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Beautiful Mess

February 22, 2017

Beautiful Mess

(American Book Fest)

Formats: Print, e-Book
Press Release: Click here to view

A fallen star. Four Los Angeles misfits. And the Marilyn Monroe you only thought you knew.

Del Corwyn is an aging relic. An actor who advanced from errand boy to Academy Award nominee, Del kept company with the elite of Hollywood’s golden era and shared a close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. Today, however, he faces bankruptcy.

Humiliated, Del is forced to downgrade his lifestyle, sell the home he's long cherished, and fade into a history of forgotten legends—unless he can revive his career. All he needs is one last chance. While searching through memorabilia from his beloved past, Del rediscovers a mysterious envelope, dated 1962, containing an original screenplay by Marilyn Monroe—and proof that she named him its legal guardian.

Del surges to the top of Hollywood’s A-list overnight. But the opportunity to reclaim his fame and fortune brings a choice: Is Del willing to sacrifice newfound love, self-respect and his most cherished friendship to achieve his greatest dream?

A story of warmth, humor and honesty, Beautiful Mess follows one man's journey toward love and relevance where he least expects it—and proves coming-of-age isn't just for the young.

  • A creative and fresh romp through one of pop culture's most notorious tales. John Herrick's characters become your best friends. His world is keen, compelling and excessively alive.
    Jeffrey James Keyes
    New York Times bestselling author
  • Beautiful Mess is an engaging work of fiction, a compelling and delicious 'what if' about one of the most celebrated and tragic figures in Hollywood history.
    Foreword Reviews magazine
  • Entertaining ... If you are in the mood for a quick read, this may be the perfect book for you.
    Bismarck Tribune

The Prince Meets the Showgirl

A prelude to Beautiful Mess

Published 2017

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M y Inspiration Behind Beautiful Mess

In 2010, I read a biography about Marilyn Monroe for pleasure. I had seen some of her films and loved them, but knew little about her. When I read that she had spent time—against her will—in a mental care facility, I was stunned. Imagine being fully functional and of sound mind, but losing your freedom through no fault of your own. I considered how frightened she must have felt, wondering if she would ever escape, pleading for someone to believe her. And all because she was misunderstood. Then I considered how such an experience might scar its victim. Would it change her perception of life? Would she grow paranoid of others, especially after those she trusted had betrayed her? As a creative individual, what might she find as a therapeutic activity to regain her confidence?

After all these years, I still couldn’t shake my horror behind her predicament. I remembered she was once married to author Arthur Miller, who, I was surprised to learn, wrote and co-wrote some of her films. I considered their familiarity with each other as spouses. Did she observe Miller as he wrote? Did she read his drafts or offer opinions? Did she learn from him as a creative force? In that light, the idea of a screenplay penned by Marilyn Monroe seemed plausible. The compelling nature of all those facts and questions led to the backstory behind Beautiful Mess.

Then came Del Corwyn, the main character. For American actors and actresses, it can become a stepping stone to better roles. For foreign actors and actresses, it can open the door to American film, which is considered the best and most successful in the world. But through the years, I’ve wondered about actors and actresses who receive Academy Award nominations—perhaps even win the statue—who immediately disappear from the box office. Think about it: Mercedes Ruehl, Juliette Binoche, and Jean Dujardin were all lauded after their wins. But when was the last time we heard from them? It was in this vein that Del Corwyn was born.

Discussion Questions

  1. To which character did you relate the most? Why?
  2. In Chapter 3, 4 & 10, Nora views herself as part of a continuum. Beautiful Mess treats one continuum—the art and evolution of film—as a microcosm of the continuum of life. It analyzes how random encounters in a large city can change lives across space and time. How do random encounters among the novel’s characters impact each other? How does young Del’s first encounter with Marilyn Monroe impact his life—and the lives of others—in the future? Can you recall a random encounter in your life that left you forever changed?
  3. How does Del mature over the course of the story? What lessons does he learn about life and career? How do Felicia, Tristan and Nora help him grow? How does Del help the other characters mature?
  4. In what ways to Del and Nora parallel each other? Del and Tristan? Del and Felicia? Nora and Felicia? In what ways do they contrast with each other?
  5. How do ambition, emotion, sex and religion drive Del? Or do they? How do these factors drive other characters?
  6. Nora’s pseudonym, Jumelle, means “twin.” In what ways is Nora Jumelle a modern incarnation, or “twin,” of Marilyn Monroe? In what ways do the actresses differ?
  7. Like her pseudonym, Nora’s birth name, Tasmyn, also means “twin.” In other words, although she changed her surname, she failed to escape her true identity. In what ways does Nora try to escape or alter her reality, both past and present?
  8. Although Del is drawn to Felicia, he alienates her in Chapter 60. They end their relationship. With respect to Del, is this the result of self-protection, self-absorption, or both? Del reflects on this separation in later chapters. How does his response differ from the way he might have reflected on past romantic encounters when the novel began?
  9. Both Felicia and Tristan provide guidance to others. How do these two characters differ in their approach, motivation and perspective? How do those factors end up preparing them—or not—for an emergency?
  10. William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Marilyn Monroe brought her public persona to her film roles, yet that persona did not necessarily match reality. Prior to reading Beautiful Mess, what was your perception of Marilyn Monroe? In what ways do we all perform for those around us? In what ways might we all constitute a “beautiful mess”?
  11. Do you have non-relatives you consider family? By the end of Beautiful Mess, in what ways might Del, Nora, Felicia and Tristan constitute a family? How do you define family? Do you have non-relatives you consider family?

Top 10 Songs the Day Marilyn Monroe Died (August 5, 1962)

#1 – Breaking Up is Hard to Do (Neil Sedaka)
#2 – Roses are Red (My Love) (Bobby Vinton)
#3 – The Wah Watusi (The Orlons)
#4 – The Loco-Motion (Little Eva)
#5 – Ahab, the Arab (Ray Stevens)
#6 – Speedy Gonzales (Pat Boone)
#7 – Sealed with a Kiss (Brian Hyland)
#8 – You’ll Lose a Good Thing (Barbara Lynn)
#9 – Things – (Bobby Darin)
#10 – The Stripper – (David Rose and His Orchestra)
(Source: Billboard)

Top 10 Songs the Year Marilyn Monroe Died (1962)

#1 – Stranger on the Shore (Acker Bilk)
#2 – I Can’t Stop Loving You (Ray Charles)
#3 – Mashed Potato Time (Dee Dee Sharp)
#4 – Roses are Red (My Love) (Bobby Vinton)
#5 – The Stripper (David Rose and His Orchestra)
#6 – Johnny Angel (Shelley Fabares)
#7 – The Loco-Motion (Little Eva)
#8 – Let Me In (The Sensations)
#9 – The Twist (Chubby Checker)
#10 – Soldier Boy (The Shirelles)
(Source: Billboard)

Chapter 9

During a business trip to Los Angeles in 2006, I grabbed lunch at a mall, where I noticed a scent bar with paying customers. I couldn’t believe my eyes. For the novel, I took the experience and tried to see it through Tristan’s eyes. He would have seen an opportunity.

Chapter 18

Although officials attributed Marilyn Monroe’s likely cause of death to suicide via barbiturate overdose, conspiracy theories abound, including the possibility of murder. Some murder theories include ties to John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, since Marilyn was romantically linked to the brothers. Others consider political motivations since Marilyn, like many celebrities, became a person of interest during McCarthyism. Such theories are, of course, unproven.

Chapter 25

After their divorce, Marilyn Monroe and her second husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, rekindled a friendship that lasted until the end of her life. DiMaggio was a key figure in obtaining Marilyn’s release from the mental ward and helped organize her funeral.

Chapter 47

Del asks Felicia to spend the night with him. I added this during the revision process. Considering Del and Felicia’s different lifestyles, I realized this was an issue that would have arisen between them, so I couldn’t ignore it.

Chapter 48

The cited facts of Marilyn’s life are true, based on her biography.The comments about her “my Jesus” figure are based on actual remarks alleged by a confidante, Lena Pepitone. During my research, I came across the quote via Donald H. Wolfe’s book, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe. Considering Del’s close friendship with Marilyn, I tried to create a similar conversation that might have occurred between them. It also seemed a fitting coincidence since Del would become romantically involved with Felicia, a minister.

Chapter 75

By the end of Marilyn Monroe’s life, she traveled by chauffer or borrowed her housekeeper’s car. In this chapter, however, I wanted to capture the characters in a convertible to symbolize a moment of freedom. I chose a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air. By 1962, the car would have been several years old, and Del might have afforded it as a secondhand purchase.

Character Names and Design

  • Del Corwyn – “Delbert” means “proud,” and Del’s pride has caused his financial issues, his dissatisfaction with life, and other personal issues. By coincidence, the name’s popularity was at its peak the year Del was born.
  • Nora Jumelle – I designed Nora as a modern-day parallel to Marilyn Monroe—in other words, how might Marilyn’s story unfold today? So I tucked away much symbolism in her name. “Nora” means “bright,” which is the way she appears to those who observe her, but Del and the reader discover the opposite. Also, “Nora” is one letter short of “Norma,” and “Jumelle” begins with the letter “J”. These parallel Marilyn Monroe’s birth name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. In the novel, Nora chose the pseudonym “Jumelle” because it sounded glamorous; unbeknownst to her, it means “twin,” which symbolizes Nora is a parallel to Marilyn Monroe. However, Nora’s birth surname is “Tasmyn,” which also means “twin”—and which symbolizes that, despite her attempt to change her identity, she cannot escape who she is.
  • Felicia Whitby – “Felicia” means “happy,” which symbolizes the joy Del sees in her. “Whitby” means “from the white farm,” and “white” symbolizes purity, that she is a woman of the cloth.
  • Tristan Albrecht – “Tristan” means “noisy”; “Albrecht” means “noble; intelligent.” As a wellness coach who hands out advice based on guesswork, he makes a lot of noise under the guise of insight. I tried to capture his craftiness and undeserved reputation in his pseudonym, Russell Merritt—“Russell” means “fox,” and “Merritt” means “little famous one.” He is well regarded by his clients, but in truth, he is small.

Marilyn Monroe’s Dialogue

During my research, I found a terrific book called Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words by George Barris. Barris was a photojournalist and one of the last people to interview Marilyn Monroe. That interview formed the basis for his book. Along with photos from their session and the journalist’s commentary, the book featured lengthy quotes from Marilyn as she told her life story in her own words. Because Barris conducted his interview in 1962, the year she died, but it also matched the time setting for Beautiful Mess. In other words, that was the way Marilyn spoke—literally—at that time. So I used her tone and word choices as cues to shape her fictional dialogue in my novel.

Subtitles for Parts One, Two & Three

These subtitles are film titles from Marilyn Monroe’s career, presented as if her career were a story arc itself. Each point in Marilyn’s career corresponds with the relative point in the Beautiful Mess story arc. A hidden nugget for her fans, the subtitles still hint at what will unfold in the novel.

As Young as You Feel was one of Marilyn’s earliest films and a minor role for her. It centers around a man who is young at heart but told he is too old for a career. That storyline resembles the disconnect between Del’s self-perception and his reality.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a film from Marilyn’s heyday, the midpoint of her career. This section of the novel captures Nora—a Marilyn parallel—as her star rises. The title also foreshadows the novel’s fictional Academy Award race: Nora is raven-haired; her competitor, Charlize Theron, is a blonde.

The Misfits was Marilyn’s final completed film. Not only does that title signal the final pages of Beautiful Mess, but it captures the quasi-family bond that has emerged. All four characters are misfits in their worlds: Del is a misfit in his life stage and career arc. Some of Felicia’s more traditional peers would frown upon her role as a female minister. Tristan is a life coach who lacks training or qualifications. And Nora struggles to find her place in an industry that adores her not for who she is, but for her portrayals of who she isn’t.

Excerpt 1

When Del wanted to relive the classic era in films, he’d grab lunch at a deli near Hollywood Boulevard. He wore short sleeves today, and the sunlight felt balmy against his tanned arms. Dodging locals and tourists, he strolled along the sidewalk and visited his friends, now immortalized through stars implanted along the pavement.

Several blocks from Mann’s Chinese Theatre, he slid away from the pedestrian traffic and toward the curb, where he stared at a specific star, the one he sought during each visit.

His star.

Delbert “Del” Corwyn, with a movie camera icon beneath it.


Excerpt 2

Del spun his attention toward the shops. As soon as he did, a young man who looked no older than sixteen slammed against Del’s shoulder as he flashed past him. Beyond the scent of cheap cigarette smoke, nothing registered in Del’s mind until the intruder had passed.

The young man tried to dodge another pedestrian, a female, but his impact with Del’s shoulder had caused him to lose his balance. After a few wobbly steps, he stumbled and fell, face first, onto Del Corwyn’s star. On his way down, the kid stuck out his palms, scraping his hands but protecting his nose, though Del swore he heard a crack when the kid’s knee hit the pavement. Had the little bastard gotten blood on his star?

Too stunned to move, Del gawked at the kid, who now grabbed one knee and writhed on the ground, his face twisted in a combination of frustration and pain. A group of tourists stood in the middle of the sidewalk, gawking at the sight. Locals detoured around the kid the way they would avoid an orange construction cone.


Excerpt 3

“You wrote a screenplay?”

Wide-eyed, Del ran his fingers across the crisp, white paper, a stack of sheets bound together by brass fasteners along its left margin. He was in his early twenties.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Marilyn Monroe replied with a staccato laugh. “I’m a woman of many wonderful traits.” Though thirty-six years old, she took childlike pleasure in his reaction. Innocent. She had exquisite diction, a byproduct of training with Natasha Lytess, her first acting coach.

“When did you write this?”


Subsidiary, foreign and film rights are available. If you are a publishing industry professional, feel free to contact John Herrick at represent(at)