By Brandon Meginley
Jackie Collins comes with a tagline: “She’ll keep you up all night.” Given the titillating nature of the bestselling author’s work, readers may find themselves opening the blinds to sunlight after sitting down to read her 27th novel, Poor Little Bitch Girl. It’s classic Collins characters at their most licentious. It opens with courtesan Annabelle Maestro primping in preparation for a gig with the 15-year-old son of a wealthy oil man. What could go wrong?
Collins has sold 400 million books internationally since the late 1970s. This places her somewhere between fellow Brits JK Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien in all-time sales. It puts her at an advantage over Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, and James Patterson combined. Poor Little Bitch Girl will be sixth on the New York Times Best Seller list this Sunday. She signs books at Masquerade at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m Saturday.
Collins talked to Gambit about the book, her impressions of New Orleans, and her writing process.
What was the genesis of the idea for Poor Little Bitch Girl?
I’ve been reading all about these cheating politicians. And Spitzer with the call girls in New York. It came to me that that’s such an interesting subject to write about. It’s very timely. These guys are just coming out of the woodwork. They’re running off to say they’re going on a hike or something, and they’re ending up with their soul mate. It’s ridiculous. My character, he’s very timely, Gregory Stoneman, who’s the politician who is cheating on his wife and then he gets his girlfriend pregnant and she mysteriously vanishes. Shades of the Chandra Levy case some years back.
Is this the first time you’ve focused on politicians?
I’ve always been intrigued by politicians because I’ve met quite a few of them. When they come to Hollywood they’re like little boys in a candy store.
It’s a relief from the bureaucracy of their day-to-day life.
Exactly. It dates way back to Kennedy, really, when you consider that he was having that affair with Marilyn Monroe.
How long have you been working on this book?
It took me almost a year to write it and it came out about two weeks ago. I write in longhand so it’s a long process.
This time when I’m in New Orleans [Collins was here in July 2008 to sign her book, Married Lovers], I really want to explore a little more. I like to incorporate places I’ve been into what I write so it would be nice to have one of the characters to come from New Orleans.
New Orleans is becoming more and more the “Hollywood of the South.”
You guys are making a lot of movies there now. I think it would be very good [as a film location]. I have a movie shooting in Paris that I’m producing called Paris Connections, featuring a character that I’ve written about in three books, Madison. I’m thinking I want to do another movie about Madison, so maybe there could be New Orleans connections. I’d love to make my next film in America rather than Paris. It’s a little inconvenient.
Have you had any particularly harrowing experiences on the book tour so far?
Not particularly harrowing, but kind of funny. It’s amusing what shows will and will not say “bitch” on the air. I was on Good Morning America and George Stephanopoulos was told that he was not allowed to show the cover or say the title. That was quite an experience.
How did you get around that?
We just talked about “my new book of which title I cannot say.” As soon as I got off the air, the entire crew screamed out, “What’s the name of the book?” Then I was the second-most Googled person of the day.
Why do you think Harrah's is a fitting place for the signing?
Because if I did at a bookstore, you could maybe get 40 people in there. At Harrah's, you get five or six hundred. At my events, there will be that amount. I must say, last time I was signing books for about four or five hours. It was a bit back breaking at the end, but I loved every moment of it because the people were so – and I’m not just saying this because I’m coming to New Orleans – the people were fantastic. They were telling me about their experiences with Katrina, you know, harrowing stories but interesting. They were such wonderful, warm people. Some of them would say to me, “I lost everything including my collection of your books.” Like, what? How could you even think about that, you know? It was quite a wonderful experience. This time I’m not doing a huge tour like I did last year. I’m just doing New York, London and Los Angeles, and I said, but I would like to go back to New Orleans.
Also, I want to have lunch at Brennan’s.
You often quote French director Louis Malle as calling you a “raunchy moralist.”
It’s my favorite quote because he meant it. When I thought about it, he’s absolutely right, because my books are very raunchy, but at the heart they’re very moralistic.
If a guy cheats on his wife, he is going to get what he deserves. I really feel that if you’re married … don’t get married if you’re going to cheat around. Don’t do a Tiger Woods. To be married to somebody the most difficult thing is to be faithful, but that’s what it’s all about. Otherwise, get a divorce and do whatever you want to do. My philosophy is you do everything you want to do before you get married.
How do you approach the morality of the politician in Poor Little Bitch Girl?
It’s interesting. He’s not a good guy. I can’t give it away.
Are there any characters floating around in your head that you have always wanted to write about but still have yet to?
The characters come to me when I write. I don’t plan my books. I just sit down and they come to me. In Poor Little Bitch Girl, there’s a fabulous twist at the end where I bring in this guy that I call the ‘Wildcard.’ I don’t know where he came from but he fit it perfectly. He made everything fall into place. I like him so much but, unfortunately, I can’t bring him back, for certain reasons, but he was great. He was the stand-in for a movie star. He’s one of those guys who is really good looking but never made it in life and everything goes wrong for him. He was so interesting to write about so I might create another character like that.
So your characters come out of the ether as you write. Is that how it works with plot development as well?
Yeah. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I think that’s why people say to me, “I couldn’t put your book down.” When I’m writing it, I can’t put my pen down.
You feel the same suspense as your readers?
Absolutely. I really don’t know where my characters are going to take me.
How has writing about Hollywood changed for you since the 1980s?
It has changed a lot. Hollywood is obsessed with twentysomething’s and vampires. Big business is running the studios now. If they think vampire movies are going to make money with 19-year-old boys jerking off they’re just going to make those movies.
To what degree do the people in your life inform your characters?
I tone it down. If I wrote the real people, nobody would believe it. I meet so many strange and wonderful and weird characters. I love living in Hollywood because I know so many people on all different levels. It’s always interesting to write and to observe. I base a lot of my characters on real people but I mix them up so you never really know. My readers like to play the guessing game because they know I know all the celebrities. They’re asking themselves, “Is that Lindsay Lohan? Is that Paris Hilton? Is that Britney Spears?”
Did you ever have an encounter with someone who you used as a basis for a character and who was unhappy with your portrayal?
This happened when I wrote Hollywood Wives. No one had written about them before. The books about Hollywood were always written by a failed screenwriter. They didn’t know that side of Hollywood, but I knew it very well. So a woman came up to me at a party and said, “You wrote about my husband in ‘Hollywood Wives.’” I said, “Which one is that?” She said, “Ross Conti, the superstar.” I said, “No, no. He’s a failed superstar. There’s a lot of failed superstars in Hollywood, aren’t there? It’s not your husband.” Which made her even angrier.
I also had a character in Hollywood Wives — which obviously was way before its time — who was exactly like Kathryn Bigelow. [Director, The Hurt Locker, Point Break] My character is so like her. She’s a strong, independent woman, great looking, who makes movies and directs movies and proves herself.
How long have you lived in L.A. and why did you move there from England?
I’ve lived here for 20 years. When I first came here as a teenager and I darted back and forth after that. I always had a great affection for Hollywood. I always felt it was my second home. When I was a kid at school in London, I used to pretend that my father was in the CIA and that we were secretly Americans. We were undercover. I always had a good imagination, too. It’s a great city to write about. There’s always something happening. There’s always something undercover.
This book takes characters in different cities. Is that a change of pace for you?
It is, really. I have four main characters. I have three girls and one guy. The guy is Lucky Santangelo’s son. Lucky Santangelo is a very popular character that I’ve written about in six books. The other three girls: one is in Washington, one is in New York and the third is in Los Angeles. I write her in the first-person, so that was kind of a change for me. It was the easiest thing to do, I can tell you that. You’re going back and forth and all of a sudden you’re seeing everything through her eyes.
How was the View?
The View was fabulous. Barbara did indeed say, Poor Little Bitch Girl. The ladies were very supportive as usual.
Tomorrow I’m doing Craig Ferguson and then I’m in New Orleans. After that, I’m going to work on my movie. I’m going to be in the editing room. I’m writing a book and a play (Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Lies). So I’m kind of just sitting around doing nothing.