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The Sirens of Suspense





Melodie Johnson Howe is the author of two novels, THE MOTHER SHADOW, nominated for an Edgar award, and BEAUTY DIES; a collection of short fiction, SHOOTING HOLLYWOOD: THE DIANA POOLE STORIES; and a play, THE LADY OF THE HOUSE. After a career in movies and television, she quit acting to write crime novels. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband.

Find her on Facebook.


Your upcoming novel, CITY OF MIRRORS, is based on short-story collection SHOOTING HOLLYWOOD, which also features your protagonist Diana Poole. Tell us a little about the differences, difficulties or advantages of working short vs. long.

Diana Poole was created in the short form. When I decided to put her into a novel I thought, piece of cake. I have her voice so no problem. Of course what I discovered was that the novel was too big of a canvas to hold a short story character. You only need a few sharp brushstrokes to define a protagonist in short fiction. So for the novel I had to flesh Diana out by giving her a full past. That’s how Nora Poole, her dead movie star mother, and the competition between them that permeates the book, was created.


You worked as very successful television and film actress (working alongside Mickey Rooney, James Caan, Clint Eastwood and Alan Alda, to name a few), but your first passion seems to have been writing, going so far as to take night classes when you weren't on set. What about putting the words on the page, rather than putting life into them, appealed so strongly to you?

I knew from a very early age that I looked at life differently, that I wasn’t like my parents or my playmates. As I grew my observations become sharper and more tilted. That either meant I was a writer or I was crazy. I chose to b a writer.  When you’re acting it’s all on close-up. Your creative thinking is tunneled to the script, the other actors, the director and the camera. But my mind was always working on the pull-back, observing the larger picture. I wanted to write down the things people said, not act them out. I wanted to write my own dialogue.


CITY OF MIRRORS is not your first novel. The first in your earlier series (Claire Conrad/Maggie Hill novels), THE MOTHER SHADOW, was an Edgar, Anthony and Agatha nominee and you describe it as "the female answer to Nero Wolfe". Will we be seeing these fabulous characters again?

I hope so. I receive so much fan mail about Claire, Maggie and Boulton. And all of the readers want a third novel. But I had trouble getting that third published published. Editors thought it was old fashioned, not enough edge. I think edge doesn’t even have enough edge now. If I ever get the time I’ll try to publish a Claire and Maggie in eBook form.


There seems to be a penchant for strong female characters throughout all of your writing. Do you feel that is at all related to your experiences as a woman in Hollywood?

Well yes and no.  Diana Poole wouldn't exist had I not been an actress, but Claire Conrad and Maggie Hill were women of a different ilk. I think it has more to do with my fascination with the female voice. Most women are talkers, natural storytellers, (if a little self-obsessed) and most of them have a self-deprecating humor about their mistakes, their bodies, their loves, and lives. I never felt I had my own voice as an actress, but as a writer I do. And that need drove me to leave acting and become a writer.


Tell us what's coming next for you?

Pegasus, my publisher, wants the second Diana Poole novel. I couldn’t be happier.


As a fellow poodle person, I couldn't help noticing your beautiful standards, Emma B. and Zelda F. on your website.

item3Another poodle person! Alas Emma B suffered a stroke and is in poodle heaven. Zelda F is almost 16 years old and is still hanging in there. We have always had standard poodles so I have many stories. What I truly love about poodles is that you can sit down have a conversation with them. They’ll put their paw on your arm and listen to you. They have extraordinary concentration. And they will even pretend to understand you. Standard poodles are the drag queens of the canine world: witty, flamboyant and super intelligent. They are a very misunderstood dog, and they are great protectors. Now I have my first small dog, half Caviler King Charles and half Shitzu. I’m absolutely in love with him.






COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW by using the Comments box further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of CITY OF MIRRORS!



Writing ambience: Books, very messy desk, Mac computer, dogs, and my imagination.

To outline or not to outline: No outline.

Book or eReader? Both.

Book(s) she wishes she could read again for the first time: THE LONG GOODBYE or any other Raymond Chandler novel.

Who she'd like to see play her protagonist onscreen: I try not to think about that.

Favorite online resource: Saks. You were thinking of something literary, no doubt.

What she wishes she'd known when she started: Flannery O'Connor said an author has to allow herself to be stupid until she goes, 'aha!'

Favorite independent bookstore: Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach and my local is Chaucer's in Santa Barbara.

If she could invite four people (living or dead) to a dinner party: Vladimir Nabokov, Margaret Thatcher, Raymond Chandler, and Colette. Oh, God, pour the wine, please..