Interview with “The Pictures” author Guy Bolton

Guy Bolton’s The Pictures made my list of the best debut novel of 2017. It is a moody Hollywood thriller with making of The Wizard Of Oz as it’s backdrop.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did The Wizard Of Oz get to be the movie that served as backdrop for the story?

Guy Bolton: Over a decade ago when I was a film student I was supposed to be doing a class on film noir. At the last moment they replaced it with a class on MGM musicals. I was devastated at first but one of the films we studied was The Wizard of Oz, a film I watched on repeat as a child. As I started researching the film I found out all this incredible trivia— it was most expensive MGM movie ever made and took fourteen writers and five directors to bring it to the screen. Then there was a young Judy Garland hooked on drugs, rumors of ‘Munchkin’ sex parties, a Tin Man who almost died from blood poisoning and a Wicked Witch with life-threatening burns from an on-set fire.

It struck me that the making of the movie was almost as interesting as the film itself. And I knew it would make an engaging and unexpected backdrop for a noir thriller.

MPS: Even though you are dealing with a different era, what from your own experience in the film industry did you pull from for the book?

GB: I can promise you none of my experiences have ever felt at all glamorous! In fact the main thing I took from working for ten years (predominantly in television) was bureaucracy. I love David Simon and how he infuses layers of bureaucracy in every strand of “The Wire” and I felt the same experience working in TV. At times it felt to me that decisions were being made by a handful of people at the top that affected everyone below. I brought that over to this Hollywood world of police and studios, as if the major Hollywood players were playing a giant chess game and everyone else were the pawns.

MPS: Jonathan Craine is a very unique protagonist in the sense he is not easy to read right off the bat. How did you go about creating him?

GB: It was important to me that I break convention. Most noir heroes are jaded underdogs who drink scotch and chain-smoke cigarettes. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder but an innate sense of right and wrong. They’ll do anything to uncover the truth. They’re heroes.

For Craine, I wanted to invert expectations on every aspect of his character. He’s a debonair investigator who doesn’t smoke and whose drink of choice is a Champagne cocktail. But more importantly, he’s not a hero. He’s a very flawed man who has spent the best part of his career as a Hollywood ‘fixer’ working for the studios. Only when he’s tasked with covering up the apparent suicide of the producer of The Wizard of Oz does he start questioning his conscience. He discovers inner strength; he finds his resolve.

It was important to me also that this novel also be about fathers and sons. Craine’s wife has recently died and he has a difficult relationship with his little boy. Craine coming to terms with his responsibilities as a father is very much at the core of the narrative too. The Pictures is really his journey of redemption.

MPS: You have your fictional characters interacting with the likes of Louis B. Mayer, Joan Crawford, and Frank Nitti. How did you approach the fictional mixing with the historical?

GB: Almost all of the characters are either based on or inspired by real people and events. I changed names where I felt necessary but I wanted to have genuine Hollywood icons like Louis B. Mayer in there to help my fictional characters come to life. It was crucial to me that my protagonists like Jonathan Craine and actress Gale Goodwin felt like they were real people in a real scenario. So much of what happens in the book is close to what really happened.

However, I had an important rule: beware of featuring real movie stars too heavily. People like Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable have such a strong presence on the silver screen. They’ve taken on an almost mythic quality in people’s lives. So I didn’t want readers to lose their suspension of disbelief by bursting that bubble.

MPS: This being your first novel, did you pull from any influences or did you simply expand on your script work?

GB: I was heavily influenced by films like LA Confidential and Chinatown; I also have a background in screenwriting and I’ve noticed people often say they feel it’s “cinematic”. I like the pace and narrative structure of screenplays.

But for me, what was most important was that I avoid cliché. The archetypal detective story is told in a first person narrative in a hard-boiled style. I wanted to tell my story from a few different perspectives (especially female) and write it in a more classic style. I asked myself: “How would John Le Carre or Sebastian Faulks have written a 1930s detective story set in Hollywood?”

MPS: What can you tell us about your next novel with Craine?

GB: (you’re the first person outside of my publisher hear this…!)

The Syndicate is almost finished and should be out later this year.

Eight years have passed since the events of The Pictures. Jonathan Craine has left Hollywood behind him and he and his son are now living on a farm in rural California.

But when infamous Vegas mobster Bugsy Siegel is murdered in Beverly Hills, Craine finds himself tasked by the mob to find out who killed him…

 

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Top 6 Debut Novels of 2017

In 2017, Native American culture became a larger part of crime fiction with some stunning debuts. Also, there was no fear in presenting damaged heroes and families. All of these authors’ first forays into the crime novel were fresh and attention-getting.

 

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

After proving his mastery of the short story with his collection, Love And Other Wounds, Jordan Harper proved to be just as skilled in the long form, this rough, violent, and gritty road trip of a criminal father and his fourteen year old on the run from an Aryan gang. A pure crime novel, both beautiful and brutal, that has you caring for its characters on their own terms.

 

Nail’s Crossing by Kris Lackey

Lackey introduces us to Bill Maytubby, a smart, deceptively self-deprecating officer for the Lighthorseman of the Chickasaw Nations. This first investigation has him and his pal, County Deputy Hannah Bond traveling through their hard scrabble Oklahoma and into Cajun country. An intriguing procedural with humorous characters that balance out the noir-ish plot.

 

Murder On The Red River by Marcie R. Rendon

Cash, an orphaned 19 year old Anishanabe Indian woman truck driver and pool hustler, helps her guardian the local sheriff when the an activist member of a tribe is found in a wheat field. Rendon, mainly know for her YA work, gives us a detailed life on the Nebraska/Minnesota border while delivering a solid whodunit with one unique, smart heroine.

 

The Pictures by Guy Bolton

A moody Hollywood thriller with a tarnished cop looking into a producer’s apparent suicide that puts him up against the studio bosses who pay him, the mob that’s muscling in, and his old love. Set against the release of The Wizard of Oz, Bolton creates a time and place both accurate and dreamlike as he delves into wounded men looking for a shot to be better.

 

The Midnight Man by David Eric Tomlinson

A thriller rich in history, place, and people. Using the legal thriller to build suspense and reveal character over a year in a Choctaw community and delve into the fateful history before it, Tomilson deftly crafts a unique story of incredible yet subtle depth.

 

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Lepionka knows that the most important thing in a PI series is the PI, giving us Roxanne Weary, a tough woman with a lot of complexity and baggage and sharp humor. She also gives a great hook for an investigation with weary on the hunt for the rich, white girlfriend of a black man on death row for killing her parents, who went missing around the the time of the murder of a decade ago. I can’t wait to see more in this series.

MysteryPeople Review: THE GIRL BEFORE by Rena Olson

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781101982358I read this all in one night, when I was looking for a book disturbing enough to distract me from the results of the election. The Girl Before delivered! Rena Olson works as a marriage therapist, evident in her realistic portrayal of the most f*&^ed up marriage in fiction since Gone Girl. As The Girl Before begins, her protagonist Clara is ripped from her husband and daughters as law enforcement raids their home, and told by her husband to keep her mouth shut. Depressed and in denial of the reason for her arrest, Clara initially refuses to cooperate – she insists that her marriage has been defined by love, rather than control, and refuses to accept any information to the contrary.

Through flashbacks, we’re introduced to what appears to be a finishing school, where young girls, isolated from men, are taught obedience, languages, and various other ‘womanly arts,’ or face violence or expulsion. We slowly learn that what Clara conceived of as a happy childhood at an exemplary school was actually a life spent in a bordello training facility for underage girls intended for the international sex trade.

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Rugged Adventure: MysteryPeople Q&A with Erik Storey

  • Interview and Review by Scott Butki

Readers may find it hard to accept that Nothing Short of Dying is Erik Storey’s first novel – it has the kind of action and adrenaline that will make you feel like you just went on a caffeine bender. Plus, it is that rare action novel that has both an excellent plot AND well developed characters – rare for any thriller, let alone a debut novel.

“He’s a rugged wandering adventurer. He’s spent almost two decades roaming the third world, making his living with a rifle, trying to help the little guys. He considers himself outside of any law other than Nature’s, so he is able to do things you and I can’t.”

Nothing Short of Dying, set in Colorado, is the start of a series, and I will definitely be looking forward to what happens next to its protagonist, Clyde Barr. As the series begins, Barr has just been released from a Mexican prison. He hopes to stay out for a while, but a call from his sister, who has been kidnapped, pulls him back into his old pattern of breaking laws and fighting bad guys. Clyde is aided in the quest to find Jen by Allie, another well-rounded character who has gotten out of a jam or two, who he meets while hunting for his sister. Allie’s character and their interactions help keep the story sizzling.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis stunned us all with her forceful debut, The Wolf Roada psychological thriller that follows a Elka, a half-wild girl, as she flees from her evil guardian across a post-apocalyptic landscape. As she flees through a Black Forest fairytale version of British Columbia, she works to come to terms with her own part in her guardian’s crimes. New friendships with a protective wolf and a sassy female traveler help Elka clarify the horrors of her past, reclaim her identity, escape the long arms of her psychotic guardian, and build the future she wants. We caught up with Beth Lewis about the perfect crossover read that is The Wolf Road. 

 

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: Some reviews of The Wolf Road have focused on the relationship between Elka and her dangerous woodsman savior, rather than the equally important dynamic between Elka and her female companion on the last leg of her journey. I spend a lot of time thinking about representations of female community, and I loved that Elka got a chance to form a healthy friendship with another woman as a counter to her previous replacement family unit. What did you want explore in the novel’s depiction of female community?

Beth Lewis: I love depictions of strong female friendship. Too often in my opinion female characters seem to be shown fighting over a man or competing in some way, otherwise the friendships are written as quite superficial. There aren’t enough deep and abiding friendships, ones with life and death stakes, and I wanted to write one that felt real and almost unconditional. Elka and Penelope save each other, physically and emotionally, multiple times and as such, their bond becomes iron. This is going to sound a bit precious but I’ve always felt that, when I’m writing, the characters appear. I don’t decide on their gender or appearance or voice, they just are, as if I’m meeting a real person for the first time. I didn’t consciously set out to write about these two women but I knew that I wanted them both to have ultimate trust in each other, which is something neither of them had before. It’s something special to trust someone so completely, it’s powerful and rare to know without a doubt that if you put your life and your safety into this person’s hands, they wouldn’t let you down.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: MysteryPeople Q&A with Jesse Donaldson

Jesse Donaldson’s The More They Disappear deals with the murder of a sheriff in a Kentucky town, just as OxyContin gets introduced to rural towns in the late nineties. It is a compelling debut, nuanced in both its emotions and morality. We asked Mr. Donaldson some questions over e-mail as we prepare for his visit to our store this upcoming Friday, August 26th, at 7 PM.

“The novel takes its title from that common desire to leave your town, to disappear. There’s some thematic kinship to this Bruce Springsteen record I love – Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

MysteryPeople Scott: What spurred you to write a whodunnit where the reader knows who did it?

Jesse Donaldson: This is a trick question. I mean, it’s not a whodunit if you know the who, right? And in The More They Disappear that happens rather early. Another writer, Smith Henderson, called it a whydunnit. I’d say the novel has more in common with a police procedural, a la Richard Price – only it is set in rural Kentucky instead of New York City. You follow the deputy sheriff, Harlan Dupee, as he sets about solving a violent crime. The tension is driven by that investigation and its consequences. The larger question is: in the aftermath of a violent crime, will this town held together by increasingly fragile bonds, fall apart?

MPS: What made the early days of the Oxy crisis the right period?

JD: I always wanted to write about the Oxy crisis. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it didn’t get nearly as much media attention as it should have. Newspapers and magazines were more interested in covering the country’s Meth problem. Exploded meth labs make for a nice dramatic photo. The Oxy story was and is way more complicated and in the long run more devastating. It was created by lax regulation by the FDA and states, a dishonest pharmaceutical company, crooked doctors, and millions of people suffering from some sort of “pain”—be it physical or emotional. Moreover, the Oxy issue is directly responsible for the degree of our country’s current heroin epidemic, so it seemed worthwhile to explore its origins.

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On Hollywood and Hemingway: MysteryPeople Q&A with Shaun Harris

In The Hemingway Thief, the recently released debut crime novel from author Shaun Harris, a writer of popular vampire novels is on the trail of the suitcase containing Hemingway’s original draft of A Movable Feast, with a cast of questionable characters. Our Meike Alana got to ask Shaun some questions about the book and the writing process.

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

“As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction.”

Meike Alana: How did the legend of Hemingway’s lost suitcase become the inspiration for your novel?

Shaun Harris: A number of years back I was watching the movie Wonder Boys for the 8 billionth time and Michael Douglas’s character mentioned the lost suitcase in a throwaway line. I looked it up and thought it was an intriguing idea. At first I went for the obvious idea of having the protagonist find the suitcase and pass it off as his own. As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction. So the idea sat in my brain for a while until I came up with what that direction would be. And that will be answered in a later question.

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