Rob Neighbors is the author of Palm Avenue; here is a link to his website:
Q: What is Palm Avenue about?
A: “Palm Avenue,” is a classic tale about a farm girl from Kansas who comes to Hollywood to become a big star. It is a story about the “Hotel California.” I believe that song by the Eagles refers to how people come to California seeking fame and fortune and how they get caught up in that whole pursuit to the point where they can never return to place that they were before. They can “check out, but never leave.” The two main characters in “Palm Avenue,” Ashley and Brady come to California for completely different reasons, but they both become addicted to action in different ways, where they can’t return to their native state of Kansas. Not intact anyway.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
A: I received a phone call one day from a friend and he said, “Hey, write a book like “50 Shades of Grey” and you will make millions of dollars.” I had always wanted to write a novel, so I guess I needed a little push, and that was it. Millions of dollars would be nice, but it was time I wrote a novel for the experience of it. I went out and bought the book (50 Shades) out of curiosity. I tried to read the book and hated it – I was only able to read four chapters. I thought about the demographic for that book (mostly women) and wondered if I could write something for that audience. I remembered an outline for a script I had done years ago and I dug it out. That outline had a strong female protagonist, and I decided to turn it into a novel, which is now “Palm Avenue.”
Q: What makes Ashley Duncan different than other characters like her?
A: Ashley is a character that has been written about many times and mythologized in reality and fiction. Think of real life success stories like Marilyn Monroe, or more recently, Jennifer Lawrence. Ashley is like Dorothy following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. The difference is that Dorothy wanted desperately to get back home, but Ashley wants desperately to escape Kansas. Ashley decides early on to do anything it takes to be a part of the Emerald City (Hollywood) and everything that represents. Ashley is a strong female character by the fact that she is driven and will not let anything stand in the way of her goal, but she is also very flawed. She has self doubt and falls into some of the usual Hollywood traps of sex and drug addiction. By the end of the book she is transformed into someone very different than the person she arrived as.
Q: Who inspired the character of Brady?
A: Brady is like a lot of guys those of us who grew up in small towns remember. Brady was the big fish in his small pond (hometown Colby, Kansas). He was the award winning quarterback, homecoming king, and son of the beloved local veterinarian. Ashley was his “queen” in high school. They were the dream couple everyone envied. Brady’s ego can’t handle it when Ashley leaves him and the hometown in pursuit of her Hollywood dream. Brady runs to LA after her and quickly realizes his hometown hero status will not get him a cup of coffee in this town.
Q: Who are some of your writing influence?
A: Probably my earliest writing influence was Larry McMurtry. I used to visit my grandparents house when I was 10 or 11 and I was drawn to the book, “The Last Picture Show,” in their book case. It is a very risqué book. I was able to find the dirty parts like a heat seeking missile. I didn’t understand sexual content at the time, but it made quite an impression. The sex in that book is not there for exploitation, but to show the often tragic consequence people face due to their choices. The movie was great also, but the book is fantastic. Other influences include Hemingway, Bukowski, Carver, Steinbeck, Mailer , and Tennessee Williams. I tend to like writers who go into depth about the human condition, rather than focus on plot points and fantasy.
Q: Why do you think there are so many books and movies set in Hollywood?
A: Everyone seems to be fascinated with Hollywood. There is the glamour aspect of course that everyone is drawn to – the red carpet premiers, movie stars, swimming pools and palm trees. Then there is the seedy underbelly that is equally fascinating. The whole setting lends itself to desperation and drama, which makes for good fiction.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned about promoting yourself as a writer?
A: I decided to self publish “Palm Avenue,” rather than to try to seek a publisher. That could have taken years, and I don’t have that much time. I wanted to write a book that particularly people in Hollywood could relate to. This is a book that will ring true to I think anybody who has tried to make a go of it here – which could be thousands of people. I am writing two sequels to “Palm Avenue,” and think it will be more marketable as a three part series. Marketing is a challenge, but one thing about it, if I don’t market the book, nobody else is going to.
Q: What life experiences do you like to draw from when you write?
A: I have lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years and I have experienced a lot. I did the whole drug/nightclub scene in Hollywood in the 90’s. I have worked as a limo driver, a bartender, and a screenwriter. I have been married and had kids. I have been divorced, dead broke, and desperate, and I have been incredibly lucky at times. I have been on the fringes of the industry, and an insider for a bit. I have known many actors, musicians, and writers, both wannabes and those with various levels of success. I have seen many people wash out and die, and others rise to the top. I think I am certainly qualified to write about this subject matter.
Q: Why did you decide to write a novel after so many years as a screenwriter?
A: I have basically given up pursuing screenwriting as a career. The movie business has changed tremendously since I first started. The types of movies being produced now are generally not what I write. I am excited about the whole Netflix thing, which in the past few years has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for creative people. One thing I have noticed is that everyone wants to read a book, whereas nobody wants to read a screenplay. If someone offers to hire me as a screenwriter I will jump at it, but I am no longer seeking that out. Novels are a product by themselves, but screenplays are only blueprints for films that are often never made. Screenwriting can be one of the most frustrating endeavors in the world. For now, I will write novels and seek an audience, and then if people want to make them into movies, we will talk.
Q: If you could give Ashley one piece of advice what would it be?
A: Some folks might think my advice to Ashley would be to stay home. Not so. I think that people are always going to be drawn to Hollywood. Those people have to do it. They have to try it. I say to those individuals, come on out and give it a shot if you have to! Just remember you may have to sacrifice a lot for your dream. A veteran Hollywood guy once warned me before I came to Los Angeles to always “cherish my family.” I didn’t listen to him and that was a huge mistake. In the end, your family is all you can really count on. That would be my one piece of advice for Ashley – pursue your dream, but always cherish your family.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.