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Lopez, Steve 1953-

LOPEZ, Steve 1953-

PERSONAL: Born October 15, 1953, in CA; son of Grace and Tony; married second wife, Alison Shore (an editor and screenwriter), May 11, 1996; children: two sons from first marriage. Ethnicity: "Spanish/Italian." Education: San Jose State University, B.A., 1975. Hobbies and other interests: Language, music, cooking.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Harcourt Brace & Co., 6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL 32887.

CAREER: Worked at five California newspapers as sportswriter, mid-1970s; Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA, news reporter, then columnist, 1977-83; San Jose Mercury News, San Jose, CA, columnist, 1983-85; Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist, 1985-96; Time, Inc., New York, NY, columnist and writer at large, 1997-2001; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, columnist, 2001—.

AWARDS, HONORS: H. L. Mencken Writing Award; Ernie Pyle Human Interest Award; National Headliner Award for Column Writing; Sigma Delta Chi Magazine Reporting Award, 1998; Third and Indiana was a selection of the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, and finalist, Dashiell Hammett Award; Society of Professional Journalists award for article about capture of Ira Einhorn; Quill Journalism Award for general column writing, for his "Points West" column in Los Angeles Times, 2002.


Third and Indiana (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Land of Giants: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (nonfiction), Camino Books (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.

The Sunday Macaroni Club (novel), Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1997.

In the Clear (novel), Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 2002.

Third and Indiana has been published in eight countries.

ADAPTATIONS: Third and Indiana was recorded by Nova Audio/Brilliance Corp. (Grand Haven, MI), 1994, has been adapted for the stage by the Arden Theatre Company of Philadelphia, and the film rights have been optioned by Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones.

SIDELIGHTS: When Steve Lopez joined Time, Inc., in January, 1997, Time-Warner's editor in chief, Norman Pearlstein, said in a press release, "Steve is a journalist's journalist—an indefatigable and fearless reporter, an elegant writer, and a tireless crusader." At that point, Lopez had worked in newspapers for more than twenty years. In 1985 he moved to Philadelphia, the city that provides the setting for several of his books, including two novels as well as a 1995 collection of columns on local politics, Land of Giants: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. In 2001 he again changed locales, joining the staff of the Los Angeles Times, for which he created his award-winning "Points West" column.

Several reviewers have commented on his background as a newspaperman and magazine writer, noting that Lopez brings to his fiction a journalist's instincts, not only for topicality, but also for economy of language. Chris Hayden, reviewing Lopez's 1994 novel Third and Indiana in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, commended Lopez for "tell[ing] his story in a manner that is as spare, tough and unsentimental as hard-boiled fiction." Yet Lopez can be, Hayden added, "passionate when need be." To illustrate the point, Hayden quoted these lines from the novel: "He held her hand on the dance floor and Ofelia twirled on her heels, natural as the spinning of the planet, long hair flying wild, the room racing in a hot circle and Ofelia drunk with the limitless possibilities of lust and fear."

Ofelia is the mother of the novel's protagonist, fourteen-year-old Gabriel Santoro, who has run away from home. With the help of concerned priest Father Laetner, Ofelia goes searching for Gabriel in the "Badlands" near the street corner named in the title, a rough area of Philadelphia dominated by figures such as crack dealer Diablo. Diablo, whose "hair looked like sea grass after an oil spill, and whose face was a landslide of melted skin," employs young men such as Gabriel to sell his wares, and at one point he brags that his operation can continue regardless of what the police do: "They shut down one corner, Diablo said, we move to another corner. They bulldoze one block, we move to another block. The only way they could win, Diablo said, was to destroy the city they were trying to save." Hayden concluded by asking, "And where have we heard that before?"

The implied answer to this question is that the Badlands around Third and Indiana—and their equivalent in any major American city—are like small versions of Vietnam, where the United States fought a long and ultimately futile war. In Third and Indiana, the journalist Lopez portrays another such conflict, the "War on Drugs"—and from all signs, the good guys appear to be losing. This is made clear with poignancy by an image that weaves itself throughout the novel: "a spray-painted succession of bodies," as Ben Yagoda described it in the New York Times Book Review, "being laid out by an anonymous artist on the northern reaches of Broad Street, the main north-south artery that runs through the slums straight downtown. Every time a young person dies by violence, a new outline appears; if the killing doesn't stop, the bodies will form a chain leading all the way to City Hall."

Yagoda observed that the Philadelphia portrayed in Jonathan Demme's 1994 film by that name "actually presented quite a narrow slice of life in the City of Brotherly Love." The characters portrayed by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington are in the upper reaches of the city's society, Yagoda suggested, whereas Gabriel and his friends come from quite a different Philadelphia. Theirs is a world, in Lopez's words, of the "walking dead," who search for "drugs, cheap wine, malt liquor, sex, a night's sleep." On Third and Indiana, "one of the hottest corners in the whole city," "no laws applied, and there were no social contracts. People would stroll down the street with a gun out . . . where houses had fallen in on themselves and the air always smelled of something dead." And yet even in this world there is tenderness, not only in Ofelia's love for Gabriel, which compels her to ride alone on a bicycle through the Badlands, searching for her lost boy, but in Gabriel's affection for a pretty waitress named Marisol, and in the awkward father-son symbiosis that develops between Gabriel and Eddie Passarelli, an out-of-luck jazz musician who gives the boy a place to stay. Likewise there is comic relief in the form of Mike Inverso, whose name suggests that he is the opposite of something: the clownish mirror of the arch-fiend Diablo.

In the New York Times Book Review, Yagoda took issue with Lopez's portrayal of Eddie, noting that "[a] jazz musician in a novel, especially a jazz musician who refuses to sell out by playing schlock, is generally a harbinger of hokum." However, Yagoda attributed problems in the book to the difficulty of "[writing] about hell" in the inner city. Dwight Garner remarked in the Washington Post Book World that "there's nothing particularly complicated or exotic about Third and Indiana."

Hayden, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, held that because of Lopez's regular point-of-view shifts, the reader does not get to know any one character well, but concluded that "these distractions mar but do not destroy this modern horror story, with cursed earth worthy of Poe or Lovecraft." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Third and Indiana a "hard-edged, stunning first novel," and Merle Rubin of the Christian Science Monitor pronounced it "suspenseful and frightening, with flashes of comic relief."

Lopez's 1997 novel, The Sunday Macaroni Club, is a relatively more lighthearted tale. In the story, a young prosecutor, Lisa Savitch, has to leave Boston after the exposure of an affair and moves to Philadelphia, where she goes to work in the district attorney's office. Together with Mike Muldoon, a retired FBI agent, she uncovers a political machine that calls itself the Sunday Macaroni Club. At the head of the club is Augie Sangiamino, a former senator who has spent time in jail. Now operating behind the scenes, Augie has accepted funds from a corrupt oil company to fund two of his shady candidates, and it is up to Savitch and Muldoon to expose their dealings. Charles Salzberg wrote in the New York Times that although "laughs are few," Lopez "offer[s] . . . a surprisingly realistic picture of the you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours ethic of local urban politics." The Christian Science Monitor's Rubin observed that "Lopez handles the subject of political corruption with an effective blend of humor and seriousness," and a Library Journal reviewer called The Sunday Macaroni Club "engaging and fun."

In 1998 Lopez won the Sigma Delta Chi Magazine Reporting Award for an article published in Time. "I was not very high on the story at first," Lopez told Quill, "because I thought the subject, a famous hippie [Ira Einhorn] on the run from the law after police found his girlfriend's eighteen-month-old remains in a trunk near his bed, was too much of a wackjob to hold anyone's interest." Nevertheless, the story came together, and as a contributor to Quill reported, "When asked if there were any untold stories surrounding this piece, Lopez said, 'There's one untold story. And I'm holding on to it.'"

When Lopez hired on at the Los Angeles Times in 2001, it was to reinvigorate the op-ed section with three columns per week. Much of what Lopez writes is social criticism laced with sly humor. Some stories are what Lopez calls "opening the refrigerator to see what's moldy and writing about that" columns. While Los Angeles Magazine's R. J. Smith likened Lopez to a much-needed "public crank," he acknowledged that Lopez is a crank with style. His "writing displays a sly, urban voice that sounds conversational but is extremely considered," wrote Smith. "His sentences crackle like pork rinds, and for someone who writes his share of one-sentence paragraphs—which zip on by but make it hard to extend an idea—he creates a lot of rhythm. His columns have a great beat."

A year after moving to the West Coast, Lopez published his third novel set on the East Coast. Starring middle-aged sheriff Albert LaRosa, In the Clear, which Los Angeles Times reviewer Eugen Weber dubbed "a howl," takes place in Harbor Light, New Jersey, where a new gambling casino is slated to be built. When LaRosa takes the offered security chief position, he does not expect to be embroiled in land grabbing and other unsavory activities. The work caught the attention of several reviewers, who applauded the novel's humor, characterizations, and plot. Among them were Booklist's Joanne Wilkinson, who called it "a delightful, very funny read," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who described In the Clear as "a smart, funny character study disguised as a murder mystery."

About his novel writing, Lopez told CA: "On the side, I'm learning how to write fiction. I love my wife, have two wonderful socialist sons, and can't imagine how this can improve. My hope is that at some point, I can write a book that lasts."



Lopez, Steve, Third and Indiana, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.


Booklist, April 1, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson, review of In the Clear, p. 1307.

Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1994, Merle Rubin, review of Third and Indiana, p. 12; June 26, 1997, Merle Rubin, review of The Sunday Macaroni Club, p. B1.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of In the Clear, p. 282.

Library Journal, February 15, 1997, review of The Sunday Macaroni Club, p. 162.

Los Angeles Magazine, February, 2002, R. J. Smith, "A Sense of Place: It Took Steve Lopez . . . to Give the L.A. Times a Strong Local Column."

Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2002, Eugen Weber, review of In the Clear, p. R28.

New York Times, August 3, 1997, Charles Salzberg, review of The Sunday Macaroni Club, p. 16.

New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1994, Ben Yagoda, review of Third and Indiana, p. 12.

People, August 25, 1997, J. D. Reed, review of The Sunday Macaroni Club, p. 35.

Publishers Weekly, June 20, 1994, review of Third and Indiana, p. 93; March 11, 2002, review of In the Clear, p. 50.

Quill, June, 1998, p. 30.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 30, 1994, Chris Hayden, review of Third and Indiana, p. 5C.

Washington Post Book World, November 13, 1994, Dwight Garner, review of Third and Indiana, p. 8.*


Pearlstein, Norman, comments in a Time-Warner press release, 1997.

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