By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
MICHAEL VENTURA was born in Brooklyn in 1945, and moved to Los Angeles in 1978, after a stint in Texas as arts editor of the Austin Sun. A founding staff member of the Weekly - he left the paper in 1993 - he is perhaps best known for his column, "Letters at 3 AM," which continues to appear in The Austin Chronicle. Since arriving in California, Ventura has worked in a variety of formats, writing the screenplays for Roadie and Echo Park, and collaborating with psychologist James Hillman on a book entitled We've Had One Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse. In the last several years, he's devoted his attention increasingly to fiction, producing a series of novels, the most recent of which is The Death of Frank Sinatra.
DIANA WAGMAN grew up in Washington, D.C., where she began her career as a writer working on political-campaign commercials. Eventually, she says, "I decided that if I was going to write fantasy, I might as well write real fantasy," so she moved to Los Angeles as a screenwriting fellow at AFI. Although Wagman has had a few screenplays optioned, with the recent publication of her novel, Skin Deep, she jokes, "I may never write a screenplay again." Astonishingly, Skin Deep is Wagman's first attempt at fiction; prior to it, she had never even tried a short story, and she still says, "I don't know anything about what I do." Now, however, she is 100 pages into a new novel, and circulating two stories written since completing her book. "I wanted to write about beauty," she says of Skin Deep. "Beauty is something I've always been interested in, because everything we say is filtered through how we look." Living in L.A. has only heightened her fascination because of what she sees as the city's desperate side. "Not long after I got here," Wagman remembers, "I met a woman at the grocery store who had to be 70, but she told me she was 40. I thought, Well, then, how old am I?"
BRUCE WAGNERfirst gained attention as a fiction writer when an early version of his Hollywood novel Force Majeure was published in a limited edition; the resulting buzz led to the publication of a full-scale edition in 1991. Since then, he's become a consummate chronicler of the movie business, continuing in the tradition of Budd Schulberg, Nathanael West and Horace McCoy, but with a quintessentially 1990s slant. A screenwriter and journalist, Wagner spent two years writing the "Wild Palms" comic strip for Details, and later adapted the work for the popular, if largely incomprehensible, television miniseries of the same name. His most recent novel, I'm Losing You - the first volume of his "cellular trilogy," which also includes the works in progress I'll Let You Go and Still Holding - continues his cynical explorations of Hollywood, whose bleakness, the author believes, is mitigated by "something redemptive, as well." Wagner bristles at the L.A.-writer label, arguing that he's never considered himself in such terms. "I grew up here," he points out. "If I'd lived in a steel town, I'd be writing about those people, but Rodeo Drive, Beverly Drive, those were my Main Streets."
DIANE WARD has long been associated with the "language poets," but a more important influence, she suggests, is her art-school training, which encouraged her to think of language in a tactile way. "I'm sort of an experimental poet," she says, "but coming from a visual-arts background, I work with words as a plastic medium, playing around with language to see what it might yield." Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Ward co-edits the bicoastal poetry magazine Primary Writing; of her eight collections of poetry, two - Imaginary Movie and Human Ceiling - were written in L.A. She believes the spareness of the California landscape has helped to strip her writing down: "My work is definitely more sparse. It's less proselike, more concise." The pluses and minuses of working here, she says, balance out. "I miss that intense East Coast support system, but at the same time I find the distance from it freeing."
BENJAMIN WEISSMANwas 20 years old before he started reading; in high school, he says, "I didn't even read comics and didn't know what a book of stories was." Then, a quadriplegic artist for whom he worked gave him a book by Donald Barthelme, and Weissman found himself transformed. "I thought books were creepy things made by creeps," he explains, "the stuff old people wanted to shove down your throat. But Barthelme was better than any art form." A student at CalArts, Weissman began writing stories and publishing them in small local magazines like Barney and Little Caesar. From 1983 to 1993, he ran the Friday-night reading series at Beyond Baroque. Weissman's first collection of short fiction, Dear Dead Person, appeared from High Risk in 1994, and a second, Headless, is nearly complete. He also continues to work as a visual artist, and is on the faculty of Art Center, where he teaches writing and art. "Los Angeles," Weissman says, "is a violent city, and you can get inebriated by the constant servings of crime. But the overload breeds distance and a sense of humor, which, I think, come out in my work."