Emma Straub talks classic Hollywood with "Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures" at Flyleaf Books tonight | Arts | Indy Week
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Emma Straub talks classic Hollywood with "Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures" at Flyleaf Books tonight

Posted by on Mon, Oct 1, 2012 at 3:14 PM

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  • Photo by Sarah Shatz
Emma Straub's decision to do a signing for her debut novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (Riverhead Books, $26.95) at Flyleaf Books at 7 p.m. tonight was sealed earlier this year when she casually stepped into the bookshop while in town for a show with the Magnetic Fields.

“The most amazing thing happened—when I walked in the door, I saw a copy of my galley, which was brand new, on the desk," says Straub on a call from her book tour.

"And then Land Arnold, one of the owners, looked up at me and said, ‘We were just talking about you!’ It was a surreal experience, but it endeared me to Flyleaf forever.”

Lamont , which has earned widespread acclaim since its publication last month, chronicles the life and times of an old-school Hollywood movie star over the course of half a century.

"I have always loved movies, but it’s sort of a coincidence that I wrote a book about movies," Straub says.

"It came a couple years ago when I read the obituary of the actress Jennifer Jones. I hadn't seen any of her movies, but I kept going back to her obituary, because it seemed so rich and so much like a novel. I was working on something else at the time, but I kept coming back to this obituary. When I plotted the novel out, I stayed away from Jennifer Jones’ life, and the movie stuff became secondary—it’s sort of the sweet stuff on top that entices people, but to me it’s about this one woman’s life, the choices she goes through, and the changes she’s forced to make, and it just happens to dovetail with that Hollywood story."

Though the book chronicles the pressures and tumult of the old studio system, Straub says that when compared to modern-day Hollywood, "I think that the potentially sad answer is that it’s not as different as you think."

"In the period of the studio system where Laura Lamont became a star, people were signed to contracts were under an incredible amount of control, and couldn't choose their own roles," Straub says.

"But today, you’re still locked into roles. You’re trailed by paparazzi, pictures are posted on every website, God forbid you want to go topless on your honeymoon. It seems like a very unpleasant way to live.

"You know about these people, you know about their lives, you see pictures of them looking beautiful, and if you have an active imagination, you find yourself imagining their interior lives, and what they’re doing when the cameras aren't on them. I find that irresistible."

Though Straub was careful to make her fictional movie stars unique characters unto themselves, she found real Hollywood creeping in to her narrative.

"One of Laura’s best friends is a woman named Ginger Hedges, who was inspired by Lucille Ball, and I didn't mean for that to happen!" Straub says with a laugh.

"That was one of the things that came out of my research, because I learned all these things about Lucille Ball that I didn't know before, mainly that she was in charge in a way that women of the time usually weren't—she and Desi Arnaz actually controlled the production company, and when they got divorced, she took it over herself. And Laura’s second husband, Irving Green, is based on (producer) Irving Thalberg—I read so much about him that I just fell in love with him, so why shouldn't she?"

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In addition to her writing and work with the Magnetic Fields, Straub works as a bookseller at the renowned Brooklyn independent bookshop BookCourt, which has given her a unique view of the publishing industry.

"I love it, and I love telling people what I think they should read," Straub says.

“I don’t think it’s taught me about writing other than I've just read more books since I've been working there. But it’s taught me more about the other half of the experience, because my father (horror novelist Peter Straub) is a writer, and I grew up learning all about the first half of the publishing experience—getting an idea, and writing it up and working with an editor to revise it for publication.

"But since I've been working at the bookstore, I've gotten to see the second half that starts when the book comes out, and then it builds and grows and sell. That’s what’s been informative for me—learning what it takes for a bookseller to pick a book up off the shelf and hand it to you and go, ‘This is the book you need to read.’”

Straub's already planning out her next novel, which takes a different tack from Lamont's lifetime-spanning tale to deal with a family vacation. "With this next book, I wanted to do something that was very tightened and compressed—two weeks instead of 50 years," Straub says. "So I’m looking forward to it."

Emma Straub will read from and sign copies of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures tonight at Flyleaf Books at 7 p.m.

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