TLC Book Tour: Peppermint Ph.D.

The following review appeared on the blog Peppermint Ph.D.

You can find the full article here: Peppermint Ph.D.

So L.A. by Bridget Hoida
Lettered Press, 2012
Format – oversized paperback
Source – the publisher via TLC Book Tours
**FTC Discolosure – I received a complimentary copy of So L.A. from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.  However, the opinions and comments below are all my own and made without bias.

Why?  I have 3 daughters so the very real pressure on women to fit an ideal image is a serious issue to me. Those pressures exacerbated by the L.A. lifestyle was indeed something I wanted to know more about.
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What Now?  I’m happy to pass this one along to another blogger friend who would like to read it.  Just let me know in the comments that you are interested and leave your blog address as well as email so I’ll be able to contact you should you win :)
Bridget Hoida has also generously donated another copy of So L.A. to another Peppermint Ph.D. reader so next Friday, August 24, I’ll choose two winners :)
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Golden Lines


But contrary to the advice of seismologists, L.A. is virtually made of glass, its reflective surfaces sweeping and expansive, and so Junah was with me everywhere I went.

Puck and a drink or two is how I get through parties.

Jameson up, I said, looking at his salty hair and wondering if my instinct to push it out of his eyes meant I was ready to be a mom.  And a tall glass of gin with a straw and some ice so it looks like a Sprite.

Unlike Puck I didn’t mind being from a dusty place that sold Hydraulic Harvesters instead of Maseratis.  In fact, I missed it in a way that made my teeth ache.  But like him I slid on pair after pair of designer sunglasses and hid my origins well.  Not because I was afraid someone would call me out, but rather because I was afraid they’d ask me in.

Dean was a family man.  One of the good guys.  What the hell was he doing giving drunken tongue to a woman other than his wife on reality television?

What I meant was, if I worked at home, if I set up shop in one, three, seven of the bedrooms inside the house, I would actually have to work because there might actually be the possibility of Ricky or Immelda or the guy who does the bills suddenly walking in on me and expecting to see art, work, product, something other than a bedraggled girl, still in her pajamas, drinking gin with a straw and playing with rhinestones.

No, Magdalena, you already left and last time I checked, son trumped brother so take that to your shrink and smoke it.

When we first moved to L.A. my favorite thing to say was, That’s so L.A.  I used it to describe just about everything from fake boobs to traffic.  Then I got implants and started to drive.

And yet, here’s the thing: sitting silently next to Quentin felt all right.  It was comfortable even.  I had all sorts of things I could say, like: where are you from? or What do you do when the sadness gets so heavy you think it will crush you? or Ever killed anybody? but for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel the need to say anything.  And it felt good.  To sit.  And drink.

Standing in front of the Guadalupe Wedding Chapel I waited for a cab, and when it arrived it wasn’t yellow.  It was green with a billboard for Viagra on the roof.
Why isn’t anything like the movies?

Seriously, I snatched my keys from his outstretched hand.  I am just barely holding on here and you think a weekend with Mom and her bottle, watching Dad barbecue his dinner in the shed, is going to snap me back to reality?

We could have bought bikes and gotten inked and revved our engines, together.  But instead I was left.  In a hotel room.  Alone.  

Had I been there, had I not driven back to the ranch to work on water, you could have trusted me when I told you Junah didn’t fall from anything, but as you know I left him and down he went.  

He was the most level headed, until…
He was the safest climber they had ever met, until…
He was a badass soloer until…
…he fell to his death.
Until he fell to his death.
Until.


…Los Angeles, beneath the pixie dust and beyond the Sunset strip, is really nothing more than a desert where the water is scarce and we’re all thirsty.

Summary


Magdalena de la Cruz and her husband Ricky have made their fortune in bottled water and are living in L.A. among the filthy rich and famous.  Trips to the wax studio, power lunches, Pilates, gin, and business fill Magdalena’s days until her brother Junah is killed in a climbing accident…an accident that Magdalana feels responsible for.  Magdalena literally crawls under her bed for days and from there, her life begins to spiral out of control…retreating further and further within herself and physically re-constructing the outside.
 —

What I Liked

The chapter structure – from one paragraph to 3 pages, the chapters are very short and sometimes just seem to be a stream of consciousness…always from Magdalena’s point of view but jumping around in time as she explains her predicament and how she became a woman fighting within a woman.  Magdalena’s story is a complex one that would have been overwhelming I think without Hoida’s smart style in getting us inside Magdalena’s head.The complications woven throughout the plot…death, grieving, self image, the other woman, plastic surgery, therapy, marriage, fidelity/infidelity, sexuality, money, dysfunctional families, friendship…you name it; it’s here.  While this complex of a plot could be cumbersome, it isn’t in So L.A.  Hoida never brings it all back into a neat little package because it can’t be one…but she gives the reader enough information and enough insight to at least think about what the reader would do in Magdalena’s shoes.  So L.A. is so full of complications that I’m still thinking about it and trying out ideas as I get ready to post this review.

Puck – we’d all be lucky to have a true friend like Puck.  Someone who believes in you no matter what and accepts you just the way you are…freaky drama included.

Quentin – I won’t say too much about this character to keep from spoilers…but he’s a good guy.  Besides the obvious (and you’ll find that out when you get to that part), I think he really wants to help Magdalena…but unlike everyone else around her, Quentin realizes that she must want to help herself first.

What I Didn’t Like

No quotation marks – I’m an English teacher but this isn’t just a mechanical issue for me.  I really did have to re-read portions to make sure of who was saying what sometimes.
 —
Magdalena – pulling the seams out of Ricky’s clothes when she gets mad?  about things she’s just made up in her head???…there are times when Magdalena seems like nothing more than a spoiled brat.  Reading about her sometimes was like watching a horror movie…everybody in the theatre knows what’s going to happen when the young heroine decides to check into the old abandoned Bates Motel.  I wanted to scream at Magdalena more than once and say, “You dummy…THINK about this decision for a minute or two!!  Don’t go THERE!!”  But Magdalena goes there anyway.  It’s as if sometimes she’s trying to make things just as bad as they can possibly be.

Ricky – I’m sorry…I really feel guilty for this…but I didn’t like him.  How in the world he put up with Magdalena for so long, I’ll never understand.  He’s caught up in the L.A. lifestyle even more so than she is…and maybe that’s how he does it.  But, I just couldn’t see it.

Overall Recommendation


So L.A. is an intense look at the “power” of reinvention in a culture that values the outside of a person more than the inside…a Stepford Wives kind of culture that is L.A. as described by Hoida.  How can someone deal with real life in a world that is so make believe??  So L.A. is not a happy story by any stretch of the imagination…but neither is the issue of  stripping self image from individuals based on what others deem worthy…in any situation but especially not in Magdalena’s.  What complicates this story even more  is that Magdalena de la Cruz seems to choose a fabricated way of life in order to retreat into herself and protect herself from her grief…letting the outside world see a “costume” of sorts instead of who she truly is…possibly even a psychic protective measure after the trauma of Junah’s death and her perceived role in the accident.
Deep stuff this is.


The language and a few graphic sex scenes/fantasies would keep me from recommending this to everyone…it doesn’t bother me and I never felt that any of the scenes or language were gratuitous; I was shocked from time to time, but I think that was the point.  The rawness helps the reader see and even feel how deeply Magdalena is falling into her own trap.

Bridget Hoida On: AM Radio

When I was a grad student at USC, Fran, Wally, Ko’kmo and myself were somehow able to convince the indie radio station to take a rest from their vinyl spinning and let us talk literature for one precious hour a week. Because we were young and slightly pretentious, we called it Marginalia, and before our hourly broadcasts we would meet up at Brandy’s, a dingy cocktail bar attached to the South Los Angeles Radisson. There we’d have a drink or two, and gorge ourselves on whatever was free: meatballs, dried-out carrot sticks, deep-fried cheese… as long as you put enough sauce on it (and no matter what they were serving, it was always the same strange marinara-ketchup with a hint of ranch) it went down okay and complied completely with the L.A. grad student budget. After the drinks, and the occasional notes (on post-imperial British Literature or the influence of samba on the poetic precursors of Neruda) we’d jaywalk across Figueroa and find our place in the station.

And the station was always divine.

Run by Barry, a too-hip for everyone’s own good station manager (who I perpetually pissed off by spelling his name: Berry, like on post-its and such,) KXSC (1560 am) was the kind of place you want to take your high school ex-boyfriend just to prove how cool you were now and how he tragically missed out… You know, the boy who left you for the girl who wore safety pins in her denim jacket and had doc martins that she spray painted to resemble Goya’s sad dog, herself. I mean, hell, since we’re speaking honestly here, I suppose it’s fair to admit I would have left the high school me for that girl too. Or maybe rather, I should have left the high school him for her myself but later, at the station,  where the walls were covered in unknown band stickers, the chairs swiveled, and the headphones changed your life, that boy was forgotten. Because there’s just something about being locked in a booth, live, when the red light clicks on and it’s just you and those glamorous headphones and your words loud as they smack against the air. Because you could say anything and somewhere in a car with a broken tail light, no tape deck and nothing but AM, someone was listening. Someone–in addition to Wally’s mother who was a regular caller– was making a left while hanging off our every word.

I’m sure now, that set lists are in live-stream and podcasts are downloadable, that there is some odd and awful way to track, verify and chart the demographics of your listening audience, but back then, when Wally’s mom used to record our shows on grainy cassette (that I still have archived in the bottom drawer of my desk, with no real way to hear them) we believed we were speaking to everyone. Radio was magic like that.

Last week I was invited to return to radio. This time as a guest on Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s Writers on Writing.  I didn’t have headphones or a swivel chair, but it was still just as brilliant as I remember, minus the garage band stickers fashioned from Sharpie and the dipping sauce, of course: Audio Link to Bridget Hoida: Writers On Writing (Bridget begins at 24:01)


Bridget Hoida on: Book Club Reading Guide

Lettered Press Reading Group Guide for So L.A.

 

Introduction to the Author

Bridget Hoida grew up in the San Joaquin Valley on an eight-mile road flanked by grapevines and asparagus.  She remembers “ducks, guinea pigs, goats, all kinds of bunnies”; kids frolicking on levees and splashing in the cooling water; and machines rumbling across fields at night to avoid 109-degree heat.

Reading, Hoida told the The Stockton Record, was her thing: “My parents would take us to an A’s game and I’d sit there eating popcorn and reading a book.”  Obsessed with words, she assembled them effectively for school publications when, as a sophomore, she became part of the first two classes to attend Bear Creek High School in 1992. As a senior, she wrote a column (“Bridget’s World” in the era of “Wayne’s World”) for the Bruin Voice and was the paper’s editor. “We created the newspaper from scratch,” explained Hoida, “We Xerox-ed it and stapled it together.”

Always an avid reader, writing was a natural progression.  At UC Berkeley, she studied English and fiction writing where she was tutored by Stockton-born author Maxine Hong Kingston.  From Kingston, who had “a sheer love of the Valley,” Hoida learned to embrace her roots.  After Berkeley it was on to San Francisco State University where Hoida earned a masters degree in fiction.

The move south came when she joined the first of University of Southern California’s Literature and Creative Writing Ph.D. program.  There, she lived cheaply on Sunset Boulevard while absorbing Hollywood culture and earning a doctorate in California literature.  Hoida’s research into the mythos of California twinned with her cultural navigation led to the development of So L.A.: a satirical and critical look at the city through a revision of the “ranch-novel” genre.  She spent the next ten years working on what started as a blonde joke.

Hoida has taught at USC, UC Irvine and Saddleback College in Orange County, where she and her husband Jesse are raising two young children.  Currently, she is busy at work adapting the novel as a screenplay and editing a collection of writings about motherhood.

-Courtesy of The Record reporter Tony Saro & Lettered Press editor C.L. Cardinale

 —

Description

Magdalena de la Cruz, born Magdalena Bamberger—awkward, gangly San Joaquin valley girl—trades her agrarian central California upbringing for the glamour and glare of Los Angeles.  She heads south to escape reminders of the traumatic and sudden death of her twin brother Junah who falls to his death in a Yosemite National Park rock-climbing accident. Haunted by guilt and obsessed by her dead brother’s presence, Magdalena uses her body as a canvas of reinvention. “When Junah died I stopped wanting to be me,” Magdalena explains, literally cutting any resemblance between herself and her brother “out with sleek scalpels.” She is reborn as an L.A. bombshell in a body “temporarily scarred with puffy red staples” in order “to erase the light brown spots of San Joaquin sun.” As Magdalena takes refuge in boutiques and Botox—seeking desperately for something to fill the void her brother has left—her marriage to Ricky, a socially conscious first-generation Mexican-American, is in jeopardy; her few friendships begin to unravel; and Diamond Myst, her booming designer water business, is drying up.

 —

Discussion Questions

1. How is the reader introduced to the narrator and protagonist, Magdalena de la Cruz, in the first chapter? What is she inviting the reader “to believe,” and what kind of narrator does she promise to be?

2. Rather than quotation marks or numerical chapters, the book offers five takes and chapter headers with titles like “The Problem of Surprise” or “Characters Are Not People.”  How does the structure of this, inspired by STORY! a primer for how to write a winning screenplay by Robert McKee, tell us how to read the novel?

3.  In American literature there is a rich tradition of rural and urban opposition. With this in mind, what are the ways the agrarian San Joaquin Valley is constructed as the opposite of the city of Los Angeles?

4. How does Magdalena’s body, covered in a “Los Angeles vixen varnish” (327), work both as a metaphor and a critique of the city? How does the city work, like Magdalena, to “hide its roots”?

5. What does Ricky’s story—from the A&E Biography version to the Moses in the basket version (114-119)—suggest about the American immigrant (or California migrant) mythos?

6.  One reviewer has described the story of Junah as a kind of mystery: “At the heart of Magdalena’s story is her attempt to cope with the death of her brother [ . . .]. We read to find out what really happened to Junah, her brother, and what Magdalena’s part in his death truly is, for she clearly carries much guilt for his too-soon death.”  What really happens to Junah and does knowing the “truth” change our perception of Magdalena?

7. Magdalena is, to borrow from the epigraph by Michael Ventura, “a hard beauty to love.” What moments do you sympathize with, and perhaps even despise Magdalena?  What are her forgivable and unforgivable sins? Where are your loyalties in the end?

8. Alone, in the Beverly Hills Hotel Magdalena asks: “Who am I to Quentin?”.  Discuss the necessity of Quentin in Magdalena’s emotional journey. He functions as a reckless undoing of her marriage to Ricky, and yet he is also the redemptive force that allows Magdalena to come to terms with Junah’s death. Who is Quentin to Magdalena and how does he function within the novel?

9. Magdalena’s success as a Los Angeles diva is made possible by the selling of bottled water where “underneath all the rhinestones and the pixie dust [. . .] water is scarce and we’re all thirsty” (374). The story of California, both the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles, is really the story of water.  How does Magdalena’s story of water mirror the very nature of the narrative of California?

10.  What do you make of the “Director’s Cut”?  What does the addition of another “version” suggest about the narrative itself? How does it both unravel the narrative, beginning with the “story problem” in the first chapter, and suggest other possibilities for ending? What is the “truth,” and does it matter?

After Reading the Novel

In many ways this novel is a narrative of California, contributing to a rich history of dystopian literature.  In So L.A, California may not be a literal paradise lost, but the protagonist certainly is. Magdalena favors feeling over historical accuracy, or what most people call “the truth.” She’s an incurable nostalgic in that she wishes for a past that is so idealized that it probably never occurred. You may want to consider Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, Joan Didion’sPlay It As It Lays or John Fante’sAsk The Dust as interesting companion novels.  So L.A. also begs to be read alongside filmic filmic adaptations of Los Angeles, from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.  And of course, Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills paints a similar, albeit celluloid, portrait.

Lettered Press is pleased to offer a Book Club Bundle

where Book Clubs can order discounted copies of So L.A. in bulk.

To order please visit the Lettered Press store and click on Book Club Bundle!

Bridget Hoida on: Blue Bottle, Angel Food & Words

The lovely PB and I talk about Blue Bottle Coffee, angel food cake and books on her blog: PB Writes.

The following article originally appeared on PB Writes: http://pbwrites.wordpress.com/, June 18, 2012

Introducing Bridget Hoida, whose first novel, So LA, is due out in bookstores June 20th. I happen to personally know that Bridget is brilliant, but I can also tell you without a hint of bias that she writes about Los Angeles with an original, fresh voice you won’t want to miss. Her prose is exquisite and full of surprises. You can purchase your copy here at Lettered Press, or on Amazon. Bridget’s website is here and from there you will find many interesting links. One of the truly fun things about Bridget’s website is that various blog posts are written in the voice of So LA’s heroine, Magdalena de la Cruz. If you have ever been to Los Angeles, if you are a Californian, if you want to be a Californian, if California attracts or repulses you, even if you can’t imagine ever visiting Los Angeles, you will want to read this book (go ahead, live vicariously!). And now, the interview (10 questions + 1–yes, that’s right):

1.      Describe your heroine, Magdalena de la Cruz, in five words or less.

nostalgic, impulsive, desperately lonely, brave-ish, and tall

2.      Now describe her like you really want to—don’t hold back, feel free to go beyond the book’s synopsis (which is excellent, by the way).

She scares me sometimes, both in her boldness and in her very public exclamations of sadness and grief. She’s a bit “off-kilter” as one reviewer described her, and she haunts me. I’m still not sure if I want to be her or if I just want to give her a hug.

3.      The Book Club Member in me wants to know what was most challenging for you with this novel and why? Then please counteract the bland, institutional quality of this question by telling us where you would most like to eat a piece of your favorite cake—and tell us what flavor that might be.

Selling it. Seriously. I wrote a satirical novel about Los Angeles and if editors didn’t want to slap a pink cover and a pair of high heeled shoes on the cover, then they wanted to impregnate Magdalena with a happier ending and a bundle of joy to “counterbalance her anger.” Her brave outpouring of emotion, her startling display of loneliness, these were all VERY intentional and VERY real emotions for me. Necessary to the telling of a “L.A. story” and I refused (at the expense of a “bigger book deal”) to compromise. I stand by that decision. I’m thrilled with stubbornness. I’m also thrilled with angel food cake, heavy whipped cream and berries.

4.      Revision: BF or Nightmare? How do you handle/attack/plead with/embark upon?

Although I did refuse to “Pollyanna” the book, and/or the ending (and I also refused on more than one occasion to “make it the Sex and the City of L.A.) I was VERY open to revision and revised this novel, fully, at least seven times. Seven full-scale, all-encompassing, 300+ page revisions. In fact, the short story that started it all, “The Blonde Joke” that Magdalena tells about herself (and a story that won several awards) has been completely edited out of the book. Sometimes the spark is just that: a small light that eventually becomes engulfed by the flames.

5.      Robert Mckee’s book STORY was an important resource for you when writing SO LA. What other resources would you recommend for writers? Also, what types of coffee resources would you recommend for writers?

I recommend a mompair. I recommend a best friend, an understanding mother, and children who can entertain themselves with glue sticks and glitter while you write into the wee hours of the night. You need other people, and their honesty, and their generosity in order to succeed. I also fully, and without reservation recommend Blue Bottle Coffee. Specifically the Bella Donovan blend. (Really, even your mailman, once he smells the priority mail package, will invite himself in for a cup. It’s that lovely.)

6.      What color and circumference are your sunglasses?

My best pair of Sunnies, by far, were a vintage pair of off-white Dior glasses. They were HUGE in the best possible way. And they died a tragic death in the hands of my daughter, who, when she was two, went on a spiteful sunglass busting bender. She just snapped every pair she could find: crack, pop, burst, like a wishbone the week after Thanksgiving. I was devastated. In fact, I still am. I keep the left “arm” as well as the right “three-quarters” of these glasses on my desk as a reminder of who I used to be. They are joined by four other, less meaningful pairs, that were also busted by my baby. It’s a variable vintage sunglasses graveyard.

My current Sunnies are newer and slightly smaller (not by choice) and much less fabulous, but in quintessential Didion fashion, they are about three-and-one-half inches round and a muted grey (perhaps because I am still in mourning?)

7.      Do you have a critique group (and, if so, do they adore champagne, Joan Didion and chocolate)?

My group is The Groop. We found each other as undergraduates in Tom Farber’s creative writing workshop at UC Berkeley and after the workshop ended that semester we met at a wooden house on Ashby Ave. When the house burned down (true story), we took to meeting in various locations from San Francisco to Davis. We’ve known each other over 16 years and I still depend on their daily advice and critique (now virtual or phone-based). We prefer whiskey and gin, but we devour dark chocolate and Didion on a regular basis.

8.      Music: Yes, or huge no-no when writing?

Absolutely! Is there any other way? In fact, I’ve been known to create full soundtracks based on a single chapter, and if you’ve read the book, you’ll know my chapters are maybe three paragraphs in most instances. This means I have a lot of “mixed tapes.”

9.      Has your perception of Los Angeles changed/evolved since writing SO LA? Is it the same city for you, or better, or worse?

I was raised in Northern California, which is to say I was raised (through no fault of my parents) to hate Los Angeles. Even still, So L.A. is my love song to a city I adore. Sure, I’ve divorced the 405 freeway on several occasions, and La Cienega and I are still not speaking, but L.A. is my girl. I have always had a terribly difficult relationship with Los Angeles.  It’s messy.  It’s tumultuous.  It’s like that with things you love enormously. So when I came across this breathless quote by Michael Ventura, in his essay “Grand Illusion” I knew it was my epigram, it was the only place to start:

“The beauty [of Los Angeles] is the beauty of letting things go; letting go of where you came from; letting go of old lessons; letting go of what you want for what you are, or what you are for what you want; letting go of so much—and that is a hard beauty to love.”

So L.A. –dare I suggest like Los Angeles itself– is fraught with beauty and self-loathing. Not only do the palm trees of Sunset clash with the Central Valley combines that supply L.A. with the organic soy for its venti lattes, but I’m convinced that the tanned and toned flesh of most every Angelino secretly yearns for the soothing balm of an aloe wrap in San Joaquin starlight. When I first moved to L.A. I was told I would have to give up the levees and lakes of Northern California, where I was raised, in order to embrace the wave-crashed beaches of the Los Angeles enigma. Twelve years later, I realize that you can let go without relinquishing everything and that beauty, no matter how hard (or hard earned) is always, still beautiful.

10.  What are your exorbitant whims as a writer?

I (gasp, sigh) refuse to use quotation marks. Does that make me a diva? Can you even “quote” this?

11.  And, finally, what are you working on now?

I have a stack of fragments. I thought at first they were poems, but then I attended Tin House as a poet, which was new for me, and I learned they were most certainly NOT poems.  So I’m sticking with fragments. Collectively I call them “And Down We Went” after T.S. Eliot’s “The Burial of the Dead” (which I am told certainly WAS a poem). They are about magic, and madness, and motherhood. In the opening “segment” a woman marries a house. It makes perfect sense to me.

Thank you, Bridget! #3 is FASCINATING, the quote in #9 so true it hurts. Thank you for such a wonderful interview. The next time you visit, this blog will be serving generous mugs of Blue Bottle coffee.

This article originally appeared on PB Writes: http://pbwrites.wordpress.com/, June 18, 2012

Magdalena On: Psychological Highlights

After Junah, my hair went dark.

They say that can happen, you know. Shock or something. But not my whole head, just a streak. Like an inverted skunk of brown tailing its way through the top left part of my yellow head. Jersi, my stylist, said on most people it usually goes white.

Well fuck me for being the exception.

He sighed, brushed a small brown strand high above my head and held it there, the ends tightly wrapped around the bristles of his brush. The rest of my hair was wet, and my shoulders and chest were covered with a silver smock. I looked at my reflection and followed the lock of brown hair upwards towards the exposed bulbs running in a straight line across the top of the mirror. There were six of them and they cast a hyper-white glaze across my face so that my skin appeared translucent. You could actually see the veins pushing blood across my forehead. It was rich. It was much too much. I looked at my lap and said, Do what you can.

Jersi looked at me, or at least the mirror image of me, and said, I’m not going to pretend that it will be easy Cupcake, but I think, although the texture’s changed, that I can bleach it out, maybe add a few psychological highlights.

That’s when I started screaming. When I couldn’t stop.

Losing Junah isn’t something I like to talk about.

So I’m not going to.

What I will say is that sometimes I wonder, if Ricky wasn’t on liquid time, if he didn’t sleep only four and a half hours a night, if I would be able to stay awake and pretend not to go crazy, pretend not to know that it’s impossible to only sleep four and a half hours a day, pretend not to care that if he isn’t sleeping here he must be sleeping somewhere, right?

But where?

And with whom?

And if he slept, say, six or seven hours like most people, would I make it? Would I be able to lie beside him night after night and hate him? Night after night in some sleek and silly nightie with my arm almost touching his thigh, with my head almost touching his chest. (If I actually touch him, he says, Mags go on your own side. Like we’re six and seven in the backseat of the station wagon and have drawn imaginary lines to mark territory. Pretend there is a chain saw running down this line, Junah would say, tracing the vinyl ribbing that ran the length of the upholstery, and if you cross it you will loose your arm. That’s how it is with Ricky, only now it’s a bed and we’re twenty-nine and thirty-four.) For eighteen months I’ve lain here, almost insane, almost ready to leave, almost ready to scream: I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! I’m not touching… But before I can finish, Ricky’s alarm (set to New York time) sounds. If we were in New York it would be 7:30 am. But we’re not in New York. We’re in Los Angeles, or some Hollywood extension thereof. And in Los Angeles Ricky will shower and shave and dress himself up in gray slacks, a lavender shirt and paisley tie because it’s the outfit I have laid out for him. On the back of his belt I have written i love you in Mauve-a-licious nail polish. He won’t notice. It’s been there for three months.

Should I say it again?

That he doesn’t notice anything?

When he actually does notice he’s liable to shout. Then I will have to go to Bloomies and buy him a replacement. It will be something to do. Something besides trying to peel the label off a bottle of gin in one fluid, untorn piece. Something besides imagining my hangover is morning sickness. Something besides seeing Junah die, over and over and over again in the backspaces of my mind.

Excerpt from “Treatment” So L.A. by Bridget Hoida, copyright 2012

Magdalena on: Navigating Los Angeles

I looked to the dash, 4:43 pm. In another hour Los Angeles would switch places. The freeways, already congested with the exchange, would be jammed in both directions as gardeners, housekeepers, pool boys, and handymen keeping up the homes on the Westside made their way east to Downey, Inglewood, El Monte and Echo Park while lawyers, bankers, producers, executives and industry types, working downtown, made their way west to Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Malibu. Aspiring actors would stop circulating their headshots and start passing out menus. Musicians would climb down from billboards and arrange drum sets in someone’s cramped studio apartment. It was a slow parade of poorly documented domestics making the long walk to the neighborhood limits, because public transportation is restricted from entering designer drives (see decrease in property values) and chic canyons (see smog, see noise ordinances, see intentionally narrow roads that curve and chicane).

According to my navigation system, downtown L.A. is exactly 12.62 miles from Rodeo Drive (Start out going Southeast on N RODEO DR toward ELEVADO AVE. Turn LEFT onto S SANTA MONICA BLVD/LITTLE SANTA MONICA BLVD. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto BURTON WAY. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto N SAN VICENTE BLVD. Turn RIGHT onto S LA BREA AVE. Merge onto I-10 E. Merge onto CA-110 N via the exit—on the left—toward PASADENA. Take the 4TH ST/3RD ST exit—exit number 22B. Take the 6TH ST ramp). On a good day, say on a Sunday at 3 am, you might get there in the twenty-three minutes, Google Maps suggests. On most other days it will take you anywhere from forty-seven minutes, not including parking, to an hour and a half.

An hour and a half, without parking, to go 12.62 miles seems extraordinary in most instances, but it’s one of the only things in L.A. that actually make any sense; it’s one of those collegiate conundrums of place and space that can actually be solved, QED. My sociology professor would go nuts over it: income times quality of life divided by a quotient of perceived happiness, expressed or otherwise, minus assets, including but not limited to green cards, 401Ks, IRAs and dental insurance, and it takes a hell of a lot longer than twenty-three minutes to navigate from Olvera Street to Rodeo Drive. In fact, I’ve heard it said that, although it’s walkable in less than an afternoon, it can sometimes take upwards of five generations to make the trip.

Ricky, I suppose you could say made the trip in two generations and some change—which beats my fifth-generation white-ethnic slide down from Pollack Hill by quite a mean feat. The traffic must have been particularly light. Maybe he took the surface streets or maybe, oh the genius, he took the carpool and didn’t get caught!

Copyright 2012-Bridget Hoida- So L.A., a novel

Bridget Hoida on: macramé bikinis (or why characters are not people)

I was at a magical gathering last night–starlight, fire-glow, sea air, and an expanding circle of plush deck chairs occupied by a few dozen striking women. As the conversation shifted focus: from Cabernet to chicken farmers; chicken farmers to iPhone apps; iPhone apps to the genetic composition of jelly fish… it eventually landed on literature.  And it wasn’t too long [insert vampires, a certain non-vibrant color spectrum, and a post-apocalyptic survival game] before someone asked: “Well you wrote a book, how much of it is real?”

It’s a tricky question, that one. Because unless you’re dealing with the aforementioned supernatural creatures or speculative geographies, it’s hard not to say: Everything.

It’s hard not to say: Nothing.

I’ve been living with this book, with these characters for years now. To say I know them intimately is comical. I know them surgically well. I birthed them in the painful, messy, magical way all bodies are brought into being. But that doesn’t mean I am them. That I know them off the page. That I’ve dated them. Held them. Or covered my screams as they fell to their death from high, rocky places.

Magdalena, the protagonist of So L.A. and I have lived in a lot of the same places. And we’re both blonde. But that’s about the extent of our similarities. Moving to Los Angeles from Berkeley was extremely difficult for me and I suppose that, in part, is how Magdalena was “born.” Perhaps I was unconsciously embodying a B-movie cliché, but I really did take my first steps on the streets of Los Angeles in a pair of Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed sundress. I wasn’t tan, I didn’t have a designer purse, and even kitten heels made my ankles wobble. It took a good three years before I felt comfortable wearing a bikini, even to the beach, but I was surrounded by these insanely beautiful women who seemed to have been raised in string bikinis and had no qualms wearing them to school. In fact, I was teaching a class at USC called “Social Issues in Sex & Gender,” and one of my students did exactly that. She showed up to class in what people from Berkeley might consider a string of macramé potholders, or maybe a dream catcher? Either way, she was wearing this extremely revealing “bit” as a dress and I was simultaneously awestruck and horrified.

Was she mindlessly objectifying herself or was she making, as she claimed, a bold feminist statement?  Magdalena has a lot of moments like this; moments where the means and the ends get confused and tangled up by someone else’s perception.

Magdalena on: Fact

Somewhere near breakfast Juan Duran signaled, and one by one the train of now-dusty cars pulled to the left and parked near a field. The field was full of crops, something low-cut and greenish, like parsley; and speckled throughout the harvest were farmers in old Dodger caps and white t-shirts, digging up produce and depositing dirty bunches into large wooden crates beneath umbrellas of bright orange and yellow and pink.

You mean the umbrellas aren’t for the workers? I asked Ricky in a hushed voice.

What? Donna, who was riding shotgun, asked.

The umbrellas, I said, pointing, you mean they aren’t…

Unbelievable, Donna said, before opening her door and directing a sharp glare at Ricky. I thought she grew up on a farm. I should have guessed this from you, she said, though it was unclear to whom she was speaking. Then she slammed the door and walked off barefoot towards the lead Caddy, mumbling under her breath.

I sat in the backseat with my hat in my lap, stunned and looking at Ricky. It was a vineyard, I said quietly, a small one. When we hired people it was just a few and they used the house.

Hey, don’t worry about it, Donna’s second husband, Christopher, said as he pushed the tip of his foot against the e-brake and took the keys out of the ignition. She’s still bitter about the scars and the smell of cilantro brings it back. Then he opened his door and slipped out after Donna, carrying her heels in his left hand and her sunglasses in the other.

Ricky slipped an arm around my shoulder and rubbed the back of my head with his palm. Hey, don’t worry about it. How could you have known?

You could have told me, I thought. Should I apologize?

Nah, she’ll forget about it before lunch. Just next time, maybe save your questions for when we’re alone. He opened his car door and let in a burst of golden light that had been previously muted by tinted windows.

Right, I said, pulling on my hat and pushing my sunglasses against my face.

Oh, come on, Magsie, Ricky said, ducking back into the car and planting a kiss on the top of my head. Don’t let it get you down. He tugged on my arm and I let him slide me across the leather seat and out of the car.

Outside, doors and trunks began to click open and slam shut as the Mora de la Cruz family poured out of their air-conditioned cars and into the heat of the Mexican morning sun. Their polo shirts and pressed Levis contrasted loudly with the tattered, muted colors of the farm around them.

We walked en masse along a cracked dirt driveway and into a stucco barn-like structure that functioned as sort of multipurpose dining room/mess hall. The girls and their men spread out and took up occupancy around the various tables, fanning each other with poorly folded maps and sun hats while Ricky, who held tightly to my hand, was corralled by his father into the kitchen.

Three old ladies tied up in faded paisley aprons—their arms covered in cornmeal to the elbows—were pounding tortillas, while a small, gold, portable radio hummed Mexican folk songs from the windowsill. When they saw Ricky they exploded into Spanish pandemonium, exclaiming and folding Ricky and Juan Duran into a sweaty embrace and littering their faces and starched black shirts with kisses and corn-covered pats. Overwhelmed, I managed to wrestle my hand from Ricky’s grasp and took a seat on a wooden crate in the corner. The old lady shrieks seemed to set off some sort of chain reaction and, before long, what appeared to be the entire town had gathered around, some of the children and a few older boys singing in broken English and particled Spanish, He’s here. He’s here. Yup the guy from California and his son. Happy.

Of course, the Spanish part I didn’t understand. My mother had been trying to teach me a working vocabulary since before I could walk, and Ricky had managed to teach me a word or two, but for the most part I nodded a lot, held up my fingers and used gestures. It worked well, but there were a few flaws. For example, my hand held like a cup to my lips seemed to be the universal sign for water (agua, duh), but even with the word there was no gesture for water from the bottles in the back of the truck and not Mexican water from a rusty pipe. So rather than ask I’d just brave the heat, follow the dirt drive back to the car, fish around under the tarp of the truck, wrestle with a gallon sized jug and pour myself a hot glass of L.A. tap. And that’s how it happened. How it hit me. How I knew that it would be water, in small plastic bottles, sold to America by a Mexican son. The irony was enough to make me choke, but I didn’t. Instead I spit the water from my mouth in a single stream onto the cracked brown dirt below and twisted the cap back on the recycled gallon-carton.

Of course, I could have said all this to the adoring crowd assembled around Ricky, but I didn’t.

Unlike Ricky I didn’t say a word. Didn’t correct a single fact. Didn’t rearrange anything at all. Instead, I stood with my back to the sea and looked around at Ricky’s assembled beach-front audience. I eyed each of the interns in turn. I scanned tanned and tucked faces illuminated by the subtle orange glow of Tiki torches and tried to figure out which one. Which slut. Which common whore was screwing my husband right under my $22,000 nose?

Magdalena on: Memory

It’s pretty, that story. Pretty enough to make you fall in love. And it’d be pretty too, to think the story ended there. To think that Mom, a little muddy but no worse for the wear, follows the river upstream until she’s spit out with her child on some San Diego shore. Towing the Styrofoam box behind her, she trudges through the silt to safety, her fingers prunish and her knees purple and sore. She puts her baby in the grass, where he coos and giggles from a tickle of dandelion brushing across his tummy, while she wrings out her skirts in the sun. That’s the way Ricky remembers it, so damn pretty. He remembers too that shortly thereafter Dad, an uncle of no relation and all six sisters came tumbling out of the hedges and trees; and before long they were in the big house in Riverside, splashing it up in the swimming pool, the river sledge long forgotten.

Of course, it didn’t happen like that. Never does. But whose gonna tell Moses that his momma pushed the cradle upstream while she swam up a sewer, filling her mouth full of piss and shit and raw scum? Who’s going to tell the baby that momma held her breath, the filth and refuge still inside and trickling down her lips, and faced the immigration police face front? That she spat the festering contents of her mouth, in one solid stream, straight into the blue-green eyes of the border patrol, and then she ran, her baby still bobbing about unawares?

Nobody. That’s who. Nobody’s gonna tell the baby a goddamned thing. They’re not going to linger on the lack of hedges in the desert. They’re not going to mention the indescribable taste shit leaves in between your teeth and on the inside of your cheeks. They’re going to let him float straight onto the chosen land, and they’re only going to cringe a little when the baby grows up and announces his intent to marry a yellow-headed wife.

Magdalena on: Three Levels of Conflict

When Puck and I returned to the party Ricky was [...] in the middle of what I like to call his A&E Biography. You know, his well-rehearsed life story in case anyone wants to film, record, document or otherwise preserve it for some future generation. The one that starts with, On a day that was more hazy than it was hot, my father left Juarez with six little girls, a pregnant wife, and a pocket full of cauliflower seeds. Middles out around: After working the fields from Washington state to San Diego, learning English from schoolchildren and earning the handle Cauliflower King, my father saved enough to buy 600 acres near Riverside, two Cadillacs, a house with Spanish tile and two swimming pools, even though he couldn’t swim. And climaxes somewhere near, And that’s when I said, Papa, I only have two goals: to run a Fortune 500 company and to see my face on the left side of the Wall Street Journal, next to a line drawing of Janet Reno stating her intentions to split my company for antitrust. If you’re lucky enough to be in his office when the story spills out, he’ll lean back in his leather chair, kick his boots onto his desk, stretch his arms towards the panoramic view behind his head and nod towards the wall, where the front page of the Journal hangs framed behind anti-glare glass.

I’ve heard the story maybe a gazillion times. So often, in fact, that I’ve stopped trying to correct his exaggerations, stopped trying to remind him that his mother came from money, stopped trying to include my name in the water-industry plot. Hell, on good days I can almost remember the first time I heard it. And then I believe him myself.