Interview with Martin Turnbull

What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book (as at November 2013) is called "Citizen Hollywood" and it's the third novel in a series set at the (real life) Garden of Allah Hotel which stood on Sunset Blvd during Hollywood's golden age. "Citizen Hollywood" is set in the late 30s and early 40s when the lives of the three main characters plays out against the fight over Orson Welles' debut movie, "Citizen Kane." It was a thinly-veiled portrait of the most powerful man of the era William Randolph Hearst who, understandably, was none to pleased at this screen portrayal.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
When I finished my first novel - "The Garden on Sunset" - I made a list of the literary agents I felt were most likely to take me on as a client. It was a list of 68 agents and I spent six months querying each of them. By the time I had collected 68 "No thank you"s, I'd learned about the pros and cons of indie publishing. By the time I received my 68th knock-back, I'd come to the conclusion that indie publishing wasn't a Plan B to traditional publishing but was, in fact, an Alternate Plan A wherein I could control content, cover, price and marketing. There seemed to be many pros to indie publishing and very few cons.
When did you first start writing?
I remember this quite clearly. I was in grade 5 and my teacher, Mr Bowers, gathered together a bunch of different items on his desk and told us we had to select three and write a story about them. One of the items I chose was a ball of string who came to life. His name was Stringo and he went on a series of adventures with the other two items - an ice cream stick and a blackboard duster. I was hooked on writing before I even finished the story.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The part of the process I enjoy the most is the plotting. I enjoy the challenge of having a character be HERE and knowing I'm going to have to get him to THERE and figuring out the most interesting, involving, and believable way to achieve that. Sometimes it takes a lot of futzing around, day dreaming, noodling and doodling, false starts and dead-end tangents. But I always get there in the end and when I do, I derive a great sense of satisfaction.
What do your fans mean to you?
When I started this process, I never really thought about the fact that I might some day have fans. But then I started publishing and blogging and Facebooking and, over the course of many months, I started to hear from people who had found my work. When people do that, it means everything to me. Writing a book is largely a process of sitting by yourself in front of a computer and tapping and tapping and tapping away, sometimes pausing long enough to wonder if anybody will ever even read this stuff? So when I hear from people who have enjoyed it enough to take the time to tell me, it makes all the effort more than worth it.
What is your writing process?
I start with a detailed outline of the whole book. Chapter by chapter, I list whose point of view this chapter is from, who is in the scene, where and when does the scene take place, and what each character's motivations are. As I write historical fiction, I also usually note down what else is going on either in Hollywood (where my stories are set) or in the world at large. So before I sit down to actually write the chapter, I have all the chess pieces on the table so that I can describe their movements in the most interesting and involving way I can.
How do you approach cover design?
When I got to the point where I needed to get a cover done of my first book, I went to guru.com and found a great graphic artist who I've used three times now. My first book is set in the 1920s so I told him that I wanted it to look like an old book that looks like it been sitting around for 85 years, maybe a little faded and weathered. He came up with a photo of the hotel where my books are set and created a sepia-toned cover that I loved. I tell him in words what the book is about and the vibe I want the cover to generate, and he takes those words and puts them into visuals. He suggested we use the same font for each book in the series and chose the perfect one. Now that we've done three titles together, it really does look like a series. Each time, I've told him about the book and a few ideas. He comes back with a concept and I send it back with instructions like "Make the title bigger, move the silhouette down further, bring up the red and fade out the yellow." The first book involved a lot of back-and-forthing but the third book had, I think, three versions and we were done!
What do you read for pleasure?
I mainly read the genre I write in: historical fiction. But although I write 20th century Hollywood historical fiction, I'm up for reading any era. I especially love ancient Rome, the years of the Black Plague, the Italian Renaissance, the Tudor court of England, and Prohibition era America. What I REALLY love is sitting down with a 1000-page epic, like most books by James A. Michener, especially "The Source" and Edward Rutherfurd, whose "London" I gobbled up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I was slow to the ebook thing. I subscribed to the "old school" way of thinking: a book just ain't a book unless it's made of paper! But I like to read very long novels so when I travel, half my suitcase is filled with big, heavy books. Eventually I relented and bought a 2nd generation Nook. Within the first 15 minutes, I was hooked! Just the dictionary feature alone is worth it. I still have my Nook but I also have a Kindle Paperwhite for times when I'm reading at night or on a long flight and don't want to disturb anyone around me. There are times when I borrow a novel from the library but I'd rather not - when I doze off, they just about knock me unconscious!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I can only pick FIVE???
Okay here we go in no particular order:

London – Edward Rutherford...because there's nothing I love more than a 1000-page historical novel that can entertain and teach.

She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb...because it taught me you can write a protagonist in such a way that you don't really like her, but you root for her nonetheless.

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaardner...because it gave me a history lesson of the evolution of philosophy while stringing me along with a mystery whose denouement I did not see coming.

Wicked – Gregory Maguire...because it taught me that there is always a different way to tell even the most familiar story.

Like People In History - Felice Picano...because it showed me how to get people to come for the history lesson, but stay for the characters.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I've tried them all but the one that's really clicked for me has been Facebook. When I signed up, I didn't really get it but after a while I caught on, and started to find other Facebookers who were also into the golden years of Hollywood. So I wondered what I could bring to the communal conversation that nobody else was doing. I also love architecture and photography and especially love finding old photos of Hollywood and Los Angeles. I started out collecting them so that I would have a reference point for when I set a scene at, say, the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A., or Ciro's on the Sunset Strip. But I got such a kick out of finding great old photos that I started to collect them. So when I decided to start a page on Facebook, I realized that I could add to the communal conversation by posting one of these photos each day, and writing a blurb, drawing from my research and giving people as much information about what was in the photo as I know. So I started doing that and nobody paid me much attention at first. But photo by photo, people started to find me, then they started to officially follow me, then they started to share my photos with their friends who would then become followers themselves. It's been a couple of years since I started and now I have this really terrific band of followers who "like" and comment and share. It's been a terrific boon for me, and I love it!

If anybody reading this is into the old Hollywood era, you can check me out at:
https://www.facebook.com/gardenofallahnovels
Published 2013-11-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Garden of Allah Novels Trilogy ("The Garden on Sunset" - "The Trouble with Scarlett" - "Citizen Hollywood")
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Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 294,370. Language: English. Published: January 30, 2014. Category: Fiction » Historical » USA
The Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard — Hollywood’s most infamous hotel during Hollywood’s most famous era. Book One: “The Garden on Sunset” — Book Two: “The Trouble with Scarlett” — Book Three: “Citizen Hollywood”
Citizen Hollywood
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Series: The Garden of Allah, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 108,180. Language: English. Published: January 12, 2014. Category: Fiction » Historical » USA
Hollywood, 1939: When Tinseltown begins to woo wunderkind Orson Welles, he stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But when William Randolph Hearst realizes "Citizen Kane" is based on him, he won’t be happy—and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe. Marcus Adler, Kathryn Massey, and Gwendolyn Bricky need to go for broke, and the clock is ticking.
The Trouble with Scarlett
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Series: The Garden of Allah, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 100,590. Language: English. Published: October 7, 2012. Category: Fiction » Historical » USA
Book 2 in the Garden of Allah novels finds Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn caught up in a Hollywood obsessed with finding the screen’s Scarlett O'Hara. Kathryn scoops the news which makes Louella Parsons hopping mad, Gwendolyn wants the role but faces stiff competition, while Marcus creates a fiasco at the Hearst Castle and needs an out. Who knew casting Scarlett O'Hara could cause so much trouble?
The Garden on Sunset
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Series: The Garden of Allah, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 87,090. Language: English. Published: December 17, 2011. Category: Fiction » Historical » USA
In Hollywood, 1927, three naïve hopefuls band together to tread water against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-the-world zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in blackface, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos. But how will they get their feet inside Hollywood’s golden door?