By Patrick Millikin
Boston Teran first arrived on the scene back in 1999 with the publication of God is a Bullet (which we selected for our First Mystery Club). In the years since, the pseudonymous Teran (his real identity has been kept a closely-guarded secret) has created a substantial body of work, largely ignoring genre limitations and forging his own path. In 2001, Never Count Out the Dead introduced readers to William Worth, an agoraphobic LA journalist who writes under the pen-name “Landshark.” Now, more than twenty years later, Teran has brought Worth back, just when it seems we need him most. Big Island L.A. (click to order a signed copy) is at once a classic of Los Angeles crime fiction and somehow captures the city as it is now. I’m pleased to select the book as the November selection of the Hardboiled and Noir Club. I conducted the following brief interview with Boston Teran via email. Enjoy!
1. Big Island LA is told through Landshark’s eyes and commentary. It is, as you write, “as much about the state of his Los Angeles and soul as it is about a pyramid of corruption and murder.” Why did you decide to bring him back now? It does seem like we’re at a peculiar turning point in time, and Los Angeles as always is a funhouse mirror.
Twenty years since NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD and Landshark… That long! Blade Runner should be collecting Social Security by now.
The Los Angeles of that first book—NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD—used to be utterly definable. Much of the city’s persona was born of movies, music, books, art, and television. It was a faux reality that people came to love, believe in, and lean on.
But now, Los Angeles is besieged and being broken to pieces. Not only historically, but culturally, socially. And no one is yet sure, nor is it possible to be sure, what Los Angeles will come to be, and to mean.
The city wants to portray itself as the ultimate progressive vision. A vision buffed up by social media and the soft sell, while it bears the curse of poverty, homelessness, disillusionment, and a host of lesser sufferings—all with a quiet and invisible disdain.
It seems the city would like to raze its dark side with bigger and even better dark sides. And the strain of those extremes its domineering force. Its arsenal the new era of TikTok, X, and all the usual big ticket tech platforms where lurk unseen agents known as indifference and moral paralysis.
So who better to bring down from the shelf, dust off, shine up, and let loose other than William Worth—aka Landshark—the living embodiment of Los Angeles extremes?
2. Journalists, especially “outlaw” (for lack of a better term) journalists are of such crucial importance today, challenging the perceived wisdom, giving voice to those who usually have none, and sometimes at great personal risk (I think, especially of certain heroic Mexican journalists). Are there any particular journalists who informed the character of Landshark?
If the Landshark of NEVER COUNT OUT THE DEAD was, as you rightly suggest, a classic eccentric, then the Landshark of BIG ISLAND, L.A. is a classic eccentric 2.0.
When you say that “outlaw” journalists are of crucial importance, it’s true. Because much of journalism has been taken over by critical corporate powers that have the means to reshape the world, and mean to do it.
Most of the small, independent newspapers, etc., have gone the way of the printing press. They’re museum pieces. It’s the new technologies that have opened up unchartered avenues where stories can escape to daylight, important stories that otherwise would die unnoticed.
Now it’s mostly the journalist who dies unnoticed. And they don’t even have the benefit of health insurance for all the effort.
As for who informed Landshark, he was created from the ground up—the agoraphobia, the family history of depravities and sexual abuse, the parents’ mega wealth come by way of the pharmaceutical business. He was a “modeled character,” you might say, as he was the book’s stand in for Los Angeles.
What did inform him was the L.A. WEEKLY, which I’m sure you are familiar with as the alt newspaper of that era, and the perfect home for a William Worth to become Landshark.
As an aside—for your audience—have them check out Lalo Alcaraz, whose famous cartoon strip, the first Latino themed strip, called “La Cucaracha,” first appeared in the L.A. WEEKLY of that era.
3. Ana Ride and her father are great characters. Can you write a little about what inspired them?
BIG ISLAND, L.A. is as much about a series of damaged families, families at odds with each other, broken families, lost and failed families.
Ana Ride and her father are certainly one of those families and pivotal to BIG ISLAND as they are literally the past, present, and future of a story that has them in its grip.
Now…how they came to be, especially Ana Ride. I wish I could tell you the answer came from some instant of literary provenance, or a hip contemporary article I read that became a dramatic fated moment.
The truth is much simpler, but straight out of L.A., and in that respect fits the book well.
I was at the home of a film freak friend of mine who was watching an old Hollywood movie…Wee Willie Winkie…which is itself the story of a broken family that features a child at a British military fort in India during the colonial period.
It starred Shirley Temple. Big star in her day and she was only six. In the original book by Rudyard Kipling, Wee Willie Winkie was a boy, but Hollywood juiced it up, changing the character to a girl, even squeezing in a song or two.
Now it also happens that the movie Ana and her father were watching at the beginning of the book was Wee Willie Winkie. And my film freak friend bears a telling resemblance to Ana’s father. My film freak friend also had, shall we say, a deeply flawed relationship with his own daughter.
Now, the differences between a father and daughter, especially a wounded hero of a daughter, who in some respects has “outmanned” and “outgunned” that father, who was military and LAPD himself, are born for the stuff of spontaneous literary combustion.
4. The reader will be tempted to draw parallels between Landshark’s reclusiveness and your own anonymity. The two, of course, are not quite the same. Worth is in many ways a classic Los Angeles eccentric. Do you find at this stage of the game, that your anonymity is as important as ever? I imagine that it probably is. Your books have always offered a sane perspective on history, challenging the popular narrative and our tendency to sanitize the past.
Anonymity, to me, says—I am my books.
By removing myself from the equation my books are left to live or die on their own merit. To fend for themselves with history. I neither help them nor hurt them.
Writers, as you know, are often pigeonholed by their personal lives and beliefs, their histories, as to what they can and cannot write about. I saw it coming a quarter century ago when I began.
There was no real social media then, but it was there. It just did not have quite the grasp of technology then to back up its contradictory passions.
How many writers have been limited, if not grounded, by publishers or a public that since they do one kind of book, they can’t do another?
Didn’t Mark Twain suggest publishing The Prince and the Pauper anonymously so his name for comedy would not get in the way? And wasn’t it the same for his Joan of Arc?
Anonymity, for me, is also—freedom.
I answer to no one, except those ghosts in my head that took me here. And so I have the right to go down in flames, by choice, for my choices, and I’m willing to be judged accordingly.
I appreciate your suggestion I offered a sane view on history, challenging the popular narrative and our tendency to sanitize the past. That sentence caused me to wonder: Do we sanitize the past because we have been such abject failures at cleaning up the present? And if so, are we, as a culture, aware of it?
What does your audience think?
5. Los Angeles is a shape shifter, its history endlessly mythologized. There are still ghosts of the city’s frontier past. Big Island LA really captured this beautifully. Were you at all influenced by some of the city’s classic chroniclers, such as Raymond Chandler, Dorothy B Hughes (esp. In a Lonely Place), Nathanael West, John Fante and so many others?
I love this question because it causes me to ask: How much did the literary chroniclers contribute to L.A. mythology, and how much did L.A. mythology contribute to the works of the chroniclers?
It seems it was the movies that struck a fatal blow for L.A. mythology. They made the city the poisoned giant that it is. The real west had been an essential part of L.A. history, then in no time at all, it was nothing more than film locations for westerns being shot there.
Los Angeles had become a crossroads of corruption and golden promise through the twenties and thirties and what came with it—the Raymond Chandlers, the John Fantes, the James M. Cains, the Dorothy Hugheses. A list of artists that goes on, that had a more acute and cutting contemporary vision of their world.
They were taking all that corruption and reinventing it. Creating an iconography of a city. They were putting the worst of Los Angeles to good artistic use. And Los Angeles was a willing accomplice because all that crime and corruption found its way into the work of those artists which created more mythology that books and films fed on.
You mention Dorothy Hughes and In a Lonely Place.
The book had exceptional originality, social definition, and a diamond hard view of mankind that created a bastard child, the movie, which had Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Creating more mythology.
In its own way that set piece of book—movie—place is pure distilled L.A. An L. A. that begat websites dedicated to the book and the movie and their particular similarities and peculiar differences. And then there are the real locations and details the writer of the book used, and the L.A. locations the filmmakers used. And stories about each and comparisons to other books and movies in an ever increasing mythology.
It’s like one of those labyrinthine libraries Jorge Luis Borges was so fond of using in his pinpoint tales.
If I could ask Landshark what he thought of all this, I think I’d go to a comment I was saving for him further down the road.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in a great sea of the blind.”