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Kody Scott Is Serving Seven Years for Robbery. He is Also The Toast of The Publising World. How Did an Eight-Tray Gangster Crip Named Monster Go From Hoodlum to Literary Hot Property? : Making the Monster Huge

April 04, 1993|AMY WALLACE | Amy Wallace, a Times staff writer, reports for the Metro section. Her last article for the magazine was on Betty Broderick

It was October in Germany, and Frankfurt was aflutter.

The literati had gathered for publishing's preeminent international trade show. In one week, across acres of exhibits and at countless lavish parties, the world's booksellers would spend millions on current titles while agents, editors and publishers wheeled and dealed in the background, buying, selling and shaping next year's lists.

At the outset, those with money in their pockets shared a single desire: to snap up authors with proven star quality. Tom Clancy's new novel was on the foreign-rights block. So were Stephen King's latest horror story and Madonna's Mylar-wrapped "Sex." But in the end, no star in Frankfurt would burn brighter than a complete unknown: one Kody Scott, a.k.a. Monster, a 29-year-old ex-gangster out of South-Central L.A.'s Eight-Tray Gangster Crips.

The buzz had it that Monster was anybody's urban nightmare. Tattoo-covered, bullet-scarred and doing time for robbery in a maximum-security prison, Scott had grown up within spitting distance of the corner of Florence and Normandie. To earn his nickname, he had beaten and killed. Now, less than six months after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, his story--handwritten with the nub of a prison-issue pencil--was for sale.

On the exhibit floor and between sips of $12 drinks at the Frankfurter Hof hotel's elegant Lipizzaner bar, tales about Monster were told and retold. Everyone was saying that Scott had a way with words--even people who hadn't read him. Pirated photocopies of his unfinished manuscript flew from hand to hand. "Getting that close to evil," said a British publisher, "is very interesting."

"It was like someone lit a match on a line of gasoline--the fire started," said Barbara Zitwer, in Frankfurt scouting American books for foreign publishers. She became a booster after hearing just one brutal scene.

Monster Kody "was lying on the ground, bleeding, the blood dripping out of his body, forming a pool. He wanted to die. But then he thought about his daughter, and wanting to see her again," Zitwer said. "I thought: 'That's it! That's it! It's fab ulous.'

"It was beautiful," she sighed.

"Out of millions of books, thousands of people, tons of drinks, huge publishers with blow-ups of Madonna all over the place--out of everything, Monster Kody's voice from jail had risen above everybody's. It had become the book of the fair."

CALL IT BEGINNER'S LUCK. CALL IT GOOD timing. Call it blatant manipulation--or even gang chic. Somehow, says Kody Scott from behind a dirty pane of glass in the visitors' room at Pelican Bay State Prison, he has become "the hot topic all of a sudden."

Atlantic Monthly Press, the hip, independent publishing house, is about to release Scott's memoirs under the title "Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member." Esquire, the glossy, cologne-soaked magazine, has put Scott's opening chapter in its April issue. Janklow & Nesbit, the tony New York literary agency, has added Monster Kody to its client list. And Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood's kingmaking talent firm, is shopping his movie rights around.

Scott is a bona fide hot property, and nearly everyone who knows him is basking in the glow. Even before a single book has been bound, Scott's editor, Morgan Entrekin, brashly contends that in "Monster" the world will discover a "primary voice of the black experience." Esquire editor Terry McDonell deems it "extremely arresting," while Scott's agent, Lydia Wills, calls it "really real."

All of these people have a personal stake in the book's success. In praising it, they are congratulating themselves--for discovering a raw, young talent, for spotting a culturally "important" work, for getting out in front on a pressing urban issue. But not one of them has as much invested in "Monster" as Monster Kody himself.

Inmate D07829's head is shaved. His powerful chest, arms and neck bear the indelible markings of his gang set. "Eight Tray Gangster," reads a fanciful tattoo peeking from under the collar of his mustard-yellow prison coveralls. "ETG," says his left forearm, the letters crude, self-inflicted. He rarely smiles. But there is gentleness in his face, intelligence in his eyes.

From his 8-by-10-foot prison cell in Northern California, far from the cutthroat--and mostly white--world of publishing, Scott has outsmarted many of his self-serving champions. He is the one who started the feeding frenzy for his book, rejecting an initial $25,000 offer and orchestrating a bidding war that eventually netted him more than six times that. For now, at least, Scott has turned his youth, his anger and his race into coveted literary assets.

To sell the book, he has been willing to capitalize on negative and frightening stereotypes: A portrait of Scott, shirtless, scowling and grasping a semi-automatic weapon, will appear on his autobiography's cover.

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