Touring Los Angeles with Our Tom Stone Crime Thrillers Part 1: Van Nuys
So Lon sits down with me in a crowded Starbucks, tables are way too small, and says, “How’d you like to turn one of my scripts into a novel?”
Lon often dresses in black — a contrast to his personality — so it’s no surprise that in his stack of scripts was a detective screenplay, Stone Cold. I chose that one. He never offered to pay for my coffee. But that’s okay. I never offered to pay for his, either.
We’d known each other for a number of years and staged a script for a sitcom he had written, Apartment Zero, and were fortunate then to have the wonderful contortionist actor Doug Jones in it. He was hilarious.
Back to the script. I read it and began writing. I stopped. Too cold. This was Lon’s vision, but I needed to warm it up and we needed a story before the story.
How Our Writing Evolved into Los Angeles
Writing a fictional series with a partner certainly has the potential to drive two people apart — just like running a business can damage relationships. Or it can be a rewarding experience where your own ideas blossom and are improved on.
That’s what happened during Book One. In early 2015, I began turning Stone Cold into a novel. I wrote 13 chapters by the end of summer and told Lon we needed a Christmas story. A short one. Really short, like 3,000 to 5,000 words. Yeah, right. He said, “what about this and this and this?”
It wound up being over 40,000 words and 144 pages in print. I abandoned the first novel and our first novella became Book One. An early reviewer noted something unique about Los Angeles in our story — read his review below the cover image. So here is a tour of Los Angeles based on each of our three novels/novellas and a short story in the Tom Stone Detective Series.
Book One Tom Stone: A Nitty Gritty Christmas
Los Angeles has Nitty Gritty people and streets which developed in this novella. We explored as we wrote, more writing by the seats of our pants than a well-developed outline, wondering who our own characters were.
A window shattered by a single bullet. Cocaine-laced candy. A child ODs. It’s just another Christmas in LA until Detective Tom Stone takes action.
What a reader said in his review on Amazon:
Tom Stone is the classic hardboiled cop who escapes into his work even as he tries to maintain some kind of personal life. The criminals he pursues are believably sullen and self-destructive, and the Macguffin is grimly clever. I liked the fact that “Nitty Gritty Christmas” was set not in glamorous Beverly Hills or Malibu, but in the prosaic suburbs of the San Fernando Valley.
Los Angeles neighborhoods covered include:
Van Nuys, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, and the port of Long Beach.
Topics included: drug running, foster care, a divorced dad but involved.
As the story opens, Detective Tom Stone’s partner on the force, Jake Sharpe, is taking presents to a foster care group home in Van Nuys. I based this loosely on my experience as a dad who’s adopted out of foster care in Los Angeles and my relationship with a boy who grew up in a group home setting. He’s the brother to our youngest daughter. She came to us at five weeks of age and we met him when he was 11.
Including each of the neighborhoods was meaningful to me because I like each of them. I give Lon credit for being open and going along with the thoughts and building on each one.
Chapter Two “They drove west on Roscoe Boulevard … Palm trees stood like spectators past block after block of apartment buildings that were dusty from the constant breeze blowing through the Valley.”
It’s part of Los Angeles and yet it has its own unique vibe. The “downtown” area just north of the courthouse has an older feel and style to it. A largely Hispanic base gives it a comfortable feel.
Many of the buildings are one-story and two-stories.
Van Nuys was home to the wanna-be drug lord, Anthony Angelino. But that doesn’t mean it’s a crime-ridden area at all.
In fact, we have one character, Mary Ann Bostovich, who’s trying to start a neighborhood watch and she thinks back to how the neighborhood was when she and her husband moved in many years earlier. She calls Stone and Jake.
“What do you mean he’s got angry friends?”
“Oh, the banging on the door at night. Cars always pulling up. Someone yelling for something and then tires squealing.”
“Like a party going on?” asked Jake.
“Not a party. Like he attracts a bunch of angry people, but not all at once. You know, like a drug dealer.”
Van Nuys remains a focal point throughout our novels. In Book 3, Tom Stone: Day of the Dead, the busy Van Nuys Airport plays an important role. It’s one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world.
Hopefully this tour gives you a taste of Van Nuys and a taste of Book 1 Tom Stone: A Nitty Gritty Christmas.