Cover image for The Los Angeles diaries : a memoir
The Los Angeles diaries : a memoir
Brown, James, 1957-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. Morrow, [2003]

Physical Description:
200 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.R68563 Z463 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3552.R68563 Z463 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3552.R68563 Z463 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A wrenching chronicle of loss and reaffirmation from novelist James Brown Plagued by the suicides of both his siblings, heir to alcohol and drug abuse, divorce and economic ruin, James Brown lived a life clouded by addiction, broken promises and despair. In The Los Angeles Diaries he reveals his struggle for survival, mining his past to present the inspiring story of his redemption. Beautifully written and limned with dark humor, these twelve deeply confessional, interconnected chapters address personal failure, heartbreak, the trials of writing for Hollywood and the life-shattering events that finally convinced Brown that he must "change or die." In "Snapshot," Brown is five years old and recalls the night his mother "sets fire to an apartment building down the street," an act that splinters the family, later leading to their destruction. In "The Facts," he is a young writer and professor "afraid to step out of the darkness" and confront his double life as an addict. In "Daisy," Brown purchases a Vietnamese potbellied pig for his wife to atone for his sins, only to find himself engaged in a furious battle of man versus beast -- with the pig's bulk growing in direct proportion to the tensions in his marriage. Harrowing, brutally honest, The Los Angeles Diaries is the chronicle of a man on a collision course with life, who ultimately finds the strength and courage to conquer his demons and believe in life once more.

Author Notes

James Brown is the author of several novels including Lucky Town and Final Performance. He has received the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction writing and a Chesterfield Film Writing Fellowship from Universal/Amblin Entertainment. His writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Denver Quarterly and New England Review. He lives with his family in Lake Arrowhead, California

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Novelist Brown adopts a blatantly confessional tone in his memoir of growing up with an emotionally disturbed mother and then drifting with his brother and sister into addiction even as he crafted award-winning stories. Looking back from the uncertain shore of sobriety, Brown alternates between his troubled childhood and even more troubling adulthood. In tragically tough prose, he details how he screwed over his first wife, children, sister, writing students, and agent--all while feeding addictions to booze, crank, and novels by hustling hollow teaching and scriptwriting gigs. But this feels like a tale written more for cash and catharsis than for connection. Brown says meeting his second wife changed his life and then keeps the process to himself, omitting the third act. Even though his is a story of selfishness selfishly told, Brown's blackout days make for a darkly alluring read. This is the kind of book that becomes an underground classic for all the wrong reasons. --Frank Sennett Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Novelist Brown (Lucky Town; Hot Wire; etc.) mines the explosive territory of his own harsh and complicated life in this gut-wrenching memoir. The youngest child of a mentally ill mother and an absent father, Brown (b. 1957) grew up in the shadow of Hollywood with two older siblings: a brother, a moderately successful actor until his suicide at 27, and a sister who also dreamed of acting but took her life at 44. Brown's tales are harrowing: at five, he and his mother traveled from their San Jose home to San Francisco, where she set an apartment building ablaze. Arson couldn't be proven, but she was imprisoned for tax evasion. At nine, he shared his first drink and high with his siblings; when he was 12, a neighbor attempted to molest him; by 30 he was an alcohol- and cocaine-addicted writer-in-residence. During his marriage's early years, Brown often left his wife to feed his addictions, repeatedly promising her he'd reform. Desperate to fuel his writing career, he attempted screenwriting, but everything he pitched seemed too dark. Brown's genius compels readers to sympathize with him in every instance. Juxtaposed with the shimmery unreality of Hollywood, these essays bitterly explore real life, an existence careening between great promise and utter devastation. Brown's revelations have no smugness or self-congratulation; they reek of remorse and desire, passion and futility. Brown flays open his own tortured skin looking for what blood beats beneath and why. The result is a grimly exquisite memoir that reads like a noir novel but grips unrelentingly like the hand of a homeless drunk begging for help. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Oct.) Forecast: With blurbs from Michael Chabon, Janet Fitch and Tim O'Brien; author appearances in the West and Pacific Northwest; a 50-city radio satellite tour; and national print ads, Brown's book could attract a fairly wide audience. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The Los Angeles Diaries A Memoir Winter 1994 Fire Winter is the season of the arsonist in Southern California. The manzanita and chaparral are dry and brittle and the Santa Ana winds have begun to blow. They move at gale force. They cross the arid Mojave and whip through the canyons of the San Bernardino Mountains, through the live oak and the pines, the ponderosa, the sugar and coulter, white fir and incense cedar. I know these names because I live in these mountains, eighty miles east of the sprawl of Los Angeles, and I worry when the winds come. I worry about the possibility of fire. I know he's out there, the arsonist. I know he's waiting, like me, for a day of opportunity very much like this. I've seen the Santa Anas uproot trees. I've seen them strip roofing from houses and shatter windows. I've seen them topple big rigs, and once, along the same freeway I'm traveling now, I saw a stop sign flying through the sky. I keep a firm hold on the wheel. The winds hit in sharp gusts and can blow you clean over the line. You have to be ready. You have to hang on tight and keep your eyes on the road. Traffic moves slowly, carefully. No one's taking any chances, making abrupt lane changes, cutting you off or tail-gating. I would like to believe that it's courtesy that dictates our caution, our good manners, except this is Southern California, I grew up here and I know better. Danger or its potential sometimes brings out the best in us, and I wonder, as I reach to turn on the radio, if maybe it would be a good thing if the Santa Anas blew every day all year-round. From time to time I find myself having to drive into Los Angeles on business, and just the thought of it always fills me with a sense of dread and anxiety. The city has changed and grown immensely since I knew it as a child, and sometimes even the most familiar streets, streets I grew up on, seem barely recognizable. Gated communities have replaced the bungalows and tract homes and the signs in the windows of the shops and stores are in Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, occasionally Arabic. Where corner markets once stood you'll now find minimalls, and Hollywood landmarks, places like Schwab's and Pandora's Box and the old Brown Derby restaurant, have gone the way of the bulldozer. There are more freeways, too, bigger and wider ones, but the traffic has never been worse. But it isn't the unfamiliar that makes me anxious. It isn't the traffic or the crowds or the evolving landscape of architecture and ethnicity. I am a fiction writer who doesn't make enough money at it not to have to do something else for a living. So I teach. So I am a professor. And what Hollywood offers me is the chance to escape the classroom and tell stories full-time. Trouble is, I'm not very good at telling stories that pay better and that's what this is about. It's what it has always been about: my driving into Hollywood to talk to producers and executives who like my work but want me to write something more commercial. In this case that less commercial work is my last novel and the screenplay I wrote based on it, a screenplay commissioned by Universal and Amblin, both of whom passed on it when I was done. "I don't know why you ever bothered to write this," an executive tells me, after she finishes reading my script. "It's no movie. It's too real." Now the rights are mine and my agent, who feels differently than the executive, is sending it to other executives and producers in Hollywood. As a sample, he calls it. The idea is not so much to sell the script as it is to sell myself as a scriptwriter. Already I'm looking forward to the end of the day. The Santa Anas die down as I approach Los Angeles and I ease up on the wheel. I take a deep breath. But I know it's only temporary, this calm. I know better than to let myself relax. That thing called the L.A. River borders the last stretch of the freeway into Burbank, and I look out on it, the dirty water, moving sluggishly through the narrow concrete channel that contains it. Over the rush of the cars I try to imagine it as I was told it used to be, a real river, filled with trout and salmon and lined with sycamores and willows instead of chain-link and barbed wire. But I'm not successful. I think about my brother. I think about my sister. We are children down by that river on a day very much like this with the wind blowing lightly and the smell of fire in the air. I'm nine years old, the youngest, and we're passing a bottle around, a bottle I've stolen from a grocery store nearby. My sister points to the sky. "Look. Look ," she says. "Snow." Only they're ashes. Ashes are falling. Ashes are everywhere, and in the sunlight they appear white, almost translucent. My head is spinning and I laugh. My brother laughs. I can hear us all laughing as we look to the sky, opening our mouths, catching ashes, like snowflakes, until our tongues turn black. In the rearview mirror I check to see if my eyes are clear. They are, and they should be. I've gone without a drink or a drug for four days, four long miserable days of white-knuckling it, all because I want to look my best, and I like to think I do ... The Los Angeles Diaries A Memoir . Copyright © by James Brown. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir by James Brown All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Firep. 1
Snapshotp. 19
Daily Rushesp. 41
My Papa's Waltzp. 55
The Factsp. 61
Touchp. 77
Daisyp. 97
Personal Effectsp. 117
On Selling a Novel to Hollywoodp. 137
A Fine Placep. 147
Midairp. 163
South Dakotap. 195
Acknowledgmentsp. 201