I was recently flown to Hollywood, Los Angeles by the organisers of the Writers of the Future contest (Galaxy Press) for an intensive week of fiction writing workshops by such esteemed names in the speculative fiction world as Tim Powers, Dave Wolverton, Kevin J Anderson, Orson Scott Card and Rob Sawyer.
It was the best week of my life on every level – what I learned, the friends and contacts I made, the fun I had and the way I was treated (literally VIP treatment) by the wonderful staff of Author Services and Galaxy Press. It was also a cultural experience for me because, aside from Alaska, I had never before been to the USA.
The following series of posts charts my journey from Canberra all the way to Hollywood: the things I saw and the people I met. There will be lots of pictures because I wanted to remember every part of it.
My journey started at the Canberra airport very early in the morning, the sun struggling through the pall of early morning autumn cloud, as I sat with other yawning commuters looking out over the green airport and distant hills. Canberra is very pretty.
The plane in the photo is the one I took to Sydney. The ACT does not have an international airport as yet, but renovations are underway to remedy that.
I’m not a fan of these little planes (I think they’re called fockers) because they seem to have no suspension – in the sense that they seem to bump through every cloud and I start to get worried the wings will drop off. Needless to say, we touched down smoothly and safely after being treated to an amazing view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
At Sydney, it took almost two hours to get through customs so that I could finally be transferred to the International Airport. Thankfully, the organisers of Writers of the Future (a huge thanks to Judy Young who organised my flights) foresaw this and gave me plenty of time to run the gauntlet.
The bus transfer to the Sydney International Airport:
Inside the International Airport. All the planes have overseas tails now!
The flight on Delta Airlines was superb, though I did experience a moment of trepidation when we hit turbulence going out of Sydney and I noticed all the welding spots on the wing of the plane. I prayed a little and then took my mind off the matter with the plane’s huge range of entertainment options.
In a stroke of absolute serendipity, one of the movie options was “Ender’s Game”, which I had tried and failed to see in the cinema and desperately wanted to, since one of the keynote speakers at Writers of the Future this year was Orson Scott Card – the author of the book the film was based on.So I watched that … and then “The Internship” with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
The sun went down spectacularly over the Pacific:
I tried and failed to get sleep – I can never sleep on planes no matter how hard I crush my skull into the crook between the window and the seat and stretch my legs out on the diagonal. My legs are too long for cattle class.
And then it was dawn again (flight time around 15 hours) and we were flying over Los Angeles to Haim’s “The Wire”, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and the Black Keys’ album, “El Camino”.
Rock on baby.
The city is amazing from the air and not what I expected at all. It is incredibly flat with insane levels of urban sprawl (the suburbs go as far as the eye can see) with only occasional clusters of tall buildings. Here and there, lines of mountain ranges jut straight up from the suburbs, testament to the geological processes that have gone on this close to the edge of the tectonic plate.
I made it through customs, which has, to LA’s credit, gone through huge improvements since I passed through it on the way to Canada several years ago. It used to be a cement-walled gulag and very intimidating to new arrivals and, though it is still intimidating in its officiousness and the fact the customs’ officers have had their smiling nerves removed, it is vast improvement on what it was. Well done LAX!
I was collected from the Delta terminal by Mitch and Ria from Author Services, who insisted on welcome hugs despite the fact I can’t have been the most fragrant bouquet in the flower shop 😛
The ride to the Hotel was loads of fun. Ria and Mitch are lovely people and even went out of their way to drive through some of the back-streets and suburbs of Los Angeles so I could take a gander at the houses. The houses I saw had amazing Spanish/Latin-American style architecture and were totally different in appearance from Australian homes with their archways and curved, chestnut shingles. They were also huge and mostly two-storeys.
Mitch and Ria also stopped by Starbucks to buy me coffee and a sandwich, which was lovely. The Starbucks was on a road where a family-friendly cycling race was taking place – people in costumes with young children cruising past us as we sat on the outdoor seating.
Heading to Loews Hollywood Hotel, we started to pass streets and Boulevards I’ve only heard of through movies and magazines.
The Loews Hollywood Hotel was a perfect choice for our stay, giving us full access to the main tourist precinct of Hollywood Boulevard and within walking distance of great restaurants, cafes and the Author Services Building where our masterclasses were held.It also has a Starbucks in the hotel because one should never be required to walk far for coffee.
My room was 816 – a room with two double beds which I shared with fellow winner Leena Likitalo. It was perfectly comfortable with really nice beds. The only issue I had was that my mobile phone kept neutralising the key-cards used to access the room, necessitating several late-night trips to reception to be let in (lucky I kept my passport on me).
Outside the window were several buildings. I am not sure why there is a giant Egyptian-style arch in the centre of Hollywood or why the other building has a huge sign saying Trailer Park on top of it. Curious.
After a nap which went from an intended 2 hours to 5 hours, I wanted to have a look around. The concierge was awesome, directing me towards the Hollywood Walk of Fame (where all the stars are) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and helping me to choose adn arrange the tourist activities for the next day, since it turned out that our workshops were starting on Tuesday and not Monday (the staff of author’s services had taken jetlag into account and brought me over to LA a whole day and half early!).
Given it was 5pm, I had just enough time to walk along the main tourist strip of Hollywood Boulevard. Here, within a mere two blocks, you can find Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, which only shows Disney films; the famous Roosevelt Hotel; The Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars are held); the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where the movie-stars have their handprints and footprints memorialised in cement flagstones before the building’s austere dragons.
Pictures of Hollywood Boulevard:
All along the Boulevard, everyone is on the hustle and I mean everyone. I have never seen such a hungry gathering of people on the make. There are people with little barbecues selling hotdogs and burgers. There are people trying to sell CDs they’ve made themselves. There are loads of people (and I’m talking every 5-10 metres or so) dressed up as super heroes and charging tourists to pose with them. There are musicians playing with their guitar cases in front of them, young men holding $5 signs trying to get you to go into tourist shops, beggars with their hats out and all sorts of others. I even saw a couple of guys with snakes charging tourists to pose with their animals.
And, yes, you could look on all this rampant Capitalism and tourist exploitation with dismay, but what I saw was a real go-get’em country on display and people thinking outside the box.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre:
Some of my favourite stars (you know, because they, like, touched this very spot!):
Will Smith has really big feet and Samuel L Jackson has massive hands.
My hands are exactly the same as Robert De Niro’s. See?
Love you John McClane!
Even the horse gets to make his mark.
My favourite quote by one of my favourite actors – Carpe diem – Seize the day.
Dad would have liked these ones. He was a huge fan of The Duke and Bogie.
Mum would like this. Julie Andrews has tiny hands by the way.
The Madame Tussaud Wax Museum:
I also went to the Wax Museum and spent about 2 hours in there, despite the guy at the front counter saying you can get around in about 45 minutes. I had a ball. I have posted a couple of my favourites below, however, if you really want to look at wax actors or me being a dill, you can find the rest of my pics on my Flickr account.
The wax models are really uncanny up close. The tour starts on the third floor of the museum and heads down through the floors. It was weird getting off the lift and having heaps of wax people stare at you. They are so lifelike that, in the dimness of the museum, it takes a second or two to figure out who the models are and who the other tourists are because you’re all intermingling and the wax models aren’t always posed in extreme poses or wearing unusual clothes.