Monday, April 26, 2010

Writing the Historical novel

I have always written, and for the most part, read, contemporary crime fiction books. But following a documentary on the History Channel, I got it in my head to try my hand at an historical novel set in my favorite city: Los Angeles. What triggered it was the intriguing idea of the speakeasies in L.A. during Prohibition being run by the LAPD. How the LAPD didn't keep the city free of organized crime to safeguard the citizens of L.A. but to protect their own position as the overlords of their city. Los Angeles didn't have the kind of organized gangsters cities like Chicago were plagued with, instead the LAPD colluded with City Hall and local businessmen to run the cities gambling joints, whore houses and speakeasies.

The corruption went all the way to the top. Both the Chief of Police and the Mayor were part of the syndicate that ran the city. Such a colorful history just itched to be written about. I had always wanted to write a true noir story, about seemingly irredeemable characters and a corrupt cop seemed perfect. So Billy Brewster was born. A Southern cracker who came to L.A. a very young man, joined the LAPD and rose in the rank as a bagman, enforcer and hit man for his boss, the Chief of Police. We meet him in the very first pages taking care of business in the form of stopping an east coast mob man from bringing his Chicago crime syndicate to town. Billy's idea of justice comes at the end of his sap and his .38.

But Billy meets a society lady, Madeleine La Rue who has some secrets of her own and the two are drawn into an unexpected relationship that takes Billy to places he's never been before.

Once Billy and Maddy were in place, the story took off. I spent month digging up facts about Prohibition, flappers, speakeasies and rum runners. The more I dug, the more fascinated I became. I immersed myself in the 1920s. Watched old silent movies or more modern movies about that time period like The Changeling, which deals with exactly the kind of corruption in the LAPD I was writing about. I found a radio station I could listen to online that played the music of the 20s so I could immerse myself in the kind of music my characters would listen to. I researched the movie stars of the day, and the way their scandals were kept covered up by collusion between the very powerful studios and the LAPD, how the blatant publish hypocrisy of the day fueled a nation that preached Godliness and purity but drank bathtub gin and went to speakeasies to Charleston to the sounds of black musicians who weren't allowed to go to the clubs they played at.

Los Angeles in the 20s and 30s was a virulently bigoted city. It sold itself as 'the last best white spot' in America and prided itself on keeping out undesirables, which included just about everyone who wasn't WASP. This included being extremely antithetical to organized labor, a measure that was fully supported by the L.A. Times a very anti-union paper who supported union busting and open shops throughout Southern California, in stark contrast to Northern California where labor was strong.

All in all, I found the time too fascinating not to write about and from that came Color of Shadows and Smoke, a 97.600 word noir historical that I am in the process of revising and will soon be shopping around to agents.

To read an Excerpt

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