baileyWhat made you want to write a book about the drinking habits of classic Hollywood stars?

We had published an earlier book about the drinking habits of famous American writers. This was in part because I was a writer who drank and because my creative partner—the wonderful illustrator Ed Hemingway—is the grandson of a very famous writer who drank. You can guess who that is.

The book was called Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Everyone seemed pleased with it, so we decided to do a follow-up book. Since I am also a screenwriter and had by then moved from NY to LA, we landed on Hollywood and its movie stars as the next area of exploration. It turned out to be a much bigger subject than we had anticipated—a lot of boozing has gone down in this town.

Since Lindsay Lohan’s life seems to be playing out like a campy made-for-cable movie these days (She ran over a pedestrian! She’s going to jail! Her family is insane!), it should have made sense that she was tapped to play Elizabeth Taylor on Lifetime.  Who else would they get? Kate Winslet? Instead, when the news broke the Internet lit up with snarky speculation and gleeful derision. Then, months later, the reviews started popping up. Everyone from the Hollywood Reporter to Huffington Post urged us to watch this train wreck of a biopic and cackle until our abs ached. The reviews promised a Mommie Dearest “so bad it’s good” kind of flick. They told us to play drinking games. They said we’d have a great time. They set us up.

If there’s something  Jess Walter can’t do as a writer, I’ve yet to encounter it. He can craft plots for detective novels, wax poetic and profound on any number of topics, tackle topics from the election of 1980 to 9/11, and just plain crack you up. His last novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, was riotously funny but also disturbingly serious, leaving me with knots in my stomach for days afterward (it also inspired my first TNB interview). Beautiful Ruins, his latest and perhaps his most ambitious offering, is, simply put, the result of a novelist working at the height of his powers.

Jess was kind enough to answer some of my questions: