The bohemian salons and wild cabarets of 1920s Paris are just the place for Owen Matthews to pursue his writing and make the right connections in the literary scene. But six years after leaving Los Angeles and the love of his life, he still strives for success. Penning a new screenplay for his friend’s film might just help keep the lights on a bit longer in the City of Lights.
Iris Wong is used to sacrifice and rejection as an Asian-American actress. She’s determined to take full advantage of her new leading role in a Parisian silent film—and the director’s romantic interest in her. Playing the game almost guarantees she’ll be able to break through the industry’s racism and become the silver screen star she’s dreamed of being since she earned her first nickel as a Hollywood extra.
by Pema Donyo
Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors
Pema Donyo lives in sunny Southern California, where she balances plotting her next novel and watching too many Bollywood movies. Find Pema Donyo at https://pemadonyo.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @PemaDonyo.
An excerpt from Stars in Their Eyes:
Los Angeles, California
Iris laughed at the driver rolling by in his massive Model T. The middle-aged man shook his fist through his open window as he drove past, exhaust smoke fuming behind his machine. The road expanded ahead of him as clear as day—he had plenty of space to move down Figueroa Street.
A tug on her left hand snagged her attention once again, and she turned her attention back to Owen. He looked toward both sides of the road, then led the way as they crossed the street lined with palm trees. The smell of lye wafted from the entrance of her father’s laundromat. She bet if she pressed her nose against her cotton chemise, she could still inhale the scent of fresh soap.
Owen stepped ahead of her, guiding her hand forward. His pressed trousers were cuffed at the ankle, stain-free, beneath his white oxford shirt. She would have been amused at the formality of his outfit under normal circumstances, but they were about to see a film. And it wasn’t just any film. It was hers.
A stiff breeze sent a chill up her spine as they headed toward the shade of the ticket box and out of the late afternoon’s dull heat. Owen asked for two tickets to The Red Lantern. The man at the ticket booth peered at Iris, who stood behind Owen’s shoulder. The man frowned. At the beginning of her relationship with Owen, she used to pretend the looks were because she had something on her face or she had worn the wrong hat with her dress. It wasn’t because of the shape of her eyes or the shade of her skin. Owen handed her a ticket, and she squeezed his hand.
“For the future star of the screen, Iris Wong.”
“Not yet,” she said. There was a certain intensity in his gaze that made her cast her eyes downward.
She held her breath during most of the film, waiting for the right moment. Each scene lay between title cards, a black screen with white type explaining what was happening. The pianist below the stage played a soundtrack to accompany the movie, turning his sheet music to the next page every so often.
With each title card passing and each new scene beginning, she edged toward the end of her seat a little more. It was always possible the studio had cut out her scene. And then—there! Her image appeared on the screen, before everyone in the audience to see. The scene was set in an ancient kingdom. Multiple extras crowded the street to await the opening of a palace gate. She stood as one of the lantern bearers, one of only five carriers flanking both sides of the gate. The gate opened and the actor stepped out. Then the camera angle panned to a different location, and she was no longer within the frame. But she had been seen. For the first time, she would be on multiple cinema screens throughout America. A bubbling sense of anticipation filled her chest.
This was the beginning; she was sure of it.
She turned to Owen. When she’d told him about the role, he insisted they see it together. Every time she became discouraged about an audition, he encouraged her to try again. Without him, her dream would have stayed just that: a dream.
“I made it,” she whispered.
He nodded and reached for her hand. “Right where you belong.”