How a Hollywood setback fueled Jordan Harper’s Los Angeles crime novel ‘Everybody Knows’ – Daily News

It’s a classic Hollywood tale.

After spending years writing on CBS’s “The Mentalist,” Jordan Harper accomplished a dream project: turning James Ellroy’s “LA Confidential” into a TV series. With a strong cast, talented director, and rich source material, the project looked like a winner. Until it wasn’t.

The TV pilot wasn’t picked up, it didn’t become a TV show.

That’s where this story begins.

A hard reset

“I had the opportunity of a lifetime to try and bring James Ellroy’s ‘LA Confidential’ to television,” Harper says on a phone call from his Eagle Rock home. “People who decided not to make it a TV show thought it was a great TV show, but that’s not the metric you use. And so you learn that it’s possible to do something you really like but it won’t happen. And it was extremely frustrating.

“I had all this energy to tell a big, epic Los Angeles crime story that I had built to do five seasons of ‘LA Confidential.’ And when that wasn’t going to happen, I decided to harness that energy, but do something very different, which was set it in this moment,” says Harper, who aimed to explore the conventions of classic noir novels, she says, and “pull them into 21 th century”.

The result is “Everybody Knows,” an adrenaline rush from Harper Hollywood story examining the kind of sordid crimes, deals and misconduct that NDAs typically keep silent about. The book, due out January 10, has been praised by writers such as Michael Connelly, Steph Cha, Attica Locke, James Patterson and SA Cosby, among others.

“I like to say he’s one of the best crime novelists working today, but he really is one of the best novelists working today,” says Cosby, author of “Blacktop Wasteland” and “Razorblade Tears” and a friend who will appear with Harper at Vroman’s of Pasadena on January 25th.

“Everybody Knows” centers on Mae Pruett, a so-called “Black publicist” whose job is not to promote the news, but to smother and bury the bad stuff before it even gets out. Along with a disgraced former deputy sheriff she reconnects with, Mae aims to stay on the good side of The Beast, which is what she calls the powerful lawyers, publicists, and private security who enforce the status quo in Hollywood. Until a murder changes everything.

“Many detective stories, and especially detective stories led by men, can look back. And I think it’s really important to try to engage with the world that we live in now,” Harper says. more importantly, how to be a good person when you have evil inside you.”

In its short, punchy chapters, Harper’s Southern California feels both familiar and barely threatening.

“There’s a long history of books trying to tear LA down as much as possible in a couple of big bites. And crime fiction has always been one of those avenues for a big picture of Los Angeles that doesn’t just include the palm trees and Rodeo Drive or wherever you go when you’re a tourist here.

“’Everybody Knows,’ so much of it was written during the pandemic and I essentially emptied the entirety of my Los Angeles,” says Harper, who likes to use real locations for her fiction. “After I write the drafts, I like to get in the car with my laptop and go to the place where a scene is set. And I finish them, if possible, in the place where I wrote the scene. I checked into the Chateau Marmont to start this book and wrote the first chapter there and saw all the celebrities named in the first chapter.

So filled with recognizable locales and up-to-date lore, it’s a surprise to find that some of its dark twists stem from Harper’s mind, not a TMZ headline.

“With a lot of the stuff I write about, I think fiction is a better avenue to explore it than reporting because it’s so hard to report on stuff that everyone agrees to keep quiet about,” she says. “There are many things in Hollywood that everyone knows.”

“Rhythm AC Milan”

Born in Springfield, Missouri, and raised in the Ozarks, Harper worked as a reporter in St. Louis and New York City, writing about movies for the Village Voice before feeling the need for a change.

“I was kind of falling out of love with it all and realizing the fact that I was a critic who secretly wishes he was a writer, which is the worst kind of critic you can be,” he says. “So I decided I had to start writing some crime stories.”

Early on, he found inspiration in the world he grew up in.

“My grandfather, who was a prison guard in the Ozarks, taught me a lot of those early ideas about masculinity that I had. He was a prison guard who made knives in his spare time and gave me chewing tobacco when I was 7 at a rodeo. He died around the same time Johnny Cash died, and I wrote a story called “Johnny Cash Is Dead,” which I published in Thuglit, which is one of the biggest crime magazines of the last 25-30 years. .

“I did that for a while and then I moved here to LA and got my job on ‘The Mentalist.’ I was at Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop, which is a training program for writers,” says Harper, who has published a book of stories called “Love and Other Wounds.”

He credits his years on ‘The Mentalist’ as “an incredible gift” and a place where he met friends and colleagues and, indirectly, his partner Megan Mostyn-Brown, when ‘Mentalist’ creator Bruno Heller hired them both to write for the “Gotham” series.

It’s also where Harper got an idea for a story that would become her first novel.

“I don’t know exactly where I got the idea to specifically update ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, which is a Japanese film and comic book series, as a Southern California crime story. But I know that it probably took me something like four or five years from the initial idea to the actual realization.

There were some tough moments, like when he realized he needed to rewrite the book from a different character’s perspective. “I was so depressed by the amount of work it would take me that I just left the printout of the book on the floor of my office in ‘Gotham,’” he says. “My friends on the show joked that it was like a murder scene.”

But he pulled it off, and the result was “She Rides Shotgun,” a double-barreled crime fiction blast about an ex-con who kidnaps his son to keep her safe from the white nationalist gang who want them both dead.

“The other real inspiration was the movie ‘Paper Moon,’ and I sometimes describe ‘She Rides Shotgun’ as ‘Paper Moon’ with a body count,” laughs Harper. “‘Blank with a body count’ is a great way to describe a lot of my work.”

The Edgar Award-winning book caught the attention of mystery aficionados, including Cosby, whose career would soon take off with bestsellers and an appearance on President Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading List. Cosby commends Harper as a writer , colleague and friend.

“He’s easily one of the funniest people I know. But he writes these incredibly, almost mythic detective novels that are epic in scope but personal in execution,” says Cosby, who credits Harper with publicizing her first novel, the newly republished, “My Darkest Prayer.”” I personally don’t think there is anyone who thinks as deeply about the true craft, the act of writing, as deeply as Jordan Harper.”

For Harper, that first novel, and another published in the UK called “The Last King of California,” connected him to his roots.

“’She Rides Shotgun’ allowed me to find the closest thing to the Ozarks that I could find in Southern California, which was Fontana, and that kind of off-white boy attitude that is somehow an American universal. Once you get into that redneck beat, you can find it everywhere,” Harper says. “’Everyone knows it’ with a conscious shift.”

A scanner, every night

Having put everything he knew about Los Angeles into “Everybody Knows,” Harper says he’s committed to returning to the city after the pandemic. Really busy, apparently.

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