While I was in the throes of working on The Last Song, I blogged about how, though I'd chosen Detroit as it's setting, I'd never been to Detroit. Over a couple of posts, I've tried to discuss the media I was exploring in order to inform my sense of place, because Sense of Place is crucial both as a writer and as a reader. If my novel feels as though it could have happened literally anywhere, and just has the Detroit label slapped on it, well, then I didn't quite do it right.
But, I've never been to LA either. I feel like I might have a better handle on LA's sense of place, though, perhaps because of its repeated presence in movies over the decades, and in books I've read. So when our newest Shadowrun game was to take place there, I thought it would be interesting for my character, coming from outside Las Vegas, to have based her notions of LA on what the 20th-early 21st century thought it was, rather than what it had become in 2059 (or whenever it is our current Shadowrun takes place. I think I"m close. 2070?)
I actually said to a library patron that my notion of LA was largely informed by the movie The Big Lebowski and, totally straight faced, he said "Well, that's how it is. That's what it's like." I mean, I was being somewhat facetious, but on further thought, not really. When I think of LA, the movie that leaps to mind is The Big Lebowski, with some China Town, LA Confidential, Black Dahlia, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Point Break thrown in.
When I think of LA, the books I think of are the Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block, and Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey, where Los Angeles is a character just as much as any of the people are. I think of Helter Skelter, which isn't fiction at all, but rather the book Vincent Bugliosi wrote about the Manson Family.
When I think of LA, I think of the video game Grand Theft Auto V, which takes place in fictional "Los Santos" but is very clearly Los Angeles.
When I think of LA I think of Hollywood, and Beverly Hills 90210, and Californication.
When I think of Los Angeles, I think of all those 90's and early 00's not-quite-surf-rock post grunge bands like Everclear and the stories they build and the images they put forth of the ocean, and how relationships go, and the people.
The thing about basing my mental Los Angeles on all these fictional ones is, in a way, they're all true. Sure, they're exaggerated and sometimes ridiculous, but Los Angeles is a monolithic city in the American consciousness. We all, I think, have a sun drenched mental image of that city of possibilities, and I think many people still think "California" when they think "I need to get out of this place and start a new life. When America as a whole stopped being the Land of Opportunity, I guess we kept a corner of it bright and shiny on the west coast?