Bridget Hoida on: California Top Ten

Not many people know this, but a novelist invented California. Really. Over five hundred years ago, long before it was a real geographic place, California was described in the pages of a book, written by Garci Ordonez de Montalvo, as a golden land “very near the terrestrial paradise” and populated, almost exclusively, by courageous women. I cannot tell you how fabulous I think this is. Not only because California existed in the imagination before it existed on a map, but also because California was quite literally written into being.

As a Nor Cal native (and So Cal transplant) I’ve always been drawn to California writers and it’s no secret that I have an incurable girl-crush on Joan Didion. Her use of whitespace is particularly inspiring to me and, if forced, I’d have to choose her novel, Play It As It Lays, as my favorite book. Ever. Although some may call my Didion ardor an obsession—it’s not stalking if she writes you back—I maintain it’s not so much Didion the woman but rather the sound of Didion’s words that have me so hung up. If you have yet to read Joan Didion I recommend all of her California cannon (from Run River to Where I Was From, with large bits of Blue Nights, and huge pieces of Slouching Towards Bethlehem strategically tossed in-between) but most especially, I recommend Play It As It Lays (with the original 1970s paperback cover, if you can find it, because nothing says “serious literature” like a topless blonde and a snake).

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After Didion, who for me will always be the author of my California I offer neither a rank list, nor the usual jacket covers, but a compendium, of sorts; the models and voices that inspired me when I set to work on So L.A. There is no London. No Norris. No Steinbeck, or Chandler even. Not that their moonish valleys, railroad entanglements, big sleeps and brambling grape vines aren’t inspiring, quite the contrary, but chances are if you’re reading this, you already know their works—if not also their words—and so instead I offer you:
Ask The Dust (1939) by John Fante
Although it is chronologically impossible, I’m secretly convinced Ask The Dust is what happened in the stacks of the L.A. public library when Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust (1939) and Charles Bukowski’s Post Office (1971) had a torrid, and heart-achingly beautiful literary love affair. Pages were dog-eared. Spines were spent. And nine months later Ask The Dust was born.
Cover of "Ask the Dust"
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Why Did I Ever? (2001) by Mary Robison
Fragmented, fractured and wildly brilliant, Robison’s Why Did I Ever tells the story of Money Brenton, a Hollywood script doctor who struggles to make her way, while making the rent. Money has ADD and a dysfunctional home life. What’s more, her son Paulie was recently the victim of an unspeakable assault and her daughter Mev is a meth-addict. This book is dark. This book is angry. This book (and everyone in it) is emotionally damaged. And it’s also one of the funniest books I have ever read. In Why Did I Ever Robison masterfully allows illness to not only define the structure, but also the narration of her novel and the result is stunning. I don’t use the word “genius” all too often, but Mary Robison is a genius. Because she can write a chapter in three sentences, like this: “I feel around in my handbag, extract something, use it, and put it back.  Later on I might need something else.  This is my life, what my life is really made of.
—-
The People of Paper (2005) by Salvador Plascencia
A bit of a disclaimer, I happen to know Sal. We went to grad school together, but I am convinced that even if I had never met him I would adore this book, because beneath its paper cover is a magical boldness that I covet, as Sal’s people are literally made of paper. There are bees and knees, international borders drawn in chalk, little girls who rot their teeth eating lemons, a graveyard of mechanical turtles, and a violent gang of carnation pickers who wage a war against sadness and omniscient narration. If you can find the McSweeneys rectangular edition buy it! Not only because you can stick your finger straight through the pages in spots, but also because it conforms to the papal decree.
The Land of Little Rain (1903) by Mary Hunter Austin
When I came across The Land of Little Rain I didn’t expect to like it, let alone fall madly in love with it. I mean who picks up a book about basket makers and sheep farmers in the desert and falls in love? But amazingly, that’s just what happened. The descriptions of California are so vivid and so reverently environmental that you feel not only as if you are walking Austin’s exceptionally described trails, but that you are also a damned fool for living in a man made house and abandoning the divine harmony of a more natural dwelling. Reading this book is like yoga without a mat. And if that’s not a high enough endorsement, I’ll also share that I named my firstborn child after a story in this collection. Really, I did.
Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1990) by Maxine Hong Kingston
There’s an opening moment in Tripmaster Monkey where the gloriously named Whittman Ah Sing contemplates suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Would he jump, like the other 235 others had, facing the land with “Coit Tower giving you the finger all the way down?” No. “Whittman would face the sea.” In Kingston’s book, Whittman thankfully doesn’t jump. Even though the sun setting over the ocean is tempting, Whittman never jumps. And that’s why I like him. I first read this book in Berkeley, on a co-operative rooftop with a view of the city –and on good days a view of the Golden Gate Bridge—and Whitman’s dilemma became for me, a sort of party favor. I’d bring it (and the book) with me almost everywhere and in a metaphorical game of truth or dare I’d ask unassuming cocktail guests from which side they’d jump. Not that I would. Not that any of us ever would. Ever. But it is such an interesting question. A question that complicated my relationship with San Francisco in ways even East Bay public transportation maps are still unable to accomplish.
 
The Serial (1977) by Cyra McFadden
I honestly don’t remember how I came across this book, which isn’t a book really, but a spiral bound collection of 52 short columns exploring the marriages, child rearing tactics and label laden domestic lives of Marin’s post-hippy and pre-yuppie “flash on” culture. It is satire at its best, and best of all, McFadden never shies away from using loads of cultural jargon, consumer references and “real” places.
America (1956) by Allen Ginsberg
Even before I attended college at UC Berkeley I’d make day trips to San Francisco and walk the “Beat” streets of North Beach. I’d duck into City Lights with the earnestness of most any awkward fifteen-year-old bookworm, and if I walked back to BART—instead of talking the bus or the trolley—I’d have enough money to buy a single used pocket edition of a City Lights book. I bought “America” in the early summer of my junior year in high school. By summer’s end I had memorized all of it.  Twenty years later I now teach it to my students “every chance I get.” For me, it never gets old.
In A Country” (1977) by Larry Levis
My final selection is a single poem by Larry Levis. I chose one poem because it seemed too gluttonous to choose all of them (although truth be told, I haven’t read a Levis I didn’t like). One of the infamous “Fresno poets” Levis’ poetry taught me how to write, with love and fear, about the soil of the San Joaquin and in So L.A., although the title invokes the perceived glamour of the Southland, it’s actually equally concerned with the hardscrabble beauty of agrarian culture,  which as Michael Ventura might admit is an equally “hard, hard beauty to love.”

*This post originally appeared on my new favorite blog spot, Conceptual Reception, thanks to the huge heart of poet and collector of obscure vocabulary, Karen!
From Karen: “I am so excited to post today.  In fact, this might be one of my favorite all-time blog entries to date.  The lovely women behind TLC Book Tours linked me up with the amazingly smart, fun author Bridget Hoida, whose new book  “So L.A.” is tearing it up. Completely convinced that Bridget is my kindred California spirit, I asked her to write a guest post of her “Recommended California Reading.” For more info on Bridget and her book, check out her rad website (and check back here for an upcoming review).  But I am now so excited to hand you over to her sharp, inspiring guest post for today.  Look out, though.  Your “to be read” list is about to get several books longer.”

-Karen Marie, Conceptual Reception, September 12, 2012

Bridget Hoida ON: Lennon Lullaby

Here are the next three tracks of the So L.A. Soundtrack

LA River

Look At Me by John Lennon

This song is sung so softly, and with such endearingly sweet emotion, it’s hard not to be swept away by the pretty picks of the guitar chords. However, underneath this Lennon lullaby are questions that speak directly to Magdalena and her process of physical and emotional transformation. The song begins with the line “Look at me.”  After Junah’s death Magdalena can no longer bear to look herself in the mirror, as her resemblance to her dead brother is just too painful, so she moves to L.A. where she begins the (damaging and damning) process of cosmetic surgery. But she soon learns (though refuses to admit) even after she’s “augmented everything” her pain is still present. The lyrics of this song: “Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?” continue to speak to Mags throughout most of the novel.

 “Blonde on Blonde” by Nada Surf

If So L.A. were a movie, and not uncoincidentally, I’ve written it as such, this would have to be the track playing at Linda Carter’s Malibu party. Not only does the song mention “Wonder Woman” but it also takes the California “blonde” and makes her even blonder. How, might you ask, is that even possible? Let me give you the number for Magdalena’s stylist, Jersi. If he can’t bleach you blonder, Sugar, nobody can.

 “L.A. River” by Honey Honey

Los Angeles, as Magdalena learns, is so much more than the stars on Hollywood Blvd. or the shops on Rodeo Drive. Beyond Beverly Hills and the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica there is another, less iconic L.A. And as this song reminds everyone, it is equally beautiful, if not more so.

Bridget Hoida On: So L.A. Soundtrack

I must admit, when the brilliant Meg over at  A Bookish Affair asked for a So L.A. playlist, I was tempted to reach into the tight back pocket of my L.A. iconography jeans and grab some Southland song classics like: “Hotel California” by The Eagles; “California Girls” both—the David Lee Roth & The Beach Boys versions; Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”; or even the fabulous—and fabulously appropriate— “L.A. Woman” by The Doors…

But I didn’t.

Even though these songs make me smile, and I’ll openly admit to singing them loudly while driving the 405, or cheering at a Laker’s game, they weren’t “So L.A.”, at least not in the bookish sense.

Although some have mistakenly taken So L.A. for “chick lit” or a “light summer read,” (maybe it’s the cover? maybe it’s the title? maybe it’s because I’m a blonde woman writing about a blonde woman who lives in L.A.?) it’s actually a much darker satire about love and beauty myths and the necessary emotions everyone feels in the face of intense personal loss.

Yes, it has rhinestones, movie stars, fancy cars and a whole lot of Hollywood sass, but So L.A. is more than just tinsel. It’s a woman from a small town who is struggling to reinvent herself, after the loss of her brother and the process, although eventually redeeming, is oftentimes very messy.

Below you will find the extended liner notes for my So L.A. Soundtrack so turn the radio up, spread your towel on my deck chair, lay back, and let’s  listen to a lesser heard So L.A.

1. Red Dirt Girl by Emmylou Harris

Magdalena, the protagonist of So L.A. was born and raised in the agrarian San Joaquin Valley, in the small grape town of Lodi, California. This song, about two best friends who grew up in the dusty farmlands of another small American farm town, really speaks to much of the ranching backstory of So L.A.  In “Red Dirt Girl,” which Emmylou Harris admits is more of a story set to music, one of the friends loses her brother and after his death she, like Magdalena, is forever changed. In So L.A. I named Magdalena’s childhood dog Gideon, in homage to this song.

 2. “I’m New Here” by Gil Scott-Heron

I originally heard this song as performed by songwriter Bill Callahan of Smog. It was good. But OMG! When I heard Gil Scott-Heron’s recording I melted. No really, I lost my legs and fell into a heap of sunglasses and a-lined skirts on my kitchen floor. It. Was. Just. That. Stunning. And what the song speaks to is perhaps Magdalena’s biggest struggle: how to turn herself and her life around. The song opens with Gil’s aged yet melodic voice straining to sing: “I did not become someone different / That I did not want to be” and I want to stress the intentionality of this sentiment and how it directly applies to Magdalena (and many other women in L.A.) So often in life (and L.A.) people, especially women, are perceived to be “victims” of their “circumstances.” They are forced into cosmetic surgery or other such drastic measures by “the pressure of the male gaze” or “our phallocentric world view” but as Magdalena (and many real women) will tell you, she wanted desperately to reinvent herself. In fact, one of the most touching moments in the novel is when her husband Ricky quietly asks her to stop. When he tells her he liked her (and her boobs) better before she went under the knife.  But when you’re “new here” or want to be “new,” Heron’s advice can be hard to remember and even harder to follow as he sings (and I grow faint from the sound of his voice): “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone/ You can always turn around.”

3. Look At Me by John Lennon

This song is sung so softly, and with such endearingly sweet emotion, it’s hard not to be swept away by the pretty picks of the guitar chords. However, underneath this Lennon lullaby are questions that speak directly to Magdalena and her process of physical and emotional transformation. The song begins with the line “Look at me.”  After Junah’s death Magdalena can no longer bear to look herself in the mirror, as her resemblance to her dead brother is just too painful, so she moves to L.A. where she begins the (damaging and damning) process of cosmetic surgery. But she soon learns (though refuses to admit) even after she’s “augmented everything” her pain is still present. The lyrics of this song: “Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?” continue to speak to Mags throughout most of the novel.

4.  “Blonde on Blonde” by Nada Surf

If So L.A. were a movie, and not uncoincidentally, I’ve written it as such, this would have to be the track playing at Linda Carter’s Malibu party. Not only does the song mention “Wonder Woman” but it also takes the California “blonde” and makes her even blonder. How, might you ask, is that even possible? Let me give you the number for Magdalena’s stylist, Jersi. If he can’t bleach you blonder, Sugar, nobody can.

 5. “L.A. River” by Honey Honey

Los Angeles, as Magdalena learns, is so much more than the stars on Hollywood Blvd. or the shops on Rodeo Drive. Beyond Beverly Hills and the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica there is another, less iconic L.A. And as this song reminds everyone, it is equally beautiful, if not more so.

6. “Little Miss Queen of Darkness” by The Kinks

After living in Southern California for well over a decade I’m convinced that even though the movies, pictures and “reality” television shows will tell you otherwise, nothing is as it seems. But more to the point: Californians try really really hard to keep things that way. The hair, the cars, the boobs, the exceptionally high heels… they are all a part of a huge yet-to-be-produced-film called: Hide Everything.  And to be “So L.A.” is to belong to this material culture. When considering Magdalena and her obsession with materialism I first went to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” but I think The Kinks explore the emotional damage of this showy lifestyle better when they sing: “Although she looked so happy,/ There was sadness in her eyes. / And her curly false eyelashes / Weren’t much of a disguise. / And her bright and golden hair, / Was not all that it might seem. / Little miss queen of darkness / Dances sadly on.”

 7. “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground

This song is a love note from Magdalena to all the men in the book. To Ricky it is an explanation: “Sometimes I feel so happy,/ Sometimes I feel so sad. / Sometimes I feel so happy,/But mostly you just make me mad.” To Puck, it is her apology and her pleading, “If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see,/I’d put you in the mirror,/ I put in front of me.” To Quentin, it is an invitation: “It was good what we did yesterday./ And I’d do it once again./ The fact that you are married,/ Only proves, you’re my best friend./ But it’s truly, truly a sin.” To Junah it is a swan song. A goodbye in the way only music can speak: “Thought of you as my mountain top,/ Thought of you as my peak./ Thought of you as everything,/ I’ve had but couldn’t keep./ Linger on, your pale blue eyes.” I’ve loved this song for more years than I care to admit and yet it never tires. Every time I hear Lou Reed’s musical whisper across my speakers I yearn for the run-down Berkeley loft of my early-twenties. I blame the tambourine.

The Riq, is widely Used in the Arabic Music

8.  “Blues Run The Game” by Laura Marling

As every woman eventually learns, you can only run so far before the cities run out and start to become one in the same. Magdalena runs from Lodi to Berkeley to Los Angeles to the Beverly Hills Hotel to escape who she was and the memory of Junah. However, there’s only so much room service a girl can take before the lonely sets in. Even with Quentin’s occasional company, life at the Beverly Hills Hotel begins to break Magdalena’s “Hollywood gloss” as she realizes that no amount of whisky, gin or room service, will save her, nor will it bring her beloved Junah back. “When I’m not drinking, baby,/ You are on my mind,/ When I’m not sleeping, honey,/ Well you know you’ll find me crying.”

9. “Stuck In Lodi” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

So I know I promised a few days ago, when I began this project, that I was going to avoid the “cliché” but when you’re writing a book about a town as small as Lodi and it just so happens that there is also a fairly well known song about that same said town, well, you kind of have to include it. Especially when, near the end of the book Magdalena really does find herself “stuck in Lodi. Again.”

 10.  “Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Arthur Lee

Hearing this song was a turning point for me. And equally important, it was a turning point for the book. I was deep into writing the pages of Magdalena’s depression, writing the worst and most despicable parts about her. When you’re doing dark writing like this it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the anger and the despair. I was struggling to write the scene where Mags comes to a resolution and forgives herself for Junah’s death, but I just couldn’t get the words out. A friend sent me this song and like Arthur Lee says, “Everybody’s gotta live and everybody’s gotta die.” Accepting Junah’s death allows Magdalena to live. She just has to “know the reason why.”

11. “Our Lips Are Sealed” by The Go-Go’s

Return to the Valley of The Go-Go'sThis song is spiritual for me. Especially when paired with the video. There’s something that’s just, well, so L.A. about it. Convertibles with their tops down, girls who are insanely beautiful, but not in a manufactured way (e.g. L.A. in the early 80’s and not 2012) and dancing, fully clothed, in a public fountain in Beverly Hills. For me, this is Magdalena before Junah died: self-confident and joyful, and it is Magdalena in Take Six, which is not in the printed version of the book.  Splashing in a public fountain while singing with a “hell-if-I-care-who-sees-me” attitude is where I hope Magdalena’s headed, off the page, after the book ends.

Bridget Hoida: On Magazine Glossy

Okay… I know if L.A. has taught me anything, it’s that I’m supposed to play it cool and pretend like this is a regular occurrence, but OMG! you guys… A magazine glossy!

“This is an exceptional first novel. [...] So L.A.is a little autobiographical and a lot experimental as Magdalena’s subsequent unraveling turns the city into a sometimes trite but often revealing “soul” window. Hoida’s style makes the story seamless–for instance, she avoids using quotation marks in passages of dialogue. But in the end, as in all good endings, her protagonist finds a new determination and a new dream. We leave Magdalena anticipating a successful rebuilding in her altered, but more realistic, lifestyle.”

-Jane Glenn Haas, “True Grist,” Orange Coast Magazine, September 2012

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: Eating Bookmarks

So L.A. was featured in the BookClub CookBook’s July newsletter as a “terrific new book for summer reading.” In the BookClub CookBook authors are asked to create a Book Club menu (yum!) for readers. This is what I recommend:

Call me old fashioned, but when I’m asked, “What pairs well with books?” My go to answer is: “Libraries, readers, and a cozy deck chair.”  So, as you can imagine, I was a bit taken aback when I was recently asked to “pair” my book with “something edible.”

 —

“Like a bookmark?” I replied, because as my mother tells it, when I was a baby, and she was speeding through a novel holding me on her lap, I devoured an entire cardboard placeholder while she made her way to the end of the chapter.

“I wondered why you were being so good,” she says in the retelling, “and then I saw the bits of bookmark in your drool.”

I love this story almost as much as I love my mother because it shows equally my early passion for literature and my mother’s unwavering commitment to raising me right, which is to say, she raised me with, among, and inside of books. She not only read to me, but she read near me and that matters almost as much now as it did then.

I’ve been told, however, one cannot live on books alone and so I offer you the following Book Club recipes inspired by So L.A. as featured in this month’s BookClub CookBook’s “Buzzing About Books!

To be paired with So L.A. (and because I know everyone likes options, I’ve given you two menu choices!)

Menu you have SO got to be kidding me

 (conforms to The Hollywood Supermodel Diet)

Gin, Up:  A tall glass of Tanqueray Ten. With a paper straw. So it looks like a Sprite.

Peanut M&Ms: A grande package of peanut M&Ms. (To be eaten one at a time on the half hour beginning with red and proceeding in rainbow order.)

Menu L.A.

 (for those among us who are happily

NOT on the Hollywood Supermodel Diet)

Spiced Cucumber Collins: Made best bar side, by the tenders of Public at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, the Spiced Cucumber Collins is crafted with Hendricks’s Gin, lime, Shishito pepper, cucumber and mint. Embellished with cucumber, cut in a half-moon, for some cool summer flair this dazzling drink brings the heat with Shishito peppers that are abSOlutely So L.A.

Salsa Bar Trifecta
Mango-Avocado Salsa
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced medium
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced medium
  • 1 small red onion, diced small
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 to 1 habanero chili (stem and seeds removed), minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Pico de Gallo
  • 2 pounds tomatoes, ripe but firm
  • 1/4 cup green onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped finely
  • 1/2-3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1-2 hot peppers, or to taste
  • 4-5 Key limes,
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Black Bean Salsa
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (17-ounce) package frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 large avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Homeboy Tortilla Strips: Dip with Homeboy Tortilla Strips, handmade in L.A., where their motto is “Jobs not Jails,” Homeboy Industries “offers hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.”

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: 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.