Do you judge a book by it’s cover? Tell the truth now, I know I do! I’m a sucker for gorgeous covers and stories set in the glamour of Old Hollywood so when I saw Stars Over Sunset Boulevard I had to know more about it. I also love getting to know authors, what inspires them to write their stories and of course, what they love to read themselves.
Today it’s my pleasure to feature an interview with Susan Meissner, the author of Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, set during the filming of Gone With the Wind.
About Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take the reader on a journey to the past.
It’s 1938 and Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Los Angeles after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, landing a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.
What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.
Publisher: NAL – January 5, 2016
What readers are saying . . .
“Susan Meissner deftly casts a fascinating friendship between two complex women against a glittering 1930s Hollywood backdrop. You will love this book for its very human characters and for its inside look at one of the greatest movies ever made.”
— Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Belong To Me
“Beautifully simple yet impactful.”
— Romantic Times, 4 stars
“A lovely, well-crafted story that peeks at a fascinating moment in cinematic history and examines the power and vulnerability of sincere friendship.”
— Kirkus Reviews
Interview with Susan Meissner, Author of Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
1. What inspired you to write Stars Over Sunset Boulevard?
I’ve always loved the film Gone with the Wind. I’ve seen it probably twenty times. It’s more than just an epic film about the Civil War or one woman’s conniving ways to get what she wants. Gone with the Wind is also a look at what happens to us when we’re faced with losing what we love. This movie was filmed at the height of Hollywood’s grandeur. After World War II and the advent of TV, the Hollywood of old was no more, and no one saw that end coming. The larger theme of Gone with the Wind and the approaching end of Hollywood’s golden years both inspired me to write this story.
2. It seems fans of Gone with the Wind will naturally be drawn to Stars Over Sunset Boulevard. Why do you think people who have not read or seen Gone with the Wind will enjoy it? What kind of journey will your book take them on?
Early in the film version of Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara and her father are talking about the barbeque that’s going to take place the next day and the fact that the man Scarlett is infatuated with is going to announce his engagement to someone else. Scarlett is obviously not very happy about this. Pa tells her he is going to leave Tara, their beautiful home, to her when he dies, and Scarlett says she doesn’t care about land. Her father says something very telling and she doesn’t get it until much later in the film. He says, “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts”…. That line is taken straight from Margaret Mitchell’s book and I think it shoots straight to the heart of why people who haven’t read Gone with the Wind or seen the movie will still appreciate my novel. All of us long for permanence. And yet it can be very hard to hang on to what matters to you because there are forces outside your control that can, and often do, pull what you’re holding onto right out of your hands. We all know this. The reader’s journey in Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is a look at what we are willing to do or become to hold onto what we can’t imagine living without.
3. Stars Over Sunset Boulevard takes place during the 1930’s Hollywood. What are your greatest rewards and/or challenges in writing historical fiction?
What I love about historical fiction is that it reveals truths about us — especially about what we value — that are global and timeless. Our history shows us what we love, what we hate, what we’re afraid of and what we’re not, what matters to us and what we can too easily overlook, and often these characteristics about us show up time and time again. One of the challenges for me in writing historical fiction is I usually amass more information during the research stage than I will need to write the book. To rationalize all the time I spent gathering that info, it can be tempting to find a way to include it all. But it’s a mistake to think the more historical tidbits I toss in the more accurate my novel will come across. Details that have no bearing on the story don’t belong in the story.
4. I always love hearing about authors’ writing process. How did the story idea come to you? Did you have the ending in mind from the beginning or did it evolve as you wrote?
The ideas for my books come from all over the place; a newspaper article, a blog post, a memoir or biography, or sometimes just my own interests and life experience. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve long loved the movie Gone with the Wind. When you factor in inflation, this movie is still the highest-grossing film ever produced. The why of that just intrigued me and led me to pursue the set of this iconic film as a backdrop for a novel.
My plots naturally evolve as I write, so even though I begin the process with an outline where I have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen, I always leave room for discovery. Most of the time I know how the book is going to end, I just may not know how I am going to get everyone there.
5. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I read many great books on the topic of the making of Gone with the Wind. I wrote a newsletter post for Goodreads about the best books I consulted – there are more than you probably think! – that your readers might be interested in.
I also visited the studios just outside Hollywood where Gone with the Wind was filmed; that was a really wonderful day!
6. If a movie of Stars over Sunset Boulevard was made, who do you see cast as the main characters?
The novel is about two studio secretaries who become best friends while working on the 1939 movie set of Gone with the Wind. They are both on a desperate search for happiness, and their desires will sometimes collide despite the affection they have for each other. This story is framed with a contemporary thread about a young woman who owns a vintage clothing re-sale shop in Hollywood, who is stunned one afternoon when the iconic curtain-dress hat that Vivien Leigh wore as Scarlett O’Hara shows up in her boutique.
For Violet, studio secretary #1 who wants to be needed, I pick Anna Kendrick of Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air. For Audrey, studio secretary #2 who wants to be wanted, it’s Elizabeth Debicki, who played Jordan in The Great Gatsby. Audrey has very distinctive Lillian-Gish-like features and Elizabeth has the needed doe-eyes and classic features. And for Bert, the kind costume assistant infatuated with Audrey but whom Violet loves, it’s Andrew Garfield, lately of The Amazing Spiderman. For my present-day vintage store boutique owner, it’s Emma Stone, for sure.
7. What are you currently reading and what’s your favorite read so far in 2016?
Right now I am reading I’ll See You in Paris by fellow San Diegan and New York Times bestselling author Michelle Gable. My favorite book so far in 2016 is actually a book that’s been out for a little while and is now being made into movie. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was on my To Be Read stack for too long as I was spellbound by it and found myself reduced to tears more than once.
8. Tell us about your involvement with Words Alive. Why do you think it’s important to help kids learn to love reading and writing?
If a person can read and write with even minimal proficiency, not only does the whole world open up to you in terms of your career choices, but so does the world of literature as a means of entertainment, enjoyment, escape and enlightenment. When a kid stops enjoying reading and writing, it’s hard to reignite that fire later in their school years. They often just give up on those subjects in high school. I think you can make it in the world without being proficient in history or science or geography or the arts or higher math – even though I have great appreciation for those subjects – but I think it’s nearly impossible to thrive as an adult if you have minimal reading and writing skills. I volunteer with Words Alive because this organization reaches out to the kids who are most at risk in this respect.
9. What tips do you have for aspiring writers or people that struggle with writing?
First, be assured that if you write, you’re a writer. Getting published doesn’t make you a writer; it makes you published. You became a serious writer the moment you got serious about writing. Second, don’t let envy spoil the joy of being a writer. In the end you need to write for the joy of it, because there are too many aspects of the publishing side of writing that you simply can’t control, just as there is in your unpublished life. If you struggle with writing, just know that every skill, unless it’s an innate ability, takes work and refinement over time. Keep at it. The more you exercise a muscle, the stronger it gets.
About Susan Meissner
Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She is also a RITA finalist, and Christy Award winner.
A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she’s not working on a novel, she writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.
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I love how Stars Over Sunset Boulevard takes us back to Old Hollywood. Susan and I seem to have similar taste in books, I LOVED Me Before You and I’m particularly loving her response about the importance of reading and writing for kids.
I witness the difference a love for reading makes in my own family. As a kid, I did not enjoy reading and while I did well enough in school, I did not love learning for the sake of learning. My love for reading has come in the last couple years and now I cannot get enough. I started reading to my 3 boys when they were babies and it amazes me now how their love of reading helps them succeed in school.
I’m passionate about encouraging people to read and I am inspired by how Susan is helping young people to become better readers and writers in her volunteer work with Words Alive. If you want some tips on encouraging your family to read more, check out these Reading Activities for the Whole Family.
Did you read or see Gone with the Wind? What books have you read set in Old Holywood? What would you like to know about Susan or her books?
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