Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I chose to write a psychological thriller because it’s what I enjoy reading more than other genres. I like the feeling of being emotionally drained after reading a novel and nothing raises my pulse more than something scary. My favorite thrillers are grounded in realism; they’re far more frightening to me than supernatural horror, which can be over-the-top. There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s screen adaptation of Stephen King’s, THE SHINING that’s more terrifying than anything else in the film, and it doesn’t involve ghosts or an ax-wielding madman. It’s when Shelley Duvall sneaks a look at Jack Nicholson’s reams of pages that he’s been furiously typing only to discover they all say “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again. It’s a chilling moment because she realizes her own husband with whom she’s had a child, is a total (unhinged) stranger.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I’m a full-time writer, but LADIES OF THE CANYON is my first novel. My day job is writing TV series for kids. I’ve written hundreds of episodes of preschool shows and have created a couple of series including Disney’s LITTLE EINSTEINS and MAMA MIRABELLE’S HOME MOVIES for National Geographic. Because the writing is so relentlessly cheery and safe, it created a need in me to write something on the opposite end of the spectrum. So I picked subject matter that’s dark and dangerous, which is more my sensibility.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I was an actor and have a background in improvisation, having been a member of the Second City National Touring Company. Because of this, I never write outlines, but instead try and work instinctively in the present moment and do a sort of improv with myself. This keeps me in a right-brain mode that enables me to go with the flow, as opposed to being in the more regimented and critical left brain, which makes it nearly impossible to write. Writing outlines is arduous for me; I reject my own ideas before I can even get them down on the page.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
LADIES OF THE CANYON explores the dark side of Hollywood (where I live and work). In some ways it’s an homage to WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, SUNSET BLVD. and Nathanael West’s DAY OF THE LOCUST. It’s about Devon O’Keefe, star of a popular streaming TV series Beverly Hills Banshee, who is losing her grip on life and her sudden fame. When her substance abuse and erratic behavior cause production of her show to come to a halt– and after burning through all of her money on drugs and legal fees– the young Midwestern transplant finds herself alone and homeless in L.A.
Enter Nikki Barnes, notorious aging child star and Hollywood survivor with her own tabloid exploits, who waylays Devon after a twelve-step program meeting. Nikki sees a younger version of herself in Devon, having battled addiction, eating disorders and the effects of personal tragedy for decades. She offers to share her decaying Laurel Canyon mansion with the troubled actress, determined to help her avoid making the same mistakes she’s made. But soon a series of mysterious and disturbing incidents occur and the two women find themselves locked in a twisted relationship that spirals downward into violence. Ultimately, it illustrates how a toxic environment can affect the choices we make.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
Devon O’Keefe is a highly flawed protagonist who makes spectacularly destructive choices. What makes her unique is that in the midst of the turmoil in her life, she’s able to maintain her (self-deprecating) sense of humor. I think the story would be unbearable otherwise. Also, there’s a dichotomy between the sweet, well-meaning Devon and the Devon who causes hurt to those who care about her.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
Nikki Barnes, a survivor who’s battled addiction and experienced tragedy. She’s foul-mouthed and irreverent, but also incredibly nurturing. For most of the book, the reader is put in the position of trying to figure her out, what her motives might be. I also like the fact that she’s a character who’s stuck in time, specifically the 1980’s, which made her fun to write. It was such a bizarre decade, between the deceptive “feel good” years of Reagan and the New Wave/punk aesthetic that emerged from that era.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
Joyce Carol Oates would be at the top of the list. I admire her ability to create emotionally violent characters who are often teetering on the edge. Ian McEwan is another influence, especially his early work, including his short fiction. Patrick McGrath (ASYLUM), and Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER) have also made an impact on my writing.
Tell us something unique about you.
I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in various capacities within the entertainment industry. I began as an actor in Chicago, then segued into writing in order to create material for a stage act I was a part of for seven years (one-half of the comedy duo, The Fine Line, performing sketches about relationships). Once in Los Angeles, I became a script reader, which led to a career as a film executive, working for Steven Spielberg, then Ted Turner. After ten years as a VP, developing TV series and features, I yearned to be creative again, so I returned to writing, this time for children. I also directed two short films, HI, LILLIAN and ENTANGLEMENT that played in film festivals and are now on my website. I’ve come full circle, writing a novel that borrows elements from my life in the entertainment industry.
Want to learn more about Douglas and his work?