Can you tell us about your childhood and how you did come to write Angry Nights ?
I grew up in a neighborhood very much like the places I describe in my books. One step above public housing. I got an education, and got out. Most of my friends didn’t. But, in addition to growing up in a working class community, I have also worked primarily in South Los Angeles – Watts, Compton, etc. – for almost 25 years.
Are you still a neghborhood Ombudsman ? Tell us about what you do there.
I am a community organizer. I work with a group of schools in the Watts, Inglewood and the South Los Angeles area. My job is to teach the adults – the parents mostly – the skills of public life – how to negotiate, how to speak up, how to get together to stand up for themselves. That is what an organizer does. Our schools, called Green Dot schools, improve the quality of education substantially for the poor students we serve. My work is to help their parents – through education and organizing.
This is a very dark vision of Los Angeles, is it really like that in this city ?
As an organizer, my message is one of hope. As a writer, that’s where the darker vision comes out. My writing is about the people who slip through the cracks. That’s not everybody, of course. But too many people, too many families, now are falling down – socially, economically. More and more with this economy. And, the “safety net” is disappearing. So it is scary. Los Angeles is a great city, but it has its dark side. I write to try to depict that so we will not forget the poor, the desperate, the homeless.
Is there any hope for a better future in the district of Los Angeles ?
Yes, I think there is cause for a great deal of hope. People – here, as everywhere – are very resilient. Immigrants to Los Angeles bring new energy, new life blood. The City is constantly reinventing itself and this is one of those times. We have to be careful though that we don’t leave people behind. The assholes who have a lot of power – Wall Street tycoons and the like – will not give up power easily. Power is never given; it must be taken. So the poor and the middle class will have to really organize to take back the country from the rich. But it can be done!
Could you tell us some little anecdote about your novel Angry Nights ?
First of all, the book was about twice as length in its first version. I cut it in half! I wanted to compress it, to say only what absolutely had to be said. Another thing to note is that the judge who picked “Sur Les Nerfs” (“Angry Nights” in English) to win the FC2/Illinois State National Fiction Competition was Gerald Vizenor. Vizenor is a Native American novelist, a terrific fiction writer. His ideas about storytelling are not all traditional Western ideas. Same for me.
How do you write ? (in theMorning, in the evening, in your office ?)
I write mostly at night. Often in my study. But I also like to write in public places, especially in bars. I’ll take a seat at the bar, order a glass of wine, take out my notebook, and write.
Your style and the way you write make me think of another American author : Eric Miles Williamson. Who are your favorite authors ?
So, yes, Eric Miles Williamson, of course. Eric and I met through a tremendous writer, the late Ron Sukenick. Ron asked me to review Eric’s first novel, “East Bay Grease,” for the American Book Review, which Ron had founded back in the1970s. Up until that point, Eric and I had never met. Sadly, when we did meet at last in person, it was for Ron’s funeral. But we did Ron right: we went to a pub in Brooklyn and drank him a toast. As for others, I will concentrate on the contemporary: Barry Graham, William T. Vollmann, Mary Robison. In France, Mathias Enard, Jean Echenoz, Gwenaelle Aubry. I have to improve my French because I only can read French authors in translation (into English). There are a number of others, such as many of those authors I met at Quais du Polar, whose books I would love to read!!!
The concierge is curious ! What will your next novel be on ?
“Martyrs and Holymen” will come out in the United States in mid-2013. It is my fifth book here in the States. It is a book about the bad things we do – in our private lives, and in our public lives. It is set in Los Angeles, as all my books are, but half of this one is also set in America’s Desert Wars. That imperialism is America’s public sin – far more grievous and important than anything Lindsay Lohan has ever done.
Could you tell me about your favourite place in Los Angeles ?
There are so many! Though I love the New Los Angeles, I also a huge fan of old school LA. There is a bar and restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard called Musso and Frank. It’s been there for nearly 100 years. (That is old in Los Angeles!) Faulkner, Hemingway, Jim Thompson all drank there. It is a gem!
Which are the news which irritate you the most and which ones make you laugh ?
The news is seldom funny – except perhaps in its absurdity. I can’t stand the celebrity obsession. I don’t care what color Lindsay Lohan’s hair is. And, of course, all the news about war and poverty makes me very sad and angry.
What do your family and colleagues make of the novels you’ve written ?
My wife finds my work disturbing, but she understands what I am trying to do. Same with my kids, who are all in their twenties now. But growing up when they did, I think they see this world that I see.
What are your favorite movies ?
Touch of Evil, Raging Bull, Chinatown, Devil in a Blue Dress, Coup de Torchon, Bob Le Flambeur, Breathless, the crime films of Kurosawa. Movies that I watch over and over with my family include Tombstone and My Cousin Vinny.
What are your favorite songs and music ?
I love jazz, the blues, Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones. But I am mostly listening to new music these days – bands like Tame Impala, TV on the Radio, The Stepkids, Yuck, Raphael Saadiq, The Kills, Saint Motel, Jack White, The Black Keys.
You came this year to Quais du Polar 2012, what are your impressions on the Festival and on your stay in France ?
Quais du Polar was fantastic!!! I love Lyon, and the program itself was both down to earth and serious at the same time. A terrific event in a terrific city with great people and food and wine…Excellent. I also had the chance to go up to Paris after the festival with my editor, the fantastic Lilas Seewald, and do an event there at a great bookstore, Librairie Charybde. Overall, a great experience for me.
Any conluding word to your readers in France ?
I would just say “Merci Beaucoup!” I really appreciate French culture, and how much everyone reads and loves books. It was an honor to be in France and participate in Quais du Polar and spend 8 days in two great French cities.