Hello Kevin, thank you for joining me t0day on Novel Kicks. Your novel (which you’ve co-written with Jack Ketsoyan) is called Blind Item. Can you tell me about it?
Sure! The idea for Blind Item came out of conversations that Jack Ketsoyan and I had when I was a tabloid editor and he was a publicist with chaotic clients that I needed to do stories on.
After he came to trust me, we would share the darkest things we’d seen in our jobs, and we swore one day that we’d fold them all into a novel.
With Blind Item, we set out to write a dark romance that was set in the real Hollywood, the city were fame is just another job, and being famous is the worst job of all. We wanted to tell a funny, touching and truthful story that used our experiences as a springboard, and we threw in a generous sprinkling of the scandals that we’d seen over the years.
You’ve been an entertainment journalist for over twenty five years. How did this help with writing the novel? How much in the book is based on true events? (If you’re allowed to say… obviously.)
For a lot of entertainment journalists, their job entails showing up to interviews and spending very formal time around celebrities. I used to do that job. Once I entered the tabloid world, things became lot more informal.
I’ve always believed in journalistic integrity and if someone says something is off record, it’s off record. I think this surprised a lot of celebrities, but as they came to trust me, I began to get invited to private parties at their houses, and I never sold them out.
For many years, I was able to see a side of Hollywood that doesn’t get reported on. It was fun for a while but like anything that you have to do for work, it got old. But the behavior and the ridiculous excess that I saw definitely informed Blind Item.
The book is a fiction, it’s the story of a group of friends who live a life that’s very similar to both Jack’s and my own, when we were starting out in this town. We then saddled our poor characters with a lot of the lurid things that we saw happen, but I’d imagine that this is something that most writers do, go with what you know, write from your experience, but transform it into something more.
What was your typical writing day like when writing Blind Item? Do you have any rituals before sitting down to write (needing coffee, music, silence, etc?)
It’s all about ritual for me. On the days that I was writing Blind Item, I would get up and check my phone exhaustively, literally exhaust the news, email, social media and whatnot, so that it would not distract me (and ultimately, as we entered the home stretch, I deactivated Facebook because of its capacity to enable procrastination.)
Then I would pile my two dogs into my car and go get a ridiculously strong coffee at Starbucks.
I would come home and think about the playlist for the day. I can only write to very few albums. I have to know them inside out. But it changes, and I think the material dictates what music I’m able to write to. For most of Blind Item, I only listened to Nocturne by Siouxsie, Last Splash by the Breeders and Golem by Wand. Just three albums on repeat.
I think they soothe my brain. I don’t hear them while I’m writing but they give my subconscious free reign to go live in that made up world. Once I had exhausted myself for the day, I’d go for a hike to clear out and return to myself.
What’s your favourite word and why?
It changes all the time. I like animal words, like panda and pangolin. I like palindromes, like kayak. I like onomatopoeia, and I love invented words. I’ve always loved a word I heard in France, I don’t know how to spell it, but it was something like les roploplos, which an old lady told me was a plural noun for really big boobs.
Which fictional character would you like to have a drink with and why? What would you talk about?
I used to always say that I’d like to just go and sit in the Night Of Joy bar in the New Orleans of Confederacy Of Dunces, and talk to Ignatius Reilly’s mom, but right now, I think I’d like to hang out with Lyra Belacqua because I’m so excited that The Book Of Dust is out this year. Both of those choices would be lovely.
Are you working on a new book? Are you able to tell us a bit about it?
We are currently working on the sequel to Blind Item. It’s pretty far along. I’m not sure we can talk too much about it yet, but I’m really happy with it and I think that anyone who likes Blind Item will like it too.
Which authors do you admire and why?
Argh so many. I love David Mitchell’s work so much that I treat myself to rereading one of his books every time I complete a difficult physics book (because I love reading physics books but they hurt my brain.) His fictional multiverse is astonishing, as is his basic storytelling. His imagination is limitless and his moral core is fantastic.
I love Lindsey Kelk’s rom-coms for their unapologetically complex and salty female leads and also she’s so adept at writing these huge comedic set pieces. I always get excited when I’m reading one of her books and I can sense that we’re getting close to a big comedic blow out. They’re cinematic and they make me laugh out loud.
I love John Kennedy Toole and I love Garcia Marquez. I’m learning spanish and I want to be able to read and appreciate 100 Years Of Solitude in his original words as I’ve heard that it’s even better. We shall see if I ever get good enough to pull that off!
What is your writing process like – are you much of a planner? Do you edit once you have a complete first draft or as you go along?
Jack and I usually go away for a couple of days at a time. We brainstorm first, then we storyboard and then we commit to flashcards. Then we start writing rough outlines of each chapter, and then after we leave the retreat we bounce the chapters back and forth until we have a first draft.
What do you feel needs to be in place before you begin a novel?
The novel should exist in an almost tenuous form inside your brain. For me, at least, I know when I’m ready to start writing when the novel feels like a movie that I’ve already seen. I like to let the ideas roll around in my brain and coalesce. Once it feels like an old movie, I know it’s in some sort of shape that will translate to the page.
What do you think makes a good, developed character?
Ha. That’s easy. When they refuse to do what you need them to do. No matter how well you plan a book, at a certain point in your storyboard, a character will need to do something to move the plot to where it needs to be, and as you write, you realize that they aren’t going to do what you need them to do. It’s a pain, but you just have to not be lazy about it. You have to let them dictate the write-around that will still get you where you need to end up. It’s more work, but you also know that you’ve made a nice, legitimate fake person who can live in your head forever and annoy you.
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of writing a book but doesn’t know where to begin?
The best advice I ever got, and it was as a fledgling journalist, was just to write. Don’t write without focus, but write. Know your vaguest boundaries and write within them, begin telling your story and don’t be afraid to scrap everything once you get a clearer vision of the story you want to tell. But every second you procrastinate, every time you look at social media instead of shutting down and writing, you’re not a writer. Writers write.
Don’t think of the book, think of the story you want to tell. And start. And keep on writing, regardless of your mood, or the noise outside, or your friends texting you from a bar. In the end, you’ll be happier.
About Blind Item:
Go behind the glamour and bright lights of Hollywood in this addictive, sexy read. The drugs, sex, and partying are just the beginning…Fresh from Ohio, Nicola lands a coveted job as assistant to a high-powered publicist, pampering B-list stars and creating faux scandals to hide real ones.
Her roommate, Kara, looks for fame wherever it will come – as a stylist, a rapper’s paramour, and as a reality TV star.
Their friend Billy flits behind the scenes, is witness to the bad behaviour behind the cameras, peddles his gossip all over town for profit.
When Nicola starts to fall for a movie star, her friends get caught up in the drama. All their secrets start to spill – and every secret can be sold.
About Kevin and Jack:
Kevin Dickson has been an entertainment journalist for 25 years. For many years he worked as an editor at tabloids In Touch and Life & Style where his friendships with celebrities took him behind the scenes in Hollywood in a way that very few journalists ever get to experience.
Jack Ketsoyan is a veteran publicist in Hollywood who’s spent most of his time on the other side of the velvet rope. He has worked for the big agencies such as PMK, representing stars like Jennifer Lopez. He now runs his own boutique agency, EMC Bowery. Jack has occasionally specialized in crisis PR, helping stars deal with sudden scandals.Blind Item is their debut novel.
Check out Kevin’s website: http://thechewtoys.com/
Follow Jack on Twitter: @JackKetsoyan