Carla J. Hanna is the self-published author of Starlet’s Web (and the rest of the Starlet series), a novel about a child actress who wants to get away from the Hollywood lifestyle of booze, drugs and sex. Read on to see our discussion about media messages, Hollywood and the dark side of publishing.
1. I’ve heard some interesting stories about the publishing industry from your comments here on the blog, but what would you say was your worst experience in the industry?
I was wiped out when I first learned that my coming-of-age fiction with romantic and spiritual elements had no commercial chance at being represented by a traditional publisher or widely read if I self-published. Every publishing expert told me that the teen coming-of-age market is too small to be profitable.
“Surely readers aren’t so shallow?” I protested. It wasn’t about what readers choose to read…
I wrote a “teen actress and a Tim Tebow stand up to Hollywood’s web of lies.” First strike against me: my subject matter lent itself to a “Tim Tebow redeems Lindsay Lohan erotica,” exciting publishers about the best-selling potential. Second: my manuscript did not adhere to any other teen genre requirements. The novel has to fit into an additional genre to make investment in the product provide a return. I had romantic elements but it was not a romance. I did not have a love triangle and, initially, wrote a sad ending. I had realistic language for Hollywood actors in which the actors cussed but also talked in scripts and monologues – which I found jarring and unnatural when I lived in Santa Monica. But cussing isn’t accepted in young adult novels. I had spiritual elements but my characters make love which isn’t accepted in the Christian or inspirational markets. Last strike: I pointed to coming-of-age fiction that did find success. The publishers said, “not about a successful actress that moms will hate. Moms buy YA; teens read free. Moms think all actors are sluts.”
I was the loner in high school all over again.
2. What was the inspiration behind Starlet’s Web and the rest of the Starlet series?
I want to give teens an alternative to teen smut and share my perspective on love and commitment. I worry that a very few percentage of people in Hollywood and in the publishing business choose and control the messages that an entire society assimilates into their cultural values. I want options for myself and my children so I wrote my alternative, hoping to share my more positive attitude about self-awareness, acceptance, and relationships.
I knew those people in Hollywood: actors, directors, writers, crew. I walked my dogs with a famous screenwriter for film and TV who’s life was not something anyone would want to emulate. But she was a powerful influencer as the voice behind successful films. Her pathetic life and lack of values influenced the words and dialogue a society quoted and revered. Her son was the Alan in the series. She was an unhappy and unfulfilled product of Hollywood. Before I met her, I had even quoted her. I certainly wouldn’t want to be her.
So what, I experienced the power of Hollywood? That didn’t make me want to waste my valuable time on writing a YA series. There was more. I wrote the Starlet Series after my dad battled cancer. I’ve had my health scares, too. My daughter is a big, beautiful girl, bullied for being fat. The doctors said she was obese but I knew there was something wrong and didn’t want to starve her. I researched what could be wrong with her pituitary gland or endocrine system. She was diagnosed with precocious puberty at age 7.
So the Starlet Series has that all in there: complicated characters, Hollywood values, mixed-races, endocrine problems, and the 5 stages of grief. More importantly, it has suggestions about how to face pain and stay positive. Even though it is fiction, it reflects how I cope. It questions the power of Hollywood’s messages. It begs a society to self-reflect and take that power back. It pleads with teens to deconstruct their belief systems so that they can choose to live fulfilled lives. It gives my kid’s generation hope.
The Starlet Series is a modern morality tale. Hollywood is the perfect example of an industry that preys upon its own participants as it maximizes profitability. In dehumanizing and victimizing its actors and crew, it spreads its messages to all of us who, in turn, consume whatever it gives us. We are flies, as are the actors, in the Hollywood web. I saw that Hollywood participants also want the best for their kids – as human beings and loving parents. Celebrities go to church. They pray. They writhe in the web they’ve spun, torn between the sexual exploitation and violence in TV and films and wanting to protect their children from what they have become or have created.
4. Do you have any projects planned after the Starlet series?
Yes. Starlet’s Run is out. Starlet’s Light is being beta read and final copy-edited presently. I’ll release that in May or June. I’ve outlined Starlet’s Totems – my outlines are very detailed. I’m a structure-based writer, focused on the emotion I want my reader to feel in each negatively or positively charged scene. The character must discover something about herself/himself in each scene so I haven’t figured the story out completely. Once Totem’s outline works for me, I’ll be ready to write it. First-person past tense won’t work so I’m going to try both active voice 1st person or an omniscient narrator. Then I will begin The Muse Series for middle-grade readers. I have 9 stories outlined.
The author’s context and product determines her publishing route. If I needed the money, the Starlet Series would be an erotica about a 20-year old actress who turns 21 and has sex with everyone at porn parties. Her best friend, Manuel, would save her from herself after she is gang raped and would love her regardless of her past in a wonderfully happy ending. A NY publisher would be selling the book this May and I would have sold my film options. I would be shaking my head at the absurdity and irony of writing a completely different story that reinforces everything I’m so against in our published stories and I would have been ashamed of myself for participating in my own exploitation. Since I didn’t need the money, I had to self-publish.
But to answer more specifically, I’d tell a writer to write commercially and follow genre rules if she wants to be a best-seller. If she is writing to contribute to society, she’ll need to self-publish and know that her book may never be read.
6. Did you struggle with writing Starlet’s Web from Lia’s first person point of view? Or did you find it easy to relate to her?
I’m a Nicholas Sparks fan for my easy love story reads. So I naturally wrote my first draft as an omniscient third-person narrator. It is so easy to write that way. But it didn’t show Liana Marie’s emotional growth throughout each novel of the series. Actors “compartmentalize.” In doing so, they distance their self from their words. I noticed that teen actors were especially victim to the negative effects. They spoke in monologues while they cussed for emphasis. They didn’t show deep emotions whatsoever – like they were blank slates unaffected by the chaos around them. Someone who is the foundation of a multimillion dollar production can’t even react to a traumatic event. Only 1st person could demonstrate that contradiction between emotional immaturity and adult responsibility.
I didn’t struggle with Lia’s voice because I know her. I feel such empathy for her. I am thankful I am not her. I want society to appreciate her talent. I want Hollywood to write decent roles for her. I want the critics to leave her alone. I want “normal kids” to see that what they read and see is hurting their relationships with one another and promoting disrespect and hate. I believe that once social media participants see the humanity of our social slaves, they will stop the bullying or at least minimize it with their own peers.
Definitely. I’d traditionally publish if a partner would want the Starlet series with the themes as they are. I’m presently in negotiation with an Indie Film producer so it might be a film before a publisher sees that it resonates with people. I will be pounding Scholastic’s door when I’m ready to do the Muse series because I’ve learned that the publishers control EVERYTHING!
1. Indies don’t have access to the reviews. (Thank you, Carrie, for having the courage to step out of your comfort zone to review an indie YA romance with spiritual elements. Only zip-lining, astute reviewing machines are confident enough to do so.)
2. Scholastic owns the distribution into the schools. Scholastic is king of brick and mortar distribution, too.
3. Indies aren’t allowed into book award submissions. Teens only read what they are told to read through their social network. Moms go to book stores to buy their kid’s books. Having that book award helps sell books.
4. I’m happy to follow the genre rules of middle grade historical fiction. Scholastic’s Hunger Games is the most violent series I’ve ever read but I’m hoping the editor won’t ask me to have Muse defiled in some way, although I’m quite certain there will be bloody battle scenes.
Carrie, thank you so much for the opportunity to answer your questions. Bloggers like you can influence change. Perhaps someday you’ll get your sad YA ending. That day I will smile, feeling empowered.