First, here's the book:
Dead To Me by Mary McCoy.
To be published March 3, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion.
Synopsis (from the author):
LA Confidential for the YA audience. This alluring noir YA mystery with a Golden Age Hollywood backdrop will keep you guessing until the last page.
"Don't believe anything they say."
Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her--and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.
When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn't a kid anymore, and this time she won't let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets--and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie's attacker behind bars--if Alice can find her first. And she isn't the only one looking
Evoking classic film noir, debut novelist Mary McCoy brings the dangerous glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age to life, where the most decadent parties can be the deadliest, and no drive into the sunset can erase the crimes of past.
Already intrigued, right? Well Mary is going to draw you in completely with her post. Welcome, Mary!
Dead To Me is a book that’s about lost girls, murder, movie stars, and long-buried family secrets. It’s also about Los Angeles in 1948.
Los Angeles in 1948 was a boomtown. People moved out to the West Coast in droves for the weather, the jobs, and the cheap land. It looked like the American Dream, and on top of that, it was glamorous, too. If you were lucky, you might get discovered, get a screen test, and become a star.
Of course, for a lot of people, it didn’t turn out like that, and Dead To Me is about them, too.
There were three real-life women whose stories are particularly important in the book: Elizabeth Short, Lila Leeds, and Jean Spangler. A murder victim, a disgraced starlet, and a movie extra who went out one night and never came home. They’re not exactly household names like Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, but all three loomed large in my imagination while I was writing Dead To Me.
In 1947, the year before Dead To Me takes place, Elizabeth Short was murdered, her body cut in half, drained of blood, and dumped in a vacant lot. The murderer was never found, though people have written many, many insane books and articles claiming to have solved the case. The local tabloid paper, the Herald-Examiner tried nicknaming the case “the Werewolf Murder,” but the name that stuck was “the Black Dahlia.”
Alice, the main character in Dead To Me, is drawn to the case for a few reasons. She’s obsessed with crime and detective stories and film noir, of course. But on top of that, her sister runs away from home a few years before the Black Dahlia was murdered. Even before the events that kick off the book, Alice knows Los Angeles is a city where girls get lost all the time, and what happened to Elizabeth Short could have happened to her sister.
The next person from Hollywood history who inspired Dead To Me actually inspired a major character in the book. Lila Leeds was a stunning blond starlet who seemed poised for great things. She’d received good notices for her performance in Lady in the Lake (the film adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel), but then in 1948, police raided her Laurel Canyon cottage, busting up what the papers called a “marijuana party” and arresting her and leading actor of the day Robert Mitchum.
Both were sentenced to 60 days in prison, but while Mitchum’s studio rallied behind him, Leeds was abandoned by everyone. Her own agent told the papers, “She had a promising career and was headed for success, if she had only behaved differently. It looks now as though she's blown her chances sky high."
Lila Leeds did get one starring role after getting out of prison, the lead in an anti-marijuana exploitation film called Wild Weed (and later retitled She Shoulda Said No!). You can watch it on Amazon Prime. It’s horrible, but Lila Leeds is terrific in it. She’s acting her heart out, like she believes that if she turns in a master performance, the whole smoking-pot-with-Robert-Mitchum thing will be forgiven, and she’ll get her career back.
Today, it’s difficult to believe that someone would have been so thoroughly disgraced over a small possession charge. In Dead To Me, I actually changed what the starlet character is arrested for because I wasn’t sure modern readers would believe it was possible to be totally thrown out of Hollywood over a couple of joints.
After even the roles in exploitation films dried up, things got terrible for Lila Leeds. Still, things turned out better for her than for the next unfortunate woman from Hollywood history who figures, in a way, into Dead To Me. The case of Jean Spangler’s disappearance is less well known than the Black Dahlia murder, yet just as vexing.
Jean Spangler was a 27-year-old dancer and bit player in Hollywood. On the evening of October 7, 1949, she went out to meet her ex-husband to discuss his child support payments. Afterwards, she said she was going to a night shoot for the movie she was working on, only there was no night shoot and Jean Spangler was never seen again. A few days later, police found her purse in Griffith Park. Inside was a note that read, “Kirk – Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while mother is away…"
The plot thickens. One of Jean Spangler’s close friends claimed that she was pregnant when she disappeared, which led to speculation that the note alluded to a then-illegal abortion. She’d recently been a bit player in a movie that starred Kirk Douglas, though he claimed not to remember who Jean was. She’d been romantically linked with a gangster who ran with Mickey Cohen. She had a violent ex-lover, and the custody battle with her ex-husband had been nasty.
There was no shortage of suspects or motives, and then, there was the possibility that Jean Spangler wasn’t dead at all. Four months after she disappeared, police received a tip that she’d been spotted in El Paso. There were other reported sightings, too, though none was ever confirmed. The case remains unsolved.
It doesn’t sound like a real story. It sounds like something out of a movie, and it has inspired two excellent novels that I know of (The Song Is You by Megan Abbott and The Last Embrace by Denise Hamilton). And yet, it was real. This is something that happened to a real person who had a life filled with things she loved and people who cared about her.
That’s the main thing all these three stories have to do with Dead To Me.
A murder victim, a disgraced starlet, and a movie extra who went out one night and never came home.
When I first heard about them, I was drawn in by the Hollywood Babylon-esque details, but eventually, I dug deeper, and I started thinking about these women as real people, not just lurid stories. Even though Dead To Me isn’t specifically based on any of these stories, I think readers will be able to see shades of Elizabeth Short and Lila Leeds and Jean Spangler in the characters in the book. And if I did my job, they’ll seem like real people, too.
Wow. That's pretty incredible. Thank you, Mary, for sharing all that! It's so interesting to hear about all the behind-the-scenes inspiration for the novel, especially when they're all such intriguing stories in and of themselves! I definitely can't wait to meet your characters now!
If you don't want Dead To Me after reading that, you're totally insane, so here are your preorder links to just go for it: Amazon US // Amazon Canada // Barnes & Noble // Chapters Indigo // The Book Depository
And here's where you can find Mary so that you can tell her how cool her book sounds: Goodreads // Twitter // Website