California Incline

The Light in L.A.

The New Yorker recently posted a video online (embedded above) taken from its show, which airs on Amazon. The video is based on one of my favorite pieces in the magazine: an article called “L.A. Glows,” written by Lawrence Weschler, and published in the February 23, 1998 issue of the magazine. (The issue theme was “California,” and it’s the only one of that theme I recall.) The article is here (requires a subscription).

It captures the wonder of light in Southern California (with a capitalized “S” because it is such a distinct region—as Carey McWilliams titled his book, “An Island on the Land”), and is really a wonderful read, both for the subject and the quality of the writing. For instance, it includes passages like this (from Coy Howard, and architect):

. . . when you have the kind of veiled light we get here more regularly you become aware of a sort of multiplicity—not illumination so much as luminosity. Southern California glows, not just all day but at night as well, and the opacity melts away into translucency, and even transparency.”

Ever since I read that passage I have wanted to be able to write like that. In my current work in progress, California Incline, I often talk about the sky. A lot of bloggers who give writing advice warn against overusing weather as a metaphor for a character’s mood. But when a story is set in L.A., the sky is a character. Describing it doesn’t so much reflect on the human characters, as give the reader a description of the ethereal character that hovers over the human actors.

So at different points I include short passages like these:

High clouds had drifted onshore, covering downtown; a veiled sun in a nacre sky softened the edges of the city with pearlescent light.”

Uphill, toward Hope Street, lay a fountain watched over by a bronze nude against an amber-blue sky streaked with Van Gogh clouds, wisps whipped to shreds at the ends.”

Even the sky looked washed out, threadbare blue with bleachmark clouds.”

Not quite the level of poetry found throughout the Weschler article, but I hope enough to give some character to the light.

Of course, for a cross-cultural perspective on L.A. light, you have Miami Ray Bones (Dennis Farina) in Get Shorty:

 They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.”

In  any case, I strongly recommend the Weschler article if you can get a chance to read it.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in California Incline, Fiction, Novel Writing, 0 comments

A Riot Every Generation?

In my current WIP, California Incline, the story suggests that the Rodney King riots would never really end in the sense that its root causes were (are) still present:

But even though John had left town, he hadn’t escaped anything, because a riot isn’t an event with a beginning and an end. It’s in the air, like the ashes of the American Dream of immigrants like Yong Soo whose businesses lay in burned-out ruins. The Rodney King riot reached back to the Watts riot a generation earlier, to the Zoot Suit riot a generation before that, and even earlier. As soon as it was over, everyone knew it wasn’t the last riot L.A would have. For all the talk about change, the problems were still there. The hate and the fear, the unemployment, the anger, the repression, the drugs and the gangs . . .

Continue reading →

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in California History, California Incline, 0 comments

The In Crowd


When I’m in a courtroom for jury duty, I feel comfortable.

Which is strange because when I was practicing law back in the late-80s and 90s, I never felt comfortable. I had all the right credentials – good school, big firm – and I looked the part (white, male, nice suit, short hair). Even so, I was never comfortable appearing or arguing in front of a judge.

But these days, when I go into a courtroom with a group of other potential jurors, I feel as though I belong. I speak the language, I’m fluent in the idioms and understand the customs. I know that as soon as I start answering questions about my education, the attorneys and the judge will recognize me as one of them. It’s like I’m part of the club. The In Crowd.

I have no idea if they feel that way, the attorneys and the judge, the marshall, or the reporter. I project that acceptance onto them. And I am not sure if it’s because I am one of them or for some other reason, but I am never selected for a jury. So I get to enjoy the comfort of belonging without ever having to stay too long. So all in all, it’s kind of a pleasant reminder of  life I could have led, but chose not to follow.

 

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in California Incline, 0 comments