QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What inspired you to write Last Night at Chateau Marmont? What kind of research did you do for the book?
We all know that celebrities tend to marry each other—Brangelina, TomKat, Ben and Jen—and these marriages are bizarrely compelling in their own way, but I always find myself so much more interested in “civilian” wives of world-famous actors, athletes, and musicians. What must it feel like for these women to know that, although they’re often invisible, their husbands are recognized, and lusted after, by millions? The perks are huge, but so are the drawbacks, and I wanted to explore that from their perspective. As for the story of overnight fame, I was inspired by an experience I had years ago. I was a recent college grad, living with a roommate in New York, and I went on a date to hear a local singer-songwriter at a divey bar on the Upper West Side. Well, I never saw the date again, but I did keep going back to hear the music, and a couple of years later, Gavin DeGraw’s music was sailing to the top of the Billboard charts. I still smile every time I hear one of his songs. (And Gavin, if you’re reading this, rest assured that I’ve got the stalking under control these days—that, and your manager refuses to give me your home address).
This is the first of your novels to focus on a married couple. Was writing from the perspective of a married woman a different experience for you?
It’s probably no coincidence that the first book I write as a married woman is about a marriage—and that really is, first and foremost, what this book is about. Like so many young, happily married couples, Brooke and Julian have a plan for how they envision their lives: he hopes to pursue his music career, and she’s working toward opening her own business one day. But then something happens to throw everything off course, and despite being the very thing they’d both desperately wished for, they need to adjust to a shocking new reality. It was important to me that their relationship feel real and recognizable, despite the intensely glamorous backdrop of Julian’s success.
Once Brooke and Julian's initial giddiness about his sudden fame wears off, the spoils of success -- the money, clothes, attention, and VIP access -- make their home life more and more difficult. How did you manage to keep their plight sympathetic, despite all their good fortune?
My hope is that any woman who has struggled to find a balance between her own career, her husband’s ambitions, and her marriage—so essentially, every woman—will relate to this story. Brooke wanted Julian’s success as much as he did, and initially, they’re both thrilled with their newfound fame. Who wouldn’t love the star-studded parties, the ultra-luxe hotel suites, the first-class cabins, the endless champagne…not to mention the makeovers, the free clothes, the gorgeous borrowed diamonds? But Brooke realizes more quickly than Julian that these goodies come at a steep price: their time together vanishes right along with their privacy, and neither one can open a magazine nor turn on a television without being greeted by rumors, gossip, or unflattering pictures of themselves. Almost overnight they are besieged by paparazzi, sold out to the tabloids, and left to figure out how to see each other despite Brooke’s hours and Julian’s tour schedule. It may seem super sexy and exciting from the outside looking in, but I think as soon as Brooke is confronted with the flipside of fame, she comes to understand that it’s not all as it seems.
In terms of their love lives, Brooke and Nola couldn't be more different, yet Nola helps Brooke pull through the worst of her struggles with Julian. Was it important for you to give Nola a different perspective on love than Brooke?
Definitely. Brooke’s path to love was pretty traditional. She may have met Julian in an unconventional way, but after that, they dated for two years, got engaged, and married a year later. After five years of marriage, they’d settled into a loving, comfortable relationship that was fairly predictable until Julian’s overnight success. Nola chose a different route, one that was often at odds with her friend’s timeline. Although she presumably could’ve married and settled down many years earlier, Nola can’t make up her mind. One day she yearns for a committed relationship; the next day she’s bored to tears with the idea and wants to jump from guy to guy. I think everyone has a friend like that. Or is like that herself. It’s always one or the other.
Despite the ups and downs of their relationship, the Alters get their happy ending in this book. What do you envision for their future? Do you think they'll make it work?
I do! The next couple years for them aren’t going to be easy, but if they can make it through this, they’ll get through anything. There’s no doubt the love is there, they just needed to figure out how to communicate. Lots of talking plus mutual respect plus a fab townhouse on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn equals guaranteed happiness forever.
Brooke and Julian's friends and family all follow the gossip about them in the media, some with more pleasure than others. Are tabloids a guilty pleasure of yours? Has your attitude toward our celebrity-obsessed culture changed at all since you wrote this book?
Are tabloids a guilty pleasure of mine? Has Jessica Simpson had terrible taste in men post-Nick? Does Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla have the two most gorgeous parents in existence? Does Matthew McConaghuey go bare-chested at least eighteen out of every twenty-four hours? Umm, yeah, I think it’d be fair to say that I enjoy the occasional skim through a favorite picture mag or two. Brooke enjoyed it too—until she first flipped open an issue and saw her husband with his arms wrapped around a world-famous pop starlet. Writing those parts definitely made me think how it might feel to be on the other side of those pictures—life is hard enough without some production assistant circling before-and-after photos of your facial features and announcing all the plastic surgery they think you’ve had—but I have to say, so long as there are celebrities doing, saying, and wearing ridiculous things, there are going to be people who want to watch. And I’ll be first in line.
Why did you decide to mix real-life celebrities with fictional ones, such as Carter Price and Layla Lawson?
Hah! Am I allowed to say “the Simon & Schuster legal team” here? Clearly the real-life stars engage in enough absurd behavior to fill the pages of many, many novels, but it turns out they’re not always thrilled when you write about it in painstaking detail. So although I thought it would be more fun to use all real names, the attorneys didn’t always agree.
Since we're on the subject... if you could marry any rock star, who would it be?
No way. After writing this book, there is no way I’d ever want to be married to a rock star.
What is your writing process like? Has it changed at all since your first novel?
My writing process is more like a work in progress. It hasn’t changed that much since my first novel, although I am slightly less terrified of the process now, but it’s far from perfect. It usually goes something like this: figure out how long I have until final, drop-dead deadline, calculate how many words I would need to write every single day between now and then to make that deadline, pledge to start that very afternoon, and then procrastinate for six more weeks. It goes downhill from there. Once I’m actually seated at a computer, there’s always a white noise machine in the background, noise cancellation headphones clamped over both ears, a liter of coffee or Diet Coke or both, and an addiction to the internet so intense I can easily lose three hours to a single Google search of “Nicole Richie’s son’s name?”. It’s not pretty, but eventually I get scared enough to start putting some words down on paper, and once I get to that point, I really do enjoy it.