Today, we’re heading to L.A. – a hotspot of glamour, but with a dark side, as Christina Hoag explains…
Hi Jen and thanks so much for inviting me to take you on a Sunday Sojourn to my corner of the world: Los Angeles, USA.
Los Angeles has a reputation the world over for glamour, dreams of stardom and fame and fortune, thanks to its status as the global capital of the film and television industries. The entertainment business carries an outsize influence around the planet since its products are seen just about everywhere. Movies and TV are undoubtedly America’s most powerful export.
Many of them are filmed here in L.A., even if they’re supposed to be set elsewhere. You often encounter streets closed for use as a movie set on any given day, or sometimes spot a star at shopping malls and supermarkets around town, or run into a crowd of paparazzi hanging outside a trendy club or restaurant waiting for a celebrity to come out. It’s fun to go on studio tours: Warner Brothers, Paramount and Sony all offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of how the world of make-believe is pulled off.
L.A. is also renowned for its azure skies, constant sunshine and beaches. In the summer we can go months without rain, which makes for a great outdoor lifestyle. The downside is that vegetation dries out, creating the risk of brush fire, and water is a precious commodity. One of my favourite beaches is Venice Beach, which has a free-wheeling, Bohemian atmosphere that makes it great for people-watching. Swimming is another thing. Contrary to what you might expect because of the climate, the Pacific Ocean this far north never really warms up. It’s an invigorating dip.
But L.A. is not all glitz and glam. It also holds a couple titles of more dubious distinction. It’s the gang capital of the United States, with at least 450 gangs and 45,000 gang members, according to police estimates. It also possesses the biggest homeless population in the country, with more than 50,000 people living on the streets, largely because the warm, dry climate makes sleeping rough amenable.
This urban underbelly is the Los Angeles where I set my gangland thriller, Skin of Tattoos, because I’m fascinated by how this world functions as a subculture within our larger society. It has its own set of rules and hierarchies, its own moral code and sense of justice. It is a world driven by the demand for respect, and revenge when respect is not given. While these gritty south and east side neighbourhoods are situated only a few miles away from the white, wealthy Westside and storied places such as Beverly Hills, Malibu and Bel-Air, they exist as a parallel universe living in the shadow of the palm-tree postcard L.A. that the world at large sees.
The characters in Skin of Tattoos are Central American immigrants who live in the impoverished, densely packed Central L.A. area near MacArthur Park. This reflects another reality of Los Angeles: It is an immigrant city with large populations from Mexico and Central America, as well as from countries around the globe from Ethiopia to England. Ethnic enclaves, such Little Persia, Little Tokyo and Little Armenia, make for some great, authentic dining.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of the city I’ve made my home. I find it a terrific place to be writer in. I just open my door to find inspiration.
Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, 2016), which was named Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA. She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014).
For more information, see www.christinahoag.com.
Skin of Tattoos
Girl on the Brink