As I promised, it’s May 4th and here is a post containing Actual Content. Ken Kuhlkin is a writer with style and punch, who effortlessly combines action, thought and emotion, who can set a scene and define a character in one masterly sentence. If you don’t believe me, go to his web site and read some of the free stories he’s provided.

His latest book is THE BIGGEST LIAR IN LOS ANGELES. Here’s what he had to say to me about the book:

In May, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles will be published by Poisoned Pen Press. Though it’s the sixth in the series we’re calling the Tom Hickey California Century novels, it’s the first chronologically, set in 1926. The cast includes Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and and others as powerful and intriguing. It features plenty of real history and lots of drama. The book will be released in hard cover and trade paper simultaneously.

Now I turn the blog over to Ken, on the topic of how historical characters guide his story. TAKE IT AWAY, KEN!

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I enjoy writing about real characters, and history has always been a favorite subject of mine. Learning about history gives me insights into human nature and why as a race we’ve landed where we are now, and what may become of us.

The series of novels I’m obsessed with called for a book set in the 1920s. Which got me thinking about the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. My paternal grandmother, Harriet, harbored a deep grudge against Sister Aimee. That grandma was a mean woman. So I always imagined I might approve of Sister Aimee.

Now, Tom Hickey, the main character of my series, had a mother much like Harriet, I began to imagine him investigating Sister Aimee. So, with not much more than that idea in mind, I went exploring.

When I read about Sister Aimee’s 1926 disappearance and resurrection, and the fraud charges the DA brought against her, because she claimed she’d been kidnapped and he didn’t but the story, I knew I had to set my novel during the Grand Jury hearing.

Then I came across articles about the KKK in Los Angeles and Orange County during that era. The KKK had gotten new life from the film Birth of A Nation. And with them in mind, the idea for the conflict that gets Tom investigating came to me.

The more I read about Sister Aimee, the more fascinated I got, with her energy and creativity, and her willingness to jump into everything all at once. Missions, crusades, soup kitchens, orphanages. So her part in my story kept growing.

And when I learned that in 1926 the two most powerful men in Los Angeles were the rival owners of the Times (Harry Chandler), and the Examiner (William Randolph Hearst), I wanted to know more about them.

As you might guess, the story gets set into motion by a murder. But what really kicks it into gear is a media cover-up of the murder, a lynching. The motive for the murder came to me during the first draft, but I still wasn’t clear on the motive for the cover up until I was almost ready to send it to my editor and I learned about the dispute over the new train depot.

The decision about where to put the new depot was, in my view, one of the most crucial happenings in the history of the world.

Here’s a brief version.  The spring election of 1926 featured a sort of referendum about where to construct the new train station. The Union Pacific railroad wanted to build it on the existing site, because they owned rights of way that would’ve allowed them to send out rail lines from that site all over Southern California. If the existing site had been approved for the new station, L.A. might’ve become a model for cities where folks could get around without cars. But Harry Chandler had another idea. He wanted the new station to be on a site near the old plaza, most likely because one of the conglomerates he belonged to owned property around there.

His rival, Hearst, didn’t object very firmly, perhaps because Hearst and the Union Pacific were dedicated foes. So Chandler’s Times lobbied all out for the plaza site and Harry got his way, and L.A. became the model for a world dependent upon cars.

If I were an oil sheik, I would build a monument to Harry Chandler.

I’m also beholden to him, and Hearst, and Sister Aimee, because their lives guided me all the way through the writing of The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles.

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Thanks, Ken! Can’t wait to read the book!


writing prompt: Go thou, and do likewise.