“In screenplay speak, the end of Act Two is the main character’s lowest point. In action films, the star’s been captured. In romantic comedies, the couple has had a big fight. In horror movies, all her friends are dead and she’s been stripped down to just a bra and panties.” – Dayna Anderson in “Hollywood Homicide (A Detective by Day Mystery)”
My journey to published author has been a long road. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was five-years-old so I clearly took a lot of detours, wrong turns and spent a lot of time stuck—in traffic and in life.
Like any good plotter, I view my journey in three acts.
Act One: The Journalist
Fears of dating myself aside, I came out of undergrad in 2000 ready to take over the world. The economy was good and journalism was still thriving. My plan was simple: work as a magazine editor until I could figure out a good book idea. And I did for almost three years. First, as an editorial assistant at the New York Daily News. Next, as an assistant editor at Vibe magazine, where I covered movies and television. Then an unexpected thing happened. I got bored. Journalism is amazing but it’s a spectator sport. I wanted to be in the game—or should I saw on the racetrack to keep with the car analogy.
So I left my cushy job—even turning down a promotion—to go to film school.
Act Two: The TV Writer
I was lucky enough to get into USC, arguably the top film school in the country. After I graduated, I spent a year as an assistant on a television show that no one remembers then was lucky to get into NBC’s On the Verge program designed to help talented, new writers break into television. It worked. Two years after graduating, I was a staff writer on the CBS show Cold Case. I thought I’d had it made.
Then television writers went on strike and I broke up with my writing partner. The strike only lasted a few months but our contract wasn’t renewed once the season wrapped. I figured it’d be easy to find another job in television. It wasn’t. At all.
I did some television show developing but it wasn’t nearly enough to make those expensive student loan payments. I was 30, out of work and dead broke. Furthermore, I was completely disillusioned with Hollywood. In true screenplay form, I was at my lowest point and I was desperate to figure out my next step. I decided to finally write that book. And there was some good news that came out of all of this—I finally had that book idea.
I got it while driving down the street. It was about 2010 while I was still living in Los Angeles. I drove past a billboard offering $15,000 for information on a homicide. Since I was dead broke, my first thought was, “I should try to solve that for the reward money.” My second thought was, “That’s the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”
Act Three: The Novelist
They say write what you love. I’ve loved mysteries since the days of Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. It was a given that I’d write a mystery novel. They also write what you know. At the time, I knew a lot about being a semi-successful, mega-broke black woman disillusioned with Hollywood. So I wrote about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress disillusioned with Hollywood. When Hollywood Homicide came out earlier this month, many of the reviews highlighted the Hollywood aspect. Publishers Weekly (who gave me a starred review!) said I write “with humor and insight about the Hollywood scene.” And Kirkus Reviews wrote that “Veteran TV writer Garrett uses her Cold Case experience to inform her debut, which sets up more than one charming character and isn’t afraid to go cynical on all things LA.”
It’s funny how things work out. If I didn’t have the requisite end of Act 2 low point, I wouldn’t have had my Hollywood ending.