Lots of people ask how I find ideas for my books, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about that today…
Some of my ideas come to me through writing other books. For instance, while writing the revised edition of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, I came across a letter that director Elia Kazan sent to Marilyn during her starlet years. In the letter Kazan told her to keep away from Pat De Cicco, and because I had no idea who this man was, I looked him up. I discovered that De Cicco had once been married to an actress who died mysteriously in her garage in 1935. Her name? Thelma Todd! I knew that Thelma was an actress, but I knew absolutely nothing else about her at all. Still, once I found her, she refused to go away until I told her story, and so that’s exactly what I did. 🙂
It was a similar situation with Carole Lombard. I had flirted with the idea of writing a book about Vivien Leigh, but I just couldn’t get into it at all. That’s not an insult to Vivien in any way, but I just wasn’t the right person to tell her story. (If you want to read a glorious book about Vivien, you can’t go wrong with Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean). While I knew that I couldn’t write a book about Leigh, she led me to Carole Lombard, because of course Carole was married to Clark Gable, and Gable starred with Vivien in Gone With the Wind…
A few of my other book ideas have come to me naturally. The Madonna book for instance, because I’ve been a huge fan since I was fourteen years old. The Hollywood Scandals book came to be because I wanted to write about the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. My publisher loved the idea but wanted me to expand it so that it covered modern day stories too, but the initial idea was definitely born because of my love for old-time Hollywood.
The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and other Victorian Scandals came in almost the same way – I love the Victorian era and I love a good story, so it seemed natural for me to want to write it. Of course it also gave me the opportunity of expanding my career, by writing about something other than Hollywood. Not that I mind writing about Hollywood of course, but you know what I mean! In my day-to-day work life, I spend a lot of time trawling around the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry, looking for interesting stories to write in my books, articles or both. It was through these hours of research that I came to think that there may be enough material for a Victorian Scandals book. It was a long process though – I pitched the idea to my editor at Robinson/Little, Brown in 2012; it was eventually commissioned in 2016 and published in 2018. Phew! But it was certainly worth the wait because this book has given me so much joy!
As for the Marilyn books, well my very first book – Marilyn’s Addresses – happened because in 1993 I self-published a little booklet about how to find Marilyn locations around the world. This idea was because I’d been in Los Angeles during 1992 and hadn’t found many Marilyn locations at all. So I wanted to put a list together, so that all Marilyn fans could track down her important places with the help of just one little book. The owner of a publishing company was a member of my Marilyn fan club at the time, and he saw the booklet and wanted to publish it professionally! Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed was because I wanted to do a revised edition of Marilyn’s Addresses. I approached an agent in 2003 and he suggested that I write a full biography instead. At first I laughed because I didn’t think I’d be able to take on such a mammoth task, (plus I was pregnant at the time!), but I love a good challenge, so I started some initial research. In the end, the first agent didn’t want to represent it after all, but as luck would have it, the publisher who did Marilyn’s Addresses, was now an agent, and he took me on and sold the book! The first edition came out in 2007 and then several years later I decided I wanted to do a revised edition, because so much of the hardback text had been deleted during editing. (Tip for newbie writers… Don’t ever send your publisher 30,000 more words than they ask for – they’ll all end up on the cutting room floor!).
Before Marilyn came to be, because Astrid Franse had heard about my previous books through talking to two of my readers. She was interested in working with me on a book about her archive and we eventually came together to create that. Something similar happened with The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist. An editor at Running Press called Cindy, had seen my work and thought I’d be a good fit for a book idea she had. She tracked me down and after several phone calls and many emails back and forth, we came up with the proposal for The Girl. Since then we have brainstormed another project – The Little Book of Marilyn – which will be out in July.
So that’s a little bit about how I came to write my non-fiction books. It’s funny to see how one project often leads to another… and then another… and I can’t wait to see what other books come my way in the future!
Until next time,