Bestselling Author



California Golden by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author joins us to discuss her latest novel California Golden, tells the story of two sisters navigating the thrilling, euphoric early days of California surf culture in a dazzling saga of ambition, sacrifice, and the tangled ties between mothers and daughters.

Entertainment Weekly calls California Golden “A shimmering rendering . . . pairs the surf culture of the Beach Boys with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of Daisy Jones & The Six.”

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Mistress of the Ritz, based on the true story of the American woman who ran the Ritz during World War II, catering to the Nazi occupiers by day while working for the Resistance by night. Her most recent novel prior to California Golden was The Children’s Blizzard, a gripping tale of survival and forgiveness amidst a devastating, real-life blizzard that hit the Great Plains on the afternoon of January 12, 1888.

In this episode of Historical Happy Hour, hosted by Jane Healey, Melanie Benjamin discusses her latest novel, “California Golden.” Set in the 1960s surf culture of California, the story focuses on Carol Donnelly, a pioneering female surfer, and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger. The novel delves into the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, societal limitations on women, and the era’s vibrant culture. Benjamin also shares insights into her creative process, the challenges of balancing historical accuracy with fiction, and her journey in the publishing industry.

Key Themes and Timestamps:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction of Melanie Benjamin and her novel “California Golden.”
  • [00:01:24] Overview of “California Golden” – a tale of pioneering women in 1960s surf culture.
  • [00:03:38] The creative process and decision to write about this era.
  • [00:06:45] Researching the 1960s and surf culture.
  • [00:10:00] The novel’s narrative structure and character perspectives.
  • [00:13:12] Balancing fact and fiction in storytelling.
  • [00:17:58] Writing process and approach to plotting.
  • [00:22:06] Advice for aspiring authors and insights into the publishing journey.
  • [00:25:09] Discussion on book cover design and reader engagement.
  • [00:27:25] Melanie’s upcoming projects and ways to connect with her.


Jane: Welcome to Historical Happy Hour, the podcast that explores new and exciting historical fiction novels. I’m your host Jane Healy, and in today’s episode, we welcome Melanie Benjamin to talk about her new book, California Golden. Welcome, Melanie. I’m going to do a brief intro and then and dive into questions.

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Mistress of the Ritz, based on the true story of the American woman who ran the Ritz during World War II, catering to the Nazi occupiers by day while working for the Resistance by night.

Welcome Melanie, and congratulations on your, on your latest novel.

Melanie: Thank you so much and thank you for having me.

Jane: Thank you for coming on. California Golden is about two sisters caught up in the California surf culture of the 1960s. Although the story encompasses much more than that era tell me about the premise of this novel. Just give the audience a basic premise.

Melanie: Okay, well 1950s sunny California.

Carol Donnelly is a housewife and mother who would rather be Gidget than Donna Reed. And she actually becomes an iconic, pioneering female surfer in this early era when women really not welcome on this on the waves. But in doing so, she frequently abandons and neglects her two young daughters, Mindy and Ginger.

So the two. Girls come up with a plan, they’re going to learn how to surf too in order to keep up with their mother and not be left behind. And at first the plan sort of succeeds and Mindy in fact becomes, is a natural, she becomes an excellent surfer. Actually, kind of competes against her mother, beats her mother, which has all sorts of complications and becomes a minor celebrity.

 In those surf party movies starring Frankie and Annette. Ginger on the other hand is, is not comfortable on the waves and she can’t keep up with her mother and sister. It is sucked into the, the counterculture of the era drugs and cults and so it is the two sisters journey back to each other against the psychedelic backdrop of the entire 1960s.

That is the heart of the book. It is about mothers and daughters. It’s about sisters. It’s also about the limitations women. Faced in this, in this era, especially those who really weren’t comfortable fitting into a mold.

Jane: Yeah. And I loved reading about this era because I hadn’t read about it. I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction in that in the 1960s.

The last two authors I’ve had on World World War. It’s nice to have a, like, have a different era to talk about. I think this is a great late August summer read. And I, one thing I loved, I read, of course, I read your author’s note at the back and you were really frank about coming up with a new story idea and how difficult that can be and you know how you wanted to write something very different.

Then your last novel, the Children’s Blizzard, which was inspired by a devastating storm in the 18 hundreds. So tell me about how you ended up finally deciding to write about 1960s California and this mother and her two daughters.

Melanie: Well it was a huge process. After the children’s blizzard, I had made a career decision to change agents.

And I did, and that was a very difficult decision and new agent because I was really kind of historical fiction is I was very, very popular for a very, very long time. But the, especially the biographical historical fiction that I kind of was known for earlier in my career.

 It’s not been doing so it is not so strong anymore. Plus it’s just, I couldn’t figure out what else to write about. It just seemed so crowded and overdone and everybody was doing it, and I’ve had, I felt an, an urge to kind of shake things up a bit. I had done it a little bit with the children’s blizzard and that was my first historical novel that was not about a real person, that it was about a real event.

But I invented the characters who were caught up in the storm, and I kind of wanted to do the same thing, but, but really go for a, a youth more, a more youthful feel. Mm-hmm. Feel. But it took me a really long time. I am sure I. There are a lot of people, my publisher, who are very invested in my career and they have to approve what I write next.

And in my early years it was never such a hard thing. I would just come up with an idea and they’d say, great, and you do it. But as time has gone on, and I don’t know if it’s reflection of publishing today or the market or whatever it’s been really hard to get, to get everybody on. Mm-hmm. Many people on board with what I do next.

So I actually had several ideas of, of historical fiction all over the place. And I would write up a proposal and maybe a first chapter, and my agent shot down many of them, but the one, some, some she really liked too. But then we would go into my publishing team and they were not on board. And you really, I could always write whatever I want, but you really want someone to be on board.

You know, you want your entire publishing team to be as excited about it as you are. That really helps make it. You know, breakout book. Absolutely. I had come up, I had had the idea of surfing early female surfers a few years ago and ran it by my editor back then, but she didn’t like it then. But I kind of, I went back to it this time and I thought of it maybe of a different way into it than I had had before.

And it was really the, the, these women, I found a picture of a woman named Marge Calhoun and her two daughters from this era, and learned that they were this. Female surfing family. And that seemed to me so interesting that I used that photo as inspiration for my characters. They are not Marge Calhoun and her daughters.

They’re completely invented. But there are some certain similarities in, in the surfing world that they share. And that just led me to want to explore the idea of mothers and daughters and sisters in this era. So that was the one finally, and I want to say it took months of months and months, well, months to, to get get to this place, to get everyone on board.

Jane: I completely understand that. It’s, I think the idea is the hardest part sometimes. because you have to, you have to live with it and be passionate about it.

Melanie: Oh, you absolutely do. And it is one thing I’ve learned in this long career that you’re going to be talking about your books for a really, really long time.

Not just the part about writing them, which is going to take a lot of it takes your guts and your heart and your emotion. But afterwards, and I recently just put away a novel I was about 30,000 words into, because I realized that I did not love it enough. To, to, and I’ve done that a couple times in my career.

Mm-hmm. Only after having written the entire book. This time I stopped early on, but yeah, that’s a big, big part of it. Truth is yes. Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. So. Talk to me about the research for this book. What kind of sources did you come across? Anything that surprised you? You know cause it’s an interesting era and I mean, it’s so, there was so much going on at, at that time, historically, culturally, politically, right.

I. Well, I think like a lot of people, my immediate impression of the 1960s and the surfing scene was fun, fun, fun. Beach Boys, California girls, Frankie and Annette Git. And that was part of it. That was the aspirational, marketable part of it. But there were a lot of things I didn’t know that were going on underneath the cultural appropriation part of it, you know that surfing originated and with Polynesia who.

They took it to Hawaii and it was much more of a you know, a, a kind of a celebration of nature and water and the sun. And then over the dec the centuries it became symbolized by white California boys and girls. And so that was an interesting thing to discover. I just read, I always read a lot from my research.

 There’s certainly a lot of books about surfing out there. You have to kind of be careful. I know I was only researching this particular era, so anything having to do with like big wave surfing, which was not a part of this early surfing era, I did not read. So you, you have to be selective.

Mm-hmm. You have to know what you’re looking you have to know the, at least the time period. And so you don’t have to read everything about it. I subscribed to something called the Surf Network, I think it’s called On it through Amazon Prime, and it is just thousands of documentaries about surfing, movies, about surfing footage of old surfers.

Also subscribed to something called the Encyclopedia of Surfing, which same thing, there was a lot of old footage like from the fifties. Those early, early competitions at which March Calhoun was at some of those. So that was really interesting. I did not learn how to serve no, did not want to, I have half an ACL one leg.

I did not want to. Yeah, I get that. Yeah. I want to be around for a while to write more books. Absolutely. So my husband and I spend a lot of time in California every fall through, at the time of year we have, and it’s a Newport Coast Laguna Beach era. So I certainly get to watch a lot of surfers doing it, doing that, staying there and California culture of that time period is just stuff I kind of already know just because I’m a history nerd.

Jane: I love it. So the book is told from three perspectives, primarily the sisters, Mindy and Ginger, but what part of it’s also told from Carol, the mother’s perspective, was this a decision that you made upfront? Or was this something that evolved as you got more into the story?

Melanie: You know, I originally intended it to be much more the traditional. If you’re doing three points of view, you alternate, right? So, daughter, daughter, mother, daughter, daughter, mother, daughter, daughter, mother. But Carol’s story begins in the 1940s and. So every time I would go into Carol’s point of view, we’d be sucked back in time too far. I thought. It also seemed to me every time I got to Carol’s point of view, if in that traditional way, I was always eager to get back to the girls.

You know, their story was the 1960s, right. And it’s contemporaneous. It’s, they’re both in the same path, encompassing the same time period. And I so I. Took the carol points of view that I had already. I had put into this traditional three point of view structure and I took them out. So then we were only reading about the girls’ stories and I thought that it read much faster that way.

You know, much more immediate, much more exciting. Mm-hmm. But I questioned whether or not I was even going to put Carol’s point of view in at, at one point, but then I decided I did, and I had to, and I liked doing it later in the book. So you, you get to know Carol through her daughter’s perspective experience with her and she’s not a good mother and you form opinions about her that are not.

So nice. Right. Okay. But then when we get to the point when the girls were old enough, I think to appreciate knowing more about their mother, we, the reader knows more about their mother. This is when you get to go back in time and you understand the frustrations of a woman who did not want to be a housewife, a mother, but who lived in a time when that was really the only thing she expected of her. You know, and, and especially an athlete in the 1940s in high school who, who, who wanted to pursue her passion in athletics. And there were so few opportunities, especially if you get knocked up by your high school boyfriend, which no spoiler she does. And so it doesn’t excuse the things she does to her children at all.

But I hope in reading about her perspective later in that point, in that, in the book that way, We, we, we get a greater, bigger picture of her at a time when I think it’s important in the story, and we may understand maybe mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Why she made the, some of the dec very poor decisions that she did.

Jane: Exactly. It gives you a deeper context for who she was and the choices that she made.

Melanie: And in keeping it in that later section, it just like, we just get to concentrate solely on her for a while. Mm-hmm. And that was really, really important to do for such an important figure throughout the book to her, especially to her daughters.

Jane: Yeah. Yeah. And I, so how much of it is how much of her as a character is based on March Calhoun? Is it pretty loose at this at this point? Yeah. Yeah.

Melanie: Other than the fact that they were both athletes and they both went on a surfing safari in the 1950s and they both had two daughters and that’s it.

Everything else is completely made up.

Jane: I had to, of course, look up Marge Calhoun after, after reading the book because I wanted to I always do that nerd deep dive after. That actually brings me to my next question too, like how do you strike a balance between fact and fiction in your storytelling, and are there any strict rules you adhere to with that?

Melanie: Well it’s completely different when you’re writing a book like California Golden than when you’re writing a book like the Aviator’s wife, where you really are fictionalizing a known person and you have to be a little bit more careful to you know, you’re, you’re exploring the things we don’t know about that person.

Mainly, they’re. Feelings at the time, right? But but you do still have to stick to some known parts of their life. Not all of it, because you can’t include it all. But in a book like California Golden other I really had to be true to the era, to the facts of the era as far as what people wear, what they talk about, what they’re watching on television, and the movies and language things that changed from era to era.

And then of course with the surfing scene, there were certain things that had to be how. Have to, had to include that were factual. But as far as the characters, then it’s all my I have a lot more freedom writing these kind of novels, but I am always very careful to concentrate more on character than I am on historical details.

 That is, Served me well. It’s something that happened on by accident early in my career when I simply could not afford to go to Oxford, England, where the setting of my first historical novel was to research it. I didn’t have the money, so it made me rely more on my imagination and concentrate more on the characters.And that is what I try to do in all my books because I want to entertain. That’s my most important job as a novelist, not give a history lesson. I. Absolutely.

Jane: And that I actually I, my, so my first three novels, the main character protagonist was fictional. This last one was biographical fiction.

It was based on a real actress, drew Leighton, and I found that very difficult. And, and you, you did a, you did a lot of biographical fiction in this one. In this one you did, you took a break from that and, and, and have these fictional characters. Do you find one that’s one harder than in the other? Or are they just sort of different?

Melanie: You know, early on I found it very easy. I just felt like I was assuming I. Have a theatrical background, not a writing background. So I felt like I was just kind of pretending to be these characters as if I were playing them in a play. And I didn’t think too hard about my duty to the historical record.

I mean, I didn’t make things up I didn’t, I. Like if things were known to have happened, I didn’t completely change them. Right. I stuck to a pretty good timeline as far as the things that we knew happened. But I didn’t worry too much about people asking me how much is backed, how much is a fiction?

So that was a very freeing book to write. But as I’ve written these books, more and more people almost sometimes want me to get that and break it down line by line. You know, oh yeah. Is this fact, is this fiction? Is this fact? And it is like, maybe you shouldn’t read historical fiction if that concerned with it.

And you know, people have questioned How did you know what Anne Lundberg was saying to Charles Lundberg during that moment? It’s like, I don’t know. I wasn’t around then. I’m making that up. Right, right. Based on my true Based on researching who these people were and then my imagination from that research as to how they would behave.

Right, right. And but it gets tricky if you start to overthink it. And I think maybe I was starting to overthink it the more of these novels I wrote. Then also to your, you know what I said earlier, it, it has become pretty a crowded genre. And I was like, I don’t know who I could write about now.

That I could bring something new to the table.

Jane: Yeah. I com I understand, I understand everything you’re saying tr believe me. These next few questions I ask every writer and they’re more about process and creativity. And so I just want to remind people a few have questions after I ask these questions.

 Put them in the chat or put them in the q and a and I’ll ask Melanie after I finish my interview. We talk a lot about plotters versus pantsers are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants? What is your process like?

Melanie: Well, because with historical fiction, you can’t write by the seat of your pants.

You have to know you have to take a life. That is known, or a historical fact that is known like the children’s blizzard. And you have to look at that and you think, okay, where is my novel in all this? And you’re not going to be able to include everything and every story. You can’t because then that’s a history that’s not a novel.

You have to make it personal. So you have to concentrate on one or two characters, personal journeys. And it might not be their whole life journey, it might just be a, a a special part of that. Once I’ve decided that, then then I do have like a, a kind of a timeline again, when, when you’re talking about a real person who’s lived or you know, you know the things that happen to them that you want to talk about in your novel.

So that gives you a basic structure. For a novel, and I always do know where I’m going to begin it. And it doesn’t always mean I’m going to begin it at the very beginning and then where I’m going to end it. And that has not always been at the end of a life, but it, it is just the end of this particular story.

So that’s the structure that I have when I sit down to write. I. I also did I also know who the main characters are. I know what their personal journeys are going to be pretty much. And then it’s generally the minor characters that tend to surprise me more as to maybe showing me what their journey is or taking me in a little different path.

 California golden because it wasn’t so much structured in a, a specific life. I had decided I wanted to make it expand the entire 1960s because I thought that’s such an interesting decade. Mm-hmm. There’s so much going on that I felt reflected these girls’ journeys. So There were some basic parts of the plot.

I knew ahead of time, I’m not going to tell you what they are because that would be spoiling it, but it then, it’s like the part of how they get from point A to point B to point C. That’s the part I don’t plan.

Jane: Okay. Interesting.

Melanie: That’s what I let them show me.

Jane: Yeah. Interesting. Okay, so it’s, you’re kind of a little bit of both then, right?

You’re kind of, yeah.

Melanie: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I do think knowing where to begin and where I’m going to begin, and knowing where I’m going to end even before I sit down. And knowing the basic ideas of what is this person’s journey helps me avoid well, helps me write fairly quickly because a lot of thought goes into this before I even sit down to write.

Mm-hmm. And then also avoids writer’s block because like I always know where the story’s headed. Right,

Jane: exactly. Exactly. Of the whole process of the first draft editing. All of it, like researching obviously. What is your favorite part of the whole writing process, and what is the part you dread?

Melanie: Well, I think writing that first draft is the hardest part for me. It, but, but I don’t make it too hard. I don’t, I. Worry about it. I know when I sit down and write and I try to write 2000 words every day, I know that I’m not going to keep all those words, I know it, but they’re going to get me a first draft.

Mm-hmm. A very messy first draft that then I could go into my favorite part, which is revising that first draft. That’s my favorite part. And I have to say, the longer I’ve been doing this, the more books I’ve written, my first drafts are not nearly as messy as problematic as they were. Say 10 years ago. I am better at this surprise.

The more we do something, the better we get at it. But yeah, the revising part, that’s when I really start to play with the language. And, and you know, I see the redundant words that I’ve relied on to frequently and I go about trying to replace those words with something interesting and, and yeah, that the revising part is definitely my favorite part.

Me too. I love that part of it. because it’s like you have. Something to work with at that point. So then it’s like, how can you make it better? I love that. Right? Yeah. You’ve published eight novels. You have proven staying power in this industry, which is not easy as we know. You can get harder at

Melanie: every book, I have to say.

Jane: Geez. I know. And so I know we have weird world aspiring. It’s a very weird world. I think we’re in a particularly weird time in publishing and Right. I’m finding that out. I am finding that changed so much since my first historical novel. Yeah, it’s, it’s different times. And navigating that as an author is crazy sometimes.

So I know we have some aspiring authors in the audience. What’s the best advice you can give them about writing and the whole publishing journey?

Melanie: Well, first of all, I think you’d have to be an avid reader if you want to be a writer. You have to love books so much, and you have to be reading what people are publishing today because that, that’s going to tell you, you know?

Mm-hmm. You can’t say, I want to write, I want to write a book, just like Mark Twain wrote that’s today. So you really need to be reading what is written today and lots, and lots and lots of it, and love, love, love books and words, and love the industry and support the industry that you want to support yourself.

Which means buy books. Mm-hmm. Buy don’t, don’t. That’s how you will get eventually a career yourself is if people buy your books. So support the industry. Spend some time learning about the industries there. It’s easy because everything’s online today versus when I was first starting out when it really way back, back in the early two thousands.

Not much was online, so it was a bit harder. And you know, attend industry if you can attend book festivals, that’s always a good thing. It’s great to ask authors questions, but, but it’s not great to monopolize their time. If they’re at a literary festival. It’s not great to shove your manuscript in their hands.

It’s it. You know, we it, it, there’s, there’s a fine line.

Jane: There’s a balance there, right?

Melanie: Yeah, And you know, to be honest, there aren’t, we’re in-person events are not coming back the way that prior to the way they were pre covid for whatever reason. But it doesn’t seem like people are really going out to attend these things and there maybe aren’t as many of them, but there are an awful lot of things like what you’re doing.

Yes. So I would definitely tell people to. To continue to watch Jane and to, and there are other places out there, other YouTube channels and Facebook groups that have authors on to talk about their books. And I think that’s a really good way to learn it.

Jane: It’s something I didn’t have. I totally agree.

And one podcast that I tell every aspiring. Author to listen to is it’s actually my agent’s podcast. The shit no one tells you about writing. Oh, wow. I’ve not heard that. Yeah. Yeah. That one is excellent because the shit no one tells you about writing, they, they taught, they break down critique letters and then they have an author on for the second half and talk about process.

And it’s educational for writers, for all writers really, but especially if you’re just getting into it. Yeah, totally recommend that.

Melanie: That’s a good one. Thanks. Yeah. Good one. Yes. I was going to recommend Jane Friedman’s Hot Sheet is another, it’s a newsletter.

Jane: Yes. Excellent.

Melanie: You can subscribe to.

Mm-hmm. Which I find it very interesting. And if you subscribe to a thing called Publisher’s Lunch Deal Lunch. What? Publisher’s Lunch. Yes. Yeah. That one, that’s a great one to know. Industry news. And also allows you to search their database to see what kind, what kind of agent is representing what kind of books.

So if you are writing Cozy Mystery, say you can search Cozy Mystery and see what agents are currently representing that kind of work. Yeah,

Jane: that’s a huge resource. Yes, totally agree. Yeah. And Jane Friedman’s newsletter too, that’s like gold. Yeah. Yeah. So I, another question I always ask, talk to me about this gorgeous cover.

Melanie: Oh yeah, I’ve got the,

Jane: did you have a say in the in the cover design. They

Melanie: always give me a few iterate designs that they have worked hard on in-house and they’ve already rejected many of them before they show them to me. And in this case, I fell in love with this right away. It was originally a little bit redder and.

A little darker. It didn’t have this kind of pretty blue yellow up here. But I liked the, the first version and they, they all, but then they got some feedback from other people, thought that it should be a little brighter and lighter. And that’s what we came up with. So this was an easy one first time.

Oh, nice. Yeah. But I’ve had some that were not so easy. And the only time I ever really, I’m not even going to say the book, but there was one book that I really regretted not speaking out more about the, the cover that I was. Not happy with and, and I’m not going to talk about which book it was, but I think we need to speak out.

But very few authors have cover approval, you know? Mm-hmm. If I hate something and everybody else loves it, that’s probably the way they’re going to go. I mean, they listen to me. Right. Yeah. Listen to me and try to make me happy, and I appreciate that, but ultimately it is the publisher’s decision, not mine.

Jane: Yes, same. Same here. I get some input, but not final say for sure. No,

Melanie: very few authors do.

Jane: Yeah, no. So are you ready to talk about what you’re working on right now, or no?

Melanie: I can’t because I haven’t started it yet, because as I said, I stopped this one in the middle one book. I know what it is, and, and I wrote the first chapter.

I will say that it’s I’m just going to say it’s about It’s one woman’s journey this time, so it’s not going to have as many multiple, it won’t have multiple points of view. It’s more, it’s a kind of a triumphant journey of a woman in roughly the same time period as this who starts out very much.

Much a, a product of her time and a place and gender and eventually kind of throws off the shackles. Excellent. And that, that’s all I’m going to say.

Jane: Sounds exciting. I can’t wait to hear more. Before I take, there’s some great questions in the chat and in the q and a. What’s the best way for readers to stay in touch with you?

Melanie: Follow me please. On Facebook and Instagram. Those are the only two social media platforms I’m on at the moment. But probably I won’t be on, I’m on threads, but I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I’m over there. It’s like, I can really only keep up with two at a time.

Jane: Yeah, it’s, and it’s always changing and it’s all like,

Melanie: oh.

Or you can subscribe to my newsletter on my website, I also forgot I have a podcast.

Jane: Oh, yes. You, I saw you had a podcast.

Melanie: It’s called Who the Hell Are We? And I do it with my best friend in the world another New York Times best-selling author named Edward Kelsey Moore. We both live in Chicago and we have a podcast where we It has evolved from just talking about, it’s very chatty, so it’s an awful lot about friends catching up and laughing, so that’s good, but nice. Instead of just being strictly about books. During the pandemic. During the pandemic, we both discovered we were staying up very late at night watching old Betty Davis and Junk Rock.

And so it’s, so now we both love movies. And so we, we pick a movie and do usually kind of a classic movie and we watch the movie and then we talk about the movie, and then we recommend books that have similar themes to the movie. Our most recent movie was Gidget.

Jane: Excellent So questions here. Did you have fun picking out the songs used in the book? A great selection to pick from.

Melanie: Yes, I definitely did. And there’s a playlist for California Gold. I’m not that, I’m not sure if that’s what she’s referring to as the playlist or songs mentioned in the book. because there is one section where Mindy’s talking about a lot of songs. Yes. That was great fun.

And putting together the playlist was I just I was trying to tell a story. Through the play playlist. That was, I love that story of the book and yeah, I mean, who doesn’t love that music from the era the best? Yeah, definitely, definitely had a lot of fun with it this time. And most of my books haven’t really had a lot of music in them or talk about too many contemporary music songs.

So this was. Like in the 1880s. Right. But was a lot of fun. Definitely.

Jane: Very cool. Another question. I have read a lot of your books and love your novels. Is there someone who is a real historical person who you would have loved to have met and why?

Melanie: Well, that’s a good question. That isn’t it. You know yeah. I would’ve like, loved to have had dinner with Truman Capote. You know, I think that’s a good one. A great catty bitch fest. That would’ve been so fun. And Diana Vreeland, who I also talk about in the Swans fifth Avenue, would’ve been.

So much fun. And Francis Marian and Mary Pickford, the women from the girls in the picture. Yeah. And I think in my, in my secret life, I always wish I would’ve been a member of the Algonquin round table back in the twenties. Nice. And all those people. Mm-hmm. Yeah. A lot of them actually. Probably way more dead people I wish I knew than living people.

Jane: Sad, sad thing to say. Right? Not so much if you’re a historical fiction writer. Let’s see what else we got. What books have you both loved recently?

Melanie: Okay, well I’m looking at it seeing what I have read recently because I read a lot and then I forget. Oh, little Monsters by Adrian, bro. Oh yeah. Came out was it August or July, which I really, really liked.

I liked hello Beautiful by Anne Napolitano very much. And there seems to me there is one book that I just loved and loved and loved and nobody had read and I’m trying to. Think, let me look. I’ve got ’em all here on the handy dandy device.

Oh. The road to Dalton. It’s a book I picked up at a bookstore at in Petoskey Pet Petski, and it was, it’s a, a quiet book about Maine, a small town in Maine in the 1980s. And it’s just a lovely, lovely, I’d never heard of it. This is why I love bookstores, because you can walk in and I love to look at the, the staff recommendations table. And that’s where I found this one, which I don’t know if I would’ve found it any other way. Love, love, love that book.

Jane: The Road to Dalton, did you say it was called?  I’m going to write that one down too. I know one of them, and I think I even mentioned on the last podcast because it was, I just, ugh, I just adored it so much. It’s called, we Begin at the End. Have you read that one? The author is Chris Whitaker, and it’s just a beautifully written, like part mystery, part family drama. And I was just blown away by the writing.

Jane: Another question. Do you write on a laptop or do you write longhand?

Melanie: Oh my goodness. Laptop all the way. I would never have been an author back in the day when you had to have.

In I just, I couldn’t do that. No. Oh, my thoughts go too fast.

Jane: I can’t even read my own handwriting anymore at this point.

Melanie: Laptop all the way, baby.

Jane: How do you think publishing has changed? In the past 10 years.

Melanie: You know, I don’t want to get into too much inside the sausage making part of it, but 10 years ago we had borders. We had bookstores in malls. Yeah, we had publications like that. People read magazines, right? The biggest thing is discoverability has become a huge, huge issue. How do we find books?

Publishing hasn’t quite figured it out. You know, it used to be through book reviews, a New York Time book review, and you know, walking into Borders or Barnes and Noble, and seeing all this all these books up front. And today there is no borders. Barnes and Noble does not have national co-op, which is a thing that I benefited from in the past with my books, where they would be, several copies right in front of you when you walked into every Boards of Noble, and I don’t, they don’t do that anymore.

It’s, it’s all, and so that I don’t have that anymore. And it seems to me today, the only way people hear about books truly is through the, those book clubs, the national book clubs or book talk. And if you don’t get those things, we are finding right now, this moment in time that people aren’t finding out about your book.

And, and it’s, it’s I don’t, yeah, it’s, it’s just a it’s just the old ways don’t work or don’t exist. I think more, but I don’t think anyone’s figured out the new ways I. Yet, I think there’s an oval reliance on certain aspects of social media that only works if you’re already like Taylor Jenkins read.

Yeah. And you have a million people following you on your Facebook page. Or calling Hoover. Yeah. Or calling Hoover. People follow you after they hear about your book. Mm-hmm. They don’t. Follow you to find out about your next book, right? Mm-hmm. So social media is still important. I think it’s great for us to stay connected with our readers, but it’s not particularly a way that people are truly finding out about books right now.

So I think we don’t know. I agree. How to reach all the readers out there. Independent bookstores are always a wonderful way, but you know, frankly, there are not as many of those as there were when I first started out. Many communities don’t have them, and some communities have many. I mean, I’m blessed to live in Chicago where we have an off, a thriving independent bookstore community, but not everybody does.

So, you know I’ve been, I hesitate to say there are maybe way more books being published than there were back then too, and that doesn’t help things.

Jane: I agree with all your points. Yeah. It’s a weird, we’re in a, a weird time and I don’t think people know where, where the markets going to go, you know?

Melanie: Yeah. I mean, you can’t influence book talk. Those things are organic. Colleen Hoover planned on that. Nobody ever publisher planned on that. They’re happy it happened. Right, but it didn’t but it seems to me that the book Talk World, God bless and they love their books but it does, they don’t seem to talk about a lot of books.

It seems to be like a very, like the same books kind of over and over and over and over. And maybe that’ll change someday, but that just seems to be what it is right now. Right?

Jane: Yeah. That’s what it is. And I think it, the book talk world is more focused at least from what little I’ve research I’ve done on young adult fantasy and romance seem to be very on there.

Melanie: Agreed. Yeah. Yeah.

Jane: More questions? Talk about the title. Was it Always California Golden?

Melanie: Yeah, that was a tough one. I think originally I thought, well, of course we’re going to call this California girls.

How could you not call this California girls? But no because there other then other books called California Girls and no one was really excited about it. Then it went, kind of went through a list of Beach Boy song titles and lyrics, and I really like God only knows. I love that song. Song. Yeah. One of my favorite Beach boys songs, but my editor wisely pointed out that people would think it was a religious book, and that wasn’t what it started.

California Dream and California gold and blah, blah, blah, blah. And I just, I just threw about California golden. I don’t know why it is the Golden State. Mm-hmm. So perhaps that’s what I was thinking. I like the idea of it the kind of tinsley sparkly part of that, of California that isn’t always, isn’t really the whole story.

I like that kind of idea for it too. So I threw that out there. Everyone said, yeah, that works. And then we went.

Jane: Yeah, I like, I know titles are hard too, right? So last comment. Not a question from Marsha, and I think this is a great way to wrap up. This, this format is my favorite way to find out books to read and authors to follow, and.

I’m so thrilled about that, Marcia. because I started this during the pandemic and I’m not a fast writer, so I like to keep in touch with friends, like reader friends. And this is a nice way to support other authors and keep in touch with reader friends. So I’m so happy to do this and thank you for coming on tonight.

I wish you so much success and you’re one of these authors who’s been around for a while and I really look up to you for your longevity in the industry because it’s, Yeah, but

Melanie: You’re making me feel 5 million years old.

Jane: No, no, no. I don’t mean it like that at all. I just mean like you’ve written double the amount of books.. and I’m like… how does she do it?!

How do you stay up? You know? It’s very impressive. And I’m, It’s, it’s more just that like I look up to, to authors like you who have, who have stuck with it and been successful. because I know how tough it is in this industry. So thank you again Melanie, and thanks for listening to Historical Happy Hour.

You know what, we were just talking about podcasts. If you like this listening to Be a podcast, please leave a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. And of course if you read Melanie’s book reviews on online reviews always help that as well. Really important. I’ll make a book talk and our, and don’t forget, she has a newsletter and she’s on social media as well.

Thank you again and have a great rest of the summer, and thank you everyone for coming on tonight. Take care, Melanie. Same to you.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

Jane Healey

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