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INTERVIEW: BUREAU OF ARTS AND CULTURE MAGAZINE EDITOR and Feature Writer Joshua TRILIEGI discusses Fiction Project " They Call It The City of ANGELS "
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INTERVIEW: BUREAU OF ARTS AND CULTURE MAGAZINE EDITOR and Feature Writer Joshua TRILIEGI discusses Fiction Project " They Call It The City of ANGELS "
Discuss the process of writing your recent fiction project, " They Call It The City of Angels ."
Joshua Triliegi: I had lived through the riots of 1992, actually had a home not far from the epicenter and experienced the event first hand, I noticed how the riot was being perceived by those outside our community, people began to call me from around the world, my friends in Paris, relatives in the mid west, childhood pals, school mates, etc… Each person had a different take on why and what was happening, I still have those recordings, this was back in the day of home message recorders with cassettes. So, after 20 years, I began to re listen to the voices and felt like something was missing in the dialogue. Some of my friends and fellow theater contemporaries such as Anna Deveare Smith and Roger Guenvere Smith
had been making bold statements in relation to the riots with their own works and
I realized that there was a version of original origin inside of me. I felt the need
to represent the community in detail, but with the event in the background. Because, I can tell you from first hand experience that when these events happen, people are still people, and they deal with these types of historical emergencies differently based on their own culture, their own codes, their own needs and everyday happenstances.
You published each chapter on a daily basis, explain how and why.
Joshua Triliegi: I had been editing The BUREAU of Arts and Culture Magazine for
a few years, we printed thousands of magazines that were widely distributed throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco and had created an on-line readership.
The part of me that had dabbled in fiction through the years with screenplays and short stories had been ignored for those few years. On the one hand, it was simply a challenge to create a novel without notes, improvising on a daily basis, on the other hand, it gave the project a freedom and an urgency that had some connection with the philosophy of Jack Kerouac and his Spontaneous Prose theories. One thing it did, was forced me, as a creator, to make the decisions quickly and it also,
at the time, created a daily on line readership, at least with our core readers, that
to this day has strengthened our community sites and followers on line. Season One was a series of introductions to each character. Season Two, which happened the following year, was a completely different experience all together.
Describe Season Two of They Call It The City of Angels and those challenges.
Joshua Triliegi: Well first of all, the opening line of Season One is, " Los Angeles is a funny place to live, but those laughing were usually from out of town, " That opener immediately set up an insiders viewpoint that expresses a certain struggle and angst as well as an outsider — looking — in — perception that may be skewed. In introducing characters throughout season one, I was simply creating a cast of characters that I knew somehow would be important to set the tone surrounding the riots of 1992 in Los Angeles. With Season Two, and an entire year of gestation, which was extremely helpful, even if it was entirely on a subconscious level, I had a very real responsibility to be true to my characters and each persons
culture. I had chosen an extremely diverse group of people, but had not actually
mentioned their nationality, or color in Season One. By the time season Two rolled around,
I found it impossible not to mention their differences and went several steps further to actually define those differences and describe how each
character was effected by the perception of the events in their life. This is a novel that happens to take place before, during and after the riot. The characters themselves all have lives that are so complete and full and challenged, as real life actually is, that the riot as a backdrop is entirely secondary to the story.
I was surprised at how much back story there actually was. I also think my background in theater, gave me a sense of character development that really kicked my characters lives into extreme detail and gave them a fully realized life.
How do you go about creating a character ?
Joshua Triliegi: There is usually a combination of very real respect and curiosity involved. Sometimes, I may have seen that person somewhere in the world and something about them attracted my attention in some way. In the case of They Call It The City of Angels, I knew the people of Los Angeles had all been hurt badly by the riots of 1992, because I am one of those people and it hurt. One minute we were relating between cultures, colors, incomes, the next we were
pitted up against one another because some people in power had gotten away with a clear injustice. So with season two, I personally had to delve deeper into each persons life and present a fully realized set of circumstances that would pay off the reader, in terms of entertainment and at the same time be true to the code of each character. Once they were fully realized, the characters themselves would do things that surprised me and that is when something really interesting began to happen.
Could you tell us a bit more about the characters and give us some examples of how they would surprise you as a writer ?
Joshua Triliegi: Well, Jordan, who is an African American bus driver and happens
to be a Muslim, began to find himself in extremely humorous situations where he
is somehow judged by events and circumstances beyond his control. I thought that was interesting because the average person most likely perceives the people of that particular faith as very serious. Jordan has a girlfriend who is not Muslim and when he is confronted by temptation, he is equally as human as any of my readers and so, he gets himself into situations that complicate his experience and a certain amount of folly ensues. Fred, who is an asian shop owner and a Buddhist, has overcome a series of tragedies, yet has somehow retained his dignity with a stoicism that is practically heroic. At one point, in the middle of a living nightmare, he simply goes golfing, alone and gets a hole in one. Junior, who is a Mexican American young man recently released from prison really drives the story as much of his back story connects us to Fred and his tragedies as well as
legal decisions such as the one that caused the city to erupt as it does in the riot.
You talk a lot about Responsibility to Character, what do you mean and how do you conduct research ?
Joshua Triliegi: Well, if I make a decision that a character is a Muslim or Asian or Mexican or what have you, if I want the respect of my readers and of those who
may actually be Muslim, Asian or Mexican, it behooves me to learn something about that character. As a middle aged man who lives in Los Angeles and has done an extensive amount of travel throughout my life, there is a certain amount of familiarity with certain people. But for instance, with Fred, I watched films on the history of the Korean War and had already respected the Korean Community
here in Los Angeles for standing up for themselves the way they did. I witnessed
full on attacks and gun fights between some of the toughest gangsters in LA and
I think even they gained respect for this community in that regard.
Fred is simply one of those shop owners, he is a very humble and unassuming man, in season two, he finds himself entering a whole new life and for me as a writer, that is very gratifying and to be totally honest, writing for Fred was the most bitter sweet experience ever. Here is a man who has lost a daughter, a wife, a business partner and he is about to lose all he has, his shop.
Regarding Junior and Jordan, I grew up with these guys, I have met them again and again, on buses, in neighborhoods at school. Jordan has a resilience and a casual humor that has been passed down from generations, a survival skill that includes an ironic outlook at life. He also has that accidental Buster Keaton sort of ability to walk through traffic and come out unscathed. Junior on the other hand is a real heavy, like any number of classic characters in familiar cinema history confronted with the challenges of poverty and tragedy. He is the character that paid the biggest price and in return, we feel
that experience. There is a certain amount of mystery and even a pent up sexuality and sometimes a violence that erupts due to his circumstances. In season two, within a single episode, Junior takes his father, who is a busboy at a cafe and repositions him as the Don or boss of their original ranch in Mexico.
There seems to be a lot of religion in They Call it the City of Angels, how did that occur and do you attend church or prescribe to any particular faith ?
Joshua Triliegi: I never intended for there to be so much religion in this book. But, if you know Los Angeles like I do, you will realize how important faith is to a good many people and particularly to the characters I chose to represent.
With Jordan being Muslim, it allowed me to delve into the challenges a person might have pertaining to that particular faith. Fred's life is so full of tragedy that even a devout buddhist would have trouble accepting and letting go of the events that occur in his life. Junior found god in prison
as many people do, upon his release back into the real world, he is forced to make decisions which challenge that belief system and sometimes go against his faith, at the same time, he finds himself physically closer to real life events and objects of religious historical significance than the average believer which brings us into a heightened reality and raises questions in a new way. As for my own belief system, I dabble in a series of exercises and rituals that spring from a wide variety of faiths and practices.
You discussed Jordan, Fred and Junior. Tell us about Cliff and Charles and Chuck.
Joshua Triliegi: I don't really believe in secondary characters, but in writing fiction, certain characters simply emerge more pronounced than others. As this project was a daily serial for the magazine, I did try my best to keep a balance, giving each character a fully realized set of circumstances and history. That said, some characters were related to another through family, incident or history and later, I felt compelled to
know more about them and see how they would emerge.
Charles is one of those legendary rock and roll guys who was on tour with music royalty and simply disappeared. He's the missing father we all hear about and wonder what would happen if he were to suddenly return into our lives ? His son Mickey, his wife Maggie, his daughter Cally have all gone on with their lives, when Jordan, accidentally runs him over while driving his bus, Charles returns home and a new chapter in their lives begins again.
Chuck is a cop who just happened to marry Juniors sister and they have several daughters. When Junior returns from prison, he and Chuck clash simply because of their careers and history. I felt it was important to include authority in this story and once I decided to represent a police officer, I wanted him to be as fully realized and interesting as any other character, though, clearly Junior drives much of this section of the novel
and Chuck is simply another person that complicates Juniors arrival. I should also explain that the arrival of Junior from years in prison is really the beginning of events that lead up to the basic thrust of the story and somehow almost everyone in the novel has a back story that connects in some way.
Cliff is absolutely one of my all time favorites. He is a mentally challenged boy whose father happens to be the judge on the case that develops into the unjust legal decision and eventually the actual 1992 riots. I have always felt that challenged individuals deserve much more than the marginalized lifestyles that we as a contemporary society provide. Many ancient societies have relegated what we dismiss as something very special. Cliff is challenged, but also happens to be a very intuitively gifted human being whose drawings portend actual future events. Even though his parents are extremely pragmatic, they are forced to consider his gifts. Cliff is a young upper middle class white boy who is entirely obsessed with the late great comedian Richard Pryor and at very inopportune times, Cliff will perform entire Richard Pryor comedic routines, including much of the original risqué language. Cliff is an innocent who pushes the societal mores to the edge. I have found through fiction the ability to discuss, develop and delve into ideas that no other medium provided me. And as you may know, I am a painter, film maker, photographer, sculptor, designer, who also edits a magazine reviewing art, film and culture.
As a man, do you find it challenging to write female characters ?
Joshua Triliegi: To some extent, yes. That said, I have spent a good many years with women and have had very close relationships with the female
gender, both personally and professionally, so on average, I would say that I am not a total buffoon. In They Call It City of Angels, Jordan's girlfriend Wanda and his mom both appeared and bloomed as fully realized characters that I really enjoyed writing for. Cliffs mother Dora is also a very strong female character that I am very proud to have created. Season two presented a special challenge with dialogue between characters that was new territory for me. I have written screenplays in the past, sometimes with collaborators, once with my brother and more recently with my nephew and in Angels, I found it, for the first time, very easy to imagine the conversations and action in a way that was totally new to my process. I would most likely credit that to my own relationships and possibly to the several recent years of interviewing and writing for the magazine in general.
When will we see another season of They Call It The City of Angels ?
Joshua Triliegi : We have set a tradition of it being the Summer Fiction Project at the Magazine and since August is a relatively slow month for advertising and cultural events, we will most likely see a Season Three in the summer of 2015. As you may know, I do not take any written notes at all prior to the day that I actually write the chapter, so the characters simply develop on a subconscious level and then during the one month or two week process, I pretty much do nothing at all, but ponder their existence, day to day. This can sometimes be nerve racking as I do plot things out in my head and sometimes even make extreme mental notes, though even then some ideas
simply don't make it on the page. During Season Two, I omitted a section of a chapter and later revealed another chapter into a different sequence of events, but besides that it has been a rather straight ahead chapter a day experience that simply pushed me to invent, develop and complete the work of fiction that might have otherwise never existed or possibly taken much more time. I am curious to see how my next project will develop.
What is your next project ?
Joshua Triliegi: I am working on a couple of things of historic importance.
Though I can't say much about them. One is an actual event that I have been given permission to portray by the actual estate and I don't know yet if it will be an ' Inspired by … ' type of Novel or if it will be creative Non Fiction. The other is a fiction piece I have been developing for sometime now. After that I have a sort of family opus that is probably the most researched project I have ever undergone.
I have been writing consciously since I was fourteen years old, stories, journals, poetry, lyrics, screenplays, but as far as fiction goes, They Call It The City of Angels is probably my first successful project with a major readership and I am very thankful that it happened. Better late than never.
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