Tuesday, 6 August 2013

LA Noir

This week I've handed my blog over to Stephen Jay Schwartz, a guy whose novels have been steadily climbing Mount to be Read.

            Our distinguished host, Graham Smith, asked me to discuss the challenges of setting a detective novel in Los Angeles, where such established greats as Connelly, Crais, Parker and Kellerman already set their dramas.  I must admit, in retrospect it seems like a daunting endeavor.  How can I think I have anything new to add to a world that has been so well-described in both fiction and film?  I wonder if our current Noir masters had this same hesitation, wondering if their perspective of the L.A. landscape rose to the expectations of such authors as Chandler, Cain, Dorothy B. Hughes, Westlake, Jim Thompson, and even Nathanael West. 

            Fortunately, I had ignorance and naivete on my side.  I was a first-time author when I penned Boulevard, my novel about an LAPD Robbery-Homicide detective chasing bad guys and personal demons while struggling with his own sex-addiction.  I wasn't a big L.A. Noir reader at the time - in fact, the only real mystery/crime/thriller novels I read were the works of Jim Thompson.  I read mostly 20th Century American fiction, particularly Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald and the like.  I'm also a huge fan of the Beat Generation writers - Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.  Throw a little Charles Bukowski in the mix and you've got my palate. 

            So, the truth is that I didn't know enough about Los Angeles Noir to be intimidated.  I didn't even know I was writing L.A. Noir.  I was just writing a little character piece about a man who was getting squeezed from all sides.  A homicide detective who discovers that a rash of recent murders are in someway connected to him, and that the killer has been stalking him in his twelve step meetings for Sex Addicts Anonymous.  My protagonist faces a difficult question:  Does he reveal his connection to the killer and risk losing the case and possibly his job, or does he keep his secret hidden while he pursues the killer, at the risk of others getting hurt along the way?  We discover that his addiction is stronger than his will to do good, and he keeps it under wraps.

            Los Angeles is the setting for this story because Los Angeles is where his addiction is born.  He became a sex-addict by cruising the boulevards - Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard - where he picks up prostitutes to satisfy his desires.  Los Angeles became a character in the book, and places such as the fictitious Coral Reef Motel become the detective's associate and confidante, described in passages such as this: 

            The two-story hotel sat like a dirty old heroin addict nodding slowly, as if recognizing Hayden from a hazy night they'd shared long ago.  The second-story windows had yellowing shades pulled half-mast like drugged-out eyes squinting at the streetlamps.

            I believe the stories that can be told of L.A. are endless.  The truth is that there are a thousand different L.A's.  Everyone who lives here experiences a different, unique perspective.  My L.A. takes place in the dark shadows of Hollywood and it focuses on a very specific experience.  Connelly's Harry Bosch, while canvassing the same landscape and even working from the same office, the Robbery-Homicide Division in downtown L.A., experiences a different L.A. from my own Hayden Glass.  Stories are driven by their characters, and a well-drawn character experiences a different, unique environment from anyone else.  I believe Los Angeles can sustain as many stories as their are storytellers, providing that the storytellers present a character whose vision of their world is original and believable.  I continue to read new, innovative authors who prove this to be true; authors like Christa Faust, Tom Epperson, Tim Hallinan, Eric Beetner, Robert Ellis and many more.  There's enough going on in the City of Angels to keep us all afloat for the next two millennium. 
Stephen's author pages are listed below along with his website and bio.

Los Angeles Times Bestselling Author Stephen Jay Schwartz spent a number
of years as the Director of Development for filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen
where he worked with writers, producers and studio executives to develop
screenplays for production. Among the film projects he helped developed
are Air Force One, Outbreak and Bicentennial Man.

His two novels, BOULEVARD and BEAT, follow the dysfunctional journey of LAPD Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass as he fights crime while struggling with his own sex-addiction. The series has been optioned by Ben Silverman (producer of The Office, Ugly Betty, and The Tudors) for development as a television series.

Stephen recently finished writing GRINDER, a 3D action-thriller for HyperEmotive Films and Venture3D at Sony Studios.

Stephen is currently writing a third book in the Hayden Glass series. He can be reached via his website - www.stephenjayschwartz.com