An Author at Work

Down and Out in Beverly Heels: Behind the Story

“What if” for me is the powerful tool that jump-starts my imagination both as an actress and a writer. The “what if” factor that was the catalyst for Down and Out in Beverly Heels was my memory of a 60 Minutes segment I watched some 20 years ago about homeless women who were living undetected in their cars in affluent neighborhoods. Beverly Hills, where I live, was one of the neighborhoods where these women, who had once lived in comfort and security, were now eking out a day-to-day existence on the streets. For these women, a roof over their heads came with four wheels and a dashboard—and a good deal of fear and anxiety. They had lost everything, including the means to regain a livelihood. It’s awfully tough to fill out a job application without a home address. And, as Leslie Stahl pointed out, it’s alarming how little it takes to lose everything: divorce, catastrophic illness or accident, bad investments, career meltdown, physical or mental health issues, natural disaster—one or any combination of those circumstances can destroy lives in short order.

One of the women interviewed, who had once employed a housekeeper herself, was now working as a housekeeper and cook for an elderly couple. That program made me think about what I would do if I lost everything, including my home, material possessions, friends, reputation and means of sustaining myself. What if I had to live on the streets?

At the time I began writing the book, I was also a longtime volunteer in the homeless program at my church, where we provide a sit-down meal every Monday afternoon. Along with the recognizably destitute, I was aware of a couple of women who turned up smartly dressed, well groomed and, to all appearances, were sociable members of the community—except that they were dining among the homeless and availed themselves of the toiletries and other amenities we made available. They were what I call “homeless and hiding it.” I imagined myself in their shoes, scratching out an existence that relied on grit, resourcefulness and determination not to give in to the downward spiral life had taken.

As an actress, a role starts to inhabit you and you begin seeing the world through another pair of eyes. And so it is for me as a writer. I started to see my neighborhood through the eyes of a homeless person. What if? How would I survive? If, like Meg, I was determined to reclaim my career and former lifestyle, what subterfuge would I use to fool friends and colleagues into thinking my life was unchanged? If I had to sleep in my car, but had an early morning audition at Warner Brothers for a film role, how would I manage to groom myself so I could not only audition but book the job? I drew on my long career as an actress and my knowledge of how difficult it is for a woman of a certain age to maintain relevancy in a profession that reveres youth and freshness in creating the character of Meg Barnes.

Down and Out in Beverly Heels is a humorous, light-hearted mystery romance, but I couldn’t introduce the topic of homelessness, the inspiration for my story, without delving into the gritty reality of what it is to be “homeless and hiding it” in one of the most glamorous, wealthy communities in the world.

Twelve Questions with Kathryn Leigh Scott

 

Where are you from and where do you call home?

I grew up on a farm in Minnesota after living in Norway for a year when I was a toddler. How different my life would be if my parents had chosen to remain in the small Norwegian village where my father was born! Yet I think I would still have become a writer and actor because so many of my family members, including my parents, wrote and acted. My brothers are both excellent writrs. I am thoroughly American, yet I’ve lived, worked and traveled all over the world, filling notebook after notebook with journal writings. For many years I called Zurich, London and Paris home. Now I divide my time between New York and Los Angeles.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’ve been drawn to writing and acting since I was a child and they are still my twin careers, one always feeding the other. I wrote a play about George Washington in second grade, but it was all about Martha, the role I intended to play. I wrote short stories all through grade school, worked on the school newspaper and in high school won a state award for an interview I did with Carl Sandburg. I attended the summer “cherub” program at Northwestern University on scholarship when I was 16, after applying in both the journalism and theatre departments. I consider myself so blessed that I am still working as a writer and an actor, and I’ve though of myself as both since I was seven years old!

How much of yourself, your personality, or your experiences are in your books?

Much of what I’ve written is nonfiction. I am very drawn to memoir, having written books about my experiences working as both a Playboy Bunny while in drama school and as one of the original actors on Dark Shadows. When I turned to fiction with Dark Passages, I was able to incorporate everything I knew about the behind-the-scenes world of Playboy and live soap opera in the 1960s. . . that’s very rich material! I also tend to write funny and it reflects my take on life. I’m essentially a happy person with a robust sense of the ridiculous . . . and I do love taking a poke at artifice and complacent thinking. Down and Out in Beverly Heels is about a homeless woman, but however harsh her life becomes, she deals with it in a very resourceful, humorous, upbeat manner. My work as a writer is very much character driven and dialogue comes naturally . . . is that a surprise?

Have you started your next project?  If so, can you share a little about it?

I’m currently writing a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels because I love the character. I sometimes wish I were Meg Barnes! She’s tenacious, fun, resilient and so appealing to me. I’m writing in the mystery romance genre, but I tend to choose plots that have serious underpinnings, in this case sex trafficking. I guess I need a bit of fire in the belly when I write and dealing with the harsh realities gives my character some bite and purpose. I like that.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

I can’t not write. It’s as simple as that. It’s hard and sometimes I wonder what I could accomplish channeling that time spent writing into some other endeavor, but I keep writing. For one thing, you learn things about yourself you never suspected.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I write a synopsis that is very complete and then I outline. However, invariably by chapter 6 the characters take off on their own. It’s easy to write yourself into a corner that way, but at a certain point you have to trust your characters to figure things out.

What inspired you to write Down and Out in Beverly Heels?

Down and Out in Beverly Heels is about a woman who leads an enviable life until it all comes crashing down when it’s revealed that her husband is a conman who has fleeced her and her friends . . . she loses everything she’s worked so hard for and ends up living on the streets of Beverly Hills is what she calls her “Ritz-Volvo.” The novel is inspired by an experience my brother had when he unwittingly hired a man in the witness protection program, who was an embezzler . . . and my own experiences meeting women living on the edge, “homeless and hiding it.” It takes so little: career meltdown, bad investments, catastrophic illness or accident, natural disaster, etc. I think we all live with the apprehension that we could lose everything in a blink of an eye. The “What if” factor is the springboard to imagination, making me ask myself what I would do if the worst happened? How would I cope?

What kind of research did you do?

For a number of years I’ve volunteered serving weekly meals to the homeless in my community and volunteered in other capacities where I’ve assisted people in need. Without prying, I’ve come to know a few women who are living on the edge, who have lost everything, but are not recognizably homeless . . . what I have come to call “homeless and hiding it.” I drew on all those experiences in writing this novel. I also stockpile clippings and read up extensively on any of the matters that touch my characters. One of my characters is an FBI agent and I spent some considerable time talking to a friend who is an FBI agent.

Do you base any of your characters on real people?

Several reviewers have referred to my array of “quirky” characters. I think my acting training comes in handy in building very specific characters with lots of backstory and dimension. I haven’t based any of my characters entirely on real people, but as I write about them they become very real to me. One of my favorites is Ariana, a former actress with great style, who is completely batty . . . and I realize she sprang from my memories of a great friend who was a fashion designer. Believe me, the fashion designer would never recognize herself, but I blush when I think how similar they are in their eccentricities.

Is the book part of a series?

The sequel is almost completed. I’ve pulled in my favorite characters from the first book and developed the wonderful relationship between Donna and Meg. Donna is essential to Meg, I realize, and a great foil. Only now do I realize how much I’d like to change a few things in the first book that would make this sequel easier . . . but alas, I have to move on within the confines of the characters I’ve already established.

If you could be one character from any of your books, who would you be and why?

I feel a great kinship with my lead character, Meg Barnes. I’m sure friends who read the book think she’s based on me . . . if only! I admire her tenacity, resourcefulness and great sense of humor. She’s much freer and looser than I am. She’s brave and can endure hardships that I’m afraid would break me. Perhaps I’ve just written the woman I’d like to be, but frankly I’m a bit envious of her.

Is there a specific place in the house that you like to write?

I’m blessed to have an office in the back of my house that looks onto the garden and is awash in sunlight. Writing is a lonely business, but there’s comfort in looking out at trees and my rose bushes . . . and having my cat, Daphne, curled up on the window bench. At odd times she’ll get up and meander across my keyboard, but you can’t blame a cat for being a cat.

 

 

A Day in a Life

I rise early and my day always begins with a cup of English tea (P & G Tips) and a walk in my garden. I grew up a farm girl and remember my Dad walking out the kitchen door in the morning with a cup of coffee to look out across the fields before starting the day. My work as a writer is so much like farming was for my Dad: sowing seed, cultivating through the long, hot growing season, harvesting and then going to market. My Dad would stand on the kitchen steps drinking coffee, planning his day, just as I walk through my garden sipping tea and formulating the turns my story will take. I'm usually at my desk around 7 a.m. with my second cup of tea reading over my pages from the day before.  I find it hard to continue unless I'm satisfied with the writing. I edit and rework before moving on to the day's fresh output. I work from a synopsis and an outline, but I find that by chapter 6 or 7, the characters are guiding the story. I keep them in check, but still give them a lot of freedom. Somehow, everything usually ends much the way I conceived it. I write seven days a week with a goal of 1000 words a day. There are times when it’s a struggle and I just can't meet my goal . . . so I stop and give myself a break. After all, there were days on the farm when we had to stop work because of bad weather, but the sun always came out again. I'm usually finished by early afternoon when I either swim or take a long walk. I love to cook and garden, and that's what I turn to when my work is done. I love having friends for dinner, and flowers on the table are just as important to me as the meal. I absolutely cannot write after the sun goes down unless I'm at the tail end of my book . . . then I could write until dawn!

Five Questions

What is the first book you remember reading by yourself as a child?

Heide, the enchanting story about the Swiss orphan girl and her grandfather. I adored my grandfather and read the book over and over. I also loved fairy tales . . . and when I was in Second grade, I was introduced to the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books by Maude Hart Lovelace. I don’t know that the series is popular anymore, but these stories about three girls growing up in the early years of the 20th Century were so inspiring to me. Betsy became a journalist and that’s what I set as my own goal.

What are you reading right now?

I have three books on my bedside table that I have read: “Paris: The Novel” by Edward Rutherford. “I’ll Be Seeing you” by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

How does your garden grow?

Thank you for asking! I’m a farmer’s daughter and couldn’t live without digging my hands in soil. I love to arrange flowers for the house, so I always manage to have something in bloom: roses, hydrangea, freesia, various lilies, daisies, iris, gardenias, gladiolas, etc. Today, I have a bowl of colorful nasturtiums on my desk. I have the most amazing brilliant red amaryllis that blooms every year. I also have a lemon and apricot trees. Unfortunately, the climate in Southern California isn’t suitable for lilac, peonies or rhododendron, but I shouldn’t complain when I can grow an abundance of other flowers throughout the year.

What is the last thing you googled? 

The spelling for “rhododendron.” Before that, I was working on the last chapter of the sequel to “Down and Out in Beverly Heels” and needed to know how the mechanism works on a magician’s collapsible top hat . . . is there anything you can’t find on Google?

What makes you cringe?

Raunchy language will do it . . . and bullying behavior.

The Mansion on the Hill

On a nostalgic journey one sparkling, late October afternoon, I stood on the bluffs in front of Seaview Terrace, as it’s known by locals in Newport, Rhode Island, and looked at waves crashing against a rocky shore. Yes, those waves, the ones that made their debut more than 47 years ago under the opening credits of the premiere episode of Dark Shadows, in which I appeared as Maggie Evans. In the ensuing 1,225 episodes, I would also play Josette DuPres, the hapless fiancé of vampire Barnabas Collins.

But what I was experiencing in nature’s glorious Technicolor that autumn afternoon, we in early 1966 viewed in grainy shades of gray, lending even more ghostly shadows to the mansion on the hill with the haunting glow of light in a single upstairs window. Seaview Terrace, also now known as the Carey Mansion, had been built in the 1920s for a wealthy Washington D.C. distiller (producer of Old Crow whisky) who requested that his architect, Howard Greenley, pattern the summer home after a particular chateau in France. But, as often happened after the Great Depression and the introduction of federal income taxes during the 1930s, the wealthy owners couldn’t afford the luxury of the huge household staffs necessary to the upkeep of these lavish summer homes. The house was not inhabited for a decade prior to World War II when Seaview Terrace was used as barracks for naval personnel. Windows were broken and the lawns overgrown when the mansion was purchased for back taxes in 1949 and converted for use as a summer school called Burnham-by-the-Sea.

In early May of 1966, Dan Curtis arrived in Newport with his set designer, Sy Tomashoff, to scout exterior locations for ABC’s new afternoon soap, Dark Shadows. The Gothic architecture of Seaview Terrace had caught Tomashoff’s discerning eye as a suitably brooding facade for the Collins mansion which was set in the mythical town of Collinsport, Maine. Curtis negotiated to film the opening credits at Seaview Terrace for the sum of $500, with the owner’s stipulation that filming would have to be completed before school opened in late June. However, to the consternation of the school’s staff, Dan Curtis arrived unannounced with a film crew at noon the day before the summer term was to begin. The crew set up their cameras and spent the afternoon filming on the grounds of Burnham-by the-Sea. By late afternoon, the weary headmaster asked if they were finally finished shooting. No, Curtis told him, they would also be shooting that night and would need to have the entire mansion dark except for one light shining in a window. The headmaster protested that with school beginning in the morning, he had a lot of work to do and needed the lights on. After considerable persuasion (Curtis, after all, had a television series to launch!) the schoolmaster was relegated to a room in the turret where he worked by candlelight with a blanket covering the window.

Curtis returned one more time to film exterior scenes on the grounds of the school. Beginning in 1976, the mansion housed Salve Regina University dorm and classrooms for three decades. Today it’s

In 2010, Jonathan Frid (Barnabas), Lara Parker (Angelique) David Selby (Quentin) and I played cameo roles in Tim Burton’s feature film Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, with an exterior filmed in England standing in for the great Collinsport Estate. Beginning in . . . . , reruns of the entire original series that “every kid ran home from school to watch,” will be broadcast on METV.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the evocative Seaview Terrace setting, lurking in the dark shadows of his original home, Barnabas Collins must be watching the current inhabitants, a sinister gleam in his eye.

Dreaming in the Dark

The sleek, very modern Terrace theatre, with its pale stone and plate glass façade, was a space age novelty in our little farm community. Robbinsdale in the 1950s had a main street with one story shops, a fire station adjacent to railroad tracks, a water tower and the usual mix of Midwestern churches. Homes were compact, two-bedroom bungalows in which families of six lived, and the big event of the year was Whiz Bang Days, a town festival with a parade and the high school marching band.

Our old-fashioned local movie theater, a tiny structure with a fancy marquis at the end of main street—where my father took me to see The Boy With the Green Hair when I was six years old and everyone else in the family was sick with ‘flu—had become a dry cleaner by the time the Terrace theatre was built. 

Tickets were popularly priced, but it was still a big deal to pay admission and buy popcorn. We dressed up. On Saturday afternoons there were always birthday party outings, and in the evenings it was the date place. I remember many of the movies I saw there: For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Robe, How to Marry a Millionaire, Unchained Melody and The Summer of ’42.

It was sad to see the decline of the Terrace over the years. It became the shabby, out-sized structure anchoring one end of a parking lot for a low-end shopping mall and discount grocery. Occasionally, on trips home, I would stand near the old VFW Hall and focus my eyes on just the Terrace theatre, recalling its glory days and my own growing up years in Robbinsdale.

It may have been the Paramount, perhaps the old Academy, and it seems to me it was a grand old movie house located on Hennepin Avenue . . . in any case, as a young girl I skipped school with two girlfriends and rode the bus downtown to that theatre to see Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender and scream my lungs out.

Many years later, my two brothers booked a stretch limo to drive my parents and entire family from Robbinsdale to downtown Minneapolis for the 1971 opening of House of Dark Shadows at that same theatre. It was such fun! And I’ll never forget my father, wearing his best Sunday suit, stepping out of the limo to look up at the marquis—he was so proud of his daughter starring in her first big movie!

Three Questions answered for Los Angeles Magazine about Down and Out in Beverly Heels

1. While this novel is, ostensibly, a breezy mystery/romance, you also hoped to highlight the very real issue of homeless women who live in moneyed cities like Beverly Hills. What type of research did you conduct on that front to create a three-dimensional protagonist like Meg?

More than 20 years ago I watched a 60 Minutes segment in which Leslie Stahl interviewed homeless women who were living undetected in their cars in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, what I term "homeless and hiding it." Women who had once lived in comfort and security were eking out a day-to-day existence in a confined space that came with four wheels and a dashboard―and I was struck by the resourcefulness and determination of these women to survive on their own. I was also alarmed at how little it takes to lose everything: divorce, catastrophic illness or accident, bad investments, career meltdown, physical or mental health issues and natural disaster, situations any of us could face. I got in touch with Dr. Marjorie Bard, a UCLA professor, who wrote “Shadow Women,” which provided inspiration for the 60 Minutes piece. I learned much from her book. I also met a couple of “shadow women” during the time I volunteered at All Saints Episcopal Church, one of the four churches on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills that provide meals for the homeless on weekdays. Of course, once the story began to inhabit me as a writer, I became so much more aware of the undetected homeless living among us. Meg Barnes springs from these observations, but also my own imagination wondering “what if?” How would I deal with not only subsistence survival, but also the pain and humiliation of losing everything, including the means to earn a livelihood? The novel is indeed a light-hearted mystery/romance, and very funny! But that’s due to Meg Barnes’ resilience and her own brand of humor in coping with her dilemma.

2. Your last book, Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood, delves into the making of Tim Burton's 2012 film as well as the history of the original Dark Shadows TV series, on which you starred. Obviously a very different beast both in terms of genre and structure--was it difficult to switch gears for Down And Out in Beverly Heels? Which genre comes more naturally to you? 

I’ve primarily written nonfiction books and magazine pieces, but knew I would eventually turn to fiction. After writing about what really happened all those years ago when a small company of actors created the world of Dark Shadows, I had some fun writing Dark Passages, a paranormal mystery/romance about a young actress, who is a real vampire, cast in a television series about vampires―it’s very much Soapdish meets Dark Shadows. Down and Out in Beverly Heels is my second novel, and now I’m hooked! I love writing fiction, particularly in the mystery/romance genre, but nonfiction is so much easier! Nevertheless, I’m almost finished with a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels.

3. What would you say are some of the biggest myths about Beverly Hills? Things the average Angeleno might not know?

 My husband, Geoff Miller, was the founding editor of Los Angeles Magazine, which opened its first offices on Rodeo Drive in 1960. He thought of Beverly Hills as a village, recalling that when he was a youngster growing up near Roxbury Park, there were schoolteachers living in a boarding house on Rodeo Drive. His mother had a small porcelain shop on Beverly Drive, where she taught ceramics―and most of the shops were family-owned. People actually rode horses on the bridal path along Santa Monica Boulevard, and he remembered riding the street trolley from Beverly Hills to the ocean. He also remembered the day in 1946 when Howard Hughes crashed his experimental spy plane into a house on Whittier Drive as Geoff and his mother were strolling through that neighborhood. I suppose I’ve busted one of the biggest myths about Beverly Hills by writing about the undetected homeless living among us.

Also, can you tell me any writing quirks you might have? Perhaps that you HAVE to use a certain pen (or that you write with pen/paper at all); or maybe something unique about your process? Or perhaps just a bio-y fun fact about yourself?

I am thrilled with the reviews for Down and Out in Beverly Heels, but also notice that every one of them refers to me as the “Dark Shadows actress” or “former Playboy Bunny” ―which is fine, since I’ve written about both experiences (“Return to Collinwood” and “The Bunny Years”). But I also drew on this when writing about Meg Barnes, a television actress best known for playing an amateur sleuth, Jinx Fogarty. It means that no matter what else Meg does in her career, she’ll be known as “Jinx Fogarty,” just as I will probably always be identified as “Maggie Evans,” Josette DuPres” and “Bunny Kay!”

Kathryn's Dark Passages musings on the Author Q & A Database

How did you get the idea for the novel?

Dark Passages is, for me, a very personal book. It’s a novel . . . certainly not a memoir! None of the events in Dark Passages actually happened in my own life, but I wanted to capture that period of great change and discovery that I did experience when I left my hometown, and went to the big city. The early 1960s was a time of great change for me but also for the country, which is why I chose to bookend my story with two significant events: the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, just a year and a month later. I’d written a number of nonfiction books about the TV series Dark Shadows, my first acting job, but this gave me an opportunity to write about something that was familiar and do so from a fresh, fictional perspective.

If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?

With Oprah’s history of debunking memoir, it would be fascinating to discuss mirroring one’s own life in fiction and persuading the reader it wasn’t memoir! 

This would make a great film. Any talks of turning your book into a movie?

In fact, I am in discussions with a prominent filmmaker about writing a screenplay based on Dark Passages. So far, three of the nonfiction titles I’ve published have been optioned and/or produced as documentaries or television films. 

Thinking back to the way beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?

The most important lesson, especially for a nonfiction-turned-fiction author, is to not “tell” the story, but rather let it unfold. I’m also an actress and I’ve found some of the lessons I’ve learned in that profession have been so beneficial to me as a writer: setting the scene, incorporating all the senses, living the moment, “doing” not “showing” and finding those specific actions that reveal character. I’ve also learned that a bit of levity, a flicker of humor arising out of the most dire, tragic circumstances, provide poignancy and humanity and can have a profound effect on an audience – or the reader.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Have you had other jobs along the way?

When I was about seven years old, my mother showed me how to feed a sheet of paper in her old Smith-Corona and I wrote a story about a little girl on a farm, who came across a witch living in a cottage in the woods. I also wrote a play about George and Martha Washington for my Third Grade class, casting myself in the lead role of Martha Washington! I have always wanted to be a writer, but acting always seems to make it possible!

What's up next for you?

My next book, of course! I’m writing a sequel to Dark Passages, and a nonfiction book about the new Dark Shadows film starring Johnny Depp, in which I have a cameo as Maggie Evans.

 

Kathryn greets the Meeting Between the Wines book club...

What a joy to be writing for Reading Between the Wines . . . I look forward each evening to pouring a good glass of wine and settling back to read over what I’ve written that day. . . usually with Daphne, my cat, curled in my lap.

Nothing ever seems real until I see it on the page. Often I’ll change the vanilla font I write in to something exotic before I print the pages because I find it (literally) gives me a fresh perspective. Also, perhaps because I’m an actress as well as a writer, I read my work aloud. And always with a pencil handy! Most of the time I’m striking out words or transposing order to give easy flow and a clean finish to a sentence. If it’s a mouthful as I read it, then I’m overwriting. I try to make my verbs do the heavy lifting; good action verbs that eliminate the need for qualifiers.

I’m not a literary writer. I don’t like dense, convoluted sentences that stray from telling a story and moving the action forward. I have my own private list of words that I try not to use. When I see one pop up in a sentence, I know I’m struggling, working too hard, and need to simplify.

I’m a storyteller. I take my cues from the lessons I’ve learned as an actress playing before audiences. Acting is doing, a physical act incorporating all the senses. I think in terms of scenes, setting them up so specifically that the reader feels present as the action unfolds. What’s happening? Why? Where are we going? I want to be there.

I never forget another lesson I’ve learned as an actress . . . there’s usually a flicker of humor in even the most tragic situations. A moment of levity, a wry observation, an unexpected occurrence in what would otherwise be a solemn occasion provides a sense of reality and a poignant, human touch.

I love writing. I can’t not do it every day. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, or simply a note to a friend, such a lot is revealed to me about myself. Where did that come from, I wonder? How did I know that? It’s all there, waiting to flow into the written word.

KLS discusses Dark Passages with Wicked Little Pixie

I am pleased to welcome actress & author Kathryn Leigh Scott to Wicked Lil Pixie today. Ms. Scott is best known for her work on Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera that is currently being adapted by Tim Burton for a film release next year. Ms. Scott has just released Dark Passages, a novel that mixes her time on Dark Shadows with fiction. Thank you for taking the time to join us today!

 

WLP: Can you tell us a little bit about Dark Passages and how it came to be?

I’ve always wanted to write about my first year in New York, a period of time bookended by the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and President Kennedy’s assassination a year and a month a later in November 1963. It was such an extraordinary time of change for me, a farm girl from the Midwest arriving in the Big City, working as a Playboy Bunny ad eventually getting cast in the daytime soap, Dark Shadows. When I finished the book, it occurred to me . . . “what if Meg Harrison was a real vampire?” I rewrote the entire novel, adding the paranormal elements.

WLP: What percentage of Dark Passages would you say is based on what you experienced and how much is fiction? I wanted to capture that period of intense change and youthful exuberance I experienced in my own life at the time, and I wrote about that time and world I remembered so well, but all of that is background and setting. In fact, nothing that happens to Meg Harrison happened to me in my own life. It is complete fiction.

WLP: I really loved the ending of Dark Passages, but its left open ended. Does that mean we can look forward to more of Meg’s adventures? If so, when can we expect to read it?

I am already at work on the sequel, but I cannot tell you when the second novel will be published. I’m afraid I have a backlog of writing projects!

WLP: You founded a publishing company, Pomegranate Press, in 1986. What made you start the company?

When I wrote My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows in 1985, I already had my eye on starting a publishing company. I knew how to reach my audience for the book and I had already secured deals with two book clubs. I poured profits from my first book into production of four books I’d acquired from other writers for second season catalog. I really wanted to publish “evergreens,” nonfiction books on entertainment subjects, such as classic film and television. It was a good business plan and my company has been active for more than 25 years. I cut back only because of my husband’s health and my desire to focus more of my energies on my own writing.

WLP: Did you have any trouble writing any of the characters in the book?

Honestly, no. I almost feel that my characters created themselves. I had such a lot of fun with this book! When my husband read the completed manuscript, he said, “I hope you realize you are writing about your mother!”

WLP: I’d be remiss not to make mention of your Playboy Club days, did you have any embarrassing moments while working there?

Like my Bunny tail sweeping someone’s cocktail off a table? Nothing memorable that was too terrible, but the life of a teenager is one embarrassment after another, so I am sure I was mortified much of the time. I do remember the Beatles coming to the Club in 1964, all of them ordering rum and coke. The fun thing was that as awed as all of the Bunnies were, the Beatles were clearly in awe of us!

WLP: You played many characters on Dark Shadows; which did you find the hardest?

I played Maggie Evans, Josette DuPres, Rachel Drummond and Lady Kitty Hampshire. I loved the first two roles, both love interests of the vampire Barnabas Collins. The hardest role was Kitty, because she was not as clearly defined. In soaps, you play roles moment-to-moment and they soon evolve into dimensional characters, but Kitty remained hazy . . . although I loved her elegant wardrobe!

WLP: Many of us are excited about Tim Burton’s interpretation of Dark Shadows, but even happier that some of the original cast has cameos in it. Did it feel surreal to return to Collinswood?

It was extraordinary to see the incredible interior and exterior sets for Collinwood and the entire town of Collinsport! We had elaborate sets, but they were confined to the interior of a cramped soundstage. We all felt utterly transported, and it was a thrilling experience to meet and work with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter and Michelle Pfeiffer.

WLP: What do you think about all the new vampire movies making the rounds?

I’ve only seen one of the Twilight films, and none of the various other films. I simply have no interest in them.

WLP: Do you have any favorite Dark Shadows bloopers?

Many! And I have written about most of them in Dark Shadows Memories. I think one of the funniest occurred at the very end of one episode when Jonathan Frid was caught on camera walking out of his quick-change room behind the set of Collinwood carrying his clothing on a hanger over his shoulder. Another time, he was seen swatting a fly dive bombing his nose throughout a very dramatic scene in the mausoleum.

WLP: It’s been 45 years, this year, since Dark Shadows aired. What’s one thing you’ve learned during that time has stuck with you for those years?

When serious flubs and bloopers occurred on Dark Shadows, producer Dan Curtis assured us the audience would see the show once and that would be the end of it. Instead, 45 years later those horrendous moments are immortalized on DVDs and youtube. Lesson: Producers lie to you!

 

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