”
I tried using the teen idol character in a longer play and another novel but nothing worked. Then I went to library panel discussion sponsored by Sisters in Crime. As the authors talked about their books I thought, aha! I could use my character in a novel! Nobody had ever written a mystery about an aging teen idol, so I was free to craft my book however I wanted.
The convention setting was inspired by Sharyn McCrumb’s book Bimbos of the Death Sun, a mystery set at a science fiction convention, which I enjoyed reading. Then in 2002 I attended a Beatles convention with Micky Dolenz as one of the guest speakers. So I figured having my character go to a Beatles convention was possible. Most teen idol fans also love The Beatles.
2. Can you tell us about how you created Sandy's/Ernest's background? (I was quite impressed with how complete his history was.)
The secret to good writing is research. The more you know about the material, the more you have to draw on. In creating Sandy, I went to the source—I read the autobiographies of real-life teen idols: Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. Some years ago I had taped TV specials that talked about teen idols and I reviewed those shows.
The autobiographies gave me great background information about a teen idol’s life and career, feelings, thoughts and family life. I took bits and pieces from what I read and added fictional elements to create Sandy.
I had started writing the book in third person. After reading the autobios, I decided to make the book into a memoir of Sandy not only talking about the mystery but also reminiscing about his life. Once I started writing in first person, Sandy’s personality jumped right off the page.
I had also been active in fandom myself. Years ago I’d gone to concerts, read fanzines, hung out with fans and purchased collectibles. At the time I did it for fun but when I started writing I had a wealth of material to draw from regarding how fans react around their idols and other fans.
3. The two main characters, Bunny and Sandy, are an aging teen idol and a fanatic (and I mean that it the best way). How did you balance too such extreme characters?
In drama, “opposites attract.” A good story needs conflict and people who are different—opposite desires, goals, likes and temperaments, cause that. The Odd Couple play/movie is the classic example. A hypochondriac neatnick moves in with a slob. They clash with each other and create a great story.
Sandy and Bunny are opposites not just as star/fan but their lifestyles, upbringing, home life, career and socio-economic status. Their goals for the weekend are different: he wants to do his job and go home and she wants a perfect holiday full of fun and romance. She’s expecting a perfect superstar and he’s a flawed human being.
But deep down they like and respect each other. As the book goes along, Sandy sees Bunny more as a friend and confidant and she reins in some of her craziness for him. They bounce off each other nicely.
4. Sandy has to deal with trying to make a come back and finding his fan base severely decreased. Can you tell us how you got inside his head in regard to his struggle with being less famous?
Again, some of that came from reading the autobiographies. Teen idols follow the same career path: a few years of overnight and intense stardom, then a number of years in the shadows—their career shoots straight up and then crashes straight down. After years out of the public eye, they make a midlife comeback when their original fans become nostalgic and their fans’ children discover them.
An idol’s “shadow” period is especially painful. A teen idol’s life is incredibly busy and ego-fulfilling and then to suddenly find oneself with no work and no obligations and few friends is quite a shock, especially since these guys are in their early 20s when most people are starting their careers, not ending them. They’re young and haven’t developed skills for coping with disappointment. During this time most of them go through a divorce. They’re also dealing with fatherhood. Some of them don’t manage their money well and lose their wealth. Some of them turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Because of their fame, they can’t easily ask for help or find trusted people to help them. I used all of this information in creating Sandy.
I also drew on my acting training (I have a theater degree) with Stanislavki’s “what if?” In approaching a character, I ask, “what if I was a teen idol? How would I feel and what would I do in this situation?” I imagine myself in the role or picture Sandy doing it, like a movie in my mind. Writing fiction is nothing more than acting on paper instead of a stage—you’re creating a person that the audience/reader accepts as real.
5. Bunny is faced with meeting her idol and finding out he isn't perfect. Was writing her emotions and reactions any easier than writing Sandy?
About the same. The characters have distinct voices so it’s easy to switch from one to the other. I picture them in my head talking and that works.
I mentioned the book was inspired by a play I wrote. Bunny’s monologue about a school dance came straight from the play. I liked the monologue so much I made sure I put it in the book. It’s based on an experience of a dance I went to where nobody danced with me.
6. You mentioned having attended Beatles conventions. Which of the Beatles convention fans in the book would you say most closely resembles the types of fan you are?
Ha ha, funny question. Years ago I was Bunny. Nowadays I’m more like Red, the sensible one who can admire stars without going nuts.
7. The mystery, and the solution, revolves around the Beatles. Without giving too much away, how difficult was it to construct a mystery like this?
Easier than I had expected. I already knew much about the fabs—I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. I played all of my Beatles records (which I hadn’t done in a while), watched their movies and reviewed the biographies in my home library. I easily found the various clues and plot points.
I also knew about the “Paul is dead” hoax in which various Beatles songs and album covers had “clues” that “proved” Paul was dead. Of course I had to work in the “death clues” somehow.
8. Who are your favorite authors?
Nowadays I mostly read authors I’ve met online or at conventions or fellow members of Sisters in Crime. I don’t read what’s on the New York Times bestseller list. I’d rather support my friends who don’t sell millions of books. I also do blurbs and reviews for other books put out by my publishing house (Oak Tree Press).
I love Sherlock Holmes and some of the modern books and short stories that continue the character. I love anything by William Link. I’ve enjoyed the Holmes on the Range series.
9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write?
When writing fiction, the first draft is in longhand. I can’t compose a long work on a computer. I learned touch-typing in which the typist looks at a manuscript and not the paper/screen, so looking at the screen while I compose slows me down. I also want to stop and make corrections. I also hate staring at a blank screen.
I bought a special refillable pen and a colorful clipboard (to hold the paper) that I use for writing. I sit on the sofa and scribble away as ideas come. I type up the written draft into the computer and revise through several drafts. I usually have a diet drink nearby as I type.
I don’t have any “get in the mood” rituals. I work a day job and my writing time is limited, so I have to sit down and get going quickly. But I’m usually thinking about the character and the story all day, so when I start writing the words come easily.
10. Can you tell us about any other books or projects?
I’m working on the second book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series, The Sinister Sitcom Caper. Sandy’s back at his old stomping grounds where he filmed his TV show. Now he’s a guest star on the lowest-rated TV show of the season. When an actor drops dead at his feet, he starts nosing around with the help of a dwarf and an animal actor. Bunny’s in the book, too. We also start meeting members of Sandy’s family—and could romance be in the air?
Thank you so much to Sally for answering my questions!
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