Since 1988, I've published 22 novels, most of which have been set in Los Angeles. I lived in L.A. for only twelve years. It's such a good location for thrillers that I've kept going back to it, if only in my imagination. My latest book, Grave of Angels, is probably the last one I'll set in that city.
There are undeniably good things about L.A.—the balmy climate, the postcard scenery, the mélange of cultures, the exciting nightlife and endless entertainment options, and the urban-village atmosphere in many parts of town. But when I think of L.A., I think of the film industry and its cruelty.
True, some aspiring film professionals move to L.A. and prosper. But many more move there and suffer. The suffering is of two kinds: the pain of failure and the pain of success.
The pain of failure is easy to understand. L.A. is crowded with people who were the prettiest and most popular folks in their hometowns then they come to Hollywood and discover they're just another pretty face in the crowd. Or they come armed with a film degree, as I did, only to learn that every busboy and restroom attendant has the same credentials, not to mention a student film and a screenplay.
Rejection and frustration take their toll, but the pain of success can be harder to deal with. There's a reason why so many entertainment big shots end up with their drug dealer on speed dial or running through ex-wives the way regular people run through paper towels. They face the constant pressure of being in the spotlight, with every failed romance, failed film project, and failed diet subjected to gossipy scrutiny. Coupled with this is the certainty that the spotlight sooner or later will be turned off.
Achieving your life's ambition is overrated; once you've got it all, there's nothing left to strive for. Los Angeles has a way of swallowing up eager people and crushing their fondest hopes. It doesn't always happen, but it happens often enough.
In some ways, that's what Grave of Angelsis about. Los Angeles may be a dreamland for a few, but it's a vast graveyard of innocence for most. At least that's my rather jaundiced take on it, and it's a view shared by my protagonist, Kate Malick—a Carmelite nun turned personal security consultant to the stars, who must pull out all the stops to rescue self-destructive starlet Chelsea Brewer from a brilliant psychopath.
In L.A. everything is larger than life: the egos, the craziness, the costs, the stakes, even the traffic jams. It wears you down and burns you out. And after more than twenty years of writing about it, I think I've finally gotten it out of my system. At least for now.