A Virtual Bookshelf by Liz Brown, author of TWILIGHT MAN:
Twilight Man: Love and Ruin in the Shadows of Hollywood and the Clark Empire is the story of a Hollywood socialite named Harrison Post and his stolen fortune. That’s the simplest way I know to describe the book, but nothing about Harrison Post’s life was simple.
He was a shop clerk in San Francisco in 1919 when he met and fell in love with Will Clark, scion of the Montana copper dynasty and founder of the LA Philharmonic, who swept the younger man into a lavish new life in Los Angeles. And that was where Harrison became prey to blackmailers and extortionists, including his own sister and her car salesman husband (named Charles Crooks!). After Will Clark died in 1934, they took Harrison prisoner and stole his inheritance, but with the help of his masseur, Harrison fled his captors for a quiet, idyllic village in Norway—just in time for the Nazis to invade … and the plot twists don’t stop there.
Harrison’s story could never be fiction. No reader could suspend that much disbelief. And yet, during my research and writing, I turned to fiction again and again for inspiration.
"In Cather’s often-anthologized short story from 1905, the protagonist is a dreamy, yearning youth who flees his drab life in Pittsburgh for a decadent binge in New York City. His trajectory, like Harrison’s, recalls the tragic paths of aspirational American figures such as Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, with one distinction. Paul, like Harrison, is considered “temperamental,” which back then was often understood to be code. Today we might say gay, queer, or LGBTQ, although, when possible, in Twilight Man I tried to use the language of the era, to render people in their own terms." - Liz
"When Harrison stepped into the Clark empire, he stepped into a fairytale—a dream of wealth and ease, but for only so long. In 1934, after Will Clark’s death, Harrison’s life swerved into a very different genre: LA noir. An extortionist sister and her grifter car salesman husband take him captive. They secretly record him with Dictaphones. Male nurses drug him with “hypos.” This is a world straight out of Raymond Chandler. I am convinced that the oil executive turned detective writer would’ve known the rumors about Will and Harrison. All three men were members of the LA Athletic Club, they all frequented Booksellers Row downtown, and, at one point, the writer and Harrison were neighbors in the Pacific Palisades. Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, draws from the scandals of another LA figure, oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, but among the book’s homosexual bibliophiles and shadowy doings in the Palisades, I see traces of Harrison too." - Liz
"Perhaps the most mind-boggling twist in Harrison’s saga is his “escape” to Norway in 1938. This was thanks to Oscar Tryggestad, a masseur whose family owned a hotel in a idyllic town in a nook of the Geiranger fjord, where Oscar believed Harrison could peacefully recuperate from his horrible ordeal with the Crooks—which, in theory, was a lovely plan. But then the Nazis invaded, and the village was under occupation, which is the circumstance in John Steinbeck’s novella The Moon Is Down, published in 1942 as part of a propaganda effort to motivate resistance efforts during World War II." - Liz
"I could pick any of Ross MacDonald books, but The Blue Hammer is the first one I read, so I’m going with that. Like Chandler, MacDonald wrote crime fiction set in Los Angeles, but his hard-boiled detective, Lew Archer, didn’t emerge until 1946, after the world of Harrison Post was gone. His era doesn’t sync with Harrison’s, but I love the melancholy compassion MacDonald has for his characters and the way he moves you through the physical terrain of California. He writes sentences that feel like you’re gliding up the PCH." - Liz
"Of course, I didn’t look only to fiction. I also turned to writers like Hilton Als, Sybille Bedford, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Rebecca Solnit for inspiration—and to Lisa Cohen, who wrote Three Lives, a remarkable hybrid biography about three queer women from the early twentieth century—Madge Garland, Esther Murphy, and Mercedes de Acosta (who shows up in Harrison’s address book). In All We Know, Cohen manages to both tell intimate stories of forgotten figures and grapple with larger questions about class, sexuality, and hidden history." - Liz