Art In Fiction

Hooray for Hollywood: An Interview with Martin Turnbull, Author of the Garden of Allah Series

July 04, 2020 Carol Cram & Martin Turnbull Season 1 Episode 3
Art In Fiction
Hooray for Hollywood: An Interview with Martin Turnbull, Author of the Garden of Allah Series
Chapters
0:55
Welcome to Martin Turnbull
1:11
Inspiration for the Garden of Allah series of novels set in Hollywood
9:30
Chasing Salomé
13:54
The Heart of the Lion
18:53
Advertisement - ProWritingAid
19:53
Reading from The Heart of the Lion
24:09
Writing advice
27:09
The benefits of indie publishing
32:38
Turnbull's work in progress
Art In Fiction
Hooray for Hollywood: An Interview with Martin Turnbull, Author of the Garden of Allah Series
Jul 04, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Carol Cram & Martin Turnbull

Welcome to Episode 3 of the Art In Fiction Podcast!

Do you love Hollywood? Meet Martin Turnbull, the author of eleven novels set during Hollywood's Golden Age.

His latest novel is The Heart of the Lion, the fascinating story of famed Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg. Martin talks about writing, indie publishing, and more.

Martin is also the author of Chasing Salomé about legendary silent movie star Alla Nazimova and nine novels in the Garden of Allah series, set throughout the Golden Age from 1927 to 1959.

Highlights:

  • Inspiration for The Garden of Allah series of novels set in Hollywood
  • Chasing Salomé and The Heart of the Lion
  • Reading from The Heart of the Lion
  • Writing advice
  • The benefits of indie publishing
  • Turnbull's Work In Progress

Press Play right now and be sure to check out Martin Turnbull's novels on Art In Fiction.

Standalone Novels  by Martin Turnbull
Chasing Salomé
The Heart of the Lion

Garden of Allah Series:
The Garden on Sunset
The Trouble with Scarlett
Citizen Hollywood
Searchlights and Shadows
Reds in the Beds
Twisted Boulevard
Tinseltown Confidential
City of Myths
Closing Credits

Martin Turnbull’s Website: www.martinturnbull.com

Link to 20% Off for ProWritingAid

Music Credits
The intro music on the Art In Fiction Podcast is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to Episode 3 of the Art In Fiction Podcast!

Do you love Hollywood? Meet Martin Turnbull, the author of eleven novels set during Hollywood's Golden Age.

His latest novel is The Heart of the Lion, the fascinating story of famed Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg. Martin talks about writing, indie publishing, and more.

Martin is also the author of Chasing Salomé about legendary silent movie star Alla Nazimova and nine novels in the Garden of Allah series, set throughout the Golden Age from 1927 to 1959.

Highlights:

  • Inspiration for The Garden of Allah series of novels set in Hollywood
  • Chasing Salomé and The Heart of the Lion
  • Reading from The Heart of the Lion
  • Writing advice
  • The benefits of indie publishing
  • Turnbull's Work In Progress

Press Play right now and be sure to check out Martin Turnbull's novels on Art In Fiction.

Standalone Novels  by Martin Turnbull
Chasing Salomé
The Heart of the Lion

Garden of Allah Series:
The Garden on Sunset
The Trouble with Scarlett
Citizen Hollywood
Searchlights and Shadows
Reds in the Beds
Twisted Boulevard
Tinseltown Confidential
City of Myths
Closing Credits

Martin Turnbull’s Website: www.martinturnbull.com

Link to 20% Off for ProWritingAid

Music Credits
The intro music on the Art In Fiction Podcast is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 

Carol Cram:

Hello and welcome. I'm Carol Cram, your host for the Art In Fiction Podcast. This episode is called Hooray for Hollywood and features my interview with Martin Turnbull, the author of the Garden of Allah series of nine novels, all set during Hollywood's Golden Age. 

Martin is also the author of Chasing Salomé about the great silent movie star Alla Nazimova, and The Heart of The Lion about Irving Thalberg, the famed Hollywood producer in the 1920s and 30s. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Martin moved to Los Angeles in the mid-nineties where he now works as a writer, blogger, webmaster, and tour guide.

Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast, Martin.

Martin Turnbull:

Thank you so much for having me.

Carol Cram:

Let's start off by talking about the inspiration for these wonderful Garden of Allah novels plus Chasing Salomé and The Heart of the Lion.

Martin Turnbull:

The original inspiration for the Garden of Allah novels dates back quite a way. I had written three what I think of now as practice novels. They were okay, but they weren't good enough to publish. And I was looking for an idea that would make me think, Oh wow, now THAT I can do something with, and I was just clicking around the internet, as you do. 

And I happened upon an article about this real-life hotel on Sunset Boulevard that was home to a whole list of people whose names are now legendary names in Golden Era Hollywood. And I'm reading through this article and I'm thinking, you know, I have been reading about the lives of these people and the history of Hollywood since I was a teenager, how have I never heard of this place?

And I kept reading and it came up with the residents who lived there, like Errol Flynn and David Niven and half the Algonquin Round Table, like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, and Ginger Rogers and F. Scott Fitzgerald and I'm thinking, how have I not heard of this? 

So I thought somebody must have done something with this hotel. And I looked and looked and looked and found there was one book written by a gossip columnist who I'd never heard of called Sheilah Graham. I find out later that she was number three behind the Queens of Hollywood gossip, which were Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. Sheilah Graham dated F. Scott Fitzgerald when he lived at the Garden of Allah in the late thirties. 

In the seventies, somebody asked her to write a book about her remembrances of her time at the Garden of Allah. I checked out a copy of her book and within about 10 pages, I knew exactly what I could do with this idea that I had. That's because of the years that the Garden of Allah was open. It opened in 1927, a couple of months before The Jazz Singer brought the talkies into movies. And it closed in '59, which was the end of the studio era. It went out with a bang really with Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur

And so it was open for 32 years, which was 1927, the beginning of the talkies, to 1959, the end of the studio era. I saw it as a microcosm of Hollywood, writ large. I thought I can tell the history of the golden years of Hollywood through the eyes of the people who stayed at the hotel because this hotel was a residential hotel.

It wasn't like you and I might check into the Holiday Inn for a night and move on. Those people would be there for months. They were self -contained apartments. And so there was a community at this hotel because if you're Scott Fitzgerald and your friend Dorothy Parker lives next door, once you've done your eight hours or nine hours at MGM and you go home for a drink, well, you're going to knock on Dorothy Parker's door and have a drink. And there's Errol Flynn and there's Ginger Rogers and there's Orson Welles. 

And so it was a very social place. And it was filled with very articulate, ambitious, talented people who were on the verge of hitting their stride or who were hitting their stride or maybe were past the best of their years, but they were still who they were. And so it seemed such a rich field for storytelling. I really couldn't believe that nobody had done anything like this apart from Sheilah Graham in 1970.

Carol Cram:

It's a gold mine, isn't it? I know I'm a little envious as an author myself that you found such a wonderful group of novels to write, because what I'm loving about your novels is how populated they are with all these people that you've heard of. There's this constant string of, you know, Greta Garbo and Lon Cheney, and so many more. And they feel like real people.

I'm really intrigued with how you do that. You have managed to capture that fiction feeling. So it's double pleasure when I read one of your books because I'm reading a good novel, because you dramatize things well and you characterize things well, but I also know these people. Well, I've heard of them anyway. 

Martin Turnbull:

What I wanted to do was write a story that didn't actually happen because my three protagonists are invented, they're fictional people. But they interact with factual people and factual events. So my first step was to work up a timeline of what happened in Hollywood and when, so by the time I sat down to what turned out to be nine novels, I had a factual structure there in place. 

I knew what was going to happen, what went wrong, what went right, what went sideways, what was fantastic. So I could weave my fictional story around factual events. So by and large, the events that happened in the novel actually happened. And I wove my fictional characters into the factual history, but in order to do that, I needed to read a lot of books. 

I sat on my couch for a year and read every biography of everybody who had stayed at the Garden of Allah, as well as biographies of various directors, the moguls, anybody who had an effect on the history of Hollywood.

When you read a whole book about, say, Ginger Rogers, who stayed at the Garden of Allah in the early thirties, you get a feel for what they were like in person and not just their screen persona. And so you combine that with footage available on YouTube—thank heavens for YouTube—you find footage of people at parties when somebody had a home movie camera or their acceptance speeches at award ceremonies or interviews, maybe even later in life, when they're being interviewed, looking back on the era.

From this footage, you get a sense of the cadence of their speech and the sort of language they use. And you can see how they hold themselves. The actors and actresses of course are very camera aware. So they're speaking in real life, but they are aware of a camera. 

On the other hand, directors, maybe costumers, aren't quite so camera aware. They're a bit more relaxed. So you take that into consideration and you build up a picture of what they were like in real life. The people who were very idiosyncratic, like there was only one Bette Davis, there was only one Judy Garland, there was only one Humphrey Bogart, had strong personalities that shone through in every role that I did. 

I think actors—and this is just my non-actorly theory—put a piece of themselves in every character. So if you watch enough Bette Davis movies, and if you watch enough Bette Davis YouTube clips, and you read a couple of biographies and maybe an autobiography, if they've written one, and you realize that autobiographies are also filtered through the agenda of the person writing it, you take these sources and you sort of braid them together into a persona that you then translate onto the page. So that's kind of my approach.

Carol Cram:

That makes a lot of sense. I think what you're doing with these novels is you have your plot, so now it's weaving in how the characters interacted with each other, but you know what’s happening from A to B.

Martin Turnbull:

I know where my characters need to be at certain points along the way, because my protagonists are fictional so they have their fictional goals and objectives and setbacks and relationships. So that's all a fiction. That's all a figment of my imagination. 

But what I try to do is weave those two strands together, the factual events and the fictional events in their life that put them in a certain place and time, not just so they could be there at the Academy Awards in 1933. But if I had a person at the Academy Awards in 1933, there was a reason why they were there, a feasible, believable reason why they were there.

Carol Cram:

Yes, because you've created a story.

Martin Turnbull:

Right. And so if they weren't there, their life would have taken a different direction. Or if they were there, they were trying to attract the attention of Cecil B. DeMille or whatever. If they fail to do that, that would be a setback in their goal for each book, because there are nine books in the series and each book has its own arc.

Carol Cram:

In addition to the Garden of Allah series, you've written Chasing Salomé about Alla Nazimova. What a gal she was! Why did you choose to tell her story?

Martin Turnbull:

I chose to tell her story because the Garden of Allah was originally Alla Nazimova's home. And when she came to Hollywood in 1918, she was the biggest star on Broadway. Metro Pictures offered her this unbelievable contract, $13,000 a week, to act in motion pictures. 

When she arrived in Hollywood, she leased a home that she loved so much that she renovated it and turned it into her big movie star mansion on Sunset Boulevard. And then a few years later, she fell on hard times.

And her only decent asset was this large home that she was talked into turning into a hotel. And so that's what she did. And so in the 10 years it took me to research and write the story of the Garden of Allah Hotel, Alla Nazimova was a major character, at least in the first three or four novels. She had such an extraordinary life that the whole time I was writing the Garden of Allah novels I thought, you know, she was kind of amazing. 

She was a proto-feminist, she formed her own production company. She produced her own movies and she was the foremost interpreter of Ibsen in her day, and yet she's largely forgotten. And I think it's a great shame that she was forgotten about. I think I need to write a novel just about her so that people know who she was. And she had an extraordinary life that had a lot packed into it.

But when I actually examined her life, the period in the early twenties, when she decided that she had enough of working for other people—read men—and figured she could do at least as good as job as they could, if not more and take the lion's share of the profits. So she formed her own production company and started producing her own movies, culminating in a movie version of the Oscar Wilde one-act play of Salomé and it's extraordinary. 

It's on YouTube and it's like nothing you've ever seen. It's avant garde now, let alone in 1923. And she poured too much of her fortune into it. And it kind of sent her broke, but the story of her doing that was a story right there. Somebody needs to tell this story. And I thought, well, I've done the research. I know who she is. I know what she's about. And not enough people remember her. So for my first non-Garden of Allah novel, I decided to write what you could call a Garden of Allah origin story. Because if her Salomé had been a huge success, she wouldn't have fallen on financially hard times and she wouldn't have turned her home into a hotel. And the 32 legendary years of the Garden of Allah Hotel never would have happened.

Carol Cram:

Wow - so she's pretty important! I'm so glad you wrote that novel, because I had never heard of her and she is fascinating. I have a soft spot for strong women artists. My own novels are about them and reading that, I thought she really was remarkable. And she wasn't the only one at that time. There were quite a few remarkable women in that novel that were trying to make their way.

What I love about Chasing Salomé—and I hope lots of people get to read it—is it's so timely. It's pretty much the same today. Things are better, but you can really relate to her struggles.

Martin Turnbull:

It was part of my encouragement to write the novel because when I sat down and looked at which part of her extraordinary life I would write about, and I settled on what was going on in the early 1920s, I thought, yeah, not a lot's changed, really.

What she fought back then, women still fight for now, perhaps not quite as much. And she was breaking new ground back then, but you know, we're a hundred years later, and it doesn't feel like we've made a hundred years' progress.

Carol Cram:

No, it doesn't.

Martin Turnbull:

It's still the same issues, and women aren't taken as seriously as they ought to be. Just because she was a woman didn't mean to say that she couldn't do what the men were doing.

Carol Cram:

Yes. I mean, that's why it's a shame she's not better known. So hopefully your novel will help that.

Martin Turnbull:

I hope so, yes!

Carol Cram:

Well, I really appreciate you writing it because, as I said, I'd never heard anything about her and just how contemporary it was, as I said.

Your latest novel is The Heart of the Lion. Tell me a little bit about that novel.

Martin Turnbull:

Irving Thalberg had an extraordinary life in a completely different way from Alla Nazimova, but perhaps even more extraordinary. I found a biography, an excellent biography of him by Mark Vieira, and read it. And as I was reading it, I saw that there was two relationships in Irving's life that were most important. And that was his boss, who was Louis B. Mayer, who was head of MGM, and his wife, Norma Shearer, who was the queen of the lot. She was  the main actress at MGM and Irving Thalberg was head of production. 

Irving was the guy who decided what movies got made when, and he was better at this job than anybody else. He had more success than anybody else, but he was wasn't like anybody else, because the other guys who were doing what he did at other studios, they were big livers, big gamblers, big talkers, cigar chompin', they were booze drinkin’... Irving was the opposite of that.

He was quiet. He was reflective. He was sensitive. He was cultured. And he was in poor health. He had a feeble heart. And so when I read this biography, I saw that his life was bracketed by his relationship with Louis B. Mayer, his boss, that started off really well and over time devolved. On the other hand, his wife, Norma Shearer, his relationship with her, started off very tentatively and ended up really solid. So he had an increasingly strong relationship in contrast to a relationship that was falling apart as time went on. I thought, well, there's my structure. 

Irving is balancing these two relationships and creating some of the classic movies that we know of now, all the while knowing that he could drop dead of a heart attack at any time. At any time it could all be over.

Carol Cram:

And he was so young, wasn't he?

Martin Turnbull:

He was. He died when he was 36. And so he had this Sword of Damocles hanging over his head, but he was also very ambitious and he was very capable. So when you're young and ambitious and capable and have proven yourself, but your ambitious heart could give out at any time, that's a tension I wanted to explore, and a tension that I wanted to illustrate in this novel. 

Like, what do you do? You're very ambitious, but you could drop dead tomorrow. So do you put the brakes on so that you live longer or do you go, to hell with it! I'm going to do what I want to do as much as I can, because it could all come tumbling down tomorrow, which ultimately it did. But while he was the head of MGM, he achieved extraordinary things.

Carol Cram:

That tension that you talk about between his worry about dropping dead at any second and also the incredible work ethic he had and all the different people revolving through the novel that you've heard of, you know, like Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer, of course, is just wonderful. I'm just zipping through the pages. 

The novel actually reminds me of another thing I'm really enjoying about your novels, which is that I'm learning all sorts of new things about Hollywood in the twenties and thirties and forties that I didn't know, but at the same time, I'm not reading nonfiction, I'm reading fiction. And so I actually really want to know what's going to happen to these people and their characters. 

Of course, that's one of the great things about historical fiction when it's done well.

Martin Turnbull:

My aim with my writing is that I want my reader, as they're reading my novels, to go, Hmm. Did that actually happen? Or has he invented that? I want the fiction to be seamlessly braided with the factual events so that people are like, Oh, is that an actual person? Or did that actually happen?

I try and stick as closely to the history as possible. But your job as a novelist is to tell a good story, whether you're a historical novelist or not, your job is to tell a good story. As an historical novelist, your job is to tell a good story that happened in the past. And if people want the actual factual events of Irving Thalberg's life, they can go to Wikipedia. But if they want to know what Irving's life was like, lived in Irving's skin, well, they can read The Heart of the Lion. Historical fiction doesn't just tell you what happened. It tells you how it felt to experience what happened. 

Carol Cram:

That's why we liked historical fiction so much because it's got that emotional component to it.

ADVERTISEMENT

Time for a short break.

I'm a huge fan of ProWritingAid, described as a grammar checker, style editor and writing mentor all in one package. ProWritingAid really does help you be a better writer. What I love is how the suggestions make me think about what I've written. The program does a lot more than just identify grammar and spelling mistakes. It provides 20 in-depth writing reports that highlight elements, such as repetitiveness, vague wording, sentence length variation, adverbs, use of passive voice, and a lot more. 

Follow this link and you'll receive 20% off a subscription to ProWritingAid. Believe me, it's the best money you'll ever spend to improve your writing.

And now back to the podcast!

Carol Cram:

We discussed earlier that you'd read a short scene from the novel.

Martin Turnbull:

Okay. I picked out a chapter fairly deep in the book. 

Excerpt from The Heart of the Lion

Chapter 22, Santa Monica, California, March, 1934. 

Jeanette MacDonald squealed, "Why, Charles! I had no idea you were so naughty." 

Irving handed her a bourbon on the rocks. "I warned you." 

Charles Laughton raised his hands in mock protest. "I merely said that if your merry widow character owns 52% of all cows in Marshovia, then she's entitled to milk whatever, or whomever, she pleases."

"You didn't say whomever," Jeanette protested, "nor did you say milk." 

Charles parted his thick, rubbery lips and leered at her. "The milk was implied." 

Elsa Lanchester picked up her husband's brandy snifter and handed it to him. "Drink up before you get us thrown out, you old fraud".

"Old?" Charles pushed out his chest like a king about to get it in the back. "Wench, how dare you. I've yet to see my 35th birthday."

"Oh yes?" With her sharp-edged voice and brittle delivery, Irving hoped to find her a role some day.

"How do you explain that you're playing Norma Shearer's father in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street?" 

The only sound in the Thalberg dining room was the sputter of Jean Harlow trying to stifle a snort into her highball. Charles thumped the table. Norma's pewter salt shaker from a Loch Ness souvenir stand toppled over. 

"It's called acting." 

Elsa didn't miss a beat. "Some of us call it overacting." 

A finger alighted on Irving's wrist. "I cannot tell if they are serious." 

Irving whispered back, "It's their shtick." 

"Schtick?" 

He hadn't expected Greta Garbo to show up for this dinner party, with "Queen Christina" pulling in enormous crowds—perhaps she was in a rare sociable mood. 

"Fear not, Miss Garbo," Charles said. "You need only be alarmed when you see me lobbing heavy objects hither and yon." He pointed to a crystal vase sitting on the sideboard. "And I shall start with that monstrosity". 

"The hell you will", Norma exclaimed, her laughter braided with fear. "That's Lalique. I lugged it all the way back from France. So, if you so much as touch it, I'll upstage you on set tomorrow so badly, the camera won't even find you." 

Charles lifted an unconcerned eyebrow. "I'd like to see you try." 

He drained his remaining brandy and held up his glass. "I'd also like more of this - Napoleon, if I'm not mistaken. Thank the immortal Greek gods that America's great blunder is over and we can enjoy the delights of alcohol again without being threatened with incarceration."

Martin Turnbull:

So that's a little peek into what it was like to be at an Irving Thalberg dinner party.

Carol Cram:

That's hilarious! That's another thing I've been really enjoying about your books. They're really funny. There's a lot of humor in them.

Martin Turnbull:

Well, the way I see it, these people—and by these people, I mean the people who were living and working during the studio era of Hollywood—these people were at the top of their game. They were articulate. They were clever. They were ambitious. And they were very social. They loved word games and crossword puzzles and charades. And they loved going to Ciro's nightclub and the Mocambo and they worked hard and they played hard and they did it without observing many social rules.

So it was human nature, unvarnished. And that's what I like - the tension between the perfection that was portrayed on screen versus the messy lives of the people who put those images on the screen. And no place portrayed that better than something like the Garden of Allah Hotel. And that was because nobody was looking, nobody was watching, nobody was caring. So people were free to be themselves. 

And when you're as articulate and clever and talented as these people were—not just the Garden of Allah, of course, but everybody who was working in that era—it’s an endlessly fascinating era to examine.

And so much happened and so much changed, and technology changed; like it does now, it changed back then as well. We got the sound, we got the color, we got widescreen, everything changed all the time. There's a lot of stories to tell and I hope to tell some of them well.

Carol Cram:

I'm looking forward to more. So can you give us any tips for writers that you'd like to share? I know that's a big question. Pick one.

Martin Turnbull:

And that is a big question- that could fill a podcast. But I think my advice to writers would be to just sit in the chair and keep writing.

Don't wait for inspiration to hit. My best inspiration is when I've got my laptop in front of me, my fingers are going tippy, tappy, tippy, tappy at the keys. And as I'm writing, ideas come to me. 

While The Heart of the Lion was with my editor, I started working on my next book. And I really just had an idea. I kind of had a character, I had a situation. That's all I had. And so I thought, what am I going to do? And I thought, well, you do what you tell everybody else to do—put your butt in the chair, put your fingers on the keys. Your one sentence idea becomes two sentences. Two sentences become a paragraph and the ideas start flowing. 

So don't sit around or stand around thinking, I'll do this when inspiration hits. No, you won't, you'll sit in your chair and you'll open your laptop. And you'll start writing .

I remember one of the Garden of Allah books, around book seven or eight, I knew where I wanted one of my characters to go but I had no idea how to get him where I needed him to go by the end of the book. So I wrote, "I have no idea how to get Marcus where he needs to be. My problem is…" and I just started typing.

You trust the process and the ideas start. And if 9 out of 10 of those ideas are ridiculous or far-fetched, or just crappy, who cares? Nobody's going to see it. Nobody's going to hear it. Nobody's going to know. But that 10th idea, that's the one that will be the one that makes you go, Oh, wait a minute. What if he makes…? Hmm, that would work out well, because that person is working at MGM where he used to work. So if, and if, and if, and if, and you're off to the races.

Carol Cram:

Exactly. That is what keeps us going, that miraculous process that you just have to trust. And it is always a struggle in a way, isn't it? What I find is that writing novels doesn't actually get that much easier.

Martin Turnbull:

No, it doesn't, does it?

Carol Cram:

You think, oh, I've got however many out. This should be easy. Yeah. No.

Martin Turnbull:

It's not easy.

Carol Cram:

But it is miraculous, that process.

Martin Turnbull:

It took me a few novels, and I say a few, I mean like seven or eight, to realize that the ideas are there. You just have to dig your way through the dirt to them, kind of like the Seven Dwarves' diamond mine. They're going to keep digging until you hit that diamond, but you're not going to hit that diamond unless you dig it. So just keep digging! Just keep digging.

Carol Cram:

Just keep digging.

Martin Turnbull:

Trust the diamond is there because you've done this before, the ideas came before. So there's no reason that the ideas won't come again. And if it takes a few weeks and a pile of dirt to get you there, then that's, that's simply what it takes.

Carol Cram:

Good advice. And the other thing is that you've chosen to self-publish your novels, which is a great option for authors. So what do you see as the advantages of self-publishing?

Martin Turnbull:

I see everything as the advantage.

I wouldn't go back to the traditional route. The major thing is that you get to keep full control of your work. You keep all the rights and you keep most of the royalties. You get to decide your writing schedule. You get to publish what you want when you want, how you want. You have full input into the cover design. You get to control the pricing. So if you put a novel out at a certain price and it isn't selling, then you can drop it a dollar to see if it sells more. Or if it's selling really well, you can put it up a dollar or a couple of dollars. I seem to be publishing a novel every nine or 10 months. So once I finish the novel, I format it in a day. I upload it and it's available the next day.

The traditional route, you have to wait 18 months, two years, before somebody slapped a cover on it that you don't really like. And overcharged a price that you don't really like. And you get a mere fraction of the royalties for traditionally published books that you get for indie published books.

And you get to market it the way you want. There are lots of tools out there to help you format it, to create graphics, to help sell the book... you have full control over that. And when time came for me to look at selling the screen option, because my Garden of Allah novels have been optioned by a TV producer...

Carol Cram:

Congratulations, by the way - that's amazing.

Martin Turnbull:

Thank you. It is amazing. I didn't have to go through anybody. I mean, I had a lawyer look over the contract in the end and she pointed out a few things, so I had somebody looking out for me, but it was just she and I talking about the structure of the deal without other people deciding for us what the nature of the deal should be. 

So I was very glad to be a part of that process, but of course, all of this only suits you if you have an entrepreneurial kind of mindset which I do. And I like having control over my product. But if all you want to do is write and then hand it off to somebody else, then perhaps the indie route isn't for you. I can't stand the thought of spending months, maybe years, finding an agent, then having them spend months, maybe years, trying to find a publisher.

And if you find a publisher, them spending months or years putting the book to market, and if it isn't a success right off the bat, that publisher doesn't want to know about you anymore. So that seems like a lot of effort versus I finish it today, I format it tomorrow, I put it up on Tuesday and it's available on Wednesday. Yeah. I'll take, I'll take that option, thank you very much.

Carol Cram:

Well, it is edited in there, too.

Martin Turnbull:

You do have to do it professionally. So I have my books professionally edited.

I also have them proofread. I hire out the cover design. I don't even begin to suggest that I can do it all myself. So when I said do it myself, I do it myself in conjunction with people whose specific job it is to edit and to create cover art but it's still within my control, every facet along the way. 

You've got to be the sort of person who enjoys that because it's long and complicated. And at the end of the day, it's just, you really. You might hire an editor and a book cover designer, but it's all just you. So I kind of liked the idea that the success or failure of a book falls at your feet.

Carol Cram:

I totally agree. I've done it both ways. And I do love the control of indie. I used to call it exhilarating indie, so I totally get it. You’ve summarized the process well. So if people are vacillating about whether they want to go the long route or the short, but still difficult route...

Martin Turnbull:

Yes. Both routes are difficult, but at least with the indie publishing route, it's your book on your schedule, according to what you want, and as writers and as artists, isn't that what we want? To put our product out there into the world, our way for our successes or failures come down to our efforts

Carol Cram:

Years ago, I used to think that success meant getting published. And then I finally realized that no, success meant writing a good book and publishing was a different thing. 

Writing is art, publishing is business.

Martin Turnbull:

Absolutely. That's a good way to put it.

Carol Cram:

You're a really good poster guy for the indie publishing, which is great.

Martin Turnbull:

Well, you do have to be committed to it. And I write every day and mainly because I've got a lot of stories to tell and I want to tell them, plus if I'm writing every day, I get into a rhythm. And so if I take a week's break, it's kind of hard to get back into that rhythm, especially if I'm writing a first draft, because I plot all my books out quite intricately, because, I've got a lot of history to shoehorn in.

There’s a lot going on in my books and so I can't really just make it up as I go along. So I outline very, very detailed outlines, but the first draft is taking that outline and turning it into real people and real conversations and real feelings and real reaction.

And especially with the first draft, I have to write every day because there's a certain rhythm to how that story unfolds on the screen that if I don't, it makes a complicated process even harder.

Carol Cram:

I've definitely found that as well. Yes. But again, really great advice. So just to finish off, you said you've already started your next novel. Can you give us a little hint?

Martin Turnbull:

Well, it is still a bit of a 'hmmm, what if', but it's a story I've got in mind that takes place in Los Angeles in and around Hollywood, because that's, that's my time and place, at the beginning of the War. 

When Pearl Harbor happened, Los Angeles changed virtually overnight because Californians were very concerned that if the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and kept on heading east, the next stop was California, and LA and San Francisco are the two high profile cities to hit.

And so everything changed almost immediately in LA. I thought those people are experiencing a great deal of change in a very short amount of time. And because Hollywood was a very big influencer on American culture, the Hollywood studios became propaganda machines. And I mean that in a good way, but what they were doing was able to help the war effort and help coalesce Americans into a single, unified goal of beating the enemy. 

They were in a position to help morale and boost morale and solidify all that. So these people went through a great deal of change. And of course you throw on top of that rationing and blackouts and dim-outs and all of that kind of stuff. And I thought, okay, a group of people who are going through a great change in a very short amount of time, hmmmm, there's a story in that.

So this one is like the Garden of Allah stories in that it's going to be more of a mixture of fact and fiction versus the Nazimova novel, Chasing Salomé, and the Thalberg novel, The Heart of the Lion, which are biographical novels of one person told historically accurately from the point of view of that person. 

This idea that I've got I'm working on now is going to be more of a bunch of people going through a certain time together. Of course I say that now, but by the time the novel comes out, it could be completely differently. But right now I'm still digging in that dirt, trying to hit that nugget of gold or that diamond. 

Carol Cram:

Those are such great days when they happen.

Martin Turnbull:

Don't you love those days? Like some days, it's like, ah, yes. Why didn't I see that? Of course. Yes. Got it. Now...

Carol Cram:

I know, it looks so simple, but it could take years.

Martin Turnbull:

Yes, it can.

Carol Cram:

Well, thanks so much, Martin. This has been really entertaining. I've learned a lot.

Martin Turnbull:

Yes. This has been wonderful. Thanks so much for having me.

Carol Cram:

Thank you for listening to the Art In Fiction Podcast. Please check the show notes for links and be sure to visit Art In Fiction at www.artinfiction.com to find your next great read while you're there. 

Consider subscribing to Art In Fiction so you can receive the weekly update that gives you a sneak peek about the novel of the week, upcoming podcast episodes, featured reviews, blog posts and authors, and much more. And please follow Art In Fiction on Twitter and Facebook and consider giving the Art In Fiction Podcast a positive review wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks so much for listening.

Welcome to Martin Turnbull
Inspiration for the Garden of Allah series of novels set in Hollywood
Chasing Salomé
The Heart of the Lion
Advertisement - ProWritingAid
Reading from The Heart of the Lion
Writing advice
The benefits of indie publishing
Turnbull's work in progress