Eccentric nature of a flawed starlet
The It Girl and Me is the second novel in a series about starlets in the silent film era from Edmonton-based author Laini Giles.
It tells the story of Clara Bow through the eyes of her Hollywood secretary, Daisy DeVoe. Giles landed on Bow as a subject from the title of her previous work, The Forgotten Flapper.
“You say ‘flapper,’ people think about Clara Bow automatically,” Giles says.
The idea of “It,” popularized by British novelist Elinor Glyn in the ‘20s, is a commanding sense of physical and intellectual human attraction.
“‘It’ was some sort of indescribable sex appeal,” Giles says. “This is what Clara had.”
Glyn helped make Bow into a star, but “[Bow] definitely had this tendency towards mental illness,” Giles explains.
Bow may have faced sexual abuse from her father in her poor household, and four members of her immediate family—including her mother—were committed to insane asylums. Giles says Bow’s off-kilter thinking may have stemmed from those family issues.
“She basically had all these ‘engagements,’ is what they called them back then, but it was basically just her jumping from guy to guy,” Giles explains. “At the time, this was scandalous. She was sleeping with a married man and it hit the papers, and you know, you just didn’t do stuff like that back then.”
In The It Girl and Me, Giles says she had to figure out how to accurately represent Bow’s eccentric nature.
“I need to be able to tell Clara’s story, but I need to be able to have an objective opinion and comment on her behaviour,” she says.
While Giles’ first novel in the series is narrated in first-person by the protagonist’s ghost, she turned to Bow’s secretary, DeVoe, to find some of that objectivity. Giles says DeVoe actually amassed Bow a fortune, but the actress eventually accused her of theft when a man tore a rift in their friendship. The two women’s shifting, adversarial relationship is at the core of Giles’ new novel.
“You’ve got these two women who grow so close, they’re almost like sisters,” Giles says. “Then just a 180 and they’re at each other’s throats in court.”
Giles uses extensively researched historical data in her work, and she frequently uses verbatim quotes for the characters she writes.
“I want to write about real people and dramatize it, and use real records, genealogical records, and use whatever I can find in books and newspapers and make these people come to life,” Giles says.
As entertaining as it may be, DeVoe’s eventual conviction and subsequent decades-long thrashing by the press inspired Giles while writing her novel.
“I think Daisy has been made to be the fall-guy for so long,” she says. “I want to clear Daisy’s name—tell her side of the story.”
And that’s why accurate reporting is so important to Giles when she writes.
“One of the things I love most is when people review the book and they say, ‘I didn’t know this person was real, and I found myself getting up at three in the morning to go look at Wikipedia to find out who this person was,’” she says. “I’m like ‘yes!’ That’s what I want.”
That enthusiasm from her audience lead her to map out several more novels about actresses from the early age of movies. The stories are too rich not to tell, so her series will continue.
“I want a whole new generation of people to discover silent film and these stars, because they were amazing,” Giles says. “They led these just very colourful lives, and you should be checking them out.”
Sun., Apr. 2 (2 pm)
The It Girl and Me – book
release party w/ author
Audreys Books Ltd.