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Jordan Okun writes from the belly of the Hollywood beast

September 13, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • Jordan Okun and his debut novel, "L.A. Fade Away."
Jordan Okun and his debut novel, "L.A. Fade Away." (Touchstone / Simon & Schuster )

Jordan Okun's new novel, "L.A. Fadeaway," follows an unnamed narrator through his wildly ambitious exploits at a high-powered Los Angeles talent agency. He's the son of a Hollywood power broker, so he can afford to start as a mailroom guy in an expensive suit and penthouse apartment; he can also screw up pretty badly and count on getting away with it. There are drugs, sex, brand names -- think Sammy Glick combined with a less homicidal Patrick Bateman.

The book was published by Touchstone on Tuesday; Okun reads at Book Soup on Friday at 7 p.m. We asked him about writing about Hollywood.

Jacket Copy: You worked at a major talent agency; your novel portrays the world of major talent agencies in a pretty unflattering light. Are you worried that you’ll never work in this town again?

Jordan Okun: No, not at all. In fact, most agents who have read it really love the book. We’ve gotten an extremely positive response from many people throughout the industry; be it agents, producers, directors, actors -- everyone gets it. They understand it’s a bit of a funhouse mirror version of reality, that it’s a distorted, hyperbolized view of the world. I’m thrilled -- and I guess relieved -- they enjoy it as much as I do.

JC: Have you ever read “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” Julia Phillips’ Hollywood expose? If not, were there any Hollywood books that served as touchstones for you?

JO: I haven’t read Julia Phillips’ book and I don’t know why. I mean, she produced “Taxi Driver” -- I really need to read it. Peter Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” was a huge influence. The narrative he was able to weave through a nonfiction world had a significant impact and led me toward attempting to create fiction within an environment that felt real. I’m also a fan of David Rabe’s plays “Hurly Burly” and “Those the River Keeps,” as well as “High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Success.” That one is a freight train. There’s something appealing to me about high-functioning, devastatingly flawed, but creatively inspired characters.

JC: Your unnamed narrator is an arrogant, drug-taking, womanizing, ambitious, manscaping industry scion with the morals of a Gila monster. But do you kind of like him?

JO: He is morally corrupt, but I do like him. I admire a lot about him. His ambition, his drive to succeed, his strength in an isolating landscape are all qualities I believe shine through, despite his obvious character flaws.

JC: Although your narrator is not named, everything else is: directors, five-star restaurants, fashion brands, cars and stars. Can you talk about how those things work to build character and setting?

JO: Beyond how damaging I think it is for characters to experience fulfillment through empty, materialistic symbols or markers of success, I think the devil is truly in the details; maybe even a bit too literally for some people. This actor, that project, what location -- it’s an obsessive industry by nature. But it’s necessary; it’s an integral part of the business at the highest level. Those who get it right succeed. Those who don’t -- especially at the assistant level -- and, for example, accidently send an important client to the wrong meeting ... forget it, they’re toast. I saw it happen all the time. So, yes, the characters are detail-obsessed because it made sense, creatively.

JC: After working in Hollywood, what about writing fiction appeals to you?

JO: What I love about movies and television are the stories, the rare, sharply rendered, entertaining narratives we’re lucky enough to experience. A lot of times, when you’re working inside Hollywood, you’re forced to compromise your taste for the benefit of a steady paycheck. And that’s fine, that’s almost everyone, I’ve done it for years, and will do it again; I don’t consider it selling out, it’s just reality. Whether it’s representing a commercially successful TV writer who creates shows you have no interest in, or helping develop films you would never see outside the office, it’s just the price of being in the business. So, the pleasure I derive from writing fiction, especially with novels, where I have an abundance of creative freedom, is my chance to be uncompromised, to create exactly what I want.

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