Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Blog - Caitlin Kittredge

I first got a chance to read Caitlin Kittredge's book STREET MAGIC, the first in her Black London urban fantasy series, while I was still shopping around CITY OF THE LOST. I was getting rejections left and right and feeling like my book was complete and total crap.

Reading STREET MAGIC did not help.

It's a fantastic read. Kind that makes you question your own writing. An emotionally damaged, junkie mage and a screwed up Detective Inspector who is suddenly out of her depth.

Magic, death, heroin. My kind of book.

Her latest, DEVIL'S BUSINESS, the fourth in the series is out August 30th.

It departs from her character's normal stomping grounds of London and takes place in L.A. Which seems to have presented her some challenges.

And here she is to talk about them.

Anarchy in LA

I write books set in the UK, mostly London and the surrounds, and apparently I do a good enough job to trick people into thinking I'm English sometimes. But I'm not—I'm American, and when I started writing the fourth book in my Black London series, I knew that I wanted to write a tribute to my home country, in all its weird, seedy glory.

As an East Coast native, I'd never been to LA before 2008—I knew about it, of course, through movies and TV. Depending on who you asked, LA was the ninth circle of hell, a boiling cesspool of silicone, false smiles and broken dreams hemmed in by the 405 freeway, or it was a dream factory, a wondrous hodge-podge city made up of twenty different mini-cities, each of which could hold the key to success and happiness if you just knew the right person, the right handshake or had the right look.

I found something of each to be true—some parts of the city are amazing, tiny universes unto themselves, full of shit you just won't find anywhere else in the country. Everything looks like a movie set, because chances are it was used as one at some point, which gives you the feeling you're walking through a dream most of the time. (Inhaling what passes for air in LA helps this effect.) Some parts are the plastic castles and empty promises that so much LA-set noir decries. I have visited few places more terrifyingly homogenized and false-faced than Beverly Hills, and could not get out of there fast enough. It was a Stepford nightmare, a glittering bear trap that entices you with the possibility that you, too, could be six feet tall, a size zero, and possibly some kind of Botox zombie. But it's a small price to pay for living the good life, right?

(Also: at any given moment I was the tallest person in my immediate vicinity. LA is a haven for short people, because height doesn't matter on camera.)

I visited again recently, before I began writing Devil's Business. I knew that this book was going to be a tribute to that dreamlike, hallucinatory quality that only LA possess. I knew it was going to be about the mythology of the American serial killer (Wisconsin may have more per capita, but California gets all the headliners.) I knew its backdrop would be failed movie stars, sensational murders, Santa Muerte and the impending apocalypse, LA style. I'd hoped to stay for a few days, soak up some atmosphere and locations, and go back to my frozen New England wasteland to write the book.

I got so much more than I bargained for. From the extraordinarily cheerful folks at the Museum of Death in Hollywood (where I spent an afternoon looking at their Charles Manson and Black Dahlia memorabilia, and wondering if I was one tanked novel away from starting a murderous cult of my own) to the giddy cartoon theme park of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I found more atmosphere than I could squeeze into ten novels. And plenty of In-N-Out Burger, because a girl's gotta eat.

Sending my very English characters into this spray-tan tinged wasteland was an interesting exercise—my reactions, as a non-native American, were ramped up to 11 for my characters. London has a fantastic public transportation system, so the car culture of LA was a big stumbling block, as was the plastic surgery and the social currency of talking about your movie deal, your next audition, or your quick and dirty elbow rub with an actual famous person. And that's just the surface—the public face of LA. Dive below and you find the underbelly, the people who don't give a shit if Brad Pitt is filming down the block, the neighborhoods where survival trumps saving face. I admit I laughed a lot writing these two blue-collar British magicians trying to get a handle on LA, and usually not doing a very good job. But in the end, I think that Devil's Business embodies the spirit that showed its face when I went into the city looking for it, and it was a hell of a lot of fun to write. And I have LA to thank for that.

DEVIL'S BUSINESS is out August 30th. You can follow Caitlin on Twitter here.

1 comment:

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

I just purchased all 4 books and I'm following this lovely woman on twitter, now. Great post and I'm really looking forward to reading this series.