Inspiration strikes in strange ways. The spark for my debut novel, The Neon Lights are Veins, began with an article in the L.A. Weekly titled “Death of Raven, a Hollywood Beauty”. The lead-in read, “Raven was one of the youngest and toughest Hollywood street runaways…”
This was June, 2008.
My future wife, Jenny, and I were renting a one-bedroom in Los Feliz, capitalizing on the benefits of having every amenity within walking distance (Metro line, movie theaters, restaurants, etc.) We never drove on the weekends, a luxury in Los Angeles. These weekends were mostly spent at movie houses or bar hopping with friends up Vermont and down Sunset. Neon signs served as beacons to and from our destinations. I became infatuated with them; the book Los Angeles Neon by Nathan Marsak and Nigel Cox, along with the Museum of Neon Art were integral. But it was the mention of one of these signs in the Raven article that lit a fuse.
The Olive Motel: a seedy drive-in with rates by the hour and a (since replaced) ominous emerald neon. This was where a sixteen-year-old runaway was strangled to death and then wrapped in a bed sheet to be discarded with trash. The killer (who was caught on tape and later convicted) chose to dump her body behind the El Cid, a flamenco restaurant up Sunset. She was found on a summer morning in 2007. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but realize that when painting the town, Jenny and I would regularly walk right past the girl’s final resting place. Had we obliviously passed by on the night of, inebriated and laughing—the horror scene mere feet away? The article changed the way I looked at my beloved neighborhood, and the image of the poor girl still haunts.
My novel is in no way a regurgitation of the unfortunate event; the article created an atmosphere to which I would draw and develop characters. Characters that I would see along Hollywood Boulevard as I rode my skateboard in early morning hours, watching sprightly tourists clash with dregs from the night previous. The article and these visuals marinated into what became The Neon Lights are Veins.
I keep files with newspaper articles on Los Angeles happenings that somehow made an impression: a well for future backdrops or characters. To this day, none have had the impact that Raven’s had. I find this comforting in that I never want to read another article about such a meaningless homicide of someone so young. But living in a transient metropolis that sprawls like no other, I know that I will have to read many, many more in my lifetime. The City beckons; the City destroys. Until then, I await that next spark.
Nolan Knight is a fourth generation Angeleno whose short fiction has been featured in various publications including Thuglit, Plots with Guns, Shotgun Honey, Beat to a Pulp and Needle Magazine. His debut novel The Neon Lights are Veins is out now via 280 Steps Publishing. He currently lives in Long Beach with his wife and their two children. Peep more at NolanKnight.com / @Nolan_Knight_