I am pleased to welcome guest author Marjorie McCown to the blog. I loved her mystery Final Cut, the first in her Hollywood Mystery series, coming June 6, and was happy to blurb it. So many of us write amateur sleuth stories about butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, but Marjorie really knows the world of Hollywood costume designers she writes about and it shows in this fabulous debut.
One lucky commenter below will receive a signed copy of Final Cut.
Take it away, Marjorie!
Write What You Know
My thanks to Barbara Ross and The Wickeds for inviting me to contribute to their wonderful blog, which has provided me with so much inspiration and entertainment.
From childhood, I’ve been hooked on the magic books offer — that ability to go anywhere imagination can take me. I’m certain that early fascination with make-believe was a crucial factor in my choice of occupation as a costume designer for theater, opera, and eventually film. I loved working in a profession where telling stories was part of the business model.
But I also longed to be an author. Writing has been my avocation since I tried my hand at fan fiction when I was eight years old, so enchanted by Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, I wanted to write my own set of adventures for Badger and Mole. So, for my “second act” when I retired from film in 2017, I decided to devote myself to the craft of writing, to hone my skills to the best of my ability, which I happily accept as an ongoing challenge.
I knew I wanted to write a murder mystery. For the decades I worked in both theater and film, reading a good mystery at bedtime was just about the only way I could get my busy brain to disengage from my workday in order to relax and sleep.
I was fortunate to have guidance and encouragement from my astute literary agent, Ann Collette. One of the first pieces of advice Ann gave me was “write what you know.”
That was when I balked. I didn’t really want to dwell in the world I’d just separated myself from. Not because of any bad feeling: I was simply ready to immerse myself in something completely fresh and new to me. Ann was patient. When I wrote an LA-based mystery with a private investigator protagonist, she pitched it beautifully to prospective publishers. Only after I garnered a collection of very polite rejection letters did she finally say, “Now if you want to sell a book, write what you know.”
This time I heeded her excellent advice. The irony is that I’d believed for many years that the film industry was a perfect place to set a murder mystery. What happens behind-the-scenes of a big movie in production is (to my way of thinking) often at least as interesting as the story being told in front of the camera.
A movie company is it’s own unique community, made up of hundreds of people in the various departments — the director, cinematographer and his camera crew, the assistant directors, the production designer, art director and construction crew, set dressing, props, costumes, hair and makeup, grips, electricians, the teamsters who make sure all the trailers and equipment go where they need to be, the caterers and craft service people who feed us. And of course, the actors.
Anytime you have that many people gathered in one place, drama automatically ensues. And the everyday business of working on any film set offers such a huge variety of activities that are just part of the natural process of moviemaking, there’s always plenty of raw material to use as inspiration to drive the plot forward and to ramp up tension within the story. Plus, the characters you meet in the film world are quite an intriguing mix of talent and eccentricity. As the actor, Ben Mendelsohn said, “Crewing and being on film sets is kind of like being in a carnival, with carnie folk.”
What took me so long to come to my senses and write what I know? I wish I had a better answer than “my own stubbornness.”
Ann sold Final Cut to Crooked Lane Books on the first round of pitches. And this is what a good friend she is (in addition to being a great agent): She’s never said, “I told you so.”
READERS: Have you ever been given a piece of advice you initially rejected, then later realized was exactly what you needed to do? Marjorie will send a signed copy of Final Cut to one lucky commenter below. U.S. only.
About Final Cut
Every day on a big-budget Hollywood movie set is full of surprises, but the last thing key costumer Joey Jessop expected to find on the first day of shooting was the body of a murdered coworker. Because Joey found the body, and the victim was seeing her ex, she immediately becomes a suspect. Then the story blows up in the press and social media — and Joey finds her well-ordered life in shambles. That’s when things really start to go wrong for Joey and the movie as a series of dangerous mishaps interrupt the shoot. As circumstances spiral out of control Joey is forced to take matters into her own hands to try to salvage her career, and to save her own life.
About Marjorie McCown
Marjorie McCown spent 27 years working as a member of the costume design teams for movies such as Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, A Bronx Tale, Angels and Demons, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and X-Men Days of Future Past. She belongs to Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her mystery, Final Cut, publishes June 6 by Crooked Lane Books.