English professor prepares to debut her first novel


Photo credit: Jorge Villa

Dr. Suzanne Gates is lecturing on Marilyn Monroe. She mentions that Monroe had several abortions during one of her relationships. A student comments out loud, “That is sad.”

Dr. Gates agrees and then transitions into Monroe’s relationship with former President John F. Kennedy. After playing a YouTube video of Monroe singing to the president, she then explains the significance of that relationship in American history and Monroe’s life.

Dr. Gates then comments that is it time to take a break and that class will resume in ten minutes.

As a professor, this is what the process of teaching is like. However, as a writer, Dr. Gates has another, dissimilar process.

Gates typically writes her book during the summer, four to five hours a day, and the rest of the day is filled with research.

“I love to research little nitpicky questions like ‘What did people in Los Angeles eat for breakfast in 1940?’ I search newspapers and magazines from back in the day, mostly advertisements, to see what kinds of breakfast foods were advertised,” Gates said. “That’s just one example of the details that have to be historically accurate when placing a story in a particular place and time.”

The story that Gates is referring to is “The Glamorous Dead,” a historical mystery novel set in 1940s Hollywood, California that follows a young woman who is accused of her best friend’s murder.

Both the young woman and her best friend were female extras on the set of a historically real movie: Preston Sturges’s “The Lady Eve.”

“(The) story blends history and fiction,” Gates said. “The murder is fiction, but the movie and most of the actors in the movie, like Barbara Stanwyck, are historical.”

Gates found inspiration for the book from looking through her mother’s scrapbook, which she kept in the 1940s. Gates’s mother had cut out pictures of movie stars and pasted them together in this scrapbook.

“I started thinking about the relationship that these girls had with the movies and with movie stars in the 1940s, and the more I researched, the more I found that a lot of women came to Los Angeles,” Gates said. “My book became partly a research project into what happened to those women and partly just getting to know my mom and what she was like.”

As far as balancing being a professor at EC with being novelist, Gates thinks that the balance is very hard to maintain.

“It is difficult being a writer and professor. When I think about my two jobs—writer and teacher—they seem similar, because I teach writing. Yet, I teach a kind of writing that is very, very different from what I write,” Gates said.

Due to being a full-time EC professor as well as a novelist, her time and energy is often focused on one endeavor instead of two or more.

“It took me six years to write ‘The Glamorous Dead,’ because my schedule only gives me time to write during summers. I don’t balance aspects of my life very well. I’m more the kind of person who goes all out on one thing, then all out on another,” Gates said.

EC Professor and author Suzanne Gates in the middle of lecturing about Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with former President John F. Kennedy. Photo credit: Joseph Sanker


However, colleagues of Gates, like EC English professor Inna Newbury, seem to think the opposite and are very awestruck at her ability to be both a professor and a writer.

“I find it amazing that she has always been so productive since coming to EC,” Newbury said. “Now her latest book is published. I honestly don’t know how she does it, because teaching, grading students’ papers, (and) responding to so many students in her online classes is enough to swamp the average professor. But not Suzanne.”

EC English Instructor, Tiffany Huynh, also shares similar sentiments and looks forward to reading the novel herself.

“I’d love this novel to be my first experience to noir literature,” Huynh said “I imagine reading the novel would be like sitting in one of her classes and experiencing the fascinations noir has to offer.”

“The Glamorous Dead” by Suzanne Gates comes out on Tuesday, Oct. 31.