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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

AUTHOR INSPIRATION WITH DEB McCASKEY

The author with a Packard similar to the one her sleuth drove
Before having the time to write fiction, Deb McCaskey’s life was spent mostly as a newspaper editor and reporter in community news, which gave her an appreciation for a good story and a good quote. Writing a novel was always in the back of her mind, and she began this one -- a cozy mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood -- during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. Learn more about Deb at her website.

First, I’m honored to be invited to the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers party to talk about my novel Stardusted and how it came to be set in its particular time and place. It started one October a few years ago, when I was talking to a good friend, Janice Peacock, about her plans to work on a new book in her Glass Bead Mysteries series during NaNoWriMo. When I said I’d always thought that sounded like fun, she encouraged me to participate with her. There was just one problem: I didn’t have an idea.

No, that’s not quite right. Over the years I had toyed with many ideas and settings for a novel, but never had gotten serious about any of them. Too many ideas! I realized I had to pick one, and when I remembered how much I loved movies of the ’30s, with their glamorous clothes, sassy heroines and snappy dialogue, I thought, well, there’s an era I’d like to spend time in. I had read memoirs by people who were there, and had always found them immense fun. Reading more of these, as well as anything else I could get my hands on about that era, seemed like a really enjoyable way to do research. And that turned out to be true.

I immediately liked the idea of the sleuth being a glamorous blonde in the mold of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, or Marion Davies: someone whose smarts people might underestimate, someone whose bosses at the studio are not happy with her snooping around town asking questions, and who just want her to be content with her very fortunate lot as a movie star. The title, Stardusted, came to me almost immediately and actually helped to shape the plot. And because I’m still basically a horse-crazy girl, I decided it had to have horses in it, too.

It was fun playing around with these ideas for a month, but I didn’t actually finish a first draft and kind of put the whole thing aside with a wistful shrug. I was still working and had a lot of family responsibilities -- you know, like everyone does -- and just didn’t feel like I had the mental or emotional energy or the time to see the story through. 

But a funny thing happened over the next few months and years. Frankie and her friends -- who include a singing cowboy, a reclusive former silent-film star, an alcoholic ex-husband, and a sexy composer boyfriend -- kept appearing on my shoulder, if you will, doing and saying things I found very interesting. When they all just wouldn’t shut up, I figured I’d better start writing it all down.

There were some dark, very dark, things about Hollywood in the ‘30s -- or any time, actually. But there was also a sense of excitement and fun as so many quirky, creative people came together to create the industry some call the dream factory. My aim with Stardusted was to capture, if only for my own amusement, the light-hearted spirit of the movies of that era, and to create characters who were people I would like to meet.  

Stardusted
A Frankie Franklin Mystery

Meet Frankie Franklin, “America’s Kid Sister,” one of the brightest stars in 1930s Hollywood. Onscreen she’s clever and brave, and always bests the bad guys. But now Frankie is confronted with a real-life mystery and real-life peril, after a young actor is shot and almost dies on the set of her latest film. How did it happen? And are there lives still in danger? Though her studio wants to sweep it all under the rug and move on, Frankie is driven to find out what happened, and with good reason: She was the one who pulled the trigger.