So I became Zan.
A crapload of paperwork (part of which, the prior experience requirement, I fudged), background check and one state exam later, and I had my PI license. No one questioned that I was changing my name at the same time. I concocted the story that I was an actress trying to remake myself to try and jumpstart my comatose career, and that was the end of that conversation. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought Alexandra “Zan” Jones was a lot catchier and more dramatic than Susan Cooper. I bought my first fedora and started wearing it 24/7, and gave myself a catchphrase for good measure. I figured it would all come in handy when I finally got on the show.
Because, you see, it was also a calculated career move. I hoped that in addition to getting to be Zan, that eventually I could solve a high enough profile case to make the news. My plan was that the novelty of casting an actress who was a real-life PI on a show about PI’s would prove irresistible to the PI: Private Investigators producers and network, and I would be in.
The Rochelle Staub Questions
What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in Los Angeles?
It was actually something that almosthappened. I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard and there was a huge crash behind me. A palm frond had fallen and hit the sidewalk. A guy walking toward me held his hands about twelve inches apart and said, “It missed you by this much,” and I thought, what a stupid way to die. I had visions of LAPD notifying my family just like they do on T.V.
Do you have a yet-to-be realized L.A. dream?
Writing for television. I’m currently in the UCLA Extension TV Writing Program and would love to be able to make my living doing that. I’ve worked so many jobs I loathed that it would be wonderful to have a dream job.
Why write short stories? Why write at all? What’s in it for you?
I’ve only recently discovered the markets for short stories. I’ve always had trouble trying to write novels or feature scripts; it gets to a certain size and I just can’t wrangle it. But short stories and TV scripts are manageable for me.
I’m not a brilliant conversationalist, but I feel like I’m able to express myself well in writing. And I like crime writing in particular because I like seeing people get what they deserve, good, bad, or otherwise. That doesn’t always happen in real life so it’s nice to see justice served, even if it’s fictional.
What is the biggest challenge in writing to theme?
Hoping that the judges will feel you’ve met that particular requirement.
Are the characters in your story based on you or people you know/met?
No, more like types of people. So many people come here to break into the entertainment industry, but most won’t make it. I’ll watch the credits of old movies and TV shows and wonder what happened to the actors who didn’t make it big. You know their Hollywood dream wasn’t to have their biggest credit be “Girl at party” or “Guy at bar”. I wonder about those people and what happens to them when the dream eludes them.
Plus, thanks to the internet, people who are overly obsessed with TV shows have an outlet to share that with the world and some of it is kind of disturbing, so that contributed to the idea of someone who was such a fan that she tried to live as if she was a character on the show.
Los Angeles is a patchwork quilt of different neighborhoods. Why did you pick the area you used for your story, and how did the neighborhood influence your writing?
When I read the theme for LAst Resort, my mind went straight to an actress whose career hadn’t happened. Of course she’s still in Hollywood—leaving would be admitting defeat. I lived in Hollywood during the same period as Zan, so I know my way around the neighborhood and its recent history. I didn’t need to research it.
Are there scenes in your story based on real life—yours, hearsay, or a news story you read?
The catalyst for Zan becoming a private investigator, the checks being stolen by a neighbor, actually happened to me. She cleaned out my checking account. The difference is my neighbor didn’t answer the door when I tried to confront her. But I still had this amazing feeling of euphoria from solving the crime, plus I was able to tie it to the TV show Zan is obsessed with.
What came first, the character or the plot?
The plot, based on the theme. I know I said earlier Zan came to mind immediately, but it was more her situation and her obsession than her personally, and that’s what drove the story.
While you’re writing: music (what kind?), dead silence, or…?
I find listening to songs while I’m writing to be distracting. I usually have creativity music from YouTube going because it stays in the background. There’s a website called Coffitivity.com that plays coffee shop background noise, and I use that sometimes because it’s also background enough that it doesn’t distract me.
Favorite writing quote—yours or from someone else…
Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
There was major family drama after my father died in 2011 that was extremely traumatic and unnecessary, all the responsibility fell on me, and it made me depressed and angry. It went on for several years and at one point I thought, when this is over, I never want to think about it again, EVER. Earlier this year I used the experience as the basis for a script for my UCLA Extension class and got raves for it. Enough time had passed and I was able to use the experience to my advantage. It was wonderfully cathartic and Anne’s quote was an inspiration.
Your writing ritual begins with…
Unfortunately I procrastinate like crazy, so my “ritual” usually involves me suddenly being interested in housework. When the deadline is looming and I don’t have any choice is when the muse finally shows up. I submit right at deadline a lot.
Melinda Loomis was born and raised in Southern California. She has at times been an office drone, culinary student and unemployed bum.
LAst Resort is her first time being published. She got the news that she was accepted as a contributor on her birthday.
Melinda lives in the Los Angeles area with her extremely photogenic cat Sophie. Visit her online at www.melindaloomis.com.