“Ten-A-Week Steale” is a new novel by Stephen Jared.
Stephen is a movie lover who lives and works in the L.A. area. His first book, “Jack and the Jungle Lion,” is about an action movie star from Hollywood’s golden era who finds himself plunged into a real-life adventure. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Stephen upon the release of that book in 2010.
“Ten-A-Week Steale” is an even better book about a World War I veteran who lives in 1920s Hollywood working as hired muscle for his politician brother. It’s a breezy read that appeals to classic movie lovers.
Below is a conversation I recently had with Stephen about his new book. Feel free to leave questions for Stephen in your comments, as I’m sure he will be happy to answer them for you.
CFB: I really enjoyed the new novel, “Ten-A-Week Steale.” What was your inspiration behind it?
SJ: I think Hollywood in the 1920s was as romantic and as full of geniuses as Paris in the 1920s. I’ve always been fascinated by old Hollywood. I love silent films. I wanted to write a story in that setting. I wanted to walk those streets and maybe catch a glimpse of some of those people. I wanted to write something that moved fast and had a lot of surprises, and I wanted the psychological motives of the characters to be expressed visually, much like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Movies are always an enormous source of inspiration and I’d say “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown” were targets I aimed for in the type of story I wanted to tell.
CFB: All of this clearly shows in this book, which has a vivid feel for the time period. It was fun working my way around Hollywood with Walter Steale. It felt alive. Steale fits into that hard-boiled detective mold but I like how you connect him to World War I, which helps to explain his character. He’s not your typical run-of-the-mill detective.
SJ: He’s not as clever. He’s a man whose engine is fueled by tenacity and guts. I wanted to him to get snared in a web of lies. He allows himself to become the fall guy—he didn’t see it coming. So, it was important that he not be a character who connects complicated puzzle pieces too easily as the story unfolds. That would have contradicted how he got into this mess. I thought there could be tension found in a story about a guy returned from the war feeling beaten and bruised and alienated; he’s trying to get reacquainted with civilian life, picking up the odd job here and there, and then all of a sudden, because he’s unwilling to compromise his own morality, the whole world turns against him. His brother betrays him. The police are after him. The newspapers are after him. But those who want to destroy him underestimate the fight still in him.
CFB: He may not be clever, but he’s nobody’s fool, either. He has keen instincts, even if he can’t connect the dots. I like the fact that he lives in Hollywood but is fairly clueless about its number one commodity – movies. It’s something that Gin (a platinum blond movie star) recognizes and likes. Her instincts are right as well, which makes them a good pair. Did you have someone in mind when creating her character? Or are you just attracted to smart blondes? J
SJ: Gin’s fun, right? She’s sassy and flirtatious and cute. She allowed me the chance to open up the gates of 1920s Hollywood for readers, given that she’s an actress. But more important than that, she is the sunshine to Steale’s darkness. She has a lot of friends. She’s under contract at Paramount, play-acting in silly fantasies; she’s fairly oblivious to the hell Steale has been through. Life’s good for Gin. It’s easy. And so, it’s easy to see why he’s drawn to her. What they have in common is that they both lost their fathers at a young age. Additionally, when we meet Gin’s mother we find out that, although it’s a troubled relationship, Gin has great love and respect for her mother, and her mother has spent her life fighting injustice—she’s a suffragist. So, when Gin sees a similar fighting spirit in Steale—someone who refuses to back down no matter the odds against him—it makes him even more attractive to her. Did I have someone in mind when writing her? I suppose she’s a cross between Jean Harlow and Clara Bow. She’s got the toughness of Harlow, but she’s also adorable.
CFB: She is adorable. I actually was picturing Laura LaPlante, I must admit, but Gin definitely can hold her own. Another character I like is Heywood Farnham (candidate for governor), who is also strong. There’s no mistaking he is a politician, but he quickly understands that the case against Walter Steale isn’t what it appears to be. When compared to Gov. Davies or Walter’s brother, Farnham is the poster boy for ethics and morality!
SJ: Farnham is shrewd and disciplined because he wants power. Governor Davies and Walter’s brother have power, and as a result of their desperation to maintain power, they’ve become weak. The big trick among powerful people throughout history is—how do you not allow the arrogance that inevitably comes with power to weaken you? So, you’re right, Farnham seems less ethically challenged than the people he goes after, but that might be due to the fact that people tend to be more disciplined in their pursuit of power. Once they have power, they often change, and there are signals indicating that could be the case with Farnham.
CFB: Farnham is no saint, but at least he is someone Steale can trust, and I like the irony that Steale’s small circle features a politician, a police chief and a Hollywood star. Quite ingenious, if I may say so.
SJ: The attempt was to write a fast moving, fairly short read on a big canvas. More than a character portrait of Walter Steale, it’s a portrait of Los Angeles at that time. There are a couple other characters that lend sympathy to Steale. One is an immigrant from Japan, and the other is an Indian Theosophist. If the book were a painting it probably would have a mural-like quality to it. The little building where Theosophists would meet is still in the Hollywood Hills today, not far beneath the Hollywood sign. When Farnham gives his first political speech, it’s to the Mexican community. All of these locations are real, and many of the names mentioned are real. Police, politicians, movie stars, immigrants from all over the world, new spirituality—all of these things are vital elements to the story of Los Angeles in the 1920s and still today.
CFB: That’s fantastic. All I can say at this point is to encourage people to read the book and enjoy doing so. What else are you working on these days?
SJ: I finished a follow-up to my first release, “Jack and the Jungle Lion.” Paul Shipper returned as cover artist and did another amazing job. I’m hoping that will be out in early 2013. I’m currently writing another crime fiction set in Hollywood; this one takes place in the 1930s. The occasional acting job comes my way, and I always consider that a huge privilege. I shot a crime drama called “Salvation” in Kansas this summer, and I’ve just been cast in a movie called “Fort Bliss,” which I’ll shoot in a couple weeks. It stars Michelle Monaghan as a woman who returns home after serving in Afghanistan. Aside from that, not long ago I jumped onto twitter (@stephen_jared) where I’ve especially enjoyed meeting classic film enthusiasts.
CFB: I am glad you are doing well and keeping busy. Stephen, it was a pleasure “chatting” with you. Can’t wait to read your follow-up to “Jack and the Jungle Lion,” after which we’ll get together again to discuss on CFB. Until then, I encourage everyone to check out “Ten-A-Week Steale,” which you can buy on Amazon.