Today I'm excited to be welcoming Emmy Award winning TV producer and writer turned novelist, Mark B Perry to the blog. You may already be familiar with Mark's TV writing. He's written for a range of popular and acclaimed series, from The Wonder Years to Law and Order. You may also have heard his name in connection with the Emmy Award he picked up for his work on David E. Kelley’s Picket Fences, or the Golden Globe he and his colleagues won for his writing and producing services on Party of Five.
When someone with that kind of pedigree turns his hand to writing a novel, it's going to be worth reading. I'm honored that Mark agreed to stop by and chat to us about his new book City of Whores.
KB: What inspired you to write City of Whores?
MBP: As a small child, I fell in love with the golden age of Hollywood thanks to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, which my family would watch as we munched popcorn in front of our little black and white Philco. Even as far back as third grade I knew I wanted to work in “the industry.” Then, while studying television and film in college, I read Lauren Bacall’s excellent autobiography, By Myself, and that started my lifelong addiction to “Tinseltown Tell-Alls.” In many cases, like those of Rock Hudson, Tallulah Bankhead, and Tab Hunter (to name a few), the real drama and comedy wasn’t playing out on the screen, but behind the cameras. This also explains my obsession with biopics where these memoirs are recreated and brought to life.
When I finally came to Hollywood in 1985 as a young, aspiring writer, and my career was gradually getting some traction, many of my similarly bitten friends began to abandon their dreams and leave Los Angeles altogether. The idea of writing a fictional memoir from the point of view of someone who got the briefest taste of stardom began to take root from these various seeds. The emotional weight of the story came from far more personal experience. I knew first hand the toxic effects of denial as well as the exhausting and corrosive power of presenting a false image to the world, and often wondered how that might play out in its most extreme incarnation. And that was the origin of City of Whores.
KB: How did you come up with the title?
MBP: The working title of the book was rather esoteric and pretentious, inspired by a line about the characters being stoned around the pool, their heads dancing gently to mellow jazz. That title was Head Dancing in the Urban Idyll (the nickname given to the backyard pool and cabana in the book). Fortunately, I had an incredible editor in Alice Peck, and one of her first notes was that my title had to go. While revising the book to incorporate her intelligent, thoughtful, and constructive notes, I wrote the line, “Jesus, this whole city was full of nothing but whores,” and it was something of an “ah ha!” moment.
KB: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
MBP: Honestly, just finding the time. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked steadily in television for the past twenty-five years, which means I was constantly writing under tight deadlines. Finding the time and energy to work on fiction was daunting, but that’s when inspiration and fun became my primary motivators.
KB: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
MBP: To paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn, if I wanted to send a message, I’d call Western Union! Truthfully, for me, Whores is about the liberating and redemptive power of self acceptance.
KB: How much of the book is realistic?
MBP: I did a lot of research to make sure I was portraying the actual historical characters as accurately and respectfully as possible. I also tried (in most cases) to make sure those real life characters could conceivably have been doing what my story required within its timeframe. I aspired to achieve a passing degree of verisimilitude. I also like to think that the fictional characters’ emotional journeys are the most realistic thing in the entire book.
KB: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
MBP: Writers are observers of behavior and collectors of tales and idiosyncrasies, and throughout the years as I’ve met people and heard their stories—especially in Hollywood—I’ve absorbed their quirks and foibles and stored up a wealth of things that I hope help to make my characters and plot distinctive, realistic, and relatable. The heart of the emotional storyline is rooted in my own personal journey, the rest came from letting my imagination run around off leash.
KB: What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
MBP: In television, my process is dictated by the production schedule. It’s great training and discipline to get the actual writing done in between all of the other responsibilities that come along with producing a series. When I finally had time to concentrate on Whores, I found that a long bike ride on the path by the L.A. River was a good way to get the day started, then I’d shower and start writing, generally working until my inspiration or energy was depleted. In terms of plot, it helped that the book starts at what first appears to be the ending of the story, so I always knew exactly where I was going. The true revelations in the process were the surprises that kept bubbling up as the characters and story took on a life of their own.
KB: What were the challenges (research, literary, and logistical) in bringing this book to life?
MBP: I set pretty high standards for myself, especially when it came to historical accuracy. The sequence set on the maiden voyage of the SS United States was particularly challenging because I kept learning new tidbits as I was reading, writing, and revising. For example, just as I was getting ready to publish, a dear friend of mine who was a crewmember on the “Big U” (as her devotees call her), told me that I had the route from the ballroom to the gymnasium wrong, and that I’d even inadvertently put the gym on the wrong deck, so that had to be revised. Then I found conflicting accounts of the weather conditions during the crossing, and had to sort that out, as well. I’m the first to admit that I do get rather O.C.D. about such details.
KB: Give us an insight into your main character.
MBP: The book was rejected by a reader at a big publishing house who took a dislike to my protagonist/narrator in the first couple of chapters. That’s because when we first meet him he’s young, angry, arrogant, and entitled by design. Characters have to start somewhere, and need a place to go, a way to change and learn. I honestly don’t think that reader got past the very beginning, because Dan/Dex’s arc spans some forty years from the time he’s 21 until he’s 63 and he can’t help but gain some wisdom and maturity along the way. He’s a very changed man by story’s end.
KB: How long did it take you to write this book?
MBP: I started Whores while I was in a writers group in 1994, but my television career kept putting it on the back burner. I worked on it off and on, and then in 2008 or so, I finally had long stretches of time to focus on the book. So while I can’t really say it took me twenty years to write it, I can certainly say it took me that long to finish it.
KB: Which actor would you like to see playing the lead character from your book?
MBP: Because Whores takes place in two time periods, specifically 1994 and the early 1950s, I’d love to see a seasoned heartthrob like Richard Gere play the older character, and a newcomer play his younger self.
KB: What are you working on now?
MBP: In addition to my television development, I’m also working on my second novel which is very different from Whores, though there is a Hollywood connection. It’s mostly about growing up “different” in the very racist American south of the early 1960s.
KB: What book are you reading now?
MBP: I just finished probably the most fascinating non-fiction book I’ve ever read, Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., and I’m just starting Derek Jacobi’s memoir, As Luck Would Have It. Oh, and I’m dying to get to Jackie Ganiy’s Tragic Hollywood: Beautiful, Glamorous, and Dead, because I just know it’s going to be delicious.
KB: What books have most influenced your life?
MBP: Here’s my rather eclectic but honest list: Hands down, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird tops the list, followed by Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, Capote’s In Cold Blood, Cunningham’s The Hours, Christie’s And Then There Were None, Gallico’s The Poseidon Adventure, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
KB: What books/authors have influenced your writing?
MBP: All of the above.
KB: Do you have a writing mentor or role model?
MBP: It’s a tossup between Pat Conroy and Michael Cunningham. I’m guaranteed to find something to love and covet in every single one of their books.
KB: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
MBP: The never ending quest for a satisfying sentence.
KB: Do you have any advice for other writers?
MBP: As a college student, I had the good fortune to have lunch with screenwriter Steve Tesich on the set of the television pilot for Breaking Away which just happened to be filming in my college town of Athens, Georgia. I worked up the nerve to ask him what advice he’d give a young writer starting out. He looked and me and shrugged, then said simply, “Write.” It’s pretty basic, but that’s really all there is.
KB: Do you ever experience writer's block?
MBP: In television, there’s no such thing. In fiction, I think of hurdles to overcome rather than blocks that stop you cold.
KB: What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?
MBP: I guess I’d describe it as “backstage drama.” I adore biopics, especially of the cheesy made-for-television variety, because they try to tell a person’s life story in one sitting. It’s a monumental task, but I’m drawn to the themes of aging and gaining perspective on life, even when the characters are fictional.
KB: For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
MBP: I adore the feel of a real book, the ability to see how much I’ve read and how much is left to enjoy, and I like to line my shelves with them as if each one becomes a trophy once it’s been read. After indie publishing Whores, I don’t have much fondness for ebooks. Seriously, it’s Betamax and VHS all over again. There really should be one format that will work on all devices, and it really should look as much like the printed book as possible.
KB: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
MBP: My main ambition is to keep writing as long as it both satisfies and pays the bills.
KB: Do you write full-time or part-time?
MBP: In television, full time. In fiction, part time.
KB: Do you have a special time and place to write?
MBP: In my youth, I’d stay up until the wee hours drinking cheap wine, smoking cigarettes, and hammering out crap on my electric typewriter. A little age has brought the wisdom to cut all of that out, and now I much prefer mornings. I have a nice home office, but once I switched to a MacBook Pro, I’ve discovered I do my best work at my kitchen table, mere steps from the coffee pot.
KB: Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
MBP: In television, I take the episode outline and divide the number of scenes by the number of days I’ve been given to complete a first draft, allowing a day at the end (if possible) for final polishing, then I write until I’ve completed each day’s work, and, if inspired, squeak in an additional scene or two. While writing Whores, I often wrote all day and into the evening because the inspiration and excitement fueled me.
KB: What is the hardest thing about writing?
KB: What is the easiest thing about writing?
MBP: Having written. I have to give a shout out to my dear friend Lisa Melamed for that one. She says her favorite part of writing is having written. Hi, Lisa!
KB: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
MBP: I certainly hope it doesn’t take me another twenty years to finish my second novel.
KB: Where can we find you online?
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/markbperryAuthor?ref=hl
Facebook City of Whores book page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/City-of-Whores/601228039998921?ref=hl.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JHNQB7C
Amazon Book Page: City of Whores
Mark B. Perry was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned his BA in broadcast journalism from the University of Georgia. An aspiring writer and filmmaker, he moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and worked as an office temp until he wrote a script on spec for the top-ten show The Wonder Years. Not only did this writing sample lead to a freelance assignment and a staff position on the series, it was also purchased and produced as the opening episode of the 1989-1990 season, entitled "Summer Song." Its premiere was the number three show for that week in the Nielsen Ratings, outranked only by the venerable Roseanne and The Cosby Show.
After three years and eighteen episodes of The Wonder Years, Mark went on to write and/or produce such diverse television series as Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, Moon Over Miami, Law & Order, Party of Five, Push, Time of Your Life, Pasadena, First Years, That Was Then, One Tree Hill, Windfall, and What About Brian. After helping successfully launch the second season of ABC’s Brothers & Sisters in 2007, Mark was then a co-executive producer on the last two seasons of CBS’s Ghost Whisperer. In 2011, Mark embarked on two gloriously venomous seasons on the ABC hit Revenge before leaving to complete his debut novel, City of Whores.
As a producer on the first season on David E. Kelley’s Picket Fences, Mark and the other producers received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series (1993). For his episode of Party of Five entitled “Falsies,” he was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Achievement in Dramatic Writing (1997). And for his writing and producing services on that same series, he shared a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama (1996). For a full list of credits, please see his IMDB page.
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