Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ava, Frank, O.J., and me

For me, inspiration is the juice that you get from an experience that leads you from where you were a minute ago to someplace bigger, deeper, more intense. It doesn't necessarily have to be a good or positive experience.

Inspiration, for sure, can be a cliché: the beach at sunset, reading a poem about roses, listening to 'Light My Fire' on your headphones.

I find tremendous inspiration in the city of Los Angeles, and that's why I set one of my mystery series there, starting with THE ACTRESS. Oh, God, the pace, the energy, the history of it all---glamour, crime, innovation, disaster, sex, rags to riches to rags.

I lived on the West Coast for 17 years, and have spent lots of time in L.A. It's an infuriating place---all those people trying to drive on the same road you are, the asbestos-like smog, the on-the-makeness, the crime (which is just a particularly lousy way to be on the make), the poison oak in Griffith Park.

But! How sublime is the epicenter of American culture! Arguable? I simply say: the movies, custom cars, surfing, Watts Towers, and the weather.

[I took the above photo at the Griffith Observatory. Love that Greek key detailing.]

When I was in university, I got into reading Joan Didion, whose writing about L.A. I admired so much: so incisive, so caustic, so elegiac. Yes, somehow L.A. died for Joan, and she moved to New York, the next best thing.

Well, L.A. sure isn't dead for everybody.

One of the most intense experiences I've had in Los Angeles was in the summer of 1995, when the O.J. Simpson murder trial was saturating the city like creosote on a wharf piling. I flew into LAX and boarded the rental car shuttle bus, en route to a business meeting. The driver, a broad-shouldered black guy, greeted each of us with a cold stare. Once seated, I realized that the bus radio was tuned to the live broadcast of the Simpson trial. Every single passenger on that bus was white. We were all these little white businesspeople with our briefcases, and he was this stone-silent black guy with his hands gripping the wheel, and we all listened to the trial together, without anyone uttering a word, for the ten-minute ride to the car lot.

More recently, I was invited to dinner to a house in the Hollywood hills. My friend, an actor, and his wife were house- and dog-sitting for a director they knew, and they wanted some company, and I was in town. So my companion and I drove up those narrow twisting streets, and found our friends in an aerie above the city with purple evening coming on. The house had this tremendous aura of swank, with warm maple wood floors and ten-foot-high chiffon drapes screening the narrow deck. I remarked on a framed photograph of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra on a wall.

"Oh, yeah, Ava used to own this place," I was told. "The current owners keep that picture."

Immediately my glamour glands started to pump, and I smelled the lipstick and the spilled Scotch and the cigarette smoke, and the split-level house came almost alive. We drank wine in the billowing sensuous privacy of the deck. The wind picked up and night came down, and we talked and laughed about a thousand things.

I'm looking forward to being in Los Angeles this weekend (Writer's Digest conference) and the next (workshops sponsored by Kleis TV). Details at my web site. It would be great if you could join me.

Is there a particular place that gets your creative juices going?

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  1. Elizabeth, I have a friend who is a professor at University of Tampa and we are currently writing a novel together and meet up every Thursday to work on it. Today I took a trip to the college with her to make photo copies for her writing class before we got down to business. I have lived in the Tampa area for 41 years but today was the first time I ever stepped foot on UT's campus. I've passed by it in the car a thousand times and I've always admired it's beauty from the outside. I was treated to a tour of the school by my friend and I found myself completely overwhelmed by the interior of it. The history, the pictures, the ceilings, the moldings, the furniture, the sconces, the chandeliers....... right down to the locks and door knobs!! I left feeling chocked full of inspiration to write our novel. Today we worked on character building. I find myself using the advice and techniques from your book constantly. I will have to remember to thank you on The Tonight Show when our book hits it big and makes it to the big screen one day :)

    1. Gosh, that sounds wonderful! I live in Bradenton but haven't visited the UT campus. Best wishes on the novel. Am so glad YGABIY is helping. I'd be grateful if you passed the word about it. Anyway, would you keep me posted on that fiction project? I've never co-authored a novel.


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