Laura Kalpakian talks about her latest novel, The Great Pretenders, and her new projects.

1. Can you tell us more about your latest book, The Great Pretenders?

The Great Pretenders is a novel about aspiration and desperation, about sex and star billing, betrayals, forbidden love and unregretted folly.

2. Do you have a favourite part or scene from The Great Pretenders? Could you tell us why you love it?

I have many favorite parts, but certainly one of them was the 1955 gala party for the premiere of Banner Headline which was for me a chance to participate in all that glamour and sparkle, to write witty dialogue exchanges and to convey in a single setting the ways in which the advent of television changed the entertainment world. Besides, I like writing crowd scenes.

3. What inspired you to write this book?

The Great Pretenders is about the blacklist era in Hollywood, and the lives that were changed forever, and some who were ruined. My central character, Roxanne Granville, is a headstrong young woman who lives in a sunlit glamorous world — but just underneath lurks secrets and suspicion. Contrast and challenge are two important elements of any novel.

4. Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I do not work with an outline. But I always have the beginning scenes in mind. As the story unfolds, as the characters grow and deepen, they start telling me what they will and will not do.

5. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Two books that left me dazzled from the first time I read them, and have rewarded me every time I’ve returned are Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

6. What’s one of the most exciting things that has happened to you since you became a writer?

I’ve been a writer for my whole adult life. So…!

7. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A musician.

8. What’s next for you?

Another book! Writing and revising are to me wonderfully satisfying endeavors.

Outraged by her grandfather’s illicit affair with Empire Pictures’ latest femme fatale, Roxanne Granville forsakes her position as Hollywood royalty and rejects the man who raised her, determined to strike out on her own. Backed by little more than the stubborn grit she inherited from her beloved grandmother, Roxanne sets up shop as a low-budget film agent for budding screenwriters.

When an old friend, exiled from Hollywood and Empire Pictures by her grandfather for being a Communist sympathizer, begs for her help, Roxanne decides to right the wrongs committed by her family by selling his script under someone else’s name. After all, it’s what her grandmother would have wanted.

Soon Roxanne finds herself at the helm of a lucrative business, having landed her secret clients a handful of major studio deals through willing front men. Her newfound freedom leads her to a passionate relationship with Terrence Dexter, an African American journalist and jazz aficionado. But Hollywood is ruthless when it senses a scandal. How long will it take before all of Roxanne’s success comes crumbling down?

Laura Kalpakian has won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award (twice), the Anahid Award for an American writer of Armenian descent, the PEN West Award, and the Stand International Short Fiction Competition. She has had residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Montalvo Center for the Arts, and Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. She is the author of multiple novels and over a hundred stories published in collections, anthologies, literary journals and magazines in the U.S. and the U.K. A native of California, Laura lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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