Transported to Hedy Lamarr’s Time and Place

Beautiful Invention is Margaret Porter’s 13th novel. It features the story of Hedy Lamarr, famous Hollywood actress and co-inventor of a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. How’s that for talent? I asked Margaret to tell us about Hedy’s world and how she incorporated it into the story. Over to you, Margaret.

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Any author writing the past strives to depict long-ago time and people so believably and viscerally that the reader is immersed. With Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, I present a character who is both obscure and well-known, depending on whether a person is a fan of classic cinema from Hollywood’s Golden Age, or perhaps viewed the recent documentary Bombshell, or possesses knowledge of female inventors in general and the fact that Hedy is responsible for frequency-hopping and spread-spectrum technology specifically. What motivates a fan of historical fiction to read a novel about Hedy? Is it curiosity about her life as a film star? Interest in her abilities as inventor? Or simply random selection from Amazon or a bookstore shelf?

Whatever the reader’s impetus for choosing Beautiful Invention, I was responsible for re-creating my heroine’s experiences, adventures, and conflicts—of which there were a multitude, far more than I could fit into three or four novels! I was also determined to fill in the gaps left open by her biographers, those who produced works in print and on film. Not only did I use primary research as a foundation, I relied on informed speculation, and most importantly, I used my imagination. Selectivity was key, but once those selections were made and the story was structured, I had to do the world-building. And in many respects, it was an unfamiliar world. My areas of study—since my teens—have chiefly been 17thand 18thcentury Britain and France. My research habits were formed long ago, as historian and as an actress in period plays, and my M.A. studies in cinema history were a useful foundation. Fearlessly I stepped into the 20thcentury to explore Austria and Hollywood in depth.

This is my 13th work of fiction, and Hedy by far is the most challenging character I’ve ever written. There are multiple reasons, more than I’ll take time to explain, but a significant one was writing from a single viewpoint. Being in Hedy’s head All the Time was a big change for me. In prior novels, I used two or three—and in the one before this, as many as four—viewpoint characters. For any given scene, I could pick and choose the person whose perspective best suited the action and represented the conflict. This time, I had nobody else to turn to. It’s Hedy’s story, her reality, all the way through. No single person accompanied her through the years 1932 to 1949, from Vienna to Hollywood. So I spent my days and nights asking myself, “What would Hedy think? How would Hedy react? What did Hedy know at a given time? How would Hedy feel about this?” Everything had to be filtered through that one and only individual.

To my joy and relief, one reviewer stated, “It seems to me (and I have read several Lamarr biographies) that this author nails down her personality very clearly; much more so than anything else I have seen.”

I accessed numerous memoirs, biographies, histories, and scholarly works that aligned with Hedy’s private and public personae. I could read just enough German to get by, and relied on Google Translate as a useful backup. The period after World War I and before Hitler’s annexation of Austria—the Anschluss—was one of transition and uncertainty and the rise of autocrats. Austria’s high society clung to its old ways—revering an aristocracy that wasn’t legally allowed to use hereditary titles. Vienna remained culturally focused, with its opera balls, concerts, and theatres. At the same time, modernism was on the rise, with avant-gardeplaywrights and musicians and writers and artists coming to the fore. Post-war disarray and destruction fueled innovation. It was an exciting time to be a creative and ambitious young person, and the teenaged Hedwig Kiesler was very much a product of her between-the-wars generation.

The armchair and physical travel aspect of the novel was important—mentally or bodily I roamed from Vienna to Venice to Paris to London to the ocean liner S.S. Normandie to the Super Chief train to Hollywood. Even during Hedy’s lifetime, the places she knew changed considerably, but I located plenty of first-person and historical accounts that fell into the time span of my novel. Because Hedy was so unfamiliar with America and with Hollywood, my discoveries as researcher and writer were directly transferred and translated into her experiences as an immigrant actress.

In nearly every book I write, I find a way to do some historical myth busting. This one is no exception. Hedy’s newspapers and magazine interviews were numerous, and from each one I gleaned a powerful sense of her personality, her conflicts—personal and professional—and her aspirations. Hedy’s versions of her own history can’t necessarily be trusted, because she told different versions of the same story. And MGM was famous—or infamous—for recreating life stories for their stars. Hedy allowed publication of her memoir, Ecstasy and Me, which she later repudiated for its salaciousness and lack of truth, and she sued her collaborators. And though I discarded many incidents as unlikely, her voice and her thoughts were evident. As were her opinions of her husbands and of studio mogul L.B. Mayer and of her fellow performers—Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable and James Stewart.

Additionally, I was able to draw on my own past—my professional work in theatre and film. I well remember examining costume sketches and standing like a statue for fittings, and the thrill of receiving visitors to my dressing room after a stage performance. And what it’s like to stand in a studio, waiting for the producer and the technicians to complete their tasks so I could begin mine. I certainly never achieved the fame of Hedy Lamarr, but in some ways our experiences aligned. That was sheer serendipity—always a welcome component.

On Hedy’s arrival at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in 1937, she immediately discovers that her escape from a controlling Austrian husband and an encroaching German dictator hasn’t conveyed the independence she sought.

Behind an enormous white curved desk raised high on a plinth sat L.B. Mayer. Four white phones were lined up beside him. Everything else in this bastion of power was white—the carpeting, the textured walls, even the piano.

“Do sit down,” he invited her. “We spared no expense getting you here, so you should’ve had an easy journey.”

“It was long.” Unsure what to do with her roses, she placed them in her lap.

“The food on those trains is good, they say, but I hope you didn’t eat too much of it. We need to slim you down before putting you in front of the camera, because the lens adds pounds to a woman’s figure. Ida can give you a diet sheet.”

At that moment she was experiencing intense hunger, and the prospect of limiting her meals sounded like a punishment.

Howard Strickling joined them, bending to kiss her cheek. He sat down beside her.

“As we’ve discussed, you’ll be having English and diction lessons,” Mayer continued. “You’ll enroll in an exercise class. Might as well have dance lessons, too. As soon as possible, you should get a Hollywood agent. Have you read the morals clause in your contract?”

“Yes.”

“We make clean pictures. We want clean actors. It’s important that you do nothing to undermine our efforts on your behalf. Right, Howard?”

“That’s right, L.B. Unless somebody from my department is with you, Hedy, don’t speak to reporters or columnists, or have your photo taken.”

“I won’t.”

“When we’ve created your biography, we’ll assign a p-publicist,” Howard said.

“Am I not to make the biography? It’s my life.”

The two men exchanged glances. “When introducing a newcomer to the p-public,” Howard said, “all the information must be favorable. In your case, we need to explain why you’ve left your husband and your country.”

“To make movies.” It was too obvious to require explanation.

“True. But a p-publicity campaign requires considerable finesse.”

“I won’t tell lies.”

“You’ll shade the truth, just a little. We’ll tell you what not to say. It’s in your own best interest.”

“You may come and see me,” Mayer added, “whenever you have concerns or questions. And if there’s a serious problem, Howard will fix it.” He shoved a stack of papers across the gleaming white desktop. “Your contract. Here, use my pen. It’ll bring you luck.”

The typed words ran together, clause after clause after clause, all in English. Printed beneath the blank lines on the last page was her legal name, Hedwig Kiesler Mandl.

She signed, instantly altering her status from refugee to employee.

 

Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr by Margaret Porter – Hollywood Beauty. Brilliant inventor. The incredible story of a remarkable and misunderstood woman. Hedy Kiesler, Austrian actress of Jewish heritage, scandalizes Europe with her nudity in the art film Ecstasy. Her hasty marriage to a wealthy munitions merchant disintegrates as he grows increasingly controlling and possessive. Even worse—he supplies deadly weapons to Hitler’s regime.She flees husband and homeland for Hollywood, where Louis B. Mayer transforms her into Hedy Lamarr, an icon of exotic glamour. Professional success clashes with her personal life as marriage and motherhood compete with the demands of studio and stardom. Motivated by the atrocities of World War II, Hedy secretly invents a new technology intended for her adopted country’s defense—and unexpectedly changes the world.

Many thanks, Margaret. Beautiful Invention has all the right ingredients for success. And how fortunate to have background as an actress! I’m sure readers will love the story.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

Resurrect the Past by JP Robinson

JP Robinson and I connected when I saw the cover for his new novel In the Shadow of Your Wings. As most of you know, I love war stories and JP’s cover is enticing. I’m delighted to welcome JP today with his take on creating the past for readers.

Resurrect the past by JP Robinson

One of the best parts about being a historical author, is the power to recreate or, as I like to say, resurrect the past. I have conducted workshops on this topic and have a “how to” book called Write History releasing in January of 2019.

Some think that history is dead. They couldn’t be more wrong. Historical authors have the power to bend time itself to our will. With a few well-chosen words, we can have our readers join a swirling mass of colorful dancers, as I did in my novel Bride TreeOr we can spark a rush of adrenaline as they charge with our characters across no-man’s land, as I did in the epic first installment of my upcoming trilogy, In the Shadow of Your WingsNo matter what the era, our words should be the time machine that conveys an authentic, convincing picture of the past.

This is not an easy job. It takes effort, focus, time and practice. Imagination is not enough. It must be married to thorough research in order to do justice to those whose lives have shaped history.

Every aspect of what I write has been vetted to the best of my ability. For example, I typically take about two days to research names that were popular in the era I’m writing about before naming my characters. Clothing styles, weapons, even family genealogies all come into play as I seek to recreate a world that once existed.

This is what made Bride Tree—an allegorical novel set during the French Revolution—such a fun piece to write. One of my favorite chapters opened up with a detailed description of the Palace of Versailles during a lavish ball. In order to do the scene justice, I employed Google Maps, pored over historical documents about the importance of dance and watched several YouTube clips on current Versailles galas.

But I didn’t stop there. Tracking down Maximilien Robespierre’s family history, and what his relatives had to say about him as a child, enabled me to get a better perspective of the man that unleashed the Reign of Terror.

Beyond developing a character’s personality, historical authors can better resurrect the past by recreating the atmosphere of the given era. Let me explain. My next novel, In the Shadow of Your Wings, is set in England, France and Germany during World War 1. Getting the social atmosphere is critical because it’s going to determine the outlook of the people (my characters) which will, in turn, affect the twists and turns of my plot.

Before starting our research, and also during the first draft process, we authors need to ask ourselves questions that only research can answer. When penning this novel, some key considerations were things like: how did Zeppelin attacks affect Londoners? What was spy mania like in London? Was there, in fact, a credible threat of German espionage?

My job as a historical author, is to convey the feelings that characterized the English and German people not just the facts. Again, imagination is not enough here. I need to read documents, visit websites and read old newspapers to capture the feelings of a generation that lived 100 years ago. So when my protagonist, Leila Durand, confesses to her British father-in-law that she’s actually a German spy, I know what his reaction is going to be.

Beyond online research, personal travel also helps me convey a real world to my readers. As a French teacher, I’ve been to France, so I can write convincingly about its architecture, language and history. Video footage of the trenches let me throw the reader into the heart of it all.

Another tool I use are the details. I love to transport readers by sprinkling in details—some of which I uncover while researching other things. Instead of saying a “rifle”, I’ll use the type of rifle British soldiers commonly employed during the war (a Lee Enfield).

The names of popular songs, pieces of art that perhaps still are recognizable are tidbits that help me take you, the reader, on an unforgettable ride. Couple that all with a powerful, inspirational plot and the result is an enthralling book that I can be proud of writing.

That’s not to say, however, that historical authors can’t bend some aspects of history, especially when writing historical fiction. But in those instances, it’s best to let the reader know that this is alternative history or key in the facts in the Author’s note.

So as you’re biting your nails, turning page after page of one of my historical fiction novels, I hope you’ll be able to pull yourself away from the dialogue, romance and action to appreciate the subtler elements that make the story a “JP Robinson”.

Keep an eye out for all three books in the Northshire Heritage series: In the Shadow of Your Wings (Fall 2018), In the Midst of the Flames (Spring 2019) and In the Dead of the Night (Fall 2019).

In the Shadow of Your Wings by JP RobinsonWhen the world goes to war, is there really any safe place?

The shadow of the Great War looms over Europe, affecting everyone in its path.
Leila Durand, an elite German spy charged with infiltrating the home of British icon Thomas Steele, sees the war as a chance to move beyond the pain of her shattered past. But everything changes when she falls in love with Thomas’s son, Malcolm. Is there a way to reconcile her love for Germany and her love for the enemy?

Thomas Steele sees the war as an opportunity for his profligate son, Malcolm, to find a purpose greater than himself. But when Malcolm rebels, it falls to Thomas to make tough decisions.

The war’s reach extends to the heart. Eleanor Thompson finds her faith is pushed to the breaking point when her husband disappears on the battlefront and her daughter is killed in a German air raid. Where is God in the midst of her pain? In the Shadow of Your Wings presents inescapable truth that resonates across the past century. Then as now, the struggle for faith is real. Then as now, there is a refuge for all who will come beneath the shadow of God’s wings.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Transported into a WWI Trench

Having written three novels featuring World War One, I’ve learned a lot about trenches. I’ve even been in one or two although of course, they’re now sanitized and bear no resemblance to the muck and horror soldiers would have experienced.

When I started out, I had only a vague sense of trenches as reinforced ditches deep enough to house groups of soldiers holding the line against the enemy. Writing realistic scenes involving skirmishes and battles meant that I had to know so much more. Novels, books, movies, photos, diagrams, websites, letters and diaries – these were my sources. How did soldiers go ‘over the top’? What happened during a gas attack? Where were reserve troops located? How did messages get to frontline commanders? Where did the men sleep? Did stretcher bearers take the wounded back through the trenches? How did those manning artillery make sure they didn’t hit their own men? And so on.

Here’s a diagram I found illustrating the the connections between different parts of the trench system and another showing the cross section of a frontline trench. [Source: History On The Net]

Of course, you can’t include all these details but as a writer you have to understand them well enough to transport your readers there. Here’s an example from my novel Unravelled: Edward is in Signals, the group responsible for communications. He and several fellow soldiers have been assigned to place microphones in no man’s land to assess enemy positions.

“A week later, in the pitch black of a half-snowing night, Edward and eleven others made their way from the tunnels via support and reserve trenches to the forward lines. Taking each step with care, they trudged through narrow, zigzagging paths, passing men snatching sleep, cooking, playing cards, cleaning equipment – the tasks of soldiers at rest.

As they turned a sharp corner, an explosion shook the section of trench not far behind them. The blast rattled Edward’s eardrums; screams of pain indicated the injuries suffered by men he had passed only minutes earlier. Whistles blew, summoning stretcher-bearers to carry what was left of the wounded away for treatment, and others to restore the trench. Edward knew the medics would waste little time on those who were beyond saving, just the barest of comfort, if that.

Battle savvy after months at the front, Edward steeled himself not to turn around, and instead put one foot in front of the other as he moved himself and over fifty pounds of equipment forward. He thought back to another night, sitting at a small wireless station, receiver in hand as an explosion ripped a section of the trench no more than thirty feet away. The blast crushed a nearby soldier as support beams, earth, and sandbags caved in. Numb to such destruction, he had continued his transmission without interruption. Edward shut the memory away and focused on the present. Distraction could be fatal.”

Doing research I found many other bits of information: a sketch of a German trench (you can find that in 10 Facts about WWI Trenches), a document outlining orders soldiers were to obey when on trench duty (you can find it here), Pierre Berton’s descriptions of trenches in his book titled Vimy. Berton wrote of others describing trenches as “this strange ribbon of deadly stealth”. He said that in reality there were little more than ditches.

It’s difficult to find the right words: horrific, disgusting, filthy, foul, noxious, hazardous, precarious, death traps, rat infested, slimy … I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.