Jackie Collins: By the Book (New York Times Sunday Book Review)

Friday, 22 February, 2013 / Published in Press

The author of “Hollywood Wives” and, most recently, “The Power Trip,” believes “The Great Gatsby” is the best love story ever. Fitzgerald, she says, had sexual chemistry down.

What book is on your night stand now?

“Playing Along,” by Rory Samantha Green. This is a quirky, fast-paced story filled with engaging and hilarious characters. It’s also a fun love story. Maybe I’m biased because it is written by my daughter, but I think not, because it’s really well written and a delightful read. Rory decided to go the self-publishing route, so “Playing Along” is available for download or in paperback.

When and where do you like to read? Do you prefer paper or electronic? 

I love to read on planes. It’s my favorite thing to do on a long journey, and I usually have at least four hardcover books in my carry-on bag. Recently on a trip to the Bahamas I managed to read “This Is How You Lose Her,” by Junot Díaz — a book of riveting short stories. And “Robert B. Parker’s ‘Fool Me Twice’ ” — slick prose, fast moving, a perfect plane read.

And yes, I definitely prefer paper to electronic, although I do own a Kindle and an iPad. However, there is something about a hardcover book that cannot be matched. I buy at least two hardcover books a week.

What was the last truly great book you read? 

“Bright Shiny Morning,” by James Frey. Not only a wonderful unputdownable book filled with memorable characters, but “Bright Shiny Morning” gives you a history of Los Angeles that is quite brilliant. In a way it reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and how that book captured the feeling and pace of New York. James Frey sure knows how to keep you turning the pages.

What’s your favorite literary genre? 

I am an avid follower of tough male fiction. Give me new books by Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Andrew Gross . . . and I’m a happy camper. However, there is one female crime writer that I cannot get enough of, and that’s the fabulous Chelsea Cain. Chelsea created the most intriguing serial killer since Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon.” Chelsea introduces us to Gretchen Lowell in “Heartsick.” Gretchen is a truly evil fictional character who leaps off the page and stays with you. Chelsea Cain has written about Gretchen in four books, each one of them a creepy winner. I cannot wait for the next one.

What book or author do you love that you think your readers and fans might find surprising?

I am a huge fan of Joseph Wambaugh — the former L.A.P.D. detective named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Wambaugh writes the best Hollywood cop novels — gritty, outrageous, hysterically funny, sad and obviously based on his crazy life as an L.A.P.D. detective. He has it down pat; the characters leap off the pages and take you on a raunchy ride. Wambaugh’s books never disappoint.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? 

I would like the president to settle back and pick up a copy of John McCain’s “Faith of My Fathers.” Now here we have a true American hero, a man with a moral compass and a sense of stunning loyalty and integrity. I think anyone will benefit from reading this book, especially the president.

What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

Several months ago I had the pleasure of appearing on Andy Cohen’s late-night talk show, “Watch What Happens Live,” with the very lovely Ali Wentworth — talented actress and wife of George Stephanopoulos. I’d recently been on “Good Morning America” with George, and we’d stared blankly at each other because the powers that be had decided that he could not say the name of the book I was promoting, “Poor Little Bitch Girl.” Hmm. . . . “Bitch” was apparently too hot a word for early-morning TV. Anyway, I relayed the story to Ali, and she thought it was as funny as I did. After the show I took her book, “Ali in Wonderland,” home with me, and I spent the rest of the evening doubled over laughing. This woman has a dry wit and a way of telling life stories that is totally hysterical. I love her humor. It’s the best.

The sexiest book you’ve ever read?

When I was a teenager lurking around in the South of France, I came across a bookstore in Juan-les-Pins that sold books that were banned in Britain. So naturally I got my hands on a few and smuggled them back to England. The sexiest of them all was Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” a rambling sexual odyssey. Wow! I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t quite understand it. And from Henry Miller I moved on to Harold Robbins and Terry Southern — “Candy” being a standout as far as sexy books are concerned. And I also had fun with the Mickey Spillane pulp fiction paperbacks. I loved every word, and I couldn’t wait to start telling sexy stories myself. However, I decided my female characters would be totally equal to the male ones, and so far that’s what I’ve managed to do. Sexual equality for all. Knock the double standard on its head and create strong heroines like Lucky Santangelo. It seems to have worked for me.

The greatest love story you’ve ever read?

“The Great Gatsby” has always been a standout as far as love stories go. Jay Gatsby is such a mysterious and sexy character, and as a reader one can feel Daisy’s yearning to be closer to him, yet he always manages to pull away. Creating sexual chemistry on the page is organic, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald had it down.

If you were casting Lucky Santangelo in “Chances” today, who would be right for the role?

Ah. . . . Lucky Santangelo — a character I created in my book “Chances,” and now — seven books and two mini-series about her later — she has a life of her own. She exists. She is a force of nature. My readers love her — for Lucky does all the things and says all the things we would like to do and say, but don’t quite have the nerve. Lucky does. And my readers embrace her for it. So . . . who to play her in a movie? Well, there is only one choice. The beautiful, wild, soulful and sexy Ms. Angelina Jolie. She would portray the perfect Lucky. A woman who does it her way with no apologies or regrets. Lucky rules. And so does Angelina.

What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from childhood? 

As a child growing up in London I was an avid reader, anything I could get my hands on. My two favorite writers before I reached my teenage years were Charles Dickens — oh, the wonderful visual images he created. And Enid Blyton — the best children’s author of all. I am sure it was Enid Blyton who inspired me to become a storyteller. She wrote so many books — everything from the Famous Five series to “The Naughtiest Girl in the School.” (Ah yes, I certainly identified with that one.) However, my absolute favorite book of hers was “The Magic Faraway Tree,” a fantasy story about a family who lived near a wood. The family’s children soon discovered this magical tree and spent most of their time exploring the various branches where an assortment of crazy characters reside. Talk about firing up one’s imagination.

Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?

As an author, one is always obliged to name one’s current book as their favorite. So that would be “The Power Trip.” I have to say I loved writing about a luxury yacht filled with celebrities who get taken over by Somali pirates. Lots of research and fun to write. I am planning a sequel featuring my superhero, Flynn Hudson, who all my female readers seem to be falling in love with. And quite a few male readers too.

However, there are two of my books that will always be very special to me. “Hollywood Wives,” a book that really skyrocketed my career. And “Chances,” a book that spanned almost a hundred years and in which I created the Santangelo family. I have not finished with them yet. They will be back in a big way.

What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?

A book about the true hypocrisy of politics, and why everyone gets screwed except the politicians themselves — unless of course they get caught up in a sex scandal, which seems to happen more often than not. I so enjoyed writing my cheating and lying senator in “The Power Trip.” And yes, he was very much based on several real-life politicians. Start playing the guessing game!

You’re hosting a literary dinner party with three other authors, dead or alive. Who’s coming? 

Dinner parties are always interesting if you gather the right group. I was thinking it might be quite a trip to sit down with Mario Puzo; surely he would have some fine tales about his criminal friends. Charles Dickens — I would love to get his reaction to his extreme and lasting fame. And Raymond Chandler, the master of hard-boiled detective fiction.

I would serve steak and Jack Daniel’s, and a good time would be had by all.

If you could meet any literary character, who would it be and why?

Lucky Santangelo of course. She is my alter ego, the woman I would like to be in another life. Lucky has everything going for her. She has power, beauty, money, a sharp wit, sexuality, vulnerability, and she’s also a great mother. I like her style. She’s strong and takes no prisoners.

I am currently writing a book about Lucky at the age of 15. It’s interesting to discover how she became the woman she is today.

Where do you write? What do your desk and office look like?

I write all my books in longhand on white typing paper or yellow legal pads. Then later I have all of my handwritten pages leather-bound. My study is my sanctuary, filled with music, photos, and a view of palm trees and the Hollywood hills.

What do you plan to read next?

I have several books on my “what to read next” list. First off is Rod Stewart’s autobiography, aptly titled “Rod,” because not only is Rod a longtime friend, but I hear the book is a riot. Followed by “At the Devil’s Table,” by William C. Rempel, the story of the insider who brought down the infamous Cali drug cartel. And then “Back to Blood,” by Tom Wolfe — a melting pot of different cultures in Miami. Tom Wolfe is a brilliant writer, every word a gem.

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