L.A. is Gabriel Garcia Marquez on acid: book giveaway #2

I think Will Beall wrote one of the coolest pieces about Los Angeles that I’ve ever read. You can find it here, although I’m also posting the whole thing after the cut just to make sure it’s safely contained within my blog and doesn’t get away from me.

The guy who wrote it, Will Beall, also wrote a novel called L.A. Rex. (I’m giving away one copy of the hardcover novel. More on this later.) Beall is an English major turned Los Angeles cop who worked (is still working?) for the anti-gang unit in one of the most notorious areas of the city.

Q: Will, you went from English major to police officer in South Central; bit of a jump, no? How did it happen? (My writers and I are all English majors. Should I recommend them?)

A. I covered crime for my college newspaper at SDSU, The Daily Aztec, worked as a stringer for a couple of San Diego newspapers. I guess I was on my way to becoming a bad journalist. Then one of my classmates was murdered and I covered the story, tried to cover it anyway, and I got mixed up in the murder investigation. After that I decided solving murders would be a lot more satisfying than reporting them.

As far as you and your fellow English majors coming on the job: How fast can you run the forty? How much do you bench? And most importantly, can you keep your f—ing mouth shut? If the answer to those three questions is 1) I don’t remember, 2) I can’t recall, and 3) None of your goddamned business, then you may have what it takes to be a Los Angeles Police Officer.

Seriously, come out here and take the test. This is the best job in the world. You get to drive fast and carry a gun. And on your worst day on the job, you can still come home and look in the mirror and say, “People were suffering and I tried to do something about it.”

The rest of the interview can be found here.

As for the novel itself:

Beall tells a story that is obviously ripped from his days in the anti-gang units of South Central, L.A. — clearly those years left a mark on him…Beall offers up a blistering, never-before-seen glimpse into a hell you’re not prepared to endure. Even if I told you to get ready it would do you no good. (Richard Price had better get his game face on with Will Beall writing stuff this good.)

— you can find the rest of this review here.

(Plus my dad really, really liked it.)

So if you think you want it, email me at justinemusk@yahoo.com and I will put your name in my heart-shaped box and make the draw in the next few days (giving you latecomers to this blog entry a chance to get in the game).

And if you didn’t already check out the link to Beall’s piece above, please give it a quick scan right now:

L.A.: Life that art can’t imitate

Reggie the alligator is further proof: You can never make this city too crazy in fiction.
By Will Beall
August 20, 2007

So Reggie the alligator already has escaped once from his cell at the Los Angeles Zoo. Mark my words: No prison will hold him. He will escape again and steal a Ferrari Enzo.

This is what makes writing wild fiction about Los Angeles so hard. L.A. just won’t be outdone. This city feeds on phantasmagoria. It mocks magic-realism and one-ups even the most florid fabulation. This city conjures car chases, for instance, that send Jerry Bruckheimer quivering to his stunt coordinator in despair. It’s as though L.A. is a hoary old vaudevillian who refuses to be upstaged.

After park rangers first discovered Reggie two years ago — some kids were trying to coax the thing out of the water with tortillas — wranglers, wrestlers and problem-drinkers from across the country waded in to confront Lake Machado’s dark prince. They all walked away empty-handed, all except Thomas “T-Bone” Quinn, a mouthy guy in a Crocodile Dundee hat. Turned out he was a wanted fugitive, so Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies booked him on his warrant.

Reggie remained at large, perhaps feeding on the child molesters and sub-prime mortgage lenders who wandered too close to the water’s edge. Eventually, in May, some city workers lassoed him and duct-taped him up. Which was for the best. Let’s face it: Reggie is 7 1/2 feet long and 120 pounds, and he makes a lot of furtive movements. If it had been LAPD guys taking Reggie down, there would have been a video.

Reggie had his own noir back story worthy of a Warren Zevon song. The gator allegedly was dumped in the lake by an ex-L.A. cop. When the LAPD raided this dude’s pad, officers found six marijuana plants, three more alligators, a rattlesnake and piranhas.

Piranhas. I’m not kidding. The police department now has set procedures for piranha encounters, but if I let them nibble someone in my next book, people will tell me it’s just not realistic.

In my first novel, one of the bad guys keeps a trained jaguar in his Hollywood mansion. A lot of people — friends, critics, my editor — said the jaguar was over the top. But as I was writing it, sheriff’s deputies took down a Siberian tiger that was wandering the suburbs. The 350-pound cat allegedly had escaped the home of a Moorpark couple, but it might as well have materialized from a Vedic dream, like sacred perfumes coalescing into solid form. But how could I write a tiger into Simi Valley without sounding like Gabriel Garcia Marquez on angel dust?

Ditto a scene I stumbled on shortly after the Griffith Park fire. I was driving up Los Feliz Boulevard just before dawn. As I passed the Mulholland Fountain, a dozen coyotes with their forepaws braced on the rim solemnly dipped their muzzles to drink from it. The decorative lights had turned the water blood-red, and the scene had this air of ritual, like the coyotes were taking Mulholland’s communion.

At least the coyotes remember William Mulholland. We live on his stolen water, and we’ve punished our Prometheus by letting Robert Towne render him a pedophile in “Chinatown.” Maybe it’s Mulholland’s slandered ghost who’s placed this curse on L.A.’s fiction writers.

Michael Mann must’ve awakened it in 1995. In his movie “Heat,” a ruthless crew of bank robbers hold the entire LAPD at bay with automatic weapons in one of the most spectacular shootouts in cinema history. It was an audacious set-piece that strained audiences’ suspension of disbelief. Two years later, a ruthless crew of bank robbers held the LAPD at bay with automatic weapons in North Hollywood. The bank robbers supposedly had studied Mann’s film in preparation for their heist, but I suspect that there was more at work than life imitating art. I think the city’s alive, preening and jealous, and would not be outdone by an action movie.

Then there was the gruesome story that came out of a wildlife sanctuary just outside of town — a kind of retirement home for movie monkeys. St. James Davis and his wife, LaDonna, were there throwing a birthday party for Moe, a chimp they’d raised to wear children’s clothes and eat breakfast cereal. But they’d been forced to place Moe in this sanctuary after he’d blown a gasket, run amok in their neighborhood and bitten a cop. Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred represented the long-suffering Davises in an unsuccessful suit to free Moe.

At some point during the party — there was cake, maybe little hats too — a couple of Moe’s cellmates got loose and attacked St. James and LaDonna. The chimps ripped off St. James’ nose, plucked out his right eye and gnawed off his fingers and part of his foot. (There were heartbreaking rumors that one of the attackers was Bear from “B.J. and the Bear.”) Consider that for a moment: This guy had his face eaten off at a birthday party he threw for his incarcerated pet chimp. Now, if I put that in a novel, you’d say it was preposterous and gratuitously grisly.

Living in L.A., being a cop and a writer here, is something like being with a dominatrix. She calls you names, walks on your fingers with spike heels and you think, what part of this was supposed to be fun again? Then she kisses you.

I was at a homicide scene once when a flock of wild green parrots alighted in the jacarandas over the body. The little birds shook loose a wafting purple storm, anointing the dead gangster with jacaranda blossoms. I remember thinking the blossoms would mess up the crime scene. I also remember thinking: My God, I have to write about this.

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