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LAist Interview: Seth Greenland

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It used to be that fiction writers came to Los Angeles to live out their remaining days as screenwriters. Like most LA "truths," this is no longer the case. More and more screenwriters and other creative professionals are turning to fiction to satisfy their expressive urges. Seth Greenland's career has taken a similar turn. Greenland is a screenwriter and playwright who uses the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene as a backdrop for his first novel, called "The Bones." David Ulin profiles the novelist in today's Los Angeles Times. Seth Greenland reads from his new novel on Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00 at Dutton's Brentwood. 11975 San Vicente Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90049 Tel: (310) 476-6263 Fax: (310) 471-0399
1. Tell us about your first novel, The Bones

My first novel is about a comedian whose various demons keep him from achieving the success he rightly believes is his and his relationship with an extremely successful (but undeserving) writer of sitcoms who is tortured by his success. They create all sorts of problems for each other. Comedy and tragedy ensue.

2. Have you ever been a comic on the LA comedy circuit? What is it like?

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I have never been a comic on the L.A. circuit but have known many comedians who were on the circuit at one time.

3. What inspired you to write this novel?

I was inspired to write the book because I wanted to read a literary novel about the comedy world but no one had written one. I thought I’d step in and fill the gap.

4. What’s the best theater experience you’ve had in LA as a writer and or as a member of the audience?

I have never had a theatre experience as a writer in Los Angeles since my plays have never been produced here although I’ve had some readings that have been enjoyable. As an audience member? I saw a Mike Leigh play at the Odyssey done by a Chicago company whose name I can’t recall that was great. Also, Steven Berkoff’s one man show Shakespeare’s Villains (also at the Odyssey) was quite good.

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5. Which is better, being a TV writer/entertainment industry worker or being a novelist?

Being an entertainment business worker is not unlike being in the sex industry -- someone gives you money and you pretend to enjoy what you’re doing to get it. When you’re a novelist you feel better about yourself in the morning.

6. Could your novel have taken place in a city other than LA? If not, what is so unique to the LA experience that lends itself to the absurdist sensibility of your story?

The Bones could only have taken place in Los Angeles because this is where the comedy sausage factory exists. There are sitcoms occasionally done in New York and comedians do reside there but the comedy business such as it is does not infect the zeitgeist in New York the way it does here in Los Angeles, where it represents a far larger share of the economy. Simply, the pornographic amounts of money potentially available to those practicing the comedy arts here make Los Angeles sui generis.

strong>7. Age and occupation.

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I am a screenwriter/playwright/novelist in my forties.

8. What neighborhood do you live in?

I live on the west side of L.A.

9. Where are you from?

I grew up in a suburb north of New York City and lived in the city for many years.

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10. What's your preferred mode of transport?

My preferred mode of transportation is walking. However, since I live in a canyon miles from the nearest Whole Foods, I am forced to use a car; in my case a Volvo, a choice purely attributable to having children.

11. How often do you ride public transportation in LA?

I have never ridden public transportation in Los Angeles although I was a regular on the west side IRT when I lived in Manhattan.

12. What are your favorite LA-based TV show(s) and movie(s)?

Curb Your Enthusiasm. My favorite LA movies are Chinatown and Shampoo.

13. Best LA-themed books?

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, My Dark Pages by James Ellroy, and The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

14. Please share your best celebrity sighting experience.

My best celebrity sighting experience has to be seeing Barbra Streisand in the butcher section of the Ralph's in Malibu. As she fondled the chicken breasts, she truly looked as if she wished she were anywhere else.

15. What's the best place to walk in LA?

In the Santa Monica Mountains, particularly if you're walking with dogs.

16. It's 9:30 PM on a Thursday night. Where are you going to/coming from, and what are you doing?

I'm usually lying around the house reading or watching a Clipper game on TV if they're playing.

17. If you could live in LA during any era, which would it be?

It would probably have be the present. The privilege of having a front seat as a great culture dematerializes is indescribable. Like being in Rome around 400 AD. My second choice would be the 1920s. Everyone looks like they're having an amazing time in those photographs which can only be partially attributable to their being in black and white.

18. If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which
would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.

I don't know the name of the neighboring county in which I would choose to live but it's the one with the town of Twenty-Nine Palms. Is that neighboring? But I'd only live there in the winter. Does that make me a pussy? Probably.

19. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

If I could live in a specific house I think I'd like to try a Richard Neutra in the Hollywood Hills. Or a Craftsman near the ocean in Santa Monica. I'd like anything that would make people resent me.

20. Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?

I've found it remarkably easy to make friends. What I find difficult is getting rid of them.

21. What is the city's greatest secret?

The city's greatest secret? The movie business is really run by Episcopalians.

22. Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

My liver can not tolerate more than two alcoholic beverages at any given time so drinking and driving is usually not a problem for me. I do believe in capital punishment for a second DUI violation, however; none of this three strikes bullshit.

23. What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?

To east coast supremacists I say "Check your calendar, it's no longer 1977."

24. Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?

Earthquakes have not significantly penetrated my consciousness probably I moved here after the Northridge so I never internalized the big-dealness of it. As my father said to a friend recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, "So you shake a little."

25. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

I'd like to be in Hawaii.