The Minnesota-born author and actress, who now splits her time between Los Angeles and New York, has written several non-fiction books about her time on the ABC series Dark Shadows. Her newest novel, Down And Out In Beverly Heels, is a change of pace: the jaunty storyline is a facade for a gritty subculture that is not only real but often ignored. Down And Out In Beverly Heels was the first novel chosen by The Grove Book Club, which will be hosting Kathryn at Barnes and Noble this Wednesday, May 1st, at 7 p.m.
While this novel is, ostensibly, a breezy mystery/romance, you also hoped to highlight the very real issue of homeless women who live in moneyed cities like Beverly Hills. What type of research did you conduct on that front to create a three-dimensional protagonist like Meg?
More than 20 years ago I watched a 60 Minutes segment in which Leslie Stahl interviewed homeless women who were living undetected in their cars in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, what I term “homeless and hiding it.” Women who had once lived in comfort and security were eking out a day-to-day existence in a confined space that came with four wheels and a dashboard, and I was struck by the resourcefulness and determination of these women to survive on their own. I was also alarmed at how little it takes to lose everything: divorce, catastrophic illness or accident, bad investments, career meltdown, physical or mental health issues and natural disaster, situations any of us could face. I got in touch with Dr. Marjorie Bard, a UCLA professor, who wrote Shadow Women, which provided inspiration for the 60 Minutes piece. I learned much from her book. I also met a couple of “shadow women” during the time I volunteered at All Saints Episcopal Church, one of the four churches in Beverly Hills that provide meals for the homeless on weekdays. Of course, once the story began to inhabit me as a writer, I became so much more aware of the undetected homeless living among us. Meg Barnes springs from these observations, but also my own imagination wondering, What if? How would I deal with not only subsistence survival, but also the pain and humiliation of losing everything, including the means to earn a livelihood? The novel is indeed a light-hearted mystery/romance, and very funny! But that’s due to Meg Barnes’ resilience and her own brand of humor in coping with her dilemma.
Your last book, Dark Shadows: Return To Collinwood, delves into the making of Tim Burton’s 2012 film as well as the history of the original Dark Shadows TV series, on which you starred. Obviously a very different beast, both in terms of genre and structure. Was it difficult to switch gears for Down And Out in Beverly Heels? Which genre comes more naturally to you?
I’ve primarily written nonfiction books and magazine pieces, but knew I would eventually turn to fiction. After writing about what really happened all those years ago when a small company of actors created the world of Dark Shadows, I had some fun writing Dark Passages, a paranormal mystery/romance about a young actress, who is a real vampire, cast in a television series about vampires―it’s very much Soapdish meets Dark Shadows. Down and Out in Beverly Heels is my second novel, and now I’m hooked! I love writing fiction, particularly in the mystery/romance genre, but nonfiction is so much easier! Nevertheless, I’m almost finished with a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels.
What would you say are some of the biggest myths about Beverly Hills? Things the average Angeleno might not know?
My husband, Geoff Miller, was the founding editor of Los Angeles Magazine, which opened its first offices on Rodeo Drive in 1960. He thought of Beverly Hills as a village, recalling that when he was a youngster growing up near Roxbury Park, there were schoolteachers living in a boarding house on Rodeo Drive. His mother had a small porcelain shop on Beverly Drive, where she taught ceramics―and most of the shops were family-owned. People actually rode horses on the bridal path along Santa Monica Boulevard, and he remembered riding the street trolley from Beverly Hills to the ocean. He also remembered the day in 1946 when Howard Hughes crashed his experimental spy plane into a house on Whittier Drive as Geoff and his mother were strolling through that neighborhood. I suppose I’ve busted one of the biggest myths about Beverly Hills by writing about the undetected homeless living among us.
For more info on Kathryn and Down And Out in Beverly Heels, visit her website.