Story behind Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel

There are books where you know nothing going in as a writer.  You’re so in the dark about the subject, you’re actually stunned your imagination went there in the first place and you want to know where it left the darned flashlight.  Then there are others that are so comfortable, so familiar, it’s like you’ve just opened up a little used room in your own house for a bit of spring cleaning and redecorating.

    That’s what Golden Girl was like for me.  I knew from the moment I started the series my main characters were going to Hollywood.  Callie LeRoux and Jack Holland were going to make it out of the Dust Bowl (barely), and head for what amounted to a different world.  It pretty much had to happen.  After all, I was writing about fairies in 1930s America.  The word “glamor” was traditionally associated with fae magic.  Glamor is the beautiful illusion.  It’s also the essence of classic Hollywood.  If fairies were going to be in the U.S., where else could they possible be?  

    These decisions were only made easier by the fact that I adore movies.  I have always loved movies.  New movies, old movies, good movies, bad movies.  Give me a film to watch, and I am a happy camper, especially if there’s popcorn.  Here was a chance to indulge myself in all that history, and yes, glamor.  In the 30s, the biggest and most storied of the movies studios was Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM).  There were whole towns in the Midwest that covered less ground than MGM’s back lots and sound stages.  It was its own world, and most of it was false fronts and carefully engineered illusion, just like fairy glamor.  I’d set up the more-or-less traditional rivalry between the Seelie and Unseelie courts for these books.  There was no question but it would be the Seelie Court I based in Hollywood.   After all, the Seelies are bright.  They glitter.  They are sunshine and obvious beauty, the kind that takes your breath away.  Just like the movies.  

    Now I needed a place to put the king.  If Hollywood was the gate to the human world for the Seelie Courts, the Seelies' king would have an outpost there.  This is where I got handed a gift from reality.  William Randolph Hearst was the most powerful media mogul of his day.  He'd already made his fortune in newspapers, but he wanted more.  He wanted to conquer to movies, for the sake of his own fame, and to make a star of his girlfriend, Marion Davies.  He came to Hollywood and forged a relationship with Louis B. Mayer, the powerful head of MGM, and he spent the rest of his life building and expanding his estate and its mansions (yes, mansions, plural) at San Simeon in the mountains above Hollywood.

    In the traditional legends out of Britain and Ireland, fairies live under hills.  Those hills are marked by a single thorn tree growing at the top.  Here I had a real historical figure, with a private kingdom, on a hill.  I swear, it was almost too easy.

    But unlike Dust Girl, Callie was headed into the events of Golden Girl knowing she was fairy royalty.  As the crown princess, and potentially the queen of the Unseelie Court, Callie needed a champion.  She had a companion in Jack Holland.  But Callie and Jack were both very young and very much at sea when it came to the powers they wielded and the ones they confronted.  I needed a good knight for this American fairy tale, someone who could help guide them.  

    Here again, I got a gift from history, because in 1935, the great Paul Robeson was in Hollywood.  Paul Robeson was a genuine Renaissance man.  He was a singer, actor, scholar, athlete and advocate for justice and equality.  I’d already established in Dust Girl that fairies were attracted to creative people, and they tended to kidnap them and take them Underhill.  It made perfect sense that they would have made a try after such a man.  Robeson was in Harlem during the great artistic renaissance, so he could have met the fairies there.  He could even have met Callie’s father, who I knew was there at that time.  He was a devastatingly intelligent man, and had trained as a lawyer.  He could deal with the fairy trickery surrounding deals and promises.  He was physically powerful as well.  He’d been a wrestler in college, as well as being the first African American All American football player (no, I promise, I am not making this part up), so he could fight if it came to it.  Callie works some of her most powerful magic by harnessing the power of music, and here was one of the greatest singers of the era.  But more than that, he could help her navigate the currents of identity and choices, because he’d struggled with them himself.  I honestly could not have made up a more perfect champion.  

    Sometimes, writing is a struggle.  You’re groping in that dark place, missing that flashlight and wondering what you’re doing there.  Sometimes, it all just works.  It fits.  You can see it going in and the details as you find them only make the story clearer.  Golden Girl was one of times.

Sarah Zettel
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