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Author Talk: October 5, 2017

Wendall Thomas teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as an entertainment reporter, script consultant, and film and television writer. Her debut novel, LOST LUGGAGE, is the opening installment of a zany mystery series starring travel agent Cyd Redondo, who is thrown heels-first into the bizarre and sinister world of international animal smuggling after winning a free African safari. In this interview, Thomas explains what possessed her to write her first mystery novel (according to her, she finally came to her senses!); describes her writing schedule, which she has followed for about 20 years and has been ideal for her; and previews the second book in the series, which will take place in Australia.

Question: You teach courses in arguably the most desirable field in all of academia --- graduate film studies at UCLA! --- yet something possessed you to write this first mystery novel, LOST LUGGAGE. What came over you?

Wendall Thomas: I finally came to my senses! Actually, LOST LUGGAGE started out as a script. I’ve always been a big fan of romantic adventure/caper films like Romancing the Stone, What’s Up, Doc? and Charade, and wanted to write one. The timing wasn’t right for the screen story, but Cyd kept talking to me, and as a huge mystery fan and someone who’d always wanted to write a book but hadn’t been brave enough, I wondered whether I might be able to organize a series around her. To be honest, I feel the audience for the things I want to write is more of a book audience than superhero-loving teenagers, so at least for this idea, a book makes more sense. And the mystery community is so much more generous and welcoming than Hollywood is, so I am thrilled to be in this new world and hope it’s a place I can stay.

Q: What kind of writing discipline did you enforce on yourself as you wrote this first novel? And what did you find to be the most difficult challenge of that process?

WT: As a screenwriter, I had already figured out I was a morning writer and was used to making deadlines imposed by other people. However, the novel required me to impose my own schedule and stick to it. I actually wrote the first draft of LOST LUGGAGE during National Novel Writing Month. Their emphasis on word count over perfection allowed me to silence my inner editor/critic just enough to actually get to the end of a very rough 300-page draft. Although it needed copious amounts of work, once I had that, it was something I could edit while still doing my various day jobs. In general, I set aside three to four hours every morning for my own writing (even if I have to get up at 4:30) and use the rest of the day for my teaching and freelance work. I’ve done that for about 20 years, and it’s the schedule that works for me. 

Q: Your protagonist, Cyd Redondo, is more than a little evocative of 1980s-era Bette Mildler: a Fireball travel agent out of Brooklyn who cannot be intimidated by anything, even the forces of organized crime. If Cyd ever makes it to the big screen, who of today's actresses could you see playing her?

WT: It’s hard to imagine seeing the likes of Bette Midler, Kathleen Turner, Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn or Meg Ryan again, and I feel in general there haven’t been a large number of actresses lately who specialize in physical comedy. However, I think Anna Kendrick, Amy Adams or Amy Poehler are all very funny, physical actors who fit into the age range and who might be great.

Q: Are you a lifelong reader of mysteries? If so, name three authors whose crime novels helped provide inspiration for LOST LUGGAGE.

WT: Yes, I am. I love everything from comedy to noir (I’m a Chandler freak, of course) and worked my way through all the Agatha Christie novels starting at age 11. In addition to Christie, I guess the series draws the most on my adolescent affection for Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series from the ’70s and, of course, for tone, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. 

Q: There is more than a touch of screwball comedy running though the pages here. As a film scholar, you no doubt have seen all of the classics, likely more than once. Could you share your nomination for the greatest screwball film ever, and explain why it's your choice?

WT: Ah, this is too hard. I actually teach a “Romantic Comedy Weekend” and watched over 250 rom-coms to prepare, so I have dozens of favorites. Since Billy Wilder is my screenwriting idol, if I had to pick one screwball, it would probably be Ball of Fire with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper --- the setup (a dance-hall moll shacks up with a house full of repressed scholars) and banter are so good --- but Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth andThe Lady Eve would be tied for a close second. And Barbara Stanwyck would probably have been a world-class Cyd, for sure.

Q: I'm sure Cyd is barred from Africa for life after her misadventures in LOST LUGGAGE, so what will be the setting of her next starring appearance?

WT: In the second book, two of Cyd’s clients go missing on an Australian cruise and she goes after them. A major part of the book takes place in the Australian state/island of Tasmania, and I think there’s a good chance that Cyd will be banned from another continent once the book is done.