My good friend Jenn recently interviewed Alexandra Richland who is the author of Starlight.
Next week she’ll be reviewing Starlight and we’ll be hosting a
giveaway as well…
After reading Starlight by Alexandra Richland, I sent her a quick message letting her know how much I enjoyed reading her novel. The message sparked a discussion about the story, which in turn sparked my desire to ask the author more about the book. I’m happy to share my interview with Alexandra on the Bookish Temptations site today and will follow up this post with my review next week.
If you haven’t had a chance to read this story yet, I’d like to recommend that you add it to your reading list as soon as you can. I’m not accustomed to asking authors for an interview, but I enjoyed Starlight so much that I couldn’t help but ask a few questions upon completion of the story.
Hello Alexandra. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your latest novel. I really appreciate it.
Before we start, I would like to thank Bookish Temptations for approaching me for this interview and for featuring Starlight on the blog. I would also like to thank the readers of my novels for their continued support.
What inspired you to write Starlight?
I’m a big classic film fan, and I especially admire Method actors like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and James Dean, and director Elia Kazan, who co-founded the Actors Studio in New York. Aidan Evans, the main male character in The Starlight Trilogy is based on James Dean, and I modeled the main female character, Marie Bates (later called Elizabeth Sutton after she signs her studio contract), after actress Natalie Wood. The Starlight Trilogy was a great way to explore my love of classic film through prose. I am also fascinated with the psychological effects of fame and the art of acting, which I was able to incorporate into the story as well.
What authors and books inspire you?
There are many books I’ve enjoyed and many authors I admire, and on a sub-conscious level, they have all probably influenced me in some way. I’d have to say that not one author or book stands out in particular. Fellow authors have told me they must read a lot in order to get inspired to write their own stories. While I enjoy reading, I tend to draw upon my own feelings and ideas, and what I wish to accomplish in a story, rather than refer to other works for inspiration.
I’m always curious to hear about a writer’s process. What is your ideal writing space? What environment lends itself to opening up your creativity?
My ideal writing space is sitting with my laptop at my dining room table. When I first started writing The Starlight Trilogy, I wrote in silence. In the last two years or so, I have been writing while listening to music. Music creates emotion, which is very helpful for me, since my stories cover a broad spectrum of feelings. It helps me get into certain moods, depending on what is required for each chapter. Now I can’t write without it. I also like to have a mug of coffee next to me and often drink one or two of them in one sitting. Along with music, coffee helps kick start my creativity and launch me into the writing process.
In the Prologue of Starlight there is a wonderful passage, introducing the reader to one of the main characters, Aidan Evans:
As he bowed his head to light up, the solitary flame of his match fought valiantly to eliminate the stubborn shadow draped across his face. With a flick of his hand, the fire was extinguished, and the match tossed to the ground.
Enveloped in smoke and seclusion, he savored the drag from his cigarette. His current position at the edge of the empty pool was very fitting. In life, he felt as if he stood at a precipice.
This paragraph is a great example of your visual storytelling style, and the first moment I felt drawn in by your writing. You introduce Aidan and paint him as an isolated man. What else can you share with us about him?
Aidan is moody and difficult, and doesn’t have many friends. This standoffish behavior is a defense/coping mechanism attributed to a tragedy he experienced when he was a boy. He drives a motorcycle, wears jeans and T-shirts when most men are in suits, and he follows his own rules, which causes friction at Starlight Studios, where actors and actresses are generally under contract and controlled by the hardnosed studio boss, Luther Mertz.
Method acting, in short, is a technique where actors tap into past emotions created from their own personal experiences and incorporate them into their characters to provide an authentic performance, thereby treating their characters as an extension of themselves instead of just make-believe roles. Until he meets Beth, Aidan relies on Method acting to deal with his tragic past; although he is barely coping – just enough to get by.
Beneath Aidan’s tough exterior is a poetic, vulnerable young man. Beth is his weakness; the only person able to bring out his more sensitive side, which I enjoyed exploring, especially with the added complication of him grappling with sudden superstardom and the lingering effects of his tragic past.
The particular paragraph you highlighted from the prologue occurs after Aidan has arrived in Los Angeles from New York, but prior to him starting work on his first motion picture. He has no idea what to expect in Hollywood and is guarded, hoping that he can immerse himself in his character without revealing too much of himself to the public. As he soon learns, superstardom shines a spotlight so bright that even the deepest, darkest secrets cannot remain hidden. The psychological effects of this on Aidan are explored in depth in all three books in the trilogy.
I was fascinated by the risk you took in changing the name of one of your main characters in the midst of the story. Were you at all nervous creating and developing Marie only to have to transform her into Beth?
In the golden age of Hollywood, it was very common for actors and actresses to change their names when they signed their studio contracts, at the insistence of the studio heads. To stay true to the time period and setting, I had no hesitations in changing Marie’s name to Beth when she joins Starlight Studios. It is the beginning of her journey from aspiring teacher to movie starlet, and also reflects her struggle in trying to stay true to herself while launched into an industry where morality is not held in the highest regard, and illusion and manipulation reign supreme.
Ultimately, whether she is called Elizabeth Sutton professionally does not affect the woman she is inside. Sure, it is an adjustment for her, balancing her public persona with her private one, but that is part of the experience of a contract actress. It is something she must learn to manage, and readers will be able to see as the story progresses how she embraces her new life as a film star while staying grounded.
From a writing perspective, since the story is written in third person, my initial worry was that the name change might confuse the reader. However, after Marie steps onto the soundstage to film her first role, she is consistently called Beth by the narrator from then on. So while it may be an adjustment at first, I believe readers will grow comfortable with the change quickly.
In most ways, Beth is a traditional good girl, but I also admired her for being a bit of a risk-taker:
Beth stopped running and bent forward, her chest heaving as she fought to catch her breath. She shuddered from the cool breeze against her heated skin and looked down at her torn stockings and sore feet, realizing she was a pitiful sight.
A strangled cry escaped her throat as her exhaustion, sadness, and frustration overwhelmed her all at once. Her lungs ached from the workout she gave them, but the pain paled in comparison to the agony she felt after failing to obtain Aidan’s attention.
What should readers admire most about Beth?
Readers will hopefully admire Beth’s tenacity, ambition, and desire to open her heart up to a man she feels a deep connection with, even though, on the outside, he seems like her opposite and her peers at the studio aren’t accepting of him or his rebellious behavior.
Beth comes from a small town. She leaves Clarkson, Oregon for Los Angeles, California, when she turns eighteen to pursue her teaching career. It’s customary for young women in her town to settle down after high school and start a family, giving up any career ambitions for the roles of wife and mother. While Beth respects those who follow this life path, she wants something different for herself. She establishes her independence in L.A. and takes a chance by filming a screen test at Starlight Studios, even though she isn’t convinced she has what it takes to become an actress. She also takes chances when it comes to Aidan, allowing her feelings toward him to guide her actions instead of obeying what 1950s American society deems acceptable behavior for a lady. So although she may be a bit naïve when it comes to the film industry, it is admirable that she stands up for herself and opens herself to embracing/adapting to life in L.A.
Starlight is set in 1950’s America. As a result, the budding romance between Beth and Aidan builds slowly. It feels very true to the time, but as a writer was it difficult for you to keep these two characters away from each other?
Starlight is the tamest book in the trilogy intimacy-wise because I not only had to introduce Beth and Aidan to each other, but I also had to set the scene about the type of people they were before they met each other and entered the film industry, as well as their journeys from “regular” people to the most popular actor and actress in the country, including how superstardom affects their lives. It was a lot to cover and I didn’t want to skip over any of the important components of the storyline in favor of smut. Luckily, the slow build of their relationship reflects the wholesome (and perhaps illusory) ideals of the 1950s when it comes to romance, the type of woman Beth is, and the way her innocence influences how Aidan acts toward her. It would not make sense for them to jump into bed together the first night they meet, which made it easy for me to stick to the timeline I created for their romance. Ultimately, I didn’t feel like I was cheating my readers out of anything. My hope is that they appreciate the authenticity of the story and the classic Hollywood setting, and the steady pace Aidan and Beth’s relationship evolves, as well as the details of life at Starlight Studios, and they won’t mind waiting until Starbright (book #2) and Stardust (book #3) to read more intimate scenes.
There are some great secondary characters in Starlight. I was particularly taken with Nathan Taggart in this moment:
Nathan stood in front of a large desk near the back of the room, smiling. He was dressed casually in a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, no tie, and black dress pants. The large window behind him offered an inspiring view of the studio grounds, including the official Starlight Studios tower.
Can you tell us a bit about this cast of characters and what you like most about them?
The great thing about Hollywood is that its residents are usually transplants from somewhere else. Whether they left home to pursue professional/personal goals, to escape from their pasts, or simply wanted a change, they all have a story to tell.
Nathan Taggart is reliable, dependable, and holds a lofty position at Starlight Studios at the age of twenty-two, as the Executive Assistant to Luther Mertz. He becomes Aidan’s first true friend in Hollywood and helps bring him together with Beth.
In Starlight, the secondary characters, which, aside from Nathan, include Beth’s roommate, Olivia Weston, blonde bombshell Constance Murphy and Constance’s crooning beau, Matthew McKenna, are all introduced to the reader. It isn’t until books #2 and #3 that more of their back stories come to light. I enjoyed integrating them into Aidan and Beth’s world because not only do they play an important role in helping Beth and Aidan adapt to the film industry, but they are also interesting and unique characters in their own rights. I’m excited for my readers to learn more about them in Starbright and Stardust.
As I was reading your book, I was very interested in the bustling world behind the studio gates. There are some great celebrity cameos and there’s always a lot of excitement going on at Starlight Studios. Was this setting an element you researched just for this book or did 1950s Hollywood already hold a special place in your heart?
Before I started writing The Starlight Trilogy, I was already quite knowledgeable on Hollywood in the 1950s due to my interest in classic films, actors, and actresses, though there were some details I was unsure about, which inspired me to conduct additional research to maintain the authenticity of the story. I did take some liberties, but nothing that would impact the reader’s experience of studio life at that time.
As for the celebrity cameos, I couldn’t resist! There are so many film industry professionals from back then that I admire. At the same time, I didn’t want to mention celebrities for the heck of it because I do not believe in filler scenes/chapters. Every character serves a purpose.
The only real life celebrity that plays an important role in the trilogy, more so in books 2 and 3, is Elia Kazan. He directed some of my favorite films, including East of Eden, On The Waterfront, and Splendor In The Grass. Since Kazan co-created the Actors Studio, and Aidan practices Method acting, it was only logical that he would be someone Aidan would look up to and turn to for advice. Therefore, his inclusion isn’t just an excuse to pay homage to him and his talent because I admire his work; he actually serves an important purpose in the story.
Starlight is the first book of a trilogy. Can give us a hint about what’s to come?
Starbright (book #2) and Stardust (book #3) include much more physical intimacy between Beth and Aidan, and surprise revelations as Beth tries to help Aidan overcome his tragic past. The books also explore the continued effects of instant superstardom as Beth and Aidan tackle their new film assignments, the restrictions Beth faces as a studio contract player compared to Aidan, who refused to sign the standard studio contract, as well as their added task of trying to keep their relationship a secret from Mr. Mertz.
I know that your next book release is coming up in August. Can you tell us a bit about that story?
Frontline will be released August 6th. It is an entirely different story than The Starlight Trilogy; a fast-paced, sexy mystery/romance. I really enjoyed pushing the envelope with this novel and creating a contemporary romance with a lot of action, suspense, and intrigue.
Over the next two months, I will be releasing Frontline teaser photos, excerpts, and much more on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ms.alexandrarichland). The blog tour will run from August 6 to August 13. You can also follow me on Twitter (@RebelMissAlex) for up-to-date information on Frontline and on all of my writing projects.
When nurse Sara Peters treats celebrity billionaire Trenton Merrick for a mysterious injury to his forehead, she is blindsided by what follows: a passionate exchange in the examination room, followed by an invitation to Trenton’s mansion the next night.
Trenton spins a web of deceit and seduction around Sara that both repels and attracts her. One part humanitarian, the other international financial mogul, his professional and public life are a curious contradiction. As Sara journeys deeper into her feelings for Trenton and begins unraveling the mystery behind his injury, she finds herself embroiled in a game of trust and betrayal, where the odds are stacked in Trenton’s favor, and the outcome for the loser is too terrifying to conceive.
You can add Frontline on Goodreads here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16909152-frontline
Thank you again, Bookish Temptations, for this wonderful opportunity and for presenting me with such thoughtful questions.
Many thanks to Alexandra Richland for this interview.
If you are interested in Starlight, Frontline, or any other of Alexandra Richland’s books, you can visit her facebook page for ordering information: https://www.facebook.com/Ms.AlexandraRichland .