Inside City of Angles
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
In the real world, our heroes often disappoint us. Just ask any kid who’s ever asked for an autograph. But every now and then, even a small kindness restores one's faith. Carl Hiaasen has long been one of my literary heroes (is anyone better at wrapping outrage at human folly in savage humor?) as well as a role model (newspaper guy turned novelist). He was incredibly generous to me with his time and encouragement when I was starting out on my first book. I sent him a copy in thanks. Will he actually read it? Doesn’t matter. Something as simple as a brief note of acknowledgement stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence that first-time authors usually meet when approaching the publishing world.
Who doesn't love an Easter egg hunt? Okay, maybe some don't, but there's one in City of Angles. Hidden in the 90,000-word novel are several "Easter eggs:" passages that echo lines from books and authors who inspired me as a youngster to want to be a writer. (Yes, it's not a very diverse list of authors; I came of age in another era. But if you toddle over to my "What I've Been Reading" thread, you'll see a very different kind of list.) It's not plagiarism -- they're all paraphrased -- it's more like homage, if you like that sort of thing, or pastiche, if you don't. If they pass unnoticed, no problem. But maybe they brought a smile of recognition, Can you find all the eggs? Some hints so you know what to look for:
I attended a Jesuit high school in Towson, Md., where we were expected to study Latin and/or Greek. (Do high schools still do that?) I learned my way around Latin by reading Caesar, Cicero, Horace, and Virgil. The epic poem The Aeneid stuck with me into adulthood, and many years later provided some of the inspiration for a novel about the dispossessed searching for a new home after a disaster. I'd admired several famous novels that used ancient texts as inspiration, including James Joyce's Ulysses (Homer's Odyssey), Richard Adams's Watership Down (the Odyssey and the Aeneid), John Steinbeck's East of Eden (the Book of Genesis), and Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres (King Lear). I was especially drawn to the westward path taken by Aeneas and his band of Trojan refugees as they slowly moved toward their destiny in Italy, and wondered if a similar path could be etched on a modern landscape. Here's a rough map of the travels in The Aeneid:
When I set out to paint my portrait of Los Angeles in City of Angles, I deliberately avoided any characters or scenes involving the entertainment industry. No actors, no directors, no screenwriters, no agents, no producers. I wanted to show an alternate view of LA, the way I understand it after two decades here. However, my character Homer Innes is a film buff, like me, and the novel contains several references to films that come to mind in certain scenes. Here are some frames from those movies. How many can you identify?
The "Casa Grande" apartment building in the opening chapters is based on a real place: The Castle Green in Pasadena, CA, originally known as The Green Hotel when it opened in 1898, now a condominium building.