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Q&A with Halley Sutton - The Hurricane Blonde


The Hurricane Blonde

By Lucy Parry


We are excited to welcome Halley Sutton to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Hurricane Blonde released on the 8th of August 2023.


A former child starlet is plunged back into the dangerous glitter of Hollywood after discovering the body of a young actress. Salma Lowe, progeny of Hollywood royalty and a once-promising child actor, now spends her days as a guide for the Stars Six Feet Under tour, leading tourists through Los Angeles’s star-studded avenues to haunting sites where actresses of the past met untimely ends. Salma knows better than anyone that a tragic death is the surest path to stardom. Her sister, Tawney, viciously dubbed the “Hurricane Blonde,” was murdered in the nineties, the case never solved and, to Salma’s ire, indefinitely closed . . . until she stumbles upon a dead body mid-tour, on the property where her sister once lived, at the precise scene of her sister’s demise. Even more uncanny: the deceased woman also looks like Tawney. The police are convinced this woman’s death was an accident—but Salma is haunted by the investigation’s echoes of her own past. What if this woman’s murder points to Tawney’s killer? Desperate to track down the culprit once and for all, Salma launches her own investigation, plunging back into the salacious but seductive world of Hollywood. And what she’ll find is that old secrets may just be worth killing for.

The Hurricane Blonde

How did you find the transition from your creative writing degree to writing your first novels?


After my first degree, my undergraduate degree in creative writing, I knew I was a writer but I wasn’t putting in the work. I assumed I would write a novel someday, but I think I assumed that eventually I’d just wake up with a full manuscript on my pillow some morning and be a “real writer.”


Eventually, I realized that wasn’t going to happen—you can be a writer your whole life and never write a novel, unless you actually sit down and do it. That was what led me to getting my master’s degree in writing—I wanted to spend time dedicating myself to the craft of writing a novel, and I had the privilege of getting to do that within a dedicated program. I wrote my first draft of my first novel while in graduate school…then spent the next two years rewriting.


Can you describe how you found your agent Sharon Pelletier and the ways that she helped you with The Hurricane Blonde?


I first queried Sharon with my novel, The Lady Upstairs, when I was fresh out of graduate school. She sent me back eight paragraphs of feedback, which was INCREDIBLE, but felt the work still needed significant revision before she could sign me. I was then lucky enough to get into an online mentoring program called PitchWars, where the incredible writer (and now my good friend!) Layne Fargo helped me make major revisions to the book over the course of three months. Like, hacked it apart, put it back together, spent a few days sobbing on the couch, type of revision. But that intense work did the trick, and I signed with Sharon.


With both of my books, Sharon has provided an excellent editorial eye, giving me notes on the manuscripts as well as encouragement. And with The Hurricane Blonde, in particular—written as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic—Sharon also did incredible support work, talking me through my book 2 anxieties and writer’s block. This book would not exist without her patience, encouragement, and focus.


What was the publishing process like for you? Was getting The Hurricane Blonde published any easier because it was your second novel?


With The Hurricane Blonde, the process actually felt really backward from my first book. We sold the book first, on proposal, to my publisher in the United States. That proposal included the first three chapters of the book and an outline for the rest of the story. Then, over the next two years, I wrote the book, going back and forth with my editor for feedback.


Getting the book published on proposal may have been an easier process than selling a finished manuscript on submission, but writing it was certainly not any easier. I’m also not a natural outliner, so writing an outline for a book I hadn’t yet written felt insane—and the plot changed a lot from the original pitch.


Did you take inspiration from any books, films or real-life cases when you were writing The Hurricane Blonde?


I absolutely did! There are many real-life Hollywood anecdotes that made it into the book, but even the fictionalized characters and stories are all based on real-life people and events. For Tawney, Salma’s older sister who was murdered, I took elements of the stories of Brooke Shields, Dominique Dunne, and other young women in Hollywood. For Cal Turner, Tawney’s ex-fiancé and a famous director, I took in a lot of stories about the extreme lengths directors will go to in order to secure a performance from their actors (think Hitchcock, or Werner Herzog, or others, especially Method directors).


I was also inspired by a lot of the Hollywood myth-making books that have been published over the years, including Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger. That book is inaccurate to the point of libel, but it’s also a really good example of the way that rumors could deeply impact careers and legacies in Hollywood.


Was this story always going to be told through Salma’s voice? I


always knew I wanted to tell the story through Salma’s voice. She occupies an interesting space within her family—the insider/outsider— that I thought would be really good for a reader. She could guide a reader through the extreme privilege, wealth, and fame of her family and circumstances, but still stand apart enough from them to see how corrupt everything was underneath.


Addiction is an important theme in The Hurricane Blonde. What was your aim when including this issue?


I had a couple of different aims in this. First, I wanted to explore a character who everyone thinks is an unreliable narrator because of her substance abuse—but in fact, she isn’t, or at least, isn’t any more of an unreliable narrator than anyone else is, since all experience is subjective. I also wanted to explore the underside of fame, and it seemed like addiction would be a good place to do this—imagine having all of your rock bottoms show up on a magazine cover the next day. It would be so hard to be a person under those circumstances.


I think there was a moment in the nineties/early aughts when it felt like tabloid papers and websites making fun of celebrities—especially young women, like Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan—were punching up by mocking their nightclub exploits or DUIs. But looking back, it’s so easy to see that they were really just kids. Maybe they were kids making bad decisions, or struggling with drug or alcohol—but most of us didn’t have to deal with our worst decisions becoming headline news.


Why did you choose to have a twenty-year gap between Tawney’s murder and the present-day story?


I wanted there to be an almost generational feel between the mysteries. I also knew that Tawney’s death was really the formative experience of Salma’s life, and that it had happened when she was still too young to really process it or deal with it (not that there’s ever a good age to process a loved one being murdered). I wanted to show the fallout from the event over the years, to see how much a murder can upend a life trajectory.


What do you think about the writers and actors being on strike in Hollywood?


I think writers and actors absolutely deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. Streaming has changed the game for everyone, and studios have been less than transparent in what this means for their business models, and what it means for revenue streams for the very people who make television and film possible. Pay writers!! Pay actors!!


Both of your novels are thrillers. Will you continue to write in that genre?


Yes, I believe so—I grew up loving mysteries and crime stories and think that will always be the real heart of the books I write. But who knows—life is long (hopefully!) and prone to change, so never say never.


Which books have been your favourites so far this year?


This year has already been a great one for books! I just finished Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott and absolutely loved it—nobody does modern noir like her. Her writing is just so beautiful, too. Yellowface by R.F. Kuang blew my face off—I can’t remember the last time a voice in a novel knocked me flat like that. I can’t stop thinking about that book. Finally, it’s not a thriller, but White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link was utterly beautiful and very moving. If I could take apart any writer’s brain to figure out how they craft stories, I’d choose Kelly Link’s brain every time. She’s incredible.


The Hurricane Blonde

Halley Sutton the author of The Lady Upstairs. A writer and editor, she is a Pitch Wars mentor and holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of California Santa Cruz, and a master’s degree in writing from Otis College of Art and Design.


Halley's Instagram: @halleysutton25


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