Every story has a history. Some spring full blown into existence, like Medusa from the head of Zeus in Roman mythology. Others 'grow in the telling', like Tolkien said about the Lord of The Rings, which took him something like twelve years to complete.
Memory of Darkness, released from AmberQuill Press earlier this month, took twenty-nine years to be born. For any women out there, that's a hell of a long gestation period. To continue the birthing analogy, Johnny Wager, the protagonist of the story, had his conception in the somewhat seedy bars of Hollywood. If it had been back in Prohibition, he would have been born in the gin joints, in between pails of lager and cigarette smoke. Oh, and free pizza.
Two of my favorite male TV characters back then were Jim Rockford of the Rockford Files and Al Monday of It Takes a Thief. Both featured good-looking rogues who skirted or broke the law outright, sometimes with good reason, sometimes just because they could. Rockford was an ex-con whose days in prison created a dark cloud over him. I'm not sure we ever learned the full story of those years, whether the sentence had been just or he'd been framed. Al Monday, played by the always sexy Robert Wagner, was a master thief. A cat burglar with such extraordinary talent he had been 'recruited' – read blackmailed – into working for some shady government organization.
In 1978 I moved to Los Angeles, carried by the dream of writing screenplays. With a handful of carefully typed out speculative TV scripts for such shows as Starsky and Hutch I caught a Greyhound bus. Now this was in the days before computers. I think I had an electronic Smith-Corona typewriter, with a correction tape to overwrite errors (if you caught them in time) and messy ribbons that had to be changed by hand. Don't let anyone talk to you about the good old days. I hand wrote everything in those days, only creating a final draft at the end. So those hard copies were not to be taken lightly. To replace them or change them was a pain.
I quit my job, sold everything I owned, and with about two thousand dollars at my disposal I bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood. The trip was without stopovers, the only time I left the bus was at various rest stops where we'd had maybe an hour to stretch our legs and grab a drink. I arrived in downtown Los Angeles at eleven o'clock at night. I hadn't made any plans for my arrival, all I knew from my reading was that I had to stay away from the 'strange' men who might talk to me when I got off the bus. They had nefarious plans for me and my innocent Canadian body. I managed to find an all women's hotel and soon after found an apartment in, wonder of wonders, Hollywood. Boy, did I get a fast lesson in reality versus, er, Hollywood. They never showed this on the TV screen. Not back then when all the streets were clean and the corner hookers looked like runway models. These days cop shows seem to compete to be grittier than the next.
But I was young, indestructible and eternally optimistic. Within a month of arriving I had an apartment, a favorite bar and a boyfriend. I met the boyfriend in the bar and that's where we spent most of our time. I was a heavy drinker back then. And a pack and a half a day smoker. But I was a WRITER and by God I was going to change the world.
I took a screenwriting course and we had to develop a concept, and a storyline. Johnny Wager was conceived then. An ex-con, wrongly convicted, abused in prison, bitter and with the world against him when he got out. He had a nemesis in a bad cop who would do anything to put his ass back in jail. He hung out in sleazy bars (gee I wonder where that came from) and got hassled by the cops all the time and he was pursued relentlessly when he was accused of a murder he didn't commit. And he was straight.
Speaking of being hassled by cops. I had a couple of run-ins with the LAPD in those days. Once while driving around with a black male friend we were pulled over. We had committed the cardinal sin of Driving-while-black, a recognizable misdemeanor in L.A. back then. Driving-while-black-with-a-white-female was a felony. My impression of the LAPD in those days was not a high one. My last major encounter with the boys in blue occurred one night in our favorite bar, The Frolic Room, on Hollywood and Vine, where I was friends with most of the bartenders and regular clientèle. A rough clientèle as I remember. A group of them had gone across the street to another bar and beaten the crap out of some people. They fled back across the street and hid in the back room. Within half an hour a swarm of heavily armed LAPD cops showed up. They had riot guns and full SWAT team regalia and bad ass attitudes and I fell in love. I think that was the day I became a cop groupie. Wager was born back then, but so was David Eric Laine of the L.A. stories. Maybe even hard ass Spider of Geography of Murder. They all had their genesis in those eight years.
My screenwriting days ended without an Oscar, or even an Emmy, and Johnny Wager went on the shelf and I went back to writing novels. In those days I wrote Science Fiction and for the next twenty years that's all I did. Eight unsold books later I grew tired of SF and tried my hand at mysteries. The first book I wrote was L.A. Heat, which got me my first agent and my first book sale in 2006. I followed that with three other L.A. books, and Geography of Murder. But Johnny Wager was always there, lingering, some might say, festering. Some characters are like that, they develop a life of their own and the only way to deal with them is to give them a voice.
Wager went back to the drawing board. Since I write m/m stories I knew he would now be out of the closet. He would be a rogue, sexy, larcenous and a rampant horndog. He would need to be accused of a horrendous crime. Murder, of course. I knew he had a checkered past, so he ended up with an ex-wife, a record for Grand Theft Auto, drug dealing, and burglary. The Armenian mob he tangled with came out of my research into Los Angeles gangs. Oh, and out of his marriage, a son. Now pretty much all my stories have cops in them, and this was no exception. It was only a small step to realize that Wager's son would be that cop. Since I'm not a cop, I think Wager reflects me and my experiences more than any of my other characters. I'll let you read the book to see what that might mean. :-) A few of my L.A adventures are paraphrased in there. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which ones.
Writing is fun. Writing characters like Johnny Wager is pure joy. I confess I fall in love with men like him. Hmmm, maybe that explains my single state. But if I can't have them for real, I can have them in my life for the time it takes to write their story.
So come along, follow the adventures of my favorite rogue in Memory of Darkness and relive my Hollywood years along with me.
And come along soon for the next L.A story, L.A. Boneyard.