Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Interview with Jill Nelson - biography co-author with Jennifer Sugar
[Note to readers: This interview contains adult content.]
Welcome, Jill Nelson, to Reviews and Interviews!
What made you and co-author, Jennifer Sugar, decide to tackle the biography genre?
JN: This biography is a first book for both of us. The adult entertainment industry is a field that neither one of us knew anything about prior to embarking upon co-writing. It wasn’t something that I’d initially set out to do, or was even looking for, but when Jennifer extended me the offer to collaborate with her on this project, I jumped at the opportunity, partly because I knew that it would be a fascinating and engrossing world to explore. I also thought that there was a good likelihood we might even find a publisher.
Please tell us about John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches, published by Bear Manor Media.
It is the first and definitive biography on the world’s most famous (and infamous) male porn legend and pop culture icon, John Curtis Holmes. Presented as an oral history with narrative segments interspersed throughout, our 584 page book is an in-depth, unbiased, and balanced look at the late John Holmes and his entire life.
Inches includes interview quotes from over 60 people who knew John professionally and personally. In addition to being a biography that details all facets of Holmes’ turbulent life, the book also contains three photos sections (including rare frontal nudes), a 21-page filmography, 114 feature film reviews and 86 loops synopses, all watched and written by Jennifer and myself. John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches highlights John’s difficult childhood in rural Ohio, John’s film career, his connection to one of the most gruesome multiple homicides in California history (dubbed, the “Wonderland” murders), his murder trial, his two marriages, his relationships with his many mistresses and girlfriends, his career comeback and finally, his death from AIDS.
Inches is an ideal choice for discriminating readers who enjoy biographies, true crime, retro, and erotica. It is also a chronological account of the history of the erotic film industry. Our book definitely has something for everyone, even if you are not necessarily interested in the adult film medium.
What inspired you and Jennifer to write this book?
JN: Jennifer had gone to the movie theater to watch a film in 2003, but it was sold out. The film Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer in the lead role of John Holmes, was also playing, so Jennifer decided to go and see it since she’d heard her local radio station make the joke, “Our sets are longer than John Holmes.” Understanding the intimation, she was intrigued to see the movie that actually entails a robbery that John had helped to orchestrate in 1981, which led to the brutal murders of four people. John was addicted to cocaine and freebased at this stage in his life and career and he had fallen in with some unsavory characters. Wonderland is about that very dark period in his life.
After having seen the film, Jennifer was surprised to discover that there wasn’t a biography about John, so she decided to write it herself. Both of us were interested to learn more about John, the man, in addition to finding out about the specifics of the “Wonderland” or Laurel Canyon murders.
Interestingly, two years later, in 2005, my husband and I rented the film Wonderland and afterwards, I was also very curious about John, as a person, since the film didn’t shed much light on his personal life except that it revealed that John had been married for 19 years to a registered nurse, Sharon Holmes (played by Lisa Kudrow), and that he’d had a mistress at the time of the murders, Dawn Schiller (played by Kate Bosworth). The three seemed to be quite amicable so that really piqued my attention and interest. I began to do a little research about John online and discovered a forum for the film, Wonderland, where I first connected with Jennifer. We had not known one another previously.
About a month after participating on the forum, Jennifer offered to send me some interview transcriptions she’d done that were derived from several audiotapes John had made a few years prior to his death in 1988. (He had been planning to write an autobiography but died before he had a chance to finish it. John’s widow, Laurie Holmes, later finished the book and Porn King was published in 1998.)
Privately, Jennifer disclosed to me that she was writing the first and complete book about John Holmes. We continued to communicate together through e-mail and it was about a year after that when Jennifer (a biography and math major studying at MSU at the time) realized that the project was a monumental task and asked me if I would become her co-author. From the time of the book’s official inception in August 2004, it took four years for us to complete.
Did you enjoy the research process? What did it entail?
JN: We both very much enjoyed the research process as it enabled us to meet and interview many diverse and intriguing people -- mostly veterans of the adult entertainment industry such as Ron Jeremy; Johnny Wadd, creator and director; Bob Chinn; and John’s widow, Laurie Holmes, to name only a few. Also, we interviewed two former L.A.P.D. homicide detectives, Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson, who had been lead investigators on the Laurel Canyon murders and had actually arrested John in Florida in December of 1981, after he’d been on the lam for a period of about 5 months.
Over a four year period, Jennifer and I eventually interviewed 35 people in person, over the phone, and via e-mail, who had known John in various capacities throughout his life and career. The process meant that we needed to transcribe all of our interviews and then find a way to compile the information so that it would fit together in a compelling and concise format. We both wrote narrative segments that were incorporated into the story to help smooth out the transition between interview quotes.
In addition, because we wanted to ensure that the book would be comprehensive, between us, we watched over 200 of John’s feature films and loops, so that we could write our own reviews and synopses. We borrowed VHS tapes from directors in the industry, we watched VOD at various adult-related websites; we purchased some of John’s work on Ebay, and joined a website so that we could view a portion of John’s earlier black and white stag films, made mostly in the 1960s.
Prior to doing the research for our book, we found that John’s filmography at various websites was riddled with errors regarding years of film releases, cast lists, film titles, etc., so we worked diligently to generate the most current and up-to-date John Holmes filmography available anywhere. We accomplished this task by talking to some of the directors of the films we included in the book, but we also watched film credits to verify dates – it took some doing, but it was necessary and important to be as accurate as possible.
Jennifer and I e-mailed our chapters, our film reviews, and our filmography data back and forth, editing one another’s work until we were satisfied and knew that everything was complete. We also required permission(s) to use additional material and images in the book that were not our own. That part was a little bit stressful and took some time, but we were relieved when it all came together for us. People were absolutely wonderful -- right down the line. We are very pleased and proud of the finished product in every respect.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
JN: Probably the hardest part of writing the book was trying to separate fact from fiction, but we are confident that we were able to overcome this challenge to the best of our own or anyone else’s ability. John was notorious for spinning stories about his life and about his career and his stories generally involved numbers. He liked to embellish and inflate numbers, particularly when related to the size of his penis, the amount of films he’d made, and the number of women he’d slept with. We found that one of the key elements to creating a legend is that some stories improve with time and it isn’t always necessary or critical to try to corroborate each and every one of them, but we were pretty successful. In John’s case, he did, in fact, have an extremely large penis, he’d made over 1000 film appearances in a career that spanned 20 years, and he slept with thousands of women, so his legend has certainly outlived him and it will continue to do so for many years to come. He knew how to promote his asset by creating some of his own folklore, so it was a fun challenge to research some of the legendary tales and learn new ones along the way. We soon realized that John didn’t need to invent anything about his life, because it was already stranger and more incredible on many levels, than any fictional account could ever hope to portray.
Did you learn anything from writing your book? If so, what was it?
JN: I learned that John Holmes was a chameleon; he was a world class hustler, he was a ladies’ man and a gigolo, and he was a lot smarter than many people have probably given him credit. John was also talented artistically. He sculpted, he wrote beautiful poetry, and he liked to build and refinish furniture. He was a loving godfather to three children and he was a step-father to Laurie’s (his second wife and widow) son. He had many components to his character, but despite many of the negative things that John was involved in, mostly everyone we spoke to seemed to cherish some positive memories of John. He definitely touched and impacted several lives in own way.
I also learned that it was a very positive experience to be a co-writer of a book of this nature - a biography - because it allowed Jennifer and I to bounce ideas off of one another and also, offer support to each other when things got to be a little overwhelming or hairy. That didn’t happen often, but there were a couple of occasions when we needed to sit back and take a deep breath because there was just so much information to sift through and assimilate. Both Jennifer and I recognized, however, that we were working on something quite special and unique, so that really helped to motivate and propel us along the way.
The people we encountered throughout the process of working on this book were very helpful as they opened up their lives and memories to us. For many, their memories are bittersweet so we really appreciated their involvement and their encouragement of our project.
I’ve also learned that if a writer or an individual is passionate about an idea or a subject and believes that they can share a story with the world that is engaging, go for it and don’t let other people dissuade you from your dream or your idea.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
JN: We are currently working on interviews and research for a book that will showcase the ladies of the Golden Age of Adult films. While talking with people and conducting interviews for Inches, I had an idea that it would be interesting to learn more about the women who had decided to enter adult movies and perform in hardcore (real sex) scenes at a time when the XXX-rated industry was in its infancy stage, just after the onset of the sexual revolution during the 1960s.
We are currently talking to them about their childhoods and what had later inspired them to enter adult films, along with their years as actresses within the adult market. Also, we are learning about their lives and interests today and what they have been doing since their careers came to a close.
What ways have you found effective for promoting your book(s)?
JN: Jennifer and I have been somewhat fortunate that the adult media were interested in writing about our published work immediately after it was released. We had our book launch in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip on August 8, 2008 (John’s 64th birthday). Several people who write for adult publications were in attendance, in addition to many of the industry veterans and insiders. It was truly a great night.
I’d say that we have learned to embrace every avenue we can in order to promote our work because the media and book critics do not generally pursue published writers, unless the author is represented by a major publishing house. Then there are provisions in place for publicity and promotion built into their contracts. We have been proactive in pursuing contacts/media/reviewers that will hopefully pay attention to our work. We have done live radio interviews, blog talk radio interviews, and online interviews. We’ve done several book events and even travelled to Las Vegas to attend the Adult Entertainment Expo in January 2009, where we were at a booth talking about our book to fans of the adult genre who were in attendance at the Expo. We contact newspapers prior to our book events and request that they write a blurb, a piece or an article, and we have been fairly successful in that regard. We keep our website, our blog, our Myspace page(s) updated and also, we utilize Twitter and Facebook, to announce news and/or happenings.
Recently, we uploaded two of our live radio interviews to Youtube and set them to a montage of photos of Holmes, which has proven to be a great plug for us, because anyone who searches John Holmes on Youtube will eventually find our video-clip(s).
If a person can afford to hire a publicist, that’s always another added benefit. It’s very important to maintain the book’s profile and particularly, if you are an author of a biography, you’ve already got a built-in fan base to tap into, draw from, and build upon.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the audience?
JN: I’d like to thank anyone who has read John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches or who might consider purchasing our book after reading this interview. I’d also like to thank everyone who has favorably reviewed our bio so far – it is extremely gratifying.
I’d like to send kudos to my (extremely busy) co-author, Jennifer, for being instrumental in providing me with an opportunity to share my hobby with readers, in tandem with her talent as a writer. This experience has added a wonderful new layer to my life as we move ahead with another book in the works. At 52 years of age, I’d say that I am in the midst of a mid-life awakening. It’s fantastic.
For those of you who don’t know who John Holmes is, but would like to read a highly compelling and emotional story of the trials and tribulations of one man’s life, I’d like to encourage you to read our book. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you have a website where writers can learn more about you and your writing?
JN: At present, I don’t have my own website, but our book’s website is at: www.johnholmesinches.com where it can be purchased in addition to Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/John-Holmes-Life-Measured-Inches/dp/1593933029 or any other major online book retailer.
We have a blog for the book at: http://johnholmesinches.blogspot.com/ and we also have a myspace page for Inches at: www.myspace.com/johnholmesinches.
People can also look me up on facebook and again at myspace: http://www.myspace.com/jnelson4 - where I post regular blogs that mostly pertain to our work.
How can people to get in touch with you?
People can get in touch with me or with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time to answer my interview questions. I wish you the best with this book, and with your future projects.