Friday, November 14, 2014

Novel project spawned in 1997 reaches fruition as book -- at last!

The cover of "Lilian's Last Dance" is a collaboration:  Cookie collected
photos by Keller and Bill's cowboy watercolor. Celeste Barnett did the design. 

Racy historical novel now available to readers 

"...a marvelous romp through the history of film and performance, with a pure love for the stage, in whatever form it presents itself.....You'll love Lilian!" Acclaimed writer Ruth Rudner on “Lilian’s Last Dance.” 



LIGHTS, ACTION, drum roll! The book is out at last, a labor of love, a memorial, a tribute to time, technology, tenacity.
And the human spirit!
The project I developed many years ago with my late husband, William Jones, is a reality.
Research took our writers to Durango, Mexico, birth place of
bandit Pancho Villa, a minor player in the novel.--archival photo
Billy and I began writing it during his healthy years (1997-2002). After his illness and death from cancer in 2005, I boxed up our book drafts, computer discs, travel journals and photos.  A few years ago, I dug out the boxes and began the rewrite,  mindful of the old show biz and cowboy admonition: "talk's cheap."
NOW THAT IT'S published, after a protracted "pregnancy," a bit of reflection seems right.
"Lilian's Last Dance" was conceived on a lovely sunny drive in Arizona, heading home from a screening of "Good Will Hunting" in December of 1997 and a romantic night on the town.
BILLY AND I PLOTTED the story on that drive, along with settings and characters, determining to visit every locale and research each plot point. We did:  Montana's wilderness, the fields and ranches of Hawaii (one of the characters is a Hawaiian paniolo with a Pancho Villa fetish), Australia's center, where one of the villains grew up, and many locales in Europe, South America and a dozen U.S. states. Our characters got around, and so did we~!
The intricate story line spans an eleven-year period from 1907 to 1917. Vaudeville is alive and well, not yet fading.  The silent movies, the beloved "flickers" are paving the way for full-fledged "talkies."

Bill Jones and Cookie traveled several times to Hawaii,
researching for background of one of the novel's characters.
A LOVE triangle develops between an understated British filmmaker, alluring French born sharpshooter, and dashing Montana outlaw.  Bill and I spent time in both France and England, and made many U.S. driving trips from our summer home in Montana. Like the rep company, we explored Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nebraska and Texas. We spent many weekends in Hollywood, visiting the studio archives. Our years as film reviewers and my time on both sides of the footlights as performer and critic provided background and helpful contacts.
WE PAID attention to accents, landscape and weather, developing our characters' speech, dress and refining the plot. We had so much fun with our artists, actors, movie moguls, ranchers, cowboys, lawmakers and law breakers.  Each new place -- from Tulsa to Ten Sleep -- gave detail for the carnival of color we'd write the next few years.
On the trail of detail for our female villain (a Hawaiian born bandit and Pancho Villa wannabe) we went to Pancho's birthplace, a barren parcel in  San Juan del Rio, Durango. We found the farm where he grew up, but since he was born in 1878 and killed in 1923, there was no one left who could remember him.
It was fun to have an excuse to return to a favorite city.  Paris and its
Eiffel Tower play a part in the action, as does Provence in the south.
So we turned to books and museums, but through that visit got a feel for his home land, the scrubby hills he and his bandits galloped through. We tried our darndest to develop authentic people with believable traits.
We visited San Francisco's Columbarium, around for
 more than a century, setting for a cremation in "Lilian..."
THE TITLE character's French bakground gave us an excuse to visit Provence a couple times. Bill, a talented watercolor painter, took and taught watercolor classes during our times on the Continent. One of his paintings graces the cover of "Lilian's Last Dance."

JUST AS our characters enact their theatrical drama, we felt as if we were players in the novel, too. We talked to working paniolos on the gorgeous Parker Ranch on the Big Island near Waimea.  We interviewed historians about turn-of-century bank robberies to determine what guns and disguises our outlaws might have.
We visited railroad scholars for train trivia. We boned up on World War I, since parts of the novel take place on the Front.  We were thrilled to find Gertrude Stein's house in Paris, where she and Alice Toklas entertained literary and artistic luminaries.
Paris and the Moulin Rouge attracted a return visit to Paris.
The novel's action takes unfolds in France and the old West.
We -- like the characters -- moved from the streets and bistros of Paris to London theaters that were around 100 years ago, to rural Montana, where we invented a secluded hide-out in the Beartooths. We splurged for a night at the famous Palmer House in Chicago, where our characters stayed, and we spent a day in San Francisco's Columbarium where one of the characters cremains are placed after the quake.
REAL LIFE cameos include Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, Conrad Hilton, Edith Wharton, Ty Cobb, Pablo Picasso, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Gertrude Stein and others. We read biographies of all of those, to enhance our feeling for them and our knowledge of their time.

Cookie and Keller forged a new trail for "Lilian's Last Dance,"
revisiting places she'd researched
 with the book's co-author,
her late husband William Jones.  Here, Cookie and Keller
enjoy a cabaret at the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris.
With Billy departed since 2005, the dream of a novel rested in the garage in dusty boxes of computer discs, notebooks and travel photos. Cookie's partner of eight-plus years, Bruce Keller, urged her to "go for it." He suggested they recapture the momentum she'd lost for the project, spawned with Bill in the late 1990s. That meant revisiting settings for the action of "Lilian's Last Dance" -- London, Paris, the Texas panhandle, New York, rural Oklahoma, wilderness Montana, the Peruvian rain forest... The French born title character gave an excuse to return to Paris and Provence.
Remember: "carpe diem" as you explore, learn and live. Check out "Lilian...." and
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