Saturday, September 12, 2009

EVERY STORY HAS A HISTORY.

Please welcome my guest host for today, Pat Brown, author of LA Heat and Memory of Darkness


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.

Pat Brown

14 comments :

  1. While I read your post, I couldn't help wondering if you'll ever write your bio. What little snippets you've given, your life sounds fascinating, Pat. Best of luck with all your endeavours. When you want to come back and visit, let me know.

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  2. I can't see me writing an autobiography -- too many buried bodies. LOL. One of them might be mine if I started spilling secrets.

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  3. Are any of your characters based on real people, Pat? Do you ever worry that the person will find out?

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  4. None of my characters are based directly on real people, so if anyone thought they were, they'd be wrong. But so far, no one's ever thought anyone was.

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  5. Do you choose characters out of thin air? I've heard of writers choosing an actor to play the part, then going from there. Or they'll take a character from fiction or movies and adapt him for their work? I'm curious to how you do it, Pat.

    Good interview, Joylene.

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  6. Thin air or the depths of my mind. I'm not sure which is scarier. when I say I don't model my characters after people I know, it doesn't mean I don' watch people and traits I see or behavior or even dialog I overhear, will make its way into my books. One of the bars I went to all the time in L.A. served free pizza at happy hour and I'd go there and stay for several hours, drinking and eating and taking copious notes. I wrote down everything. The sad thing is I lost those notes years ago. It would have been a fascinating piece of my history if I could ever see them again.

    I very rarely put an actor's face on my characters. In fact if you look closely at the way I describe my characters I don't tie them down too much. I want readers to put their own faces on these guys. What you think is hot and sexy is going to be different that what I think, so when I describe Chris through others as beautiful or sexy, you impose your idea of what those things are onto him.

    One of the games I'm lousy at is when people want a writer to cast a book -- I can never think who would play these people. I'll toss out a couple of names, but none of them really fit.

    My characters grown organically. I don't write bios or elaborate histories, but in the end, I feel I know my people as well as if I had. That's why I love doing character interviews after the book is done. It adds a new dimension to them.

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  7. How did you feel when they put a face on the cover of LA Heat? Granted it is a pretty good looking face.

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  8. Do you mean Memory of Darkness? L.A. Heat doesn't have any human figures -- I wanted the L.A. stories to reflect their crime aspects over the relationship ones. I like the image on Memory of Darkness. It's how I describe him and fits. It's not perfect, but it's not bad and you can't deny he's hot. LOL.

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  9. Yes, I meant Memory of Darkness. It's terrific that they paid attention and found a model to match your description. That attention to detail means they appreciate the book. Kudos.

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  10. Sounds like a great book, Pat. Can't wait to read it!

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  11. I think it's fun. He's the kind of guy you like to read about or watch, but you don't want to meet. He'd be fun, but not for long. And when he left, he'd probably take the keys to your car with him.

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  12. Hi Neil. Thanks for dropping by. Yes, Pat's books are worth the wait. They're all great reads.

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  13. I'm just home again and getting caught up. Both your interview with Pat Brown and her own post provide an excellent look at what's behind her writing and publication process. Few non-writers really understand what goes into the production of a novel and Pat has spelled it out well. :)

    Carol

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  14. Thanks for dropping by, Carol. Yes, Pat is an inspiration to a lot of us weary writers.

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