I AM NOT A ROBOT…. by Rosemary Lord

Actress and author Rosemary Lord shares many characteristics in common with her character Lottie Topaz, including an indomitable spirit.  So, when she stepped off a plane from England the other night, her body was exhausted and jet-lagged, but her wit and determination were intact. She brings the Writers in Residence blog her thoughts on a topic that will cause many heads to nod in agreement as they read her latest post. Enjoy!


I AM NOT A ROBOT

Okay, so I have to copy that squirrelly lettering to prove I am a person and not a robot. I can do that. But the rest of all that trickery appearing on my computer leaves me cold. Well, more like frozen with panic.
            I am a writer. I like to write – and have done so since I was about 4 years old. I am most content with a large legal pad or exercise book, a selection of well sharpened pencils and a good eraser. From there I can happily write away the hours.
            So when our fearless WinR techie Jackie Vick sent our group a carefully written explanation of how to participate in the new blog, I almost had a case of the vapors.
            But I gritted my teeth and followed her instructions. And so, in those early days, for 1-2 hours every day I determinedly followed these instructions to the letter, attempting to send a literary contribution. But Google was one step ahead of me. “Not so fast,” it seemed to say. “Password not recognized” and other phrases that stopped me going further, kept popping up on my screen. I did as bid and changed my password so many times that many, many days later, umpteenth new password added, I ran out of ideas and used a rude word. Google was not shocked, and repeated “Password not recognized.”
            I considered chucking my computer through the window, but thought better of it and spoke with Jackie. My new un-techie system is to simply send my words to her and she does the rest.
            But why won’t my brain grasp this new knowledge? Why am I so resistant? Is it just me? Admittedly, my writing is usually of a world one hundred years past: quill pens and an abacus. Ah, that’s what I need – a quill pen and an abacus.  But I seem to have developed an allergy to this brazen new world of MAC versus PC, Twitters and Blogs, Excel Spreadsheets, Quick Books, Drop-Box and such.
            Now if one is writing a journalist piece with photographs, I can understand all that trickery. And I can actually do that stuff, too, from my journalism days. But it’s the submitting bits of text and the passwords and not really knowing how to get it there. And “what ever happened to that page I just spent 2 hours writing, that has now vanished from the screen?” that stumps me.
            Now I’m not a stupid person. In fact I have several GCEs and other clever things from my English Education at Tiffin’s Girls’ School (consistently in the top 3 best schools in England, my family remind me) to prove it – sort of. So I can’t be that stupid. But it’s all this new techie stuff that is my down-fall.
            “It’s simple,” my 18 year old Australian friend Maddi tells me as she taps away on my i-pad. “There: done,” she hands it back to me – and I am none the wiser. So I feel that I’ve become really stupid… “You’re thinking too hard,” Maddi tells me. “Don’t try to work it out – just do it.” Easy to say.
            But then, when I start writing about Hollywood one hundred years ago, or trotting out facts about my travels in various countries and my adventures through the years, I comfort myself with the recognition that I can do some things. Plenty of things. Just not the techie stuff. I really am not a robot – thank goodness…


Finding a Writer’s World by Rosemary Lord

      
Someone recently asked me: “My friend just moved to L.A. and wants to be a science-fiction writer. Where would she meet other science fiction writers?”  Hmmm.
It made me think: we write alone. Writing is such an isolated profession – it can be a lonely world. So how did I end up with such a terrific, diverse group of writer friends? I also have an endless source of answers to my literary questions – and heartfelt encouragement and feedback when I get ‘The Writer Blues.’
I had been a journalist for many years, specializing in Old Hollywood. So my world was the Old Time Movie Stars, their publicists and the movie studios. What did I know about fiction writing?  The heady world of mystery writers, from P.D. James, Agatha Christie, to Michael Connolly and Lee Childs, was something for the privileged, really grown-up writers. How could I ever be part of that circle? Where would I start?
Then I came across a slim volume titled, Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I learned it’s not just about the writing, but being part of the writer’s world. Beyond the basic tenet of  writing a certain number of words each day, See suggests seeking out and supporting other writers. If you want to be a novelist, then support other novelists.  Write a charming note to at least one author a week.( Just acknowledge their work. Don’t ask for their help.) Attend at least one writer’s book signing or event each week. This way you meet published writers and can ask them questions. This is how I met all sorts of writers, readers and people in the publishing world. I learned a lot and made new friends and acquaintances in the writing spheres.
I learned about the best writing classes for my needs. I took novel and mystery writing courses at UCLA, where I made more friends. There I learned about different writer’s groups and joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime-LA. These all have local chapters. If it’s Science Fiction or Romance novels, there’s a group you can find with the same interests. Once I looked beyond my typewriter (this was pre-computers) I found I was now part of a writer’s domain. Heady indeed!
Writers are amazing. They have curious minds. You need that in writing fiction, to create realms different from your own. They are supportive and encouraging to new writers.  We hang out together, drink lots of coffee (or something stronger), complain about our problem areas of our latest writing projects, ask questions or offer advice. I attend lectures, writers’ lunches, conferences, book-signings and launch parties. I have made friends in all areas of the literary and publishing world, and continue to learn from them.
I am now writing mysteries set in the Hollywoodof the 1920s: The Lottie Topaz Hollywood Mysteries. But I can write anywhere, thanks to computers.  And thanks to Skype and Face Book, writers no longer have to feel alone or isolated – unless that’s what they want.   So there is a way in from the outside. I came in from the cold…and into a writer’s world. 

Interview with Rosemary Lord

We are pleased to present WinR Rosemary Lord. Rosemary is an author, actress and is involved in issues benefiting Hollywood women and preservation. She is the author of several best-selling nonfiction books as well as a new mystery novel, “Lottie”. Welcome Rosemary!

What led an actress and best-selling non-fiction author to write a mystery?

During my years as an actress, I had often done bits of journalism as a way to pay bills between acting gigs. In England I would write interviews with some of the actors I was working with: Glenda Jackson, Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, George Segal and so on. I wrote for the teenage magazines in the UK, such as Petticoat, Mirabelle, Jackie, and then progressed to women’s mags like Woman, Woma’s Journal etc.

When I came to America and was waiting for my Green Card, I did loads of journalism for these same magazines and American ones such as Coronet, Field Newspapers, Atlantic Review and so on. I wrote a “Letter From Hollywood” column and interviewed many of the old-time actors and film makers such as Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Shaw, Glenn Ford, James Stewart, Edith Head, John Huston and so on.

Although my acting career progressed and kept me busy, I still loved history and the Old Hollywood. And so years down the line, when the opportunity came to write my first book, Los Angeles Then and Now, I jumped at the chance. Then came Hollywood Then and Now, in which I got to write about the people as well as the place.

I was starting another non-fiction book on Hollywood history and talking about it to a writer friend, Jacqueline Winspear, of the successful MAISIE DOBBS novels. She pointed out that as I found those olden days so intriguing, why didn’t I write a murder mystery set in Old Hollywood? I explained that I wouldn’t know where to begin with writing a mystery. And she said that she had not set out to write a mystery when she started writing MAISIE DOBBS. So with that encouragement, all the little pieces of stories that had been running round inside my brain, began to knit together.

You’ve recently put the final touches on your historical mystery. Can you tell us a bit about the plot and central character?

So the novel I have now finished is set in 1920s Hollywood, during the Silent Era. It was inspired from reading so many old documents I had uncovered in researching my non-fiction books. Because it is set during Prohibition, there was a lot of corruption going on, of course, but people’s behavior was still very controlled and strict. Which is why the new Movie folk in Hollywood were considered wicked and immoral. And any girls working in this industry were considered ‘loose women.’ So this is the world my young heroine, Lottie, struggles with. And because she is from England and had lived through World War I, it was like living in Paradise for her to move to sunny California, where oranges grew everywhere and she has the opportunity to work in “flickers.” And, yes, there is a murder. But other than that, I’m not saying more at this point!

How did you research old-time Hollywood?

Apart from the research that I already had from my previous books, with authenticated documents I had studied, the 1920s were a time when my mum and her sister had been working in the theatre. They were dancers from early childhood, heavily chaperoned, and had travelled all over England, France and Morocco and other exotic places. They had a “Bluebird” dancing act! And they had appeared in shows with Maurice Chevalier and many other entertainers of that era.

My mum LOVED Hollywood and always wanted to come here to work. So she subscribed to Hollywood Fan Magazines and watched the silent movies – her favorites were Clara Bow and Theda Bara – and tried to copy their make-up and fashions. I have been able to use so much of what she had told me about her young years for my heroine. And my mum was a great reader: always talking about “Aggie Christie” and her stories. And once Mum was married and had all of us kids and so no longer was a dancer, she became a writer. She used to write some of the fifteen minute “Morning Mysteries,” for BBC Radio and “Mystery At Midnight,” for Capitol Radio in England.

Also my Dad, who was in the Royal Navy, had been to Hollywood during Prohibition. And I loved to hear him talk about the speakeasies and how he had met Jean Harlow and danced with Anita Page! And my Grandpa, on my Dad’s side, was a Detective in Bristol, England. (My Dad was in the same class as Cary Grant – then Archibald Leach – at Primary School.) So I think my curiosity and questioning that my characters have, must have been channeled from him.

These days, people are popping their own homemade movies on the interenet without a thought. What methods did you employ to make the early days of filmmaking seem fresh and exciting to your readers?

I think that one of the problems with entertainment today, is that all of these “How it was made” shows take all the mystique out of movies. Many people today think that they can make movies or write a Best Seller without having to learn how, because they have learned a few trade secrets. That’s why I love films like “Cinema Paradiso,” in which we were transported back to the days of the primitive censorship of removing THE KISSES(!) from those wonderful movies. And the challenge of bicycling from one village to another with the next film reel, so the audience can see the end of the movie. That is the magic of a simpler life.

And in my novel, I have tried to bring my readers into that early time when the audience heard no dialogue – so the director was talking all the way through the scene, and the noise from the stage next to them would spill over. But the audience would use their own imagination far more than today. Today, all the details are filled in for them. In those early days, they were still working out how to produce special effects and perform stunts. And there many dreadful injuries, some fatal, because the actors were not considered too valuable. They could always be replaced! And they would work 18 hour days, in horrible conditions – but be thrilled to have a job. I loved inhabiting that simpler and more appreciative world.

You are also the author of the best-selling non-fiction book, Hollywood, Then and Now. What differences did you find in writing a non-fiction book on Hollywood and a fictional account of the industry?

The difference with writing fiction, after my non-fiction books, is that now I have the opportunity to color things. I can take actual happenings and change the people involved, fictionalize them, and hook them into another real life incident and come up with a wonderful “What if…” moment. But on the other side of it, having all that rich research at my fingertips, I hope that I can have the readers feel the integrity and authenticity of the people and situations from times gone by.

As an actress who has worked on well-loved shows such as “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Dr. Who” and who has acted with greats like Sir Anthony Hopkins, tell us how acting informs your writing? Does it help? Or is it a hinderence? Would you recommend that writers take a beginning acting class or improv class?

As an actress I have been fortunate to work with some terrific actors over the years. In England it was not so much the Star System you have here, so actors may play the lead one week and the next time they would have one line. You all learned to “muck in together.” I had a bit part in the film of “Alice in Wonderland” and was in the same scene as Dame Flora Robson, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Sir Michael Horden, Michael Crawford and a host of others in a lengthy Court Room scene that we worked on for many, many days. (I was the Chief Clerk of the Court in a Parrot costume!) But it was fascinating watching these great actors interact. And they were all considerate, humble and hysterically funny. And, as a writer, I find my acting experience helps so much with my characters, as they all have these different voices that I seem to channel! Anyone watching me write would think I should be in a loony bin, as I argue out loud back and forth in different dialects!

As an actress, are you tempted to write a script or a play?

I have written scripts years ago. I wrote a sitcom set in present day Hollywood, that the head of BBC Comedy ‘sat on’ for a couple of years, telling me how great it was. But then he got fired… And my husband, Rick and I wrote a docudrama script for a PBS series many years ago. But I must confess, I much prefer the world of novelists. Novelists – and especially Mystery novelists – are the greatest people in the world. They are encouraging, supportive and have such curious minds and great senses of humor! Script writers – like actors – seem so competitive and age conscious! It appears to be a crime to be a script writer or an actor once you reach forty years old! But novelists – well they are smart enough to go on for ever.

What’s next for you?

And so now I am going to catch up on my reading. I have a stack of novels I am anxious to read – and clearing out my office. I am wishing for the Clutter Clearing Fairy to appear on my doorstep. And then I shall start on my next book in this series. For now I have to deal with the coming of sound – of “Talkers”….!