Your Dream is Here: Megan Abbott on writing a story for the game L.A. Noire

26 August 2011

The author discusses the story she wrote for the computer game L. A. Noire

by Megan Abbott

At age seven or eight, while other, wiser children in my neighborhood were playing outside or watching cartoons, I would spend every Saturday morning perched in front of the TV, drowning in old movies. All I wanted to do was teleport myself back in time and land in the Cocoanut Grove, circa 1945, ermine stole on one arm, Robert Mitchum on the other. I’m not sure how it began, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t pouring over Golden Age Hollywood books, drawing “portraits” of Joan Crawford in satin charmeuse and reading, endlessly, about Los Angeles in the 1940s, particularly as depicted in the classics of film noir. Fred MacMurray’s eyes fixing on the anklet on Barbara Stanwyck’s long, gleaming leg. Dana Andrews gazing up at the lustrous portrait of a beautiful murder victim and falling in love.

These films formed the first foundations of my creative life, which is why it was the proverbial dream-come-true a few months ago, when I was invited to contribute to L.A. Noire: Collected Stories, an anthology of stories by authors including Lawrence Block, Francine Prose and Joyce Carol Oates. The collection was designed to accompany the new, hotly anticipated videogame of the same name.

I admit, I have an inherent suspicion of attempts to recreate 1940s Los Angeles, which, to me, must meet the exacting, sleazy and startlingly romantic standards of the Bible of my post-war L.A.: James Ellroy’s Los Angeles Quartet. But the game world of L.A. Noire, created meticulously over seven years using countless old maps, photos and archival materials, is a transporting experience. It requires its players to solve a series of crimes, most of which interweave fact (e.g., the infamous Black Dahlia murder) with fiction. Instead of  the Venetian-blinds-sheets-of-rain-bourbon-in-desk-drawer kitsch noir we all know so well, its Los Angeles radiates so much of the haunted L.A.-ness I had held in my head since youth: pastel-drenched buildings, battered tiki bars, peeling-leather-boothed bars, the sleek deco lines of the Pacific Dining Car, a string of luminous nightclubs and an aura of looming danger. The sense of blaring beauty and hidden menace. The sureness that you are on a journey that will lead you to dark, dark places.

So, “The Girl,” the story I contributed to L.A. Noire, became my version of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Hollywood style. A beautiful actress striving for one last chance at stardom, a mysterious house, a wild party, a hidden room and everything that lies inside. Ambition, disillusionment, the dark surprise of the lengths one will go to reach that Golden Dream. A Hollywood story, after all.