We're excited to welcome Nina Berry to Reading Lark today to discuss her latest novel, The Notorious Pagan Jones.
Be sure to stop back by on August 1 to check out Andrea's review of The Notorious Pagan Jones!
Andrea @ Reading Lark: What made you choose The Cold War as a backdrop for Pagan's story?
Nina: First, the Cold War was a great time for spy stories. Second, I’d conceived of Pagan as a “teen girl James Bond,” (although some of that changed along the way) and Bond was originally a Cold War spy. Third, the character was also a teen movie star, and teen idols really came into their own in the late fifties/early sixties with the rise of Elvis Presley and Pat Boone, and actors like James Dean and Tab Hunter. Then I started researching and found out how badly Western intelligence failed to predict the creation of the Berlin Wall. And, as it turns out, a big Hollywood film was actually shooting in West Berling during that time!
That’s when a little lightbulb went off in my brain. Berlin, a very dangerous place to be during 1961, was a great setting for a story, and I could cast Pagan in a movie shooting there. I did further research on the Wall and found out it went up in a single night, and I wondered what would happen if my character was caught on the wrong side of the Wall the night it went up, and it all followed beautifully from there.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: Thomas is one of my favorite characters. If they made this novel into a movie, who would be the best actor to play his role?
Nina: I’m so delighted you love Thomas! I hope people see his bravery and kind heart underneath his handsome dimples and charming ways. Also, his mother is pretty badass.
I’m pretty terrible at casting my characters with current actors. I think of them as being themselves, not as an actor, if that makes any sense. The right look is tall, broad-shouldered, blond, and handsome enough to make girls swoon, like Kellan Lutz or Matt Barr. But the movie star who was an inspiration when I was writing Thomas was a huge star and popular hearthrob in the fifties and early sixties - Tab Hunter.
(Note from Andrea: I fully support Kellan Lutz in the role. I'd see anything he was in and he is a great fit for Thomas!)
Andrea @ Reading Lark: Did you use any 60's starlets to craft Pagan?
Nina: Yes! Pagan’s her own person, with her own terrible past and mistakes, but I used several different actresses to decide on her look, what kind of movies she made, and so on. Sandra Dee, star of the movie Gidget, was the first actress I latched on for the right look and a few of her movies are direct inspirations for Pagan’s movies. Sandra Dee’s husband, Bobby Darin, was a starting point for Pagan’s first boyfriend, Nicky Raven. But I was also very inspired by the terrific actress who played Lolita in Kubrik’s movie of the novel, Sue Lyon, and by one of my childhood favorites, star of the original Parent Trap, Hayley Mills. Modern day star Drew Barrymore, who admits she had a substance abuse problem as a teen and came through it beautifully, was also an influence.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: What sort of research did you do for this novel?
Nina: Ha - all kinds! I read a lot about Berlin and the world in 1961 – there’s a whole book about it, titled “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by Frederick Kempe that was very useful. But I also scoured the internet and travel books for clues as to what both Hollywood and East and West Berlin looked, sounded, and felt like at that time. Berlin has changed hugely now that the Wall has come down, so I had check and recheck to make sure a building, a park, a street, were all actually there back in August of ’61. Most of them are still there, including the estate where Pagan attends that garden party in East Germany, which is now a hotel you can actually stay in. I really need to book a room there one day.
I also did a lot of pop culture research on the era, which means I got to watch movies, listen to music, and dig up old magazine covers from 1961. I had fun pinning photos of Dior suit-dresses and Chanel gowns, and I decided what Pagan’s favorite song from that year was (“Sticks and Stones” by Ray Charles) and came up with names for the movies she’d starred in, based on real life movies or novels that came out in that era.
I love history, in general, so research is fun for me. Which is fortunate given how much of it there was to do!
Andrea @ Reading Lark: If you were going on a dangerous mission, would you rather have Pagan or Devin on your side?
Nina: Hmm, an interesting question. Pagan is inventive and brave, with an uncanny ability to read people and use that to her advantage. So she’d be a fantastic ally, but I’d have to go with Devin on this one. You only get hints of Devin’s skills in this book – he tries to keep them under wraps. But as his creator, I can tell you, the boy is deadly, clever, and ruthless when he needs to be. He’s more experienced than Pagan and better with a gun and hand to hand combat, while she relies more on her wits and acting skills. Since I’m no good with my fists, I’d need Devin’s physical skills to back me up. Also, he’s awfully attractive and playful, and he’s more my type. He’d be a lot of fun to have by your side on a dangerous mission. They both would be.
Andrea @ Reading Lark: This is a tradition at Reading Lark - What is your favorite bird?
Nina: I love birds – there are so many I’d choose. But I’d have to pick the raven. They’re smarter than some people I know, as well as beautiful, and long associated with magic.
About Nina Berry
Nina Berry has been working in Hollywood for years, and is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of movie and TV sets. She took her love of old movies, her knowledge from her day job as well as a heartbreaking personal story of the loss of a friend who succumbed to alcoholism to create the world of THE NOTORIOUS PAGAN JONES.
Pagan Jones went from America's Sweetheart to fallen angel in one fateful night in 1960: the night she accidentally killed her family in a drunk driving accident. Nine months later, she's stuck in the Lighthouse Reformatory for Wayward Girls and tortured by her guilt—not to mention the sadistic Miss Edwards, who takes special delight in humiliating the once-great Hollywood actress.
But when Pagan’s Hollywood agent arrives at her reform school with a mysterious studio executive Devin Black, Pagan must decide if she can stay sober – while shooting a new comedy with award-winning director Bennie Wexler in war-torn Berlin just as the Wall is going up. All the while, her ex-boyfriend shows up in Berlin with his new wife – a Pagan Jones lookalike. Will she run into him? What will she say? Ultimately, Berlin is her chance at redemption: both personally and professionally.
With a court-appointed guardian, her every move scrutinized, and her recovery still in question, can she pull herself together, rescue her co-star and re-win the hearts of the American public?
- Reading Lark - Interview
- Bookish Lifestyle - Guest Post
- Actin' Up with Books - Interview
- Rockin' Book Reviews - Interview
- Fiktshun - Guest Post
- Bewitched Bookworms - Guest Post
Thanks to the amazing team at Harlequin Teen, each stop on the tour will be offering up a copy of THE NOTORIOUS PAGAN JONES, so be sure and follow along for more guest posts, interviews and chances to win! To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form.