Away from the bourgeois beach ghettos, past downtown L.A., near the monolithic County Hospital and the headquarters of the city's celebrity coroners -- think Thomas "We're all in Transition" Noguchi -- the 10 East changes its name from Santa Monica Freeway to San Bernardino Freeway and you begin to enter a different world. As you drive "away from the stifling, sun-blinded L.A. streets, past successions of interconnected working class communities spread through terrain ranging from desert sand flats to piney woods," as James Ellroy describes in it his book CLANDESTINE, you soon cut through the very heart of MY DARK PLACES - El Monte, where in 1958 an obsessively pursued, yet still unknown killer tripped up the life of 10 year-old James and sent him tumbling down into his prolific noir vortex.
Quadruple the distance to El Monte and you enter the TIME SHADOWS noir universe of novelist and actress Sharon Jordan. Located between Riverside to the south, San Bernardino to the north, set among orange groves, old residential neighborhoods, and university research labs, it has a more rural feel, populated with educated, distinct non-Angeleno Southern California characters. There is the bean-bagged, incense smelling refuge of a psychic, the sterile home of an elderly couple, the clean research lab on a university campus, and the long straight street filled with the sweet smell from omnipresent orange groves. Still, under all this tranquility lurks the sudden terror of a plot that breaks open in the compulsive dreams of a haunted woman with red hair and green eyes. A plot that rip us out of the land beneath the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains, back in time and into the mind of a pregnant woman who in the dark, cold streets of Paris suddenly stares down the barrels of the Gestapo.
Cultmachine's Shannon Luster and Andreas Kossak caught up with Sharon Jordan and "talked shop" about psychology, writing, acting and being a writer-actor.
SHANNON LUSTER: Please tell us a little about your novel TIME SHADOWS.
SJ: Yes, I do have an outline. It's like the skeleton of the entire novel. As I write, though, sometimes the characters take over and change the direction for a while. I do, however, periodically consult the outline so that the entire premise stays coherent and plausible.
AK: Did you know how you would end your novel when you started it? Or did you discover the ending as you were writing?
SJ: Although I had an outline, I had sparse notes about the ending. I didn't want the writing process in me trying to stick with one ending. The characters tend to evolve as I write too. Eventually, it's almost like I hear them talking in my mind and then they begin speaking on page as well. The characters become so very real to me that they take over to a certain degree.
AK: Did you ever have writer's block? If so, how do you get out of it?
SJ: Writer's block can come out of nowhere! And can hit you so hard like a truck. Yes, I've had it a number of times. When I first started writing, it worried me, even frightened me. I was afraid I had lost connection to my characters. But then I realized the harder I tried to regain the connection, the stronger the writer's block became. I have learned to let go and relax when I hit the writer's wall of silence. I can't even guess how long these periods might last. But I've discovered that when I relax, the silent episodes are fewer and farther in between. If the block seems rather high and persistent, I'll write on another project. That's a good way to get things flowing again. There's also the tried and true method of brainstorming, which allows helps get me back on board with writing.
SJ: When I first started writing TIME SHADOWS I didn't realize it was the first of a series. But as the novel wound down, I realized that another story had been introduced and needed to be developed. This led to the creation of THE SHADOW CHRONICLES and the second book entitled DEATH SHADOWS. In the second book, Jacqueline sets out to fulfill a promise that she made in the first novel TIME SHADOWS. This promise leads her away from her safe home in Southern California to South America. She's looking for her long-lost twin, Eva, and thinks she'll be happily reunited with her twin. Instead, Jacqueline encounters hardships that threaten her life and test her moral compass. How much will she give up? Will she survive?
AK: In TIME SHADOWS the main character slips into the character of Michelle who lives during the time of the Holocaust. When you set your characters and your story in historical times and in a foreign country, how much research do you do?
SL: I did years of research for TIME SHADOWS. I read everything I could get my hands on about France during the Occupation and also spoke with French citizens about it on the phone. Because my Grandmother's family came from Paris, France, I've always been interested in this time and place. I also had the privilege to speak with several Holocaust survivors, and their stories deeply touched me. In each case, the survivor was the only person in their family to survive. One man still had the tattoo on his forearm. They're the true heroes of my story. They inspired it. The survivors and the everyday people who sacrificed their own lives to help the survivors. I met one man who escaped from Sobibor and the German/Polish family who hid him, his sister, and his mother, were burnt to death because they wouldn't reveal where they were hiding this man's family. I will never forget their these stories. It became so haunting that I would dream in character. I would wake up in terror and sweats. But it's a story that I had to tell, and I am in THE SHADOW CHRONICLES.
SJ: It's hard to explain, but I just instinctually know that it is a wrap. The characters and the storyline are strong enough to get up and walk away from me and live on their own. It's like raising a baby. One day, the baby grows up and leaves the nest. That's the feeling I have, it's time for my book to have a life on its own.
SL: What do you think about direct publishing?
SJ: Direct publishing is a great option for authors, both for novels and now screenplays. With the current deals an author can make with Amazon, the author is paid a large portion of the profit directly, and that has obvious benefits. The author can also format his or her own ebook, giving him or her full creative authority and the capacity to act as the final editor, which has its own set of benefits.
SL: Would you consider direct publishing in the future?
SJ: Yes, most definitely. At one time, it would have been more difficult, but now with websites, such as Cultmachine, direct publishing is a great option. This is a good site for authors to promote their work and interact with other professionals, creating a supportive network of sorts for authors.
SJ: J.R.R. Tolkien has influenced me on many levels. First, I adore THE HOBBIT and the THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. In these books, Tolkien transports us to a new world, Middle Earth, with new twists on old stories and fables mostly from England. He introduces two protagonists, Bilbo in THE HOBBIT and Frodo in the trilogy, who endure many hardships on their journeys, but they keep going farther. Tolkien introduces wonderful antagonists, multi-layered ones, especially the complex, conflicted Sméagol / evil, tricky Gollum character. In many ways, the ring, inhabited by the evil Sauron, is also an antagonist, because as the ring, it demands things-even desiring characters to kill each other-for it.
In addition, J.R.R. Tolkien's writing group, "The Inklings," inspires me. This group included notable authors and philosophers such as C.S. Lewis.
This group met for almost two decades at an English pub, discussing their work. What can we take away from this? Their camaraderie. They provided a safe place for authors to meet, exchange their thoughts on each other's work, making writing not an entirely isolating, solitary practice, but, rather, fostering a social, collaborative atmosphere. Both acting and writing require teamwork to create successful projects. And that is, once again,
another reason I respect Cultmachine, a safe place for authors to collaborate, exchange ideas, and stay connected.
SL: What advice would you give beginning writers or writers in general?
SJ: Write about something you feel passionate about. You will know it. It will tug at your very soul. It is a story that you must tell. Begin with that and then do research on your topic. Research, research, and then more research. Then create a thoroughly prepared outline before sitting down to write the novel.
AK: I once realized watching Ray Wise act that, as the camera is running, actors actually write the final draft of a screenplay. Would you agree?
SJ: Yes. The screenplay is the skeleton of the film. It is the foundation of everything. If the writing is good, good! The actors bring the written word to life. It's an amazing process and requires an entire team to put together a good, final product. I had the privilege to work on several shows and movies that range from comedy--such as THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK & CODY, drama SOME SUNNY DAY, and horror DAY IN THE LIFE OF DOE -- and I always read the entire script. I believe that the entire script is relevant to every part, and it is essential to understand the script to breathe life into each role.
It's magical when the actors breathe life into the words. It can be a subtle movement or an expression, but each time it happens, it is gold. An example of this can be seen in THE THIRD MAN when Orson Welles (as Harry Lime), the antagonist, is walking over to confront Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins), the protagonist. As Welles skims past a Ferris wheel, he does a subtle movement, a jig of sorts, but that movement breathes a jaunty life to this likeable yet simultaneously troubled character. That silent movement spoke volumes to me.
SL: You trained at Playhouse West with Jeff Goldblum. What was that like? Are there particular lessons or words of wisdom he said, that stuck with you?
SJ: Yes, I did train at Playhouse West for a couple of years and it was a good experience. My regular teachers were Tony Savant and Holly Gagnier. Jeff Goldblum was subbing in one of Holly's classes. For more information on Playhouse West, feel free to check out their website. It is a fantastic school for actors who take their craft seriously. It's based upon Sanford Meisner's teaching technique and was founded by Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum in 1981. Several prominent actors, such as James Franco, Ashley Judd, Jim Parrack, and Holly Gagnier have trained here. It's a very supportive atmosphere for newbies all the way up to well-seasoned pros. I worked on several projects there, and one of my favorites was the play, WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER (co-written by Tony Savant and Robert Carnegie.)
At Playhouse West, Jeff Goldblum coached me on the play, AGNES OF GOD. He also told my class that sometimes we have to make our own work. We train for it. Prepare for it. But we can't wait forever for our break. We have to make our own breaks. That is probably why so many of his students are successful, because they write their own scripts and film them with friends and colleagues.
AK: If you had dream projects as a writer and as an actress, what would they be?
SJ: My dream project as a writer would be to turn my first novel TIME SHADOWS into a screenplay and make it into a movie. As an actress, I would love to be part of a series again, whether a TV show or a movie series. There's something about a group of professionals who work together for a prolonged period. It becomes more than work, almost like an extended family.
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's working relationship is an excellent example of what I am referring to. The first film they collaborated on was the corky classic, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and that was in 1990. Hard to believe, huh? And they have worked together ever since on movies. For over 20 years. Quite an inspiration!
SL: What is the release date for your second book, DEATH SHADOWS? And where can we buy it?
SJ: The first print edition of DEATH SHADOWS was released in December, 2012. It will be available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. In fact, Barnes & Noble has a discount for early orders. Please feel free to check it out at Barnes & Noble. Time Shadows is also available in print and digital versions. Feel free to take a look. You can also find TIME SHADOWS at Barnes & Noble. Or find it all at Amazon
SL: Where can I find out more about Sharon Jordan?
SJ: For my writing, please feel free to check out my page on Author's Den. I have many of my poems there as well as an author of the month interview. Here, you will also be able to find more information on TIME SHADOWS, including the first chapter in my novel.
For my acting, please check out my website Sharon-Jordan.com and my IMDb page. There's also a nice write-up on Wikipedia.
Thank you for taking time to read my interview. And thank you very much, Andreas and Shannon, for interviewing me on Cultmachine. It has been both a privilege and a pleasure, and I look forward to working with both of you again in the near future. Happy reading!
SHARON JORDAN - BLIOGRAPHY / FILMOGRAPHY:
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