Two weeks ago I reached that blissful moment when I typed THE END!! (yes, I added the exclamation points) and sent "Night Night, Sleep Tight" off to my editor and agent. Now I'm hot and heavy into revising, addressing their comments. So much more fun than writing first draft. And Yikes! So much to deal with.
The novel is set it in Beverly Hills in 1985 and 1963. The main character is Deirdre Unger who, like me, is the daughter of Hollywood screenwriters. Her father gets killed. Going through his papers, Deirdre comes across the memoir he's been writing.
The memoir opens at a pivotal Hollywood moment, the beginning of the end of "studio system." I'm drawing on my parents experience at Twentieth Century Fox when they, along with most of the studio's creative personnel who'd been under long term contract, lost their jobs.
For twenty years my parents had been churning out script after script.Then, just like that, they were out of work.
Cost overruns for the movie Cleopatra were blamed -- at $40M it was then the most expensive movie ever made. But within a few years, long term contracts were a thing of the past at just about all the studios.
Here's an exceprt that introduces Deirdre and the reader to her father's "memoir" in "Night Night, Sleep Tight" --
Deirdre started to read. The type on the first page, centered on an otherwise blank page, read "ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER," and below that, "by Arthur Unger, 1984."
Deirdre turned to the next page.
The writing was on the wall of our office at Twentieth Century Fox when the secretary didn't show up and the phone disappeared. We were screwed. Shafted. Sucker-punched. Time to strike the set.
Deirdre smiled. She could hear her father's voice. For a moment her chest tightened and her vision blurred.
Beneath the opening paragraph, text was indented and formatted like the slug lines and stage directions of a movie script.
Unfortunately for Arthur, losing his job twenty years ago isn't the only thing he writes about. He's unclear on the concept there may be secrets he knows that others might not want him to tell.INT. TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX - SCREENWRITERS OFFICE - DAY (1963) ARTHUR UNGER opens the door to his office and starts to enter. He's trim, middle-aged, wears a suit and holds his hat. Stops. He looks surprised. Dismayed.His secretary's desk is empty. Disconnected phone wires are coiled on the floor.ARTHUR crosses to the window, looks two stories down to a deserted studio street where a huge movie poster for Cleopatra is plastered across a wall. In front of it is an empty phone booth.ARTHUR raises the window. Sits on the ledge.No, I didn't jump. Two stories up? Not high enough to kill me, and damned if I was going to let the sonofabitches cripple me for life. When I went outside to use the pay phone, I swear there were vultures circling overhead. Could've been a scene out of Hitchcock, but Hitchcock worked for Universal.
Turned out hundreds of us arrived on the Fox lot that morning to find our office phone lines had been disconnected and our typewriters returned to Props
That's what it comes down to for me, over and over again in writing a novel: secrets. Who's got a secret, and who else knows it, and who thinks they do but are wrong? Usually the biggest secret isn't whodunnit, but why.