Oh, my characters do like a drink. Well, so do I, and that’s what they say: write what you know. My first novella, ‘Getting Off,’ may start with a scene of domestic strife, but before long we meet my heroines Vicky Russo and Sharon Weiss in a bar, where they meet a couple of guys, one of whom is happy to go out dancing with them. Bars are a good place to meet people. This is, basically, why bars exist.
Vince Connor, that dancing guy, is the hero of ‘All the Bars on Sunset.’ He ends up dancing in a show (an entirely fictional show, I hasten to add) at the House of Blues. It is, he says, the last bar he expected to make his mark in.
Many of the L.A. Stories concern events at a nightclub (again, fictional) called Chrome. This place is based on a club Mr. P and I visited once, in Hollywood. It was (and perhaps still is) distinguished by having a downstairs bar/lounge with a stage where we saw a semi-pro burlesque show. Having seen that such a place and such a show could exist, of course when I began writing these stories it was irresistibly tempting to re-create them in my fictional world.
And once one posits a bar, one naturally progresses to drinking. Alcohol sales drive the existence of the bar and nightclub industry, the success of most restaurants, and the profit margins of many entertainment and sporting events. People rarely go to bars with the intention of not drinking. Most people, in fact, who are not prohibited by their religions do drink alcohol. It was probably one of the first three inventions of humanity (with fire and bread).
Tyrone Washington, hero of ‘Chai at Midnight,’ is the owner/manager of Chrome. He came up in clubs in Atlanta, as a server, bartender, and talent booker. He knows what people want. Part of what people want, aside from drinks, is entertainment. Tyrone takes a chance on a semi-pro burlesque troupe. Once he starts booking them, they change their name to the Underground Cabaret. Tyrone is confident that sexy women will sell drinks, and so they do.
On the flip side of fun is alcohol dependence. I haven’t written a confirmed addict yet. That’s an experience I haven’t had, a place I haven’t been, and a subject I don’t want to treat lightly. James Levine, the hero of ‘Vintage,’ has a drinking habit that worries his friends, and that worries him. Recognition of a problem is, they say, the first step to dealing with the problem. James doesn’t stop drinking, but he stops using alcohol to mask his unhappiness.
Another way to recognize the ubiquity of alcohol is in characters who serve it. Kate and Terry are bartenders at Chrome. Kate Pok is the heroine of ‘Speed Date,’ a novella that starts at Chrome. Terry Jefferson is the hero of ‘Shaken & Stirred.’ A couple of my characters work in another branch of the beverage business: Silvia Moreno (‘Vintage’) is a wine-industry consultant; Luis Ramirez (‘Overboard’) is a sommelier. These two are friends from high school, who ended up at UC Davis together.
None of the novellas are about drinking, per se. It’s simply a part of my characters’ lives. When characters go out to dinner, or even when dining at home, they are apt to open a bottle of wine to go with that dinner. More rarely, they’ll have a specific cocktail. Somebody at Chrome makes something called a ‘Tequila Sunset’ that we read about in ‘Beat,’ which is not at all like the drink you’ll find if you Google that cocktail; at Chrome, it involves jalapeno vodka. There are more Chrome-specific cocktails, because it’s the kind of place that would make a themed cocktail for a show night.
As we head into the last few days of 2018, drink safely, y’all.