By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Since the divorce, Wagner has kept his private life tightly under wraps. According to his friend actress Dana Delaney, all his girlfriends since De Mornay have had dark hair — he has become a blond-phobe — while Wagner himself would say only that he has a long-term involvement, that it is stable, and that he’d prefer it if people concentrated on his work. "Nobody gives a shit about writers’ involvements anyway," he said.
"I know Bruce from Beverly High, many years ago," I was told by attorney Deborah Drooz (who is married to Weeklystaffer Greg Burk), "and at some point he just vanished. There was a period of years when no one knew where he was. Then when I was in my 20s he reappeared, doing all kinds of crazy things. He was a chauffeur, he drove an ambulance, he sold aluminum siding, all these bizarre temporary employments. But he was always writing, and the first pieces I read of his were the Bud Wiggins stories. They’re very dark, and very much about the people in L.A. and the Industry. You couldn’t help but recognize this was a fresh voice. The question was whether he would get through that barrier and be published and do well with it."
The Bud Wiggins stories became Force Majeure, Wagner’s first novel. (Out of print for eight years, it is being reissued this month by Simon & Schuster.) It was published in 1991, by which time he had already written the scripts for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and for Paul Bartel’s Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. He was, in other words, already fairly successful, but in the black-and-white author photograph on the book’s jacket, he looked gaunt and almost Levantine, like an insomniac librarian in Alexandria circa 1910. (When he went to Jerusalem with Carrie Fisher in the late 1980s, he was constantly being carded as an Arab.) Despite the fact that he hadn’t written much of it, he thought of himself primarily as a writer of prose. This was his bid to prove it.
A picaresque novel about a dreamily disturbed screenwriter, Force Majeure leaned heavily on Wagner’s own experience as a down-and-out limo driver to the stars. Inspired by Don Quixote and Fitzgerald’s "Pat Hobby" stories, the book feels unique and almost unclassifiable, presented in a style so deadpan it’s as if the characters are locked behind a wall of bulletproof glass. Alternately poetic and vicious (it ends with the hero molesting a 10-year-old girl), the book demonstrated Wagner’s ability to write about Los Angeles in a genuinely original and lyrical way, and parts of it are very funny. Like the work of his friend (and fellow lover of De Mornay) Leonard Cohen, it is full of mock grandiosity — not art so much as a reverence for the idea of art, the literary masterpiece as spiritual quest. Bud Wiggins, a "lucid dreamer," is a screenwriter, after all, which is to say a near-writer, and his depression is buffered by Vicodin and fantasy.
Force Majeurecame festooned with the kind of ultracool A-list blurbs (Terry Southern, William Gibson, Michael O’Donoghue) that would grant any screenwriter-turned-novelist a decade’s worth of bragging rights at Chateau Marmont. But the satisfaction Wagner felt in finishing and publishing the book was "almost fetishistic," according to the author himself. It was as if he couldn’t quite believe that he was a writer, and Force Majeure was the incontrovertible proof. He had now written one of those things that were on his shelves, to be placed alongside the works of his heroes — Charles Dickens, Henry Miller, Cervantes. "Whether my book was great or not, it had been published, and I could stealit if I wanted from a bookstore — my own!"
A few days after our breakfast at Shutters, Wagner whisked me off in his SUV to his old stomping grounds in Beverly Hills. But first we stopped off at his Santa Monica duplex loft, which is in a building designed by Frank Gehry. Wagner was dressed, as always and forever, in black: black shirt, black jacket, black pants, and long, pointy-toed black leather boots. Even his face, which had been clean-shaven the last time I’d seen him, was once more blackened with stubble.
The ground floor of the loft, which was immense and cavernous and filled with a cathedral hush, was full of books — an astonishing number of them, for someone who claims not to read many — piled up vertically on the floor like free-standing sculptures, along with others housed more conventionally in plastic bookcases. Pindar, Faulkner, Cervantes, Casanova, Petrarch, Blake, Catullus, Castaneda, a Bible dictionary, a Guide to Sufism, the Complete Oxford English Dictionary, Van Gogh’s Letters, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s vast, legendarily unreadable study of Flaubert, The Family Idiot. "I got obsessed with it when I was a kid," Wagner mentioned casually.
Being in the loft wasn’t like being in anything so quaint as a writer’s "study." It was like being inside a brain, the cerebral headquarters of Bruce Wagner Inc. ("It’s radioactive in here!" he joked.) Work is done on a computer at a huge desk at one end of the room. When the phone rings, Wagner picks up. When an e-mail arrives, he answers it immediately. He is a skilled multitasker, able to move easily from novel to film script to television pilot and back again, perhaps because he thinks in terms of "story" rather than the particular categories in which a story might go. The Chrysanthemum Palace began life as a play, is now a novel, and may end up as a film. Wagner has already directed two movies, both based on his novel I’m Losing You, but they look very slight when set beside his books.