Author Candice Fox typically sets her pulse-pounding thrillers in her home country, Australia. For her newest stand-alone novel, Gathering Dark, she’s chosen to write about the darker side of sunny Los Angeles. Today she’s joining us on the blog to talk about her experience traveling to LA and her fascination with the city.
By Candice Fox
I had three goals for my time in America. First, I wanted to call 9-1-1. Next, I wanted to be part of a crowd at some sort of dramatic incident or emergency, and to thrust out my arm and demand “Somebody call 9-1-1!”. Two different, yet equally important goals. Thirdly, I wanted to be pulled over by a highway sheriff, who would jangle his way up to my car in all his uniformed finery, at which point I would roll down my window, tip my sunglasses and smugly inquire “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
All three of those things were done in the first six months.
Not long after I arrived, I knew I had to write about Los Angeles. It stinks of crime in a good way. The way a writer wants. You have those small towns in American where the danger, is sleepy and sinister. Then you have LA, where you can close your eyes and throw a rock and you’ll hit a drug dealer, a bootlegger, a smuggler or a gang member operating in full view on any street corner. Where the manicured hills of Brentwood roll down into the dirty streets of Hollywood, where the distant mountains watch over it all, tall, proud, filled with unquiet ghosts. It’s where coyotes wait in million dollar driveways to cross the road, and surfers lug their boards into beachside bars, trailing sand.
I called 9-1-1 on a homeless woman standing in the middle of an intersection in Culver City swinging two hammers and screaming at invisible people. The operator sighed with exasperation at my polite request for police to attend the scene, like she thought a woman had a right to vent and swinging hammers at nobody was a victimless way to do it.
When an explosion rang out at the house across from where I was staying in the Hollywood Hills, I ran out of my house without my phone to join the crowd. My declaration was loud, dramatic, thrilling. Watching smoke pouring out of the little dilapidated house, I stood with neighbors waiting for a fire crew, who busted in the door with an axe. Hoarder house. The explosion had been spray paint cans shoved under the sink, too close to the oven’s pilot light. The chief fireman came out and declared to everybody that while he didn’t want to start any rumors in the neighborhood, he thought we should know that the absent owner of the house had a lot of dolls. “And they’re all naked,” the chief sniffed in disgust.
When I was finally pulled over, I was so intimidated by the highway sheriff’s jangling belt, his cold, dead Aviator gaze, and his long-legged stride to my car window that I barely squeaked out my one-liner when the time came. He pegged me as a tourist and gave me a toothy grin as he wrote me up for speeding.
The streets of LA ring with murders past. The sites of Charles Manson’s brief and bloody reign of terror is marked on tourist maps, and suburban houses light up at night cheerfully, the way they did for the Golden State killer, both Night Stalkers and the Grim Sleeper. These are the bright, sunny beaches where Toolbox killers Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker picked up their victims and carried them to their grisly ends. Before I left LA, I would contact Lawrence and learn about the motels he lived in here, the bars he frequented, the hillsides where I might still be able to find the bones of his victims, the ones the mountain cats hadn’t stolen away.
It only made sense to write about this place. Los Angeles doesn’t speak to writers. It screams.
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