SUSAN FALUDI exploded into public consciousness in 1991 with the release of Backlash, which reported what she described as an undeclared war on feminism. The book grew out of an article she wrote debunking Newsweek's infamous “man shortage” story of 1986. Born in New York, Faludi calls herself “one of those tedious people who discovers journalism at an early age,” adding, “I wanted to know about the world but was too shy to ask questions without a reporter's notebook in my hand.” After graduating from Harvard, she worked at the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury News and The Wall Street Journal (where she won a Pulitzer Prize) before Backlash allowed her to concentrate full time on longer projects. Currently, she's writing a book about the crisis of American masculinity, a subject that brought her to Los Angeles four years ago. Of Southern California, Faludi says, “I feel like I'm at the center of what America as a whole is struggling with, like I'm standing in the gale-force hurricane of the cultural storm. It's a deceptive place; the longer I'm here, the less rooted I feel. But if you're writing about people feeling disconnected, wondering where society went wrong, this is the place to be.”

Although she's written since childhood, MONTSERRAT FONTES did not begin to publish until middle age. “In 1980,” she says, “I had a near-death experience, so I decided it was time to get the work out there. I didn't want to die with all this left undone.” The author of two related novels, First Confession and Dreams of the Centaur, Fontes writes from the intersection of family and history; her work in progress, The General's Widow – which she calls the “middle part of the trilogy” – revolves around her grandmother, who ran a Mexican restaurant in 1930s L.A. “Los Angeles,” she says, “has affected the way I focus on strong women. The city was built by strong women, by women displaced by the Mexican Revolution, by women who stayed. As a child, I always lived in Hollywood or West Hollywood, and I remember women working. In L.A., women will find work.”

SESSHU FOSTER was encouraged to express himself creatively from an early age. As a boy in East Los Angeles, he created little books with pictures in them, but decided as a college student that he would rather write than produce visual art. Then, shortly after graduation, he became a father, and stopped writing for two years. When he returned, he says, it was with a renewed purpose: “I spent my time off reading, considering, studying, and was much more serious after that.” Foster is the author of two books of poetry, Angry Days and City Terrace Field Manual, but feels equally comfortable working in fiction. “Poetry,” he says, “feels more natural to the way I think. It can be imagistic and doesn't have to be linear, while the craft of prose involves a socially agreed-upon form of storytelling – within a wide range.” The son of a Japanese-American and an Anglo, Foster sees his heritage as “a quintessentially L.A. situation, polyglot, pan-Pacific. Still, while it's one of the essential characteristics of the city, it has yet to be dealt with in any kind of full-on frontal way.”

DAVID FREEMAN's first two books of fiction – the collection A Hollywood Education and the novel A Hollywood Life – were inspired by his experiences in the movie business. No one was more surprised than the author. “I always expected Hollywood to provide me with a living,” he says, “but I never expected it to provide me with a subject.” Freeman has been adept at sniffing out material since his early days writing for Clay Felker at New York Magazine. After moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s, he became the final screenwriter to work with Alfred Hitchcock, an encounter he details in his book The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock. Freeman's new novel, One of Us, is set in England and Egypt during the 1930s; it was originally a screenplay, until the packaging fell through. “It's probably unique to American literature,” he notes, “that a literary novel could come out of the most commercial form there is. But I wasn't done with these characters and this story – I couldn't get them out of my head.”

JUDITH FREEMAN was a late bloomer; her first book, the story collection Family Attractions, wasn't released until 1988, when she was 42. Since then, however, the Utah native has made up for lost time, publishing three novels – The Chinchilla Farm, Set for Life and A Desert of Pure Feeling – and picking up not only a 1991 Western Heritage Award, but a 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship as well. Freeman first moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, and in recent years she's spent increasing time in Idaho, seeking sanctuary from the distractions of the city and a renewed sense of connection to her roots. Mining both her experiences in L.A. and her Mormon background – “It's so prosaic,” she says, “but that's what everybody has, their own life” – her work is precise and utterly unsentimental in its evocation of the ways we are all, ultimately, looking for common ground. “My writing comes out of a real schism in me,” Freeman explains. “I no longer can feel comfortable in the community where I was raised, so I try to create these alternate universes with all these disparate points of view.”


PETER GADOL's fourth novel, The Long Rain, has at its heart a disturbing moral dilemma – early on, the main character, Jason Dark, kills a teenage boy in a hit-and-run, then lies about the accident to keep his family intact. It's a departure for Gadol, whose earlier work has a somewhat lighter touch, but his willingness to explore new territory may have something to do with his students at CalArts, who are “into a whole range of different things, from criticism to experimental writing to narrative fiction – often all at once.” A graduate of Harvard, where he studied poetry with Seamus Heaney and Helen Vendler, Gadol moved to Southern California from New York five and a half years ago, and prefers writing fiction in L.A. “Being a writer in New York,” he says, “is akin to being a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Every 10 feet, you run into someone asking after your ad budget and the size of your advance. Here, I find more friends who are writers interested in talking about everything from the latest literary voice to social concerns about the city – the entire map of intellectual concerns.”

CRISTINA GARCIA is the author of two novels, Dreaming in Cuban and the recently published The Aguero Sisters, that explore issues of assimilation and culture from a Cuban-immigrant point of view. Born in Havana and raised in New York City, she came to Los Angeles in 1988 as a correspondent for Time magazine. Although she was initially inspired by the linguistic intoxication she discovered in poetry – “There's an alchemy that occurs with language in a good poem” – Garcia focuses her books on the intricacies of character, the way memory, myth and obsession connect to make us unique. “I've gotten quite superstitious about writing in Los Angeles,” she says. “I wrote both my novels here, but when I was in New Jersey for a year, I couldn't write a word. I think it's because life here has little to do with what I write about, and I need a certain distance, a perspective, to get work done. Being in a different landscape enables me to write.”

Born and raised in San Diego, AMY GERSTLER moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and became an active participant in the literary community that came together around Beyond Baroque. Although as a child she found in language something “really mysterious and powerful,” it wasn't until college that she met people who “didn't think being a writer/artist was a hobby, but for whom it was a serious, nearly religious calling instead.” Gerstler's first collection of poetry, Yonder, appeared in 1981; since then, she's published 10 more books, including Bitter Angel, which won the 1990 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and is “pretty far along” on a novel. “Some people think I don't know the difference” between poetry and prose, Gerstler notes, but she prefers to take that view as a compliment. “I like both poetry and prose, and I like the idea of hybrid forms. Poetry, for me, is a matter of thought spurts, brain spurts, even little rants. But it's a challenge developing continuity beyond a span of 18 lines.”

MIKAL GILMORE is best known for Shot in the Heart, an astonishing memoir-cum-family history inspired, in part, by his older brother Gary, whose 1977 execution by the state of Utah became a media cause celebre. An established journalist and pop-culture critic, Gilmore has worked for publications including the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Weekly, where he was music editor. He grew up thinking he might become a lawyer. “I thought the family could use one,” he jokes. Then, in 1974, he reviewed Bob Dylan's album Before the Flood for a small alternative newspaper and “knew I'd found what I wanted to do.” A contributing editor to Rolling Stone, for which he has written since the late 1970s, Gilmore has just published his second book, Night Beat, a collection of writings on rock music from the last 20 years.


JACK GRAPES came to Los Angeles from New Orleans 30 years ago after being cast in a television pilot; although the show fell through, he stayed around, and has been a poet, teacher and publisher here ever since. Editor of the literary journal Onthebus, and author of 10 and a half books of verse – including, most recently, the first part of a long poetic sequence called Breaking Down the Surface of the World – Grapes writes poems that operate somewhere in the middle ground between pop culture and philosophy. “It's very possible that this city is as perfect a symbology of American culture as you can get. There's so much shallowness, gloss, competitiveness and spiritual decadence. Writing poetry here requires such a spiritual focus that you are forced to look inward – you can give in to the gods of Moloch, or hold on and see what is really true.”

RICHARD GROSSMAN decided to become a writer at 19, in the wake of “an epiphanic experience over a bowl of Wheaties in France in 1962. Somebody asked what I was going to be when I grew up,” he remembers, “and I said a poet. Until then, I thought I'd be a trial attorney. But I dropped everything, went upstairs, started writing poetry and never came down.” Grossman was born in Minneapolis, and spent several years in Northern California before moving to Los Angeles in 1989. He turned to fiction in the late 1970s, after completing his second book of poems, The Animals, and becoming despondent about the state of poetry in the world. In his two published novels, The Alphabet Man and the recently released The Book of Lazarus, he brings together a mix of verse, prose and visual elements to create “a new form for the novel, an entirely new language on the page.” The goal, Grossman says, is “a verticality of language; when you open one of my novels, it's almost like a childhood pop-up book – you pop up to different levels in the text.”

ELOISE KLEIN HEALY has been through several incarnations since her first book of poems, Building Some Changes, was published by Beyond Baroque more than 20 years ago. A former teacher at Immaculate Heart High School and College, she has organized writing workshops at the Woman's Building, directed the women's-studies program at Cal State Northridge, and now serves as chair of the MFA and Creative Writing Program at Antioch University in Marina del Rey. Healy's fourth and most recent poetry collection, Artemis in Echo Park, was published in 1991 by Firebrand Books; a CD version was released in 1993. In the geography of Southern California, Healy finds inspiration: “I'm crazy about landscape and weather,” she says. “I write about cactus, invisible seasons, the way the physical world impacts how we live.” Still, Healy believes, that very physicality makes it tricky to be a poet here. “There's a certain geographical isolation, and if you don't cope with that, you'll wither on the vine.”

MICHELLE HUNEVEN's first novel, Round Rock, published in July by Alfred A. Knopf, represents a kind of homecoming for the author; after graduating from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1977, she spent several years as a fiction writer – she was co-winner (with Tama Janowitz) of the 1984 GE Younger Writers Award – before “eliding” into journalism, contributing regularly to the Los Angeles Times, California Magazine, L.A. Style, Buzz and The New York Times. Of her return to fiction, she says, “When I was in the seminary [she spent two years studying to be a Unitarian minister], I had to have a psychological evaluation, and the guy who evaluated me asked when I was going to commit myself, when I was going to take 'a vertical plunge.' That's what I'm trying to do now. Before, writing fiction was about being successful, but this time it's about satisfaction. This time, I just wanted to see.” Round Rock revolves around a drunk farm in a small Central California town of citrus groves and oddball locals. Huneven is now working on a novel set in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz area, where she currently lives.

TARA ISON's first novel, A Child Out of Alcatraz, is surprising for a couple of reasons: In the first place, it's not autobiographical, and in the second, she's a working screenwriter who turned her back on Hollywood to produce a literary book instead. A self-described Valley girl – she was raised in Woodland Hills and went to Taft High School – Ison fell into the movie business when a script she co-wrote during her senior year at UCLA was bought by Fox two months after graduation; four years later, it was finally produced by Warner Bros. as Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. “I was one of the lucky ones,” she says, but screenwriting didn't fulfill her, and after a visit to Alcatraz, she became interested in writing about the wives and children of the prison's guards, who lived in the shadow of the penitentiary walls. “The difference between writing screenplays and novels,” says Ison, “is that one is like fucking for money, and the other is making love with someone you truly care about. It's not a moral judgment – screenwriting is an amazing art, but I don't have the gift. I was a whore. I loved being a whore, I was a very sincere whore. For me, though, screenwriting was a job, while the novel was a revelation.”


HILLARY JOHNSON grew up in Portland, Oregon, and lived in a variety of places – including Bombay – before landing in Los Angeles seven years ago. The author of a 1989 novel, Physical Culture, she worked as a temp and had a child, then “got sucked into the gilded maw of Hollywood journalism,” from which she has been trying to extricate herself ever since. A former Buzz columnist, Johnson co-wrote MTV's The Real Real World book in 1995, and last summer published Super Vixens' Dymaxion Lounge, a collection of her essays. Now, she's working on a speculative novel about the collapse of time and the creation of God – set, of course, in L.A. “As a writer,” Johnson says, “I'm not very interested in the interpersonal. I'm more interested in the broad-scale social and religious dimensions of what I see. I'm also much more interested in a utopian vision than in any kind of dystopia. Los Angeles is seen as such a dystopia that it's fun to cut against that grain.”

Although she majored in journalism in college, CYNTHIA KADOHATA didn't become a writer until she moved from Los Angeles to Boston in 1981. “Before that,” she recalls, “I'd never read much contemporary fiction, but there was something about Boston. I started reading a lot.” Eventually, she began writing stories and sending them to The New Yorker. Twenty-five rejections later, the magazine finally said yes, and not long afterward, she was at work on her first novel, The Floating World. Kadohata moved back to Southern California in 1990 to complete In the Heart of the Valley of Love, which is set in a future Los Angeles where the division between haves and have-nots has grown insurmountably wide. “I didn't have a conscious sense of it,” she says of the novel's science-fiction elements. “I think, though, that I wanted to write what I wanted to write. I have more to write about than just being Asian.” Her third novel, The Glass Mountains, appeared last year, and, having received a 1996 Chesterfield Screenwriting Fellowship, Kadohata is now adapting The Floating World for the screen.

At 65, PAUL KRASSNER remains one of America's most original social critics, both as a writer and as editor of The Realist, the seminal countercultural magazine he began publishing in 1958. In the late 1960s, along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, he co-founded the Yippie party. Since 1993, Krassner has published two books – a memoir called Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture and The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race, a collection of his shorter satirical pieces. Now that “irreverence has become an industry,” however, he's working on a novel, inspired by his attempts to predict what Lenny Bruce might be saying were he still alive. After living in New York and San Francisco, Krassner first came to Southern California in the mid-1980s, and fell in love with the place. “I like it here,” he says, “because I'm close to the ocean. You can't fool the ocean – it spots phoniness. When I finished my autobiography, I read it out loud to the ocean, just for the rhythms and cadences.”

JIM KRUSOE has been a presence on L.A.'s literary scene since the late 1960s, when, after graduating from Occidental College, he ran the reading program at Beyond Baroque. “Twenty-five years ago,” he remembers, “Los Angeles was an empty place, which is why I got involved with Beyond Baroque. It was basically a place to teach myself.” The author of six books of poems, Krusoe began to write stories after poetry stopped surprising him; he had always composed paragraphs, or prose poems, and as verse became increasingly uninteresting, the paragraphs started to grow. His first collection of short fiction, Blood Lake, appeared last October. Krusoe continues to teach writing at Santa Monica College, where he was founder of the Santa Monica Review. “When I first began,” he says, “I wanted to be a person of wisdom and clarity. It took a long time to realize I'm a person of foolishness and confusion. That's where I'm happiest – for me, nothing happens out of wisdom. And L.A. is a place of foolishness and confusion.”


MICHAEL LALLY is the author of more than 20 books of poetry and prose; his most recent, the verse collection Cant be Wrong, was awarded the 1996 Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature by PEN Oakland. Born in New Jersey, Lally moved to Los Angeles in 1982 at the age of 40, and is perhaps most notorious for co-founding “Poetry in Motion,” the 1980s reading series that featured Hollywood celebrities performing their work. Although Lally admits the celebrity connection ultimately backfired, he initially saw it as an opportunity. “People would come for Alec Baldwin,” he explains, “and stay for everyone else.” That sense of pragmatism is reflected in his own writing, which “uses language like the guys I grew up with,” relying on direct vernacular expression to make its points. L.A., he says, “presents a difficult problem. In New York, I never felt lonely because it was teeming, bacterial; all I had to do to be distracted was go outside. Here, it's the opposite. Not long after I got here, a friend said, 'You thought you were going to come out here and kick some ass, didn't you? But you couldn't find any ass.'”

GAVIN LAMBERT first came to Los Angeles in 1957 to work as Nicholas Ray's personal assistant, and except for a period of about 15 years when he lived in Tangier, he has been a Southern California resident since. Originally a film critic in London, where he edited the magazine Sight and Sound, Lambert segued fairly early into screenwriting, scripting pictures such as Sons and Lovers, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. In 1960, he published his first novel, The Slide Area (which Serpent's Tail is reissuing this spring); he has since written several nonfiction books, as well as four additional novels, including the Hollywood cult classic Inside Daisy Clover. “There wouldn't be much of my work,” Lambert admits, “without Los Angeles. I had written some short stories in England, but I detoured into movie criticism because I was not interested in writing about England. It didn't stimulate me. But what did stimulate me was California. Almost everything you could imagine was here.”

If you ask A.J. LANGGUTH, the best decision he ever made was quitting The New York Times. A former Saigon bureau chief who also covered the civil rights movement and the Jack Ruby trial, Langguth returned from Southeast Asia at the end of 1965 and took up residence in Venice, where he wrote his first novel, Jesus Christs. “The Times,” he says, “was a trap. A very comfortable trap, but a trap nonetheless. I didn't want to get stuck doing just one thing.” Certainly, his career bears this out, for over the past 30 years, Langguth has produced a body of work (including three novels and five nonfiction books) in which a wide array of interests coexist. In the 1970s, for instance, while researching a book on Brazilian spiritism, he “came to know the horrendous police state Brazil had become,” and decided to investigate. The result, Hidden Terrors, focused on police abuses in Brazil and Uruguay. Later, he wrote a biography of the writer Saki, as well as examinations of the American Revolution and the fall of the Roman Republic; his current project is a study of the Vietnam War. Of his range, Langguth says, “It was just a matter of one thing leading to another. Only after a while do you see a pattern emerge.” Still, he admits, “once I do something, I'm done with it.”

RUSSELL LEONG is a poet and fiction writer who was born and raised in San Francisco, and moved to Los Angeles in 1977 at the age of 27. His 1993 collection of poetry, The Country of Dreams and Dust, won PEN's Josephine Miles Literature Award; he also edits the Amerasia Journal at UCLA, and oversees a book series from the University of Hawaii Press called “Intersections: Asian and Pacific-American Transcultural Studies,” whose first title, Frank Chin's Bulletproof Buddhist, will appear next spring. Leong's work merges the personal and the political, exploring issues of Asian experience and identity from a decidedly individual point of view. “Not all poems are political,” he says, “but a lot are allegories for larger things. For me, Los Angeles is a place where you can see the possibilities for coexistence. Despite the media's portrayal of the city as Balkanized, we can't isolate ourselves, and as a writer, I want to explore that, and see what it means.”


At 43, EDDIE LITTLE is making up for lost time. Three years ago, the former heroin addict was unpublished. Now, his first novel, Another Day in Paradise, is out from Viking, and a film version, directed by Larry Clark and starring James Woods, Melanie Griffith and Lou Diamond Phillips, is already complete. Not only that, but his next novel, tentatively titled Steel Toes, is under contract, while a third book is mapped out. “I'm a very motivated individual,” chuckles Little, who also writes a column for the Weekly called Outlaw L.A. Little wasn't always so self-directed; as a kid, he was a “general fuckup,” who left school after seventh grade and landed in the juvenile system by age 14. A longtime resident of Los Angeles – “I came on vacation, and stayed on probation” – he doesn't like to discuss his life beyond that, except to say, “I was a relatively successful criminal, so I'd rather just deal with it in my fiction. Some statutes of limitations are still in effect.” Of course, he can be less circumspect when the need arises, as in his volunteer work for the service organization We Care, counseling AIDS patients, ex-cons and gangbangers, or trying to steer teenagers away from being “idiots like myself.”

SANDRA TSING LOH is, in many ways, a living metaphor for the clash of culture and community at the heart of L.A. life. The daughter of a Chinese father and a German mother, she grew up in Malibu and moved to the San Fernando Valley, the life and manners of which she regularly chronicled for Buzz magazine. Her first book, Depth Takes a Holiday, collected those and her Weekly pieces; in the year and a half since it was published, she's staged her one-woman show Aliens in America in New York, and published a novel, If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home by Now, with Riverhead Books. Yet self-deprecation is never far behind. As she writes in her novel, “I've come to think there's this kind of Gatekeeper of Success who punishes artists for their hubris.” In L.A., she says, “People have enough rope to hang themselves. This is either a blessing or a curse.”

BIA LOWE became a writer because “I hate being interrupted. I was a quiet kid, the kind who liked to sit for long periods and think things through.” Raised in Northern California, she moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s to attend CalArts. Although Lowe began as a poet, in the early 1980s she switched to writing essays; still, she feels, “My work orbits around images in the way poetry might.” Lowe's first collection, Wild Ride: Earthquakes, Sneezes, and Other Thrills, appeared in 1995, and a second, entitled Splendored Thing, is currently in the works. “Los Angeles,” she suggests, “is a strange hybrid of the suburban and the megalopolis. I get a lot of input from the natural world, but I live right off Hollywood Boulevard, so it's an interesting mix. In my work, I like the feeling of meandering, and my experience of moving around the city is similar to that. L.A.'s anonymity is very comforting, too.”


LA Weekly