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By the time LEWIS MacADAMS discovered the Beats as a Dallas high school freshman, he already knew that “My fate was not connected with the future of the suburbs.” After attending Princeton, he spent time in New York, then moved in 1970 to Bolinas in Marin County. From 1974 to 1976, he served as director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State. Since 1980, he has lived in L.A. MacAdams is the author of 10 volumes of poems and stories and twice won the World Heavyweight Poetry Championship. He also produced several documentary films, most notably What Happened to Kerouac?, which a appeared in 1985. “From the time I was a teenager,” he says, “to the time I moved to Los Angeles at 35, I lived almost completely in the poetry world. In L.A., I lost touch with poetry; there was no information for me there anymore. Only recently have I felt the pendulum swing back. I can't blame L.A., because it was a conscious thing. I wanted to see what else was out there.” He's currently at work on a nonfiction book, The Birth of the Cool, about the rise of the avant-garde.

RUBEN MARTINEZ was born in Los Angeles in 1962. After dropping out of UCLA in the early 1980s, he began to read the Beat writers, then hitchhiked throughout California before traveling to El Salvador, where he learned that “Writing is always a political act, and sometimes they blow your head off for it.” His 1992 book, The Other Side, operates from this principle, collecting essays, poetry and nonfiction pieces, mostly written for the Weekly, that reflect H.L. Mencken's maxim “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable” – a statement Martinez invokes as a “guiding light.” At present, he is working on a project tentatively entitled The New Americans and Other Migrant Stories, “about migrants swimming the U.S.-Mexican currents and the dramatic changes in popular culture – the Mexicanization of the U.S. and the Americanization of Mexico – occurring therefrom.” Although Martinez now lives part time in Mexico City, he calls L.A. “the ground zero of my aesthetic turmoil and bliss, the essence of my identity in terms of race and class and pop culture. I have tried to escape on many occasions, but L.A. calls to me.”

DOUGLAS MESSERLI is something of an anomaly – a poet, fiction writer and playwright who, for the last 25 years, has run a successful independent publisher, Sun & Moon Press. Begun as a magazine in 1976, Sun & Moon has now issued about 360 titles, including books by Djuna Barnes and Russell Banks, and the original edition of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. As a writer, Messerli is the author of five books of poetry and eight plays. For the last several years, he's devoted his attention to a trilogy called The Structure of Destruction, which highlights his interest in crossing the boundaries of genre; it includes poetry and performance pieces, as well as more traditional narrative elements, to explore what Messerli calls “the nature of evil in the 20th century.” Such an endeavor, he believes, is perfectly suited to the wide-open aesthetics of a city like L.A. “I'm very gung-ho on Los Angeles,” Messerli says. “There's a sense of energy, a sense of excitement here. It's not a closed community, so there's enthusiasm, rather than hostility to trying new things in your work. Unlike in other cities, you're not expected to write like everybody else.”

Since moving from New York to Southern California in 1978, JACK MILES has worked in several areas of literary enterprise, as an editor at the University of California Press, as book editor of the Los Angeles Times, and in his current position as Mellon visiting professor of humanities at Caltech. A former Jesuit, he won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book God: A Biography, which attempts to interpret the Bible as a work of literature, and, in the process, bestow upon its protagonist a distinctly human face. Miles traces his interest in the subject to his graduate studies at Harvard in the early 1970s. “I was impatient with what I was taught in graduate school,” he recalls, “which was to consider the Bible in terms of history, rather than from a literary point of view.” Miles downplays the controversial element to that line of thinking, preferring to see the book in more personal terms. “From the beginning,” he notes, “I knew it wouldn't help my career as a journalist, and as far as my career as an academic, I didn't have one at the time. So I had nothing to lose by just saying what was on my mind.”

BRIAN MOORE has been called a writer's writer, an architect of lean, precise narratives and spare, elegant sentences, yet four of his novels – The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Catholics, Cold Heaven and Black Robe – have been filmed. Born in Belfast in 1921, he immigrated to Canada in 1948, and eventually to the U.S.; he's lived in Malibu for 30 years. “I came out to write a film for Hitchcock,” he recalls, “and was offered a job as regents' professor at UCLA, which I accepted more or less as a day off from writing.” The author of 20 novels – three of which have been short-listed for the Booker Prize – Moore has worked in a variety of genres, composing literary thrillers such as Lies of Silence, set amid the Irish troubles, and The Statement, about a Nazi war criminal on the run in France, and historical fictions such as Black Robe, which deals with the Jesuits who helped colonize eastern Canada. “You can use up your own life and the lives of your friends,” he says, “for about four novels. Then you run out of things to say. So you have to find things that interest and obsess you. I'm interested in moral questions, so I look for stories where they arise.” Moore's latest novel, The Magician's Wife, is set in France and Algeria, where he served during WWII.

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YANNICK MURPHY moved to Los Angeles from New York in the fall of 1993 on a yearlong Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship. Four years later, she's still around, living in Pasadena with her husband and her dog. “L.A.'s funny that way,” she says. “The first year, I kept waiting for it to rain so I could get some work done. Now, if the smog doesn't kill us, we're here.” Murphy's first book, the short-fiction collection Stories in Another Language, came out in 1987, when she was only 24; her second, a novel entitled The Sea of Trees, was published last May. “It's still the West out here,” she says of Southern California, “still vast and overwhelming, and that helps me keep my focus by making me look narrowly, intensely at things, so as to be as precise as I possibly can be. Much of what I try to practice is eliminating excess in my life. That informs my fiction, too, and Los Angeles has made this process easier for me.”

At 29, YXTA MAYA MURRAY's an associate professor at Loyola Marymount Law School, and in May published her debut novel, Locas, an explicit evocation of Chicana gang life in Echo Park. That's quite a change from her childhood in Long Beach, when, she says, she was “the chunky weird kid eating lunch alone on the benches” who wanted to be a writer but had no idea how. Murray's first story, “Girl on Fire,” appeared in ZYZZYVA and received a special mention in the Pushcart Prize; her second, “The Trade That You Make,” came out in Buzz and provided the seed from which Locas bloomed. Now, she's writing a novel about boxing that, like her other efforts, takes place in L.A. “I'm afraid to live anywhere else,” Murray says. “If I did, I don't think I'd be a writer. The smells here, the sounds, the cadence of voices, the smog, the heat, the scrubby brush, the traffic – that's the landscape of my imagination.”

JOY NICHOLSON considers herself an accidental author. The 31-year-old Silver Lake resident says she never thought about writing a book until a short story of hers was discovered by agent Betsy Amster in a local zine. “I never finished college,” she explains. “I took one writing class, at Santa Monica College, but I dropped out.” Still, her first novel, The Tribes of Palos Verdes, is an evocative account of what it's like to be an adolescent outsider, in a community where having friends is the most important thing in life. Nicholson comes by her material honestly; she moved to Palos Verdes at the age of 5, and stayed through high school, despite her status as “a complete outcast.” Now, she spends a lot of time traveling with her husband, a TV sound engineer. “It's so weird,” Nicholson says of her turn to literature. “I only know a few other writers, and that's just recently. But what's kept me going is that I would get such a good feeling when I was writing. It was a better feeling than any other.”

NICOLE PANTER was born in Palm Springs, but ran away to Los Angeles when she was 14. Eventually, she ended up at UCLA, where she majored in anthropology, before becoming involved with the L.A. punk scene in the mid-1970s. Perhaps best known as the manager of the Germs, she also worked on the original Pee-wee's Playhouse stage show, then left Southern California in early 1985 to live in Europe and India; on her return in 1990, she began to write. Now an instructor in screenwriting and fiction at CalArts, Panter is the author of the 1994 collection Mr. Right On and Other Stories, and the editor of Unnatural Disasters, an anthology of writings by California authors that appeared in 1996. She is currently at work on her first novel, Swap Meet. When it comes to her unlikely road to authorship, Panter credits the influence of punk, and its DIY aesthetic, with giving her the freedom to risk falling on her face. “Part of the thing about punk,” she says, “is the whole idea of learning to make your mistakes in public, and I certainly did my share of that. In my writing, I've grown in dog years – seven years to every one.”

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GARY PHILLIPS was born in South-Central Los Angeles and started writing when he was in his teens. Now 42, he is the author of the crime novels Violent Spring, Perdition, U.S.A. and Bad Night Is Falling, which revolve around black detective Ivan Monk. “I always liked mysteries,” he remembers, “but growing up black, you're not represented. I didn't find out about Chester Himes or Donald Goines until I was in college. It was like stumbling in backward to discover a tradition, which made me think about how I'd want to show L.A.” Although Phillips' a first allegiance is to story, there is a political subtext to his work; Violent Spring spins off from the riots, while Bad Night Is Falling highlights the tensions between blacks and Latinos. “I like noir,” Phillips says, “because it's an ambiguous form, one that suggests we're buffeted in our lives by outside forces that we can't control. Los Angeles is also a lot like that. It's a place of both promise and ruin, and those themes vie for prominence in my books.”

DONALD RAWLEY originally came to Los Angeles 20 years ago to pursue a career as an actor; a decade later, he began to study writing with Kate Braverman, and is now the author of five books of poetry and a collection of short stories, Slow Dance on the Fault Line, that was just published in England and will appear here in September. The former Buzz contributor published short stories in The New Yorker and Harper's last year, and his first novel, The Nightbird Cantata, is due out this summer. Rawley consciously seeks to explore an array of Southern California personalities and experiences, focusing less on any one community than on what he sees as the city's dark eroticism, its decadence and decay. “All good writers,” he says, “are on the outside looking in, and always will be – and L.A. is a good place for that. I love it because I live in a house surrounded by walls, like my own kingdom. I can be right in the middle of the city, and as a writer, can still be very alone.”

RICHARD RAYNER has twice moved from his native England to Los Angeles, first in the mid-1980s, and then again in 1991. His novel Los Angeles Without a Map – which he calls “a comic fantasy based on a real love affair I had” – traces his initial experience of the place, capturing the psychic textures of Southern California while playing up the ridiculousness of Rayner's own situation as he tries to navigate L.A. not only without a map, but without a car. Rayner is also the author of The Blue Suit, a memoir of his student days at Cambridge University, where he pursued an active, albeit secret, life of crime, and is a contributor to The New York Times Magazine and to Granta, for which he wrote a surprisingly funny account of the L.A. riots in 1992. His most recent novel, Murder Book, uses the conventions of hard-boiled fiction to paint a panoramic portrait of Los Angeles at large. “I have a very English career,” Rayner explains. “I do everything: some frivolous journalism, some serious journalism, and I always have a book on the go. For me, there's no distinction; you just grab whatever megaphone is available and start shouting through it. It's all part of being a writer.”

JOHN RECHY grew up in El Paso, Texas, and spent many years traveling between New York and California before settling in Los Angeles in 1973. His first novel, City of Night, caused a sensation when published in 1963; its frank, unapologetic portrayal of homosexual street life set the stage for subsequent generations of gay writers to explore their own experiences with an openness that would have been impossible without Rechy's groundbreaking work. An instructor in the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC, Rechy is now recognized by the establishment – he recently received a lifetime-achievement award from PEN Center USA West – but he remains controversial. Our Lady of Babylon, his latest novel, recasts the crucifixion as a story of Jesus and Judas' physical love, including a menage a trois between the two men and Mary Magdalene, and also offers the image of God masturbating after creating the world. Of L.A., Rechy says, “It's the last city before the sun sets. All the energy accumulated from all over the country bunches here, and then the night comes.”

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HENRY ROLLINS first came to public attention as the lead singer of Black Flag, but in the decade or so since the band's demise, he's transformed himself into a one-man multimedia juggernaut, issuing 11 books of rants and recollections, eight rock albums and eight spoken-word performances through his homegrown publishing and distribution enterprise, 2.13.61. Lately, Rollins has found himself courted by the mainstream culture that once ignored him; his latest album, Come In and Burn, was issued last March by DreamWorks Records, and Villard has just published The Portable Henry Rollins, a 400-page selection of his literary greatest hits. “What I do,” he says, “is about expression. I'm not much of a writer, I just try to express myself. I write basically to get at what's inside of me. It's just a good way to work this stuff out.”

MARK SALZMAN was 24 before he decided to become a writer, and even then, it was more accidental than not. In the early 1980s, after spending two years in China, he returned to the U.S. to work as a martial-arts teacher. Then a friend suggested he write something for a party he was hosting, and Salzman produced a 12-page piece about his experiences abroad. Although the party was a dud, Salzman's friend showed the story to an editor, who asked to see more. The result was Iron and Silk, a poignant chronicle of his time among the Red Chinese. Salzman moved to Los Angeles in 1989 with his wife, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu, and has published three additional books – the novels The Laughing Sutra and The Soloist, and a coming-of-age memoir, Lost in Place. “I think what helped me,” he says of his experience as a writer, “was the fact that what I was doing was so unlikely. It made me stay relaxed.” Salzman is now at work on a new novel, which he plans to finish this year. “Since Jessica won the Oscar, I've become Mr. Yu, which has its advantages. The anonymity of writing here really works for me.”

For GREG SARRIS, there's little separation between his life and his work. A professor of English at UCLA, Sarris spent much of his adolescence with his father's Native American family in Santa Rosa, an experience he translated into the 1994 story cycle Grand Avenue. Sarris found a sense of belonging in the Santa Rosa community and, in fact, is serving a third term as chairman of the Coast Miwok Tribe. “The Indian women,” he says, “to hear them tell stories, it's part of the fabric of home. I had the same feeling when I discovered literature: It's good gossip. Literature at its best tells you something you didn't know.” Sarris is not only a writer of fiction; he adapted Grand Avenue for an HBO miniseries, and has published two nonfiction books, Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts, and the Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream, which merges memoir and biography to tell the story of a Pomo basket weaver and medicine woman who had a significant influence on the author's life. “I've been able to take what and who I am, and have people deal with me on my own terms,” Sarris declares. “The odds were against me, but I decided to write what I know in my heart.”

CAROLYN SEE was born and raised in Southern California, and lives in Topanga Canyon, in a house that has survived earthquakes, fires and floods. As a result, perhaps, her work is marked by a certain optimistic fatalism, a sense of making the best of situations, no matter how bleak or extreme. See is the author of five novels and the family memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America, as well as two historical romances, Lotus Land and 110 Shanghai Road, co-written with John Espey and her daughter Lisa under the pseudonym Monica Highland; she is also an adjunct professor of English at UCLA and a regular book reviewer for The Washington Post. “I can't imagine writing anything that wasn't grounded in Los Angeles,” she says. “There are several codes of manners here, but they haven't really been charted. It's been going on, but we're only just starting to write it down.”

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LISA SEE never intended to be a writer; growing up with one – her mother, Carolyn – seemed like enough. Then, while in Europe in the mid-1970s, she decided that the writer's unstructured life was, in fact, what she wanted after all. With her mother's help, she landed a few magazine assignments, and by 1983 had been named West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a job she held for 13 years. In 1995, See published On Gold Mountain, a book about her Chinese-American family that synthesizes elements of personal reminiscence with what is essentially a social history of the Chinese experience in the United States. Her first novel, Flower Net, a thriller that takes place largely in China, appeared last fall. “Los Angeles,” she says, “is certainly part of On Gold Mountain, and Flower Net is very much informed by where I am on the continent, as a well.” But more to the point, See adds, is her own mixed heritage; despite her sense of family, she is only one-eighth Chinese. “My family was so much a part of my childhood,” she explains, “yet I'm still an outsider. That gives me a certain perspective. You can see more clearly when you're on the fringe.”


HUBERT SELBY JR. is the author of four novels, including the 1964 masterpiece Last Exit to Brooklyn, a morally uncompromising look at the lives of the down-and-out. His brand of explosive urban toughness, he claims, owes as much to his appreciation of Beethoven as to his experience growing up in Brooklyn in the years before and after World War II. A resident of West Hollywood, Selby first came to Southern California in 1965 to write a screenplay, left for five years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and returned. “It's so easy to be a bum out here,” he says somewhat pensively. “You get here, and it's so easy to stay.” Although he's published very little since a 1986 collection of short fiction, Song of the Silent Snow, he recently completed a new novel, The Willow Tree, which will appear from Marion Boyars in May. “I was terrified,” Selby says of writing in Los Angeles. “But I found out that I have it within me, and I can reach down and get it. That's a good thing, because out here, if you don't have it, you're not going to get it. There's no stimulus, no inspiration in this place.”

As a child, MICHELE SERROS was inspired by an encouraging letter she received from Judy Blume; it still hangs next to her computer screen. Born and raised in Oxnard – “We always said we lived between Malibu and Santa Barbara” – Serros moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to become a writer. But only after her mother died five years ago did she begin to feel an urgency about her work. Since then, the 30-year-old author has published a book of poems and stories, Chicana Falsa, and spent time teaching in local high schools as part of both PEN Center USA West's PEN in the Classroom program and California Poets in the Schools. Although Chicana Falsa can be hard to find – its original publisher, Lalo Press, no longer exists – Mercury/Mouth Almighty Records has released a spoken-word version, and Riverhead has just signed to reissue the collection, along with a new book, How To Be a Chicano Role Model. Serros says stories are more fun than poetry. “For me, poetry comes out of an intense stomachache, and when the poem is done, my stomach feels better.”

CLANCY SIGAL is the author of four novels, most recently The Secret Defector, which appeared in 1992. Born in Chicago to union organizers, he spent time working with the UAW in Detroit, then headed west to attend UCLA. After winning a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, he moved to London, where he had a long relationship with Doris Lessing, worked as a journalist and wrote his early books. From the beginning, Sigal's writing has been informed in equal measure by politics and experience: Weekend in Dinlock, for instance, portrays the lives of Yorkshire coal miners, while Zone of the Interior fictionalizes the period he spent assisting schizophrenics under the aegis of R.D. Laing. Now back in Southern California and working as a screenwriter, Sigal continues to be politically engaged – during the siege of Sarajevo, he helped organize medical aid to Bosnia via the Internet. “I became a writer,” he says, “to fight fascists. I stayed a writer because I like solving puzzles without answers.”


Born in Wisconsin,