Shelly Frome has always been intrigued by Los Angeles.
“It’s an unreal place,” he says.
“You see aspirants who can’t find Hollywood. There’s Melrose and people walking up and down looking for Jay Leno. It’s a twilight zone.”
And it’s where Frome, an emeritus professor of dramatic arts, set his new novel, Tinseltown Riff, published by James A. Rock & Co.
“In L.A., there’s an invisible line between illusion and reality,” says Frome, “but the people there don’t seem to know it. Ben, the book’s main character, is a dreamer. He fabricates his own history. He says he’s a screen writer, but he’s really an animator. He loves old movies. He’s 30 years old and lives with his aunt – who really isn’t his aunt because he’s an orphan. He’s going to be kicked out of the house, and hasn’t worked for a long time. When he becomes embroiled in a shadowy world, he doesn’t know it’s a shadowy world. It’s typical and atypical at the same time.”
All the characters in the book are on the fringe, says Frome.
“Ben is on his last leg, and he has an opportunity to do a screenplay for a female rock star who needs a jumpstart in her career. There’s a girl who is following a Hollywood dream who becomes involved in illicit activities, and a tracker from Las Vegas, among others. Everyone is desperate.”
Frome says he knew an abandoned studio would have a place in his book.
“I knew the story had to play out in an old studio,” he says.
“The characters converge there. A few years ago I took a tour of a studio a few blocks south of Paramount, off the beaten track. All the sets were abandoned – old western sets, sets for science fiction movies. Fake villas. They now rent it out for TV cop shows. The studio seemed to cry out to me to bring it back to life, so I did that in the book.”
Frome says his views about L.A. are validated whenever he visits.
“Last summer I was there doing interviews for a book on screenwriting and film,” he says.
“I stayed at the Avalon Hotel. Marilyn Monroe used to hang out there. The first person behind the hotel desk said to me, ‘Hey man, I’m really a screenwriter.’ The second person I spoke to said, ‘My girlfriend is a screenwriter, and I’m here temporarily.’ More illusion. When we went to dinner, the girl who waited on us said, ‘I look like a waitress, but I’m really an actress.’”
Frome says he was compelled to write the book. He recalls the advice of a teacher: “‘The best way to write is to try not to write,’ he said. ‘Then, if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t stand it any more, maybe there’s something there worth expressing.’
“I thought it would be interesting to go on this journey with Ben,” Frome adds.
“I was trying to see if there was truly a line between illusion and reality in Tinseltown. Moreover, if I really put him in danger, would there be a point when Ben would be pushed to the limit and discover what really matters in this life?”
Tinseltown Riff, which has just been published, received advance praise from such notables as Academy Award nominee and Edgar winner Donald Westlake.
A nonfiction book by Frome on screenwriting and film will be published in the fall.
His other works include novels Lilac Moon and Sundance for Andy Horn, and a non-fiction book, The Actors Studio: A History.