Thursday, June 15, 2023

Marjorie McCown

Marjorie McCown has spent her entire professional life in the story-telling business, though she started out on the visual side of the craft. She spent more than twenty-five years in Hollywood working as a key member of the costume design teams for a string of successful movies that includes Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, The Firm, A Bronx Tale, Wag the Dog, The Aviator, Hairspray, Angels and Demons, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. McCown has a BA in Theater from the University of Virginia and an AAS in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Southern California.

McCown's new novel is Final Cut.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Final Cut is a great title for a couple of reasons (and let me start by saying I can't take the credit -- Madeline Rathle, the head publicist at Crooked Lane Books suggested it.) The story is a murder mystery set behind the scenes of a big budget Hollywood movie in production that's plagued by a string of disasters, starting on the first day of principal photography when key costumer Joey Jessop discovers the body of a murdered coworker on set. So Final Cut gives us the obvious film reference. But the actual sound of the title is sharp and snappy, and I think that provides readers with a subliminal cue that they're in for a fast-paced (that's the goal, anyway) plot-driven book. And there's also a slightly sinister overtone that can be read into those two words.

What's in a name?

The sound of a name carries its own particular energy, and I wanted my main character's name to sound crisp with an upbeat rhythm. I like the alliteration and bounce of "Joey Jessop." I also wanted to name her after her father who died before she was born; that tells us something about her family history and dynamic. Joey's mother, to whom she is very close, mourned the loss of her husband and wanted their daughter to share his name. My intention was to indicate the system of values that molded Joey as she grew up.

Marcus Pray, the powerful producer/director of the movie that Joey is working on as a key costumer, is another character whose name (Pray being a homophone with prey) winks at his personal traits. He's a sexual predator whose behavior has been tolerated within the film industry because his movies are always blockbuster hits.

One of the primary locations in the book is a costume rental house called Left Coast Costumes (a tip of the hat to its real-life inspiration, Western Costume Company) a business that's a mainstay of the movie community in Los Angeles, though it attracts designers from all over the world who come to rent their costumes. As Joey describes the place: "LCC, as it was known to everyone in the industry, was the biggest commercial costume house, not only in the city, but the world. Its main claim to fame was a stock of hundreds of thousands of costumes from various periods in history available for rent." When I worked as a costume designer and costumer in film, Western Costume was often our base of operations, truly our professional home, and so it deserves a featured role in Final Cut.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self might not be all that surprised I wrote a novel, but she'd be shocked that I've written a book set in the heart of the film industry. I've been a voracious reader all my life, and from a young age I dreamed of someday being a writer. But I grew up surrounded by the corn fields of East Central Illinois, and even when I left home to go to college, I had no idea that I'd end up working in Hollywood for 27 years or that I'd one day know more about making movies than about any subject I ever studied in school.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? What do you change more?

I find beginnings somewhat harder to write. At the beginning of a book, you're starting on the journey of the story and trying to do so many things at once -- engaging readers' interest, introducing some of the major characters, as well as providing information and some context about the world of the book. Which is a lot more fun than I'm probably making it sound because telling stories is a joyful way to spend one's time. For me, I find the endings are easier to write because you've already traveled far with these characters on their journey and the options for the end are to some extent based on the action that has gone before. Which doesn't mean I do less rewriting on my endings than on my beginnings. I don't find much difference when it comes to the amount of revision required. For me every book is different in that regard.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality or are they a world apart?

There's a lot I share with my protagonist, film key costumer Joey Jessop, starting with our professional skill set. We both love working with antique clothing and all kinds of fabrics, and we both prefer costuming period or fantasy films to modern dress movies. We also share a deep appreciation for Nature and take special pleasure in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean -- and we both love animals. We share a fascination for puzzles, which has sometimes gotten each of us into trouble.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My work in film has definitely influenced my writing, beginning with some of the fine screenplays I've been fortunate to work on by giant talents like Eric Roth, John Sayles, and David Mamet. Their brilliance with pacing, dialogue, and character development have all been inspirational to me. And in terms of story structure in particular, working on movies for all those years and watching films being created shot by shot on set each day taught me so much about how to build a narrative.
Visit Marjorie McCown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue