This week we welcome back Rhonda Roberts with her new book Hoodwink.
I know I must’ve been a chain smoking binge drinker in a past life because in this one I throw up whenever I drink wine and faint dead away if I have even a puff of a cigarette. As you can imagine my experimental teenage years were a series of memorably messy incidents.
That said I must’ve done something good some time (I have no idea what) because I now have the arduous job of carefully selecting and scheduling my holiday destinations for the next decade.
You see I write the Timestalker series about a time travelling detective called Kannon Dupree. (She’s named after Kannon, the Japanese Bodhisattva of Compassion aka ‘she who hears all cries for help’.) The first book, Gladiatrix (2009) was set in ancient Rome, while the second, Hoodwink (out now) is set in Hollywood in 1939. Each book in the series solves a mystery set in a different time and place.
And here’s where the strangely good karma bit comes in… I have a filing cabinet full of cases lined up for Kannon to handle – and boy does she travel around! So I do too…
Well I have to do research don’t I?
I treat all my research trips like full on anthropological expeditions, including camels and pith helmets if necessary. I go prepared for anything and everything and expect it all to go wrong. And it usually does – but as I’m peering out from the midst of the rumble something truly spectacular rises up like a phoenix…and gives me the key to Kannon’s next adventure.
Leonard Cohen has a song called Anthem, which is one of my all times favourites. One segment goes: ‘Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ Well I’ve found that it’s the unexpected twist in the path that takes me round a corner to the spectacular view.
And believe me I’d experienced a few twists in that path. I’m writing Book 4 now and in the past few years I’ve been stuck up a shaky ladder in an ancient cliff top pueblo city with a 200 metre drop below, stumbled across a horny male crocodile on his way to his girlfriend’s love nest, been caught in a sand storm on a non existent road through the desert and been threatened by three furious (and gargantuan!) armed guards at an LA studio who mistook me for a member of the paparazzi.
Speaking of which leads me to doing the research for Hoodwink, which has just hit the bookshops….
Hoodwink starts with a body covered in a Mayan occult tattoo being discovered cemented into the floor of a Hollywood film set. It’s the body of a famous film director who went missing in 1939. Kannon is hired to return to 1939 to find out who killed him. While on the set of Gone With The Wind, mixing with the big stars of Hollywood, she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War…
Why Gone With The Wind?’ you might say. ‘Isn’t that just some old film about a Southern woman’s determination to survive the American Civil War and its aftermath?’
Yep it is that…plus a lot more. (The sound of chuckling) Trust me…what happened during the making of that film is more fantastic than anything I could possibly make up!
Anyway…I wanted to write about a murder on a film set in 1939, the most glamorous period in the Golden Years of Hollywood. So I had to choose a movie that’d give me the maximum room to explore the feeling of the 1930s as well as yield some interesting plot points I could play with. Gone With The Wind fitted that bill plus some!
So now to do some research on old Hollywood…in new LA!
Well I did a whole lot of research before I left our eucalyptus-lined shores and arranged appointments in Los Angeles where I could. And I was lucky enough to get permission to visit the famous Culver Studios, which is where Gone With The Wind (as well as Citizen Kane, two of Hitchcock’s most famous films and some episodes of Star Trek) was filmed. The CEO was very friendly and arranged for the stage manager to take me on a three hour tour of the place. I saw the historic bungalows that Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable used, the main GWTW sound stage as well as many other places of interest. It was amazing.
The rest of the time I wandered around Los Angeles searching for locations to use in Hoodwink. I trudged around Beverly Hills carrying a map to the homes of the old movie stars, hiked around Griffith Park looking for a place to stick my Temple of Lost Souls, walked along the famous canals of Venice searching for a place to hide a suitcase full of money, studied the Mayan statues in the garden at the Forrest Lawn Cemetery wondering how the hell they fitted into the puzzle…
And all the time I was still waiting for that epiphany, that precious moment when I’d know what Hoodwink was really about…when I’d get a glimpse of its soul.
Then I ended up at Hollyhock House, which became the inspiration for Ceiba House…the home of my murder victim.
Now some places are amazing. We all have memories of the first time we walked into a particular space. It could be a cathedral, a temple, Uluru, whatever…
To me, Hollyhock House is one such space.
Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s most famous architects, built several stunning Mayan-inspired houses in Los Angeles during the 1920s. The most beautiful is Hollyhock House in East Hollywood. It’s modeled on the ancient Mayan city-state of Palenque in southern Mexico and covered in highly stylized hollyhocks. They decorate the whole house, appearing in stonework, windows and wooden furniture.
And the first thing I saw when I walked into this amazing temple to grace and beauty was a big statue of Kwan Yin… Or as she is known in Japan – Kannon the Bodhisattva of Compassion. She who hears all cries for help.
She stands in the foyer of Hollyhock House welcoming all with a warm smile full of peace and compassion…a heavenly sign of hope for all humanity.
And in that moment I knew the key to writing Hoodwink.
Give away question:
I love festivals and think that Australia doesn’t have enough of them. When I lived in Japan there seemed to be a new one on every week – everything from fertility festivals to welcoming the dead back home for a night.
If you could introduce a new festival to Australia what would it celebrate and how?