LATIN BOYZ, my 13th novel might be the pinnacle of my love affair with Los Angeles. At least contemporary L.A. My novels set there invariably seem to dwell in the darker underbelly of the city of Angels, rather than the glitz and glamour many think of when Los Angeles/Hollywood are mentioned. That underbelly was a place I grew to love despite that darkness, or maybe because of it.
I've never wanted to take the easy way. Like most young people I figured I was indestructible, so I thought nothing of picking up and taking the Greyhound to Los Angeles in 1978. I know I meant to stay there for a while, but I had no idea how long. I came with a couple of spec scripts with the dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. I began to realize it wasn't the life for me when I found myself no longer telling people I was a writer. Hollywood writers were not held in high esteem—they have no esteem at all. Everyone in Hollywood was a writer, even when they really thought of themselves as actors or directors of auteurs who did it all. So I stopped saying I was a writer. I didn't stop writing, but I kept it to myself since the only reaction I got was a “So's my Aunt Millie.” who, if you probe deeper, has never actually written anything. They'll do that after it's sold. That's the easy part.
After a couple of decades writing SF I finally turned to writing mysteries, and my first one was published so I knew what I was going to write from now on. I've always had a fascination with gangs from years of reading about them in the L.A. Times and talking to cops like Tony Moreno author of Lessons From a Gang Cop. I was especially fascinated by the Mexican Mafia, often called la Eme. La Eme are in the background of LATIN BOYZ. Those and the Avenues who rule Glassell Park, which is very near Cypress Park where LATIN BOYZ is set. L.A. Boneyard deals in part with gangs, in that case, the Avenues.
I've often used both gangs in other books; but for LATIN BOYZ I wanted a story about gangs from a different angle. I also wanted to write about the real front line cops instead of detectives, who in the real world, are more desk jockeys than street cops. Face it, once a homicide detective gets involved, the violence is a done deal, their role is to figure out who did it and get enough to take it to trial. In real life, that's more desk work and talking to a lot of people and not chasing them and getting into gun fights and foot chases.
I have a great deal of admiration for street cops. Patrol officers are the one who face violence daily. They're the ones first through the door in any unknown situation. Even before SWAT or other ERS units. The ones that answer domestic abuse calls or pull strange cars over, never knowing who is driving. Many simple car stops have led to the death of a uniformed officer. They face things that most of us never see or think about. Yet often the only time we think of these police officers is when the media reports something negative. The media has always been quick to jump on stories of wrongdoing, but never there to say the accusation was false or to show cops in the many good things they do in a community. But their jobs are not only to stop crime but to deal face to face with the victims and civilians who are sometimes friendly but just as likely to be hostile. I wanted to write about all that type of officer. A young, idealistic cop not yet beaten down by the system.
Then I had the fortune of becoming online friends with an ex-LAPD officer, Tim Bowen, who describes himself this way:
Timothy A. Bowen, ex-LAPD Officer, retiree, suppository, author of the absolutely hilarious you got photos? you got prints? you ain't got S.H.I.T. (Some Heavy Intellectual Testimony)
I bought the book, and loved the stories he told of things that happened in his years in the LAPD as a patrol officer so I emailed him and we got to talking. He sent me even more stories, some of which have made their way into LATIN BOYZ in the form of Alejandro Cerveras patrolling Cypress Park. He also loaned me a massive commemorative book from the LAPD's 100 years, 1885-1985. It was full of history and other great information.
Gabriel Torres Aguila is living a nightmare. His mother was killed in a drive-by gang hit on the wrong house. His fifteen-year-old sister was left brain-damaged by the same bullet. He dreams of escaping Cypress Park before the gang jumps him in or finishes the hit on him.
Gabe's life is further complicated when the shooters return and young LAPD officer Alejandro Cerveras answers the 911 call. Will Gabe's attraction to Alejandro be his undoing or his salvation?
Varrio Boyz offers hope in the midst of despair and redemption in the depths of crushing violence.
Alejandro is gay and fairly open about it. When he meets Gabriel Aguila, who is having violent run-ins with a local gang called Locusts Crew XIII, Alejandro is strongly attracted to Gabe. But Gabe lives in denial. He refuses to admit his feelings for men and especially Alejandro. He's also too busy protecting his younger sister, injured in a drive by three months earlier that killed their mother. In the end, Gabe has to decide whether he wants vengeance or Alejandro's love.
Writer's Police Academy
Anyone who wants to spend a weekend getting inside what real cops do should attend the Writer's Police Academy in North Caroline at a real police academy. It was put together by a retired cop and most of the instructors have been or are in some field related to crime prevention or safety—firefighters, EMS, etc.