Fresh Blood

Name: Melissa Scrivner Love

Title of Book: Lola

'Lola is a wonderful addition to the growing number of complex, multi-faceted women we are seeing in crime fiction today.'

The Crenshaw Six are a small, but up-and-coming gang in South Central LA who have recently been drawn into an escalating war between rival drug cartels. To outsiders, the Crenshaw Six appear to be led by a man named Garcia… but what no one has figured out is that the gang's real leader (and secret weapon) is Garcia's girlfriend, a brilliant young woman named Lola. Lola has mastered playing the role of submissive girlfriend, and in the man's world she inhabits she is consistently underestimated. But in truth she is much smarter - and in many ways tougher and more ruthless - than any of the men around her, and as the gang is increasingly sucked into a world of high-stakes betrayal and brutal violence, her skills and leadership become their only hope of survival.

This novel is a rally cry for girl power. I defy any woman to read it and not be silently cheering for Lola as she navigates the brutal, dangerous world she lives in.

The story begins at a neighbourhood barbeque. Lola and her partner, Garcia, are hosts in their ‘craggy square of backyard’. Midway through the afternoon, a man turns up on their doorstep. His name is The Collector, and he’s not here for any barbeque.

Like everyone else, The Collector believes Garcia is the Crenshaw Six’s leader. The Collector has a job for the gang. A difficult job that could destroy them. Or, as Lola quickly realises, could also be the break they need to make some serious money. There’s just one problem. If the job goes wrong, The Collector’s boss will punish Garcia by killing his girlfriend.

Needless to say, the job doesn’t go as planned and it’s left to Lola to save herself, Garcia and – most importantly – Lucy, the little girl she has taken under her wing. The relationship between Lucy and Lola is the true heart of this book; it shows another, more caring side to Lola and also gives the reader real insight to the damaged childhood that shaped the woman Lola has become.

Like Lola’s own childhood, Lucy is being brought up by a junkie mother who doesn’t think twice about using her child in whatever way she can to get her next fix. Lola recognises herself in Lucy and decides to rescue the child before she is harmed further than she’s already been. Taking care of Lucy brings out the soft, maternal side of Lola. It also makes her more vulnerable. Because the people who want to hurt Lola know that the best way to do that is through Lucy.

The novel is steeped in atmosphere. The location, Huntington Park in South Central LA, is brought vividly to life: heat rising from pavements, cheap housing in cramped neighbourhoods, the smells and flavours of the local food, the condensation on a cold bottle of beer, the local characters. The writing is rich with descriptions that make you feel as if you are right there, in the middle of it all.

Lola is a stunning debut. A taut, tightly written thriller with a truly original and compelling central character. The portrayal of women in crime fiction has changed greatly in recent years. Lola is a wonderful addition to the growing number of complex, multi-faceted women we are seeing in crime fiction today. This is a brilliant novel.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) In my review, I describe this book as ‘a rally cry for girl power’. What was the inspiration for such an original, compelling and brilliant central character?
I have always been obsessed with the idea of the anti-hero. I’m a huge fan of Ronda Rousey’s – she is authentic and human and does not apologize for being a badass. I’m also a fan of Flakiss, a Latina rapper whose music focuses on female empowerment. I wanted to write a woman who was undeniably powerful, but also undeniably flawed. Some of Lola’s decisions are morally questionable at best, but I feel they are organic to the character. In a sense, the character of Lola is wish fulfilment. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she doesn’t have to fear walking down the street alone. I want all women to live in a world where they don’t have to apologize for their decisions; where they don’t have to pose their demands as questions; where they can speak their minds and issue commands without fear of being called aggressive or a bitch. I want women to be allowed to be fully human.

What’s funny is I never set out to write this book about Lola. It was initially from several different points of view, but when I finished a draft and gave it to my husband to read, he gave me a global note. He told me that this story belonged to Lola, a secondary character at the time, and that I should rewrite the entire novel from her perspective. I was upset, but upset in a way a writer is upset when they’ve gotten a huge note they know is a good one. I’m so glad I listened to him.
2) The sense of location is particularly strong in the novel. What’s your connection to this part of LA?
My first visit to Los Angeles was when I was nineteen. I came out here for a week to do community service. The group I was with stayed at a homeless shelter. One of the first things I saw in LA was Skid Row. We worked on a needle exchange, where I remember a couple bringing their ten-year-old daughter with them to pick up clean needles. I handed out condoms, doughnuts, and juice. I helped deliver food for Project Angel Food. But I also went with the group to crash an open house in Bel Air. It was an amazing experience, seeing this city’s socio-economic gamut. I fell in love with LA on that trip, and I knew that, even if I hadn’t moved here yet, I had found my home.

Now, I’ve lived here for thirteen years. I work in television. I’m like the other transplants in that I moved here to chase a dream. But I try never to forget that there is a whole other Los Angeles, many of them, really, anywhere you look. It is thirty cities in one. Each neighbourhood is different, but the city unites us all.
3) You write about the gangland culture as if you know this world really well. What research did you have to do to write this book?
I’ve always been interested in gangland culture and have done a lot of reading about the history of LA gangs, but honestly, that’s been over the course of a decade of writing for television procedurals like LIFE, CSI: MIAMI, PERSON OF INTEREST, and ROSEWOOD. Research is a huge part of my day job – there’s no version of writing for television crime procedurals that doesn’t involve looking into things like money laundering, forensics, and gangs. I’m just lucky I’ve had an excuse to learn about these things for the past decade or so, and that I get paid for it!

For this book specifically, I spoke to a prosecutor in LA, a recovering addict, and I’ve had the good fortune to hear some specific stories from tech advisors from the LAPD on set. Other than that, I love to drive the city to get a feel for each neighbourhood. This city is meant to be driven, and I love to observe. I never write anything down, but whatever sticks with me when I get home is the fun stuff that makes an appearance in the book.
4) Your background is writing for TV. What made you decide to move from TV to novels?
It’s been my lifelong dream to write a novel. I grew up in the state of Kentucky, and writing for television wasn’t a known profession. I thought the actors made up the words. I dabbled in fiction – mainly short stories – in high school and college, then I took a screenwriting course my senior year at Vanderbilt University. I fell in love with that form and ended up moving to LA eventually with the goal of writing movies. Then I realized that a television writer often has much more of a say in the final product – you write your script, but you often also produce it. That means you’re sitting on set, talking to the director about blocking, talking to the actors about certain lines, picking wardrobe, approving props. I get to sit in post and give notes on the cut at every stage.

Writing for television is a collaborative effort, which is amazing. Other people make your vision come to life. But after I had my daughter, I felt the weight of parenthood. I would look at her and think – How can I protect you? This is wonderful but also hopeless. That’s when I revisited the novel I’d finished and found the courage to rework it from Lola’s perspective. I couldn’t be scared of the page – I was scared that I’d become a mother! Lola was such a badass character that she gave me the courage to protect my child. She saved me at a very dark and beautiful time in my life.
5) When writing Lola, what came first – plot or character?
Character, for sure. I did try to outline the book, and it was helpful… at first. Then, as I got to know Lola better, I found myself ignoring my notecards and just taking her lead. Lola has never been one to sit back and take direction, even from me.
6) Any chance we’ll see Lola, Lucy or any of the other characters in another novel in the future?
I hope so! I’m working on a sequel as we speak.
7) What one piece of advice would you give novice writers after your journey becoming published?
Finish your draft. Let it be bad. Worry about fixing it later.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
Yes, absolutely! I can’t limit myself to three books on a deserted island, but I think I’d live if I had access to anything by Laura Lippman, Walter Mosley, or Don Winslow.