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Author Interview: Brant Vickers

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Brant Vickers, author of Culver City.

FQ: You have written a memoir and a historical fiction account of Fedor, the “dog-faced boy.” Culver City is a departure for you. You mention on your website that your new passion is writing for the YA market. Why this change?

VICKERS: I hope I can always, no matter how many I have left, tell a different story every time. It seems there’s a moment when an epiphany sparks a creative endeavor. I know that sounds a little over the top, but the older you get and as the decades fly by we can always close our eyes and summon our youth very easily. I can’t remember who said that, but that’s what I wanted to capture. Those years were magic to me.

FQ: What was the inspiration behind the fictional story of Culver City?

VICKERS: Growing up strictly middle class in Southern California during this time period was an extraordinary luck of the draw. When we first discovered Backlot #2, close to our homes, we truly felt it was a private wonderland. Explaining the adventure to people over the years has always been successful as an interesting tale. As a laboring English major for far too many years to count, I harbored zero desires to write. I also knew I wasn’t a literary author. I always laughed and asked, “After F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee, what exactly was I going to contribute to the canon?” But after my son began to grow up I wanted to share the escapades. I’ve been told I’m a decent storyteller so I thought I’d put it to paper for him to understand the wonderful craziness. The thought occurred to me to do more than just describe the basic details of the exploration and it slowly turned into a ghost story as at times the experience was, in fact, shockingly spooky. As I stated in the Acknowledgements: It invokes a lost period of time that could have only happened in one place in the entire world: Culver City, California.

FQ: There is a lot of historical information in this book regarding old movies and actors. Are you a big fan of old movies? What was the research process like for you while gathering this information?

VICKERS: I read several bios and articles about the actors. I was also aware of all the movies I wrote about. I put them in the book as it worked out to have all the actors long gone and as the Munchkins sang, “And she's not only merely dead, She's really most sincerely dead.” So I had to come up with that while I found interesting characters to interact with the boys. The sets were there to fantasize about and imagine who walked around there making a movie in that time frame. If you ever get a chance to see the movie That's Entertainment!, it’s a 1974 American compilation film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to celebrate the studio's 50th anniversary. The stars are walking around the Backlot I use in my story telling tales about working and filming there.

FQ: If you, personally, could go back to any time in “Old Hollywood,” what movie would you love to see being made? What about actors? If you could meet anyone from the Golden Age of Hollywood, who would it be?

VICKERS: I’d have to go back and watch things like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca. They come to mind, but as far as Culver City - I’d love to watch them film the Our Gang or Little Rascals series around the city. When we were young you could still see and recognize some of the streets and locales.

FQ: The sequence of events at the end of the story truly shocked me as a reader. Without giving away too much to anyone who hasn’t read your book yet, can you share why you chose to conclude the story this way?

VICKERS: Well, I guess I’m glad that you were, maybe not shocked, but at least surprised. I think YA readers along with adults that have enjoyed the book don’t always have to have a staid ending. In some ways I think it’s not an unhappy ending or closure. But how else could a mysterious ghost story that doesn’t explain every aspect of the mystery end? I think I left the ending with the positive feeling that life goes on for a couple of the main characters and that they escaped the evil. At least I hope so.

FQ: What was the significance, if any, of the movie Gone with the Wind? Why was that the movie set that Cassady and Kyle spent the majority of their time visiting? Might it be one of your favorite movies?

VICKERS: It had as much to do with the Backlot #2 as the movie or story. Having the set and filming in the MGM Backlots and Desilu lent itself to the time and place and the story simply evolved from there. I was very careful to expose the evil of slavery and have the characters confront it as I could without sacrificing the narrative. It seemed to develop of its own accord. Every time in my life when I saw bits and pieces of the movie, all I could see was, “Hey, I know where much of that was filmed.” A friend and I went to see the movie, way back when, and I remember Stuart said at the end, “We sat through this whole thing, finished, and Clark Gable’s supposed to say, ‘Frankly Scarlett’ Not, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ He said it wrong!” So we weren’t Gone with the Wind aficionados by any means.

FQ: Are any of the fictional characters modeled after people you personally know in your life? I ask because the kids were “spot on” in their dialogue and actions, so I wondered how you were able to make them so accurately come to life.

VICKERS: I’d have to be careful with this, but naturally many characters are composites of friends and many of the adventures were things we actually experienced and I’m sure old friends can see themselves in a few of the scenes. I’m glad you thought they were ‘spot on.’ I wanted to make them as real as I could without their dialog being too stilted or unbelievable. I have been told I have preserved an excellent memory of those years very well. Thanks.

FQ: Does the name “Sift” (the world in which the ghosts present themselves to Cassady and Kyle) have any significance? Is there any significance to this name?

VICKERS: It actually popped in my head while searching for a device to bring the spirits to life. I searched for a meaning and didn’t find any thing other than business or computer definitions. I thought it worked for filtering through the paranormal or magic realism from one reality to another plane or world. It worked for me to explain or at least have Ashley explain it.

FQ: You found your vocation working and teaching students with special needs. Would you tell our readers a little about this experience? So many people tend to shy away from special education children, but you embrace it. What would you tell people considering a career in this very important field?

VICKERS: It’s much like the unintended consequence and journey of being a reader and never wanting to write and then finding yourself writing a couple of novels. I fell into the place I was meant to be after a miserable year of teaching English to high school students. It’s a job you’re either cut out for or not. I always told the mentors (typical students helping special ed classrooms) that my goal was for them to be comfortable with the kids and not ‘shy away’ from them. They’re people and deserve the same respect and deference they and their friends get. It was trying, frustrating, wonderful, fantastic, and challenging, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. People have told me (one of my greatest accolades) that they are having their friend or family read Chucky’s in Tucson to know what that journey was like for me.

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