I’m an American journalist based in Los Angeles whose work has a heavy focus on the issues of politics and social justice. I’ve made a career out of making life miserable for very powerful, very corrupt people—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For some inexplicable reason, (lack of romantic success in high school perhaps) I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. Writing and journalism allows me to channel that aggression into something positive. I suspect your readers already know this, but American government is a cesspool of dishonesty, money, and corruption on every level. So there’s plenty to write about.
Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love in your own creative business?Freedom. I’m a freelancer. So the ability to set my own schedule and be as busy as I want to be could not be more ideal. As far as the actual work goes, I also have quite a bit of creative freedom. If the social justice work gets too heavy, I can take off to South America for a month and hopefully dig up some cultural or travel stories there. Basically, whatever it is I’m curious about I have the ability to explore. That is what drew me to, and keeps me in, the field of journalism.
Where do you get your inspiration from when you write?From the world around me. Truth, as the say, is stranger than fiction. More interesting too.
What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?Smart, stubborn, slightly-off, funny (albeit corny at times), argumentative. Basically, I think most of my friends find me interesting but mildly annoying. I can be a pain-in-the-ass. I’m fine with that. I mean well and most people recognize that.
Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?
My first real job was as a clerk at a law office. I worked there for a year, saving up money in between high school and university. I’d say it was one of the best years of my life—in that it taught me I never wanted to work in an office again. I was set to go to business school until I worked in that office and witnessed a kind of slow-burning misery I vowed to never visit upon myself. That was when I decided to become a writer at all costs.
Well, I mostly work from home. So the whole cliché about bloggers and writers sitting at home in their underwear largely holds true for me. My brain is at my most productive when I first wake up, so I usually try to do all my serious writing or important interviews as early as possible—before I even get out of bed. I’ll work nonstop in bed from 8 a.m. until a little after noon. Then I finally get up, get myself together, eat, and try to get some fresh air. I’ll usually spend the next few hours doing whatever I feel like—going for a walk, working out, catching a movie, taking a nap--and then get back to work after 3 p.m. I think the Spanish have it right with their siestas. Mid-afternoon is a terrible time for work. Our bodies are naturally predisposed to resting around this time to avoid the mid-day sun. I usually don’t do any writing in the afternoon unless I absolutely have to. I’ll make phone calls to sources and try to dig up stories to work on the following morning when my brain is fresh.
At this point in my career I really can’t complain. It tends to be the little things that get on my nerves. The editor who asks for story ideas but never bothers to get back to you with a yes or no answer when you pitch him/her. The person you need to interview who just refuses to call you back. Being a journalist requires an insane amount of due diligence. You constantly have to check and double-check everything. So you kind of have to train yourself to power through problems.
Tell us about how do you connect with other creative professionals, and your clients (i.e. how do you network)?
Being a journalist affords me the opportunity to meet and speak to a lot of really interesting people. If someone is doing interesting work that I admire, I can simply call them up and ask to interview them. Salaries for journalists can often be tragic, but the ability to interact with talented and compelling people is definitely one of the many perks that makes the job worthwhile.
Have a solid plan in place to pay your bills. Everyone has creativity inside them. Getting paid to express that creativity, however, is a pretty difficult thing to manage. The key is to find a balance between jobs that pay well enough to meet your financial needs—even if they’re dull and unsatisfying--and passion projects that may pay very little or nothing at all. If you can manage a 50/50 split I’d say you’re doing pretty well.
What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfil in your life?
I’d love to write more fiction. As long as you’re a hard worker, writing in the journalistic style is pretty easy. If you’ve done the proper amount of research and interviews, stories practically write themselves. With fiction it’s not like that. You’re inventing a world whole cloth, and the story can go in any direction you want it to. It’s far more challenging. So to finish a novel and actually get it published would definitely be a dream come true.
What is your proudest moment so far?
I had the misfortune of losing several jobs right in a row during the recent global economic collapse. Print media, at least in America, simply imploded in 2008 and will likely never recover. I worked for one paper that laid off half it’s staff, and another that went out of business—all in the span of six months. Some lean years followed, but I’m proud that I was able to rebound and continue doing valuable work despite setbacks that have claimed the careers of many great journalists in recent years.
To be honest with myself. Self-esteem is important and so is taking risks. But you have to recognize your weaknesses and admit when you’re over matched or have made a mistake.
I’m reading Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. It’s a novel about two Los Angeles couples--one a pair of rich liberals, the other a pair of migrant workers from Mexico--whose lives cross in tragic fashion. Despite the fact that I love to travel, I’m very Los Angeles-focused in my intellectual life—even in my free time. I think a lot of people (at least in America) who keep up with the news tend to focus on national and international affairs and ignore what’s happening right around them. Los Angeles is my livelihood and I spend most of my days exploring its depths from every possible angle. It makes me a better reporter and a better citizen.
Where do we find you and your work? (list stores & links, websites )
Here are links to some of my better stories.
Navahoax – LA Weekly
Children of the Revolutionary – LA Weekly
Policing Revolution – LA Times Magazine
Finally, a link to my ongoing series on police corruption “Dangerous Jails” – WitnessLA