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Fiction writers won't disclose their cold cases

L.A. Times Book FestivalmysteryTom Epperson

EppersonOne thing that unifies L.A. from its beginning until the present: murder.

Such was the topic of the Book Festival's “Cold Cases” panel hosted by the Mystery Writers of America that featured authors Tom Epperson, Denise Hamilton and Nina Revoyr with Sarah Weinman moderating. Panelists were asked the reason for writing about L.A.'s past, why they chose historical fiction rather than nonfiction and what mistakes they see in from their writing in retrospect.
 
Writing about Los Angeles while living here “is like writing someone a love letter with them in the room,” said Nina Revoyr, author of “Southland” and “The Age of Dreaming.” 

Among the cases that inspired the panelists was the disappearance of Jean Spangler, who vanished after tucking her daughter in to bed in 1949, which was in part the inspiration for Hamilton’s “The Last Embrace.”

Epperson, who wrote “The Kind One” and wrote the screenplay for “One False Move” with his BFF from Arkansas, Billy Bob Thornton, was inspired by the writings of the Boyle Heights Jewish mobster Mickey Cohen, whose philosophy was, “I never killed anyone who didn’t need killing.”

Revoyr was inspired by many of L.A.’s racial policies: the Santa Monica beach being segregated and the influx of Southern blacks living in Little Tokyo after World War II. 

Then writers talked about historical "bloopers" they found in their writing after the books came out.

Revoyr mistakenly referred to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in a historical piece as Mann's (which it later became, for a time). Revoyr created a brothel in what one Angelino Heights resident remembers as a pristine community, and Epperson anachronistically quoted the Rolling Stones in a 1950s-era novel.

 None of the writers was willing to talk about the cases that continue to inspire their writing today.

 “I’m not going to give them up here,” Revoyr said.
 
“Nothing is safe around a writer,” Weinman said.

 Why fiction? “After being a reporter for 10 years for the L.A. Times and sticking to the facts, it’s fun to make stuff up,” Hamilton said.

-- Lauren Williams

Photo: Tom Epperson. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Click here for more photos of the Book Festival.


 

 
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