The Los Angeles Diaries

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2004-08-18
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Plagued by the suicides of both his siblings, heir to alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, and economic ruin, novelist James Brown lived a life clouded by addiction, broken promises, and despair. Beautifully written and limned with dark humor, these twelve deeply confessional, interconnected chapters address personal failure, heartbreak, the trials of writing for Hollywood, and the life-shattering events that finally convinced Brown he must "change or die."

Author Biography

James Brown is the author of several novels including Lucky Town and Final Performance. He has received the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction writing and a Chesterfield Film Writing Fellowship from Universal/Amblin Entertainment. His writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Denver Quarterly and New England Review. He lives with his family in Lake Arrowhead, California

Table of Contents

Firep. 1
Snapshotp. 19
Daily Rushesp. 41
My Papa's Waltzp. 55
The Factsp. 61
Touchp. 77
Daisyp. 97
Personal Effectsp. 117
On Selling a Novel to Hollywoodp. 137
A Fine Placep. 147
Midairp. 163
South Dakotap. 195
Acknowledgmentsp. 201
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


The Los Angeles Diaries
A Memoir

Chapter One

Winter 1994


Winter is the season of the arsonist in Southern California.The manzanita and chaparral are dry and brittle and theSanta Ana winds have begun to blow. They move at gale force.They cross the arid Mojave and whip through the canyons ofthe San Bernardino Mountains, through the live oak and thepines, the ponderosa, the sugar and coulter, white fir and incensecedar. I know these names because I live in these mountains,eighty miles east of the sprawl of Los Angeles, and Iworry when the winds come. I worry about the possibility offire. I know he's out there, the arsonist. I know he's waiting, likeme, for a day of opportunity very much like this.

I've seen the Santa Anas uproot trees. I've seen them strip roofing from houses and shatter windows. I've seen them topplebig rigs, and once, along the same freeway I'm travelingnow, I saw a stop sign flying through the sky. I keep a firm holdon the wheel. The winds hit in sharp gusts and can blow youclean over the line. You have to be ready. You have to hang ontight and keep your eyes on the road.

Traffic moves slowly, carefully. No one's taking anychances, making abrupt lane changes, cutting you off or tail-gating.I would like to believe that it's courtesy that dictates ourcaution, our good manners, except this is Southern California,I grew up here and I know better. Danger or its potential sometimesbrings out the best in us, and I wonder, as I reach to turnon the radio, if maybe it would be a good thing if the SantaAnas blew every day all year-round.

From time to time I find myself having to drive into LosAngeles on business, and just the thought of it always fills mewith a sense of dread and anxiety. The city has changed andgrown immensely since I knew it as a child, and sometimeseven the most familiar streets, streets I grew up on, seem barelyrecognizable. Gated communities have replaced the bungalowsand tract homes and the signs in the windows of the shops andstores are in Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, occasionally Arabic.Where corner markets once stood you'll now find minimalls,and Hollywood landmarks, places like Schwab's and Pandora'sBox and the old Brown Derby restaurant, have gone the way of the bulldozer. There are more freeways, too, bigger and widerones, but the traffic has never been worse.

But it isn't the unfamiliar that makes me anxious. It isn't thetraffic or the crowds or the evolving landscape of architectureand ethnicity. I am a fiction writer who doesn't make enoughmoney at it not to have to do something else for a living. So Iteach. So I am a professor. And what Hollywood offers me isthe chance to escape the classroom and tell stories full-time.Trouble is, I'm not very good at telling stories that pay betterand that's what this is about. It's what it has always been about:my driving into Hollywood to talk to producers and executiveswho like my work but want me to write something more commercial.In this case that less commercial work is my last noveland the screenplay I wrote based on it, a screenplay commissionedby Universal and Amblin, both of whom passed on itwhen I was done. "I don't know why you ever bothered to writethis," an executive tells me, after she finishes reading my script."It's no movie. It's too real." Now the rights are mine and myagent, who feels differently than the executive, is sending it toother executives and producers in Hollywood. As a sample, hecalls it. The idea is not so much to sell the script as it is to sellmyself as a scriptwriter. Already I'm looking forward to theend of the day.

The Santa Anas die down as I approach Los Angeles and Iease up on the wheel. I take a deep breath. But I know it's only temporary, this calm. I know better than to let myself relax.That thing called the L.A. River borders the last stretch of thefreeway into Burbank, and I look out on it, the dirty water,moving sluggishly through the narrow concrete channel thatcontains it. Over the rush of the cars I try to imagine it as Iwas told it used to be, a real river, filled with trout and salmonand lined with sycamores and willows instead of chain-linkand barbed wire. But I'm not successful. I think about mybrother. I think about my sister. We are children down by thatriver on a day very much like this with the wind blowing lightlyand the smell of fire in the air. I'm nine years old, the youngest,and we're passing a bottle around, a bottle I've stolen from agrocery store nearby. My sister points to the sky.

"Look. Look," she says. "Snow."

Only they're ashes. Ashes are falling. Ashes are everywhere,and in the sunlight they appear white, almost translucent. Myhead is spinning and I laugh. My brother laughs. I can hear usall laughing as we look to the sky, opening our mouths, catchingashes, like snowflakes, until our tongues turn black.

In the rearview mirror I check to see if my eyes are clear.They are, and they should be. I've gone without a drink or adrug for four days, four long miserable days of white-knucklingit, all because I want to look my best, and I like tothink I do ...

The Los Angeles Diaries
A Memoir
. Copyright © by James Brown. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir by James Brown
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