I’ve written my books in various settings. The Ice Master was completed at a duplex just off busy Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, CA. Ada Blackjack was composed in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I began Velva Jean Learns to Drive while living in a 100-year-old bungalow in Atlanta’s inner city Grant Park. I finished that novel and wrote The Aqua Net Diaries in a groovy modern home in a quiet neighborhood on the Atlanta outskirts. I wrote Velva Jean Learns to Fly in a storybook-style townhouse in the Little Armenia section of Hollywood, helicopters whirring and sirens blaring day and night outside my door.
Last January my boyfriend and I moved into a gorgeous historic Art Deco apartment building in the heart of L.A. Built in 1930, it was rumored that Fred Astaire once danced here. There were also rumors about a Russian prince who disappeared (and possibly died here) after swindling someone out of her money. My office is large and light and bright, and it was a terrific place to write the third Velva Jean book (the spying one). But it will be the perfect place to write the fourth one, in which she goes to Hollywood. Especially because it’s haunted.
Just a week or so after we moved in, my boyfriend and I went for a walk. We’d only gotten as far as the elevator, just down the hall, when we remembered something in the apartment. When we went back–only a minute after we’d left– our key suddenly wouldn’t work in the lock. We’d left our phones inside the apartment, and so we went downstairs to knock on our manager’s door (he lives in the building), but there was no answer. We were finally able to locate him, but his key wouldn’t work either. It took a locksmith to get us back inside.
One week later, on a Friday night, we were at the movies. When we came out, I turned on my cell and discovered a voicemail from our manager who said our fire alarm was going off. He wasn’t on the property but one of our neighbors had called him and said it had been going off for hours. When we got home, we found our place filled with steam from the living room radiator valve– which we had turned off upon moving in since there was no radiator attached to it.
Other things happened here and there– a large cat bed moving (mysteriously) several feet across a desk, clearing two piles of books without upsetting them; a door shutting more than once in the middle of the night when my boyfriend and all three cats and I were sleeping. But my boyfriend is a skeptic and, to my knowledge, I’ve never in my life had even a brush with a ghost, so we kept waving it away.
Until this morning, when we happened across a story from a former tenant of the building– namely that the building is haunted by a cigar-smoking ghost who likes to lock doors and move objects and play with the faucets in the kitchen and the bathroom.
Today I decided to look into the history of our building. After all, I’m in full on research mode, as I surround myself with every single bit of Los Angeles history from 1945 till 1950 or so. Who’s to say I can’t weave in a story or two from the place I live in? Especially if it’s haunted?
Nothing gets my adrenaline going like being on the trail of an intriguing story. First I scoured Google. Then I emailed our manager and the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, and then I moved onto the LA Times archives and newspaperarchives.com. Between them I was able to find just a handful of articles: “Russian Prince Missing From Home Here,” and “Russian Prince Case Unfolds Strange Tale.” From there I moved over to the LAPD website.
Immediately, my imagination was off to the race tracks. This is one of the very best aspects about the research phase: all this possibility and brainstorming and free writing, letting your mind go where it wants to go without censorship. I’ve been happily, contentedly, excitedly scribbling notes and ideas all day.
I’ve never (that I know of) written a book with a ghost hovering over my shoulder, but I did love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney is one of my very favorite actresses), and Mrs. Muir wrote her book with the aid of a very colorful spectral captain. In fact, she most likely wouldn’t or couldn’t have written the book without him.
I’ll save the details of my findings for Velva Jean’s Hollywood story, but I was able to confirm the rumors we’d been hearing, and, in addition, learn a few more facts– involving a Baroness, a large sum of money, suicide notes, and the mysterious disappearance of a certain Russian prince, who apparently used more than one alias and had a taste for cigars.
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