Bridget Hoida on: The Final (sound)Tracks

Tracks nine, ten & eleven of the So L.A. Soundtrack

 

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.”

  “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.”

 —

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: The Blues

The So L.A. Soundtrack tracks six, seven & eight (from dark blue to pale blue to bluish games)

“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.”

 —

 “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

 “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.”

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: Placing the Pages

This post originally appeared as a guest blog on A Chick Who Reads

In my book, So L.A., Magdalena, the protagonist, drives her convertible through the complicated L.A. streets and maze of intersecting freeways as though it were an incurable habit. “I like to drive,” she states on more than one occasion, her oversized sunglasses a shield against the perpetual sunshine of the Southland. “Not to anywhere in particular, because I have no place in particular to go, but I’m addicted to freeways. The 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101. It’s so L.A.”


On this virtual literary tour of So L.A I invite you to join Magdalena and me “stop and go”  across the pages of So L.A. and some of my favorite places in Los Angeles.


To visit Stop One: 730 N. Bedford Dr. you’ll only have to take a peek in the rearview mirror as we back down Magdalena’s driveway in Beverly Hills. When I was “shopping” for houses in which to place my novel and its main characters, 730 N. Bedford stood out to me, not only because it’s a classic Beverly flats mansion, but because it is also the former residence of Lana Turner, one of old Hollywood’s leading ladies and the site of  “The Happening.” Ask any of the kids who sell “Maps to the Stars” in Hollywood and they will tell you, “The Happening” at 730 N. Bedford is what happened when Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Turner’s abusive boyfriend Johnny Stompanatoto death in 1958. Morbid as it seems, I needed Magdalena to live in a house that had not only experienced death (as death and tragedy are both reoccurring themes in So L.A.), but also a house inhabited by female solidarity and extraordinary bravery.

Image
As we make our way from the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills to Stop Two, the bazillion dollar shopping districts of L.A. proper – just a few block over and a few blocks up, totally walkable not that anyone from Beverly Hills every would—I’m going to do the unthinkable and pass right by the iconic Rodeo Drive for the lesser-known, and oh-so-lovely, Robertson Boulevard. Less conspicuous than the infamous Rodeo, Robertson is still no stranger to over-the-top luxury boutiques and insane celebrity sightings. In fact, because most tourists are still in the dark about the very existence of the extremely high-end Robertson, many celebrities prefer shopping Chanel, Odd Molly, Kitson, and Dolce on this quiet side street. And when you’re done shopping, you can indulge in a glass of wine and some warm cookies, as Magdalena frequently does in So L.A., at Stop Three: The Ivy.


Unlike the rest of Robertson, The Ivy is a place a girl goes when she wants to be seen. Often flanked by paparazzi and celebrities alike, The Ivy is an adorable restaurant with patio dining so those who can get “on the list” are seated in obvious sight of everyone walking the sidewalks that could not quite seem to manage an advanced reservation. A word of caution, however, when parking at The Ivy, be sure to use the valet so as to avoid colliding your car with a billboard, a rather unfortunate “Magdalena moment” that throws the darling of So L.A. into a spotlight almost too bright for her to handle. Good thing for lobster ravioli and Quentin, the man Magdalena meets crying on a Robertson curb who escorts her, not in a the chauffeured town car of which she is accustom, but rather in a bright yellow utility truck, to downtown L.A. where the bars are dim and the drinks are stiff.


Stop Four: Downtown Los Angeles. On a personal note, I was once told by a “well intentioned friend” never to go south of the 10 freeway or east of La Brea. Thankfully, I did not heed that advice because downtown Los Angeles (as well as south and east of downtown Los Angeles) is glorious! In So L.A. Magdalena frequents the meracdos, bars, museums, and even the public libraries of downtown L.A. In one of my favorite passages of So L.A. she actually walks from the MoCA to Japan Town (passing the courthouse and the old L.A. times building) while she counts trees that are not of the palm variety. And she does all this at dusk, in a pair of Yves Saint Laurent platform sandals! Does she blister? Absolutely. But she’d do it again in a heartbeat. (And if you’re ever in the area, I’d encourage you to walk downtown L.A. as well.)

Because of the blisters, or maybe because of all the shopping and the walking and the brief cultural tourism at the Japanese American National Museum, Stop Five: The Beverly Hills Hotel

Title: Beverly Hills Hotel, front driveway and...

Title: Beverly Hills Hotel, front driveway and entrance (copy of photograph), circa 1925 Publication:Los Angeles Times Publication date:circa 1925

is about back where we began. In So L.A., Magdalena takes up temporary residence at the Beverly Hills Hotel—mostly because she admires the huge banana leaf wallpaper and the plush pink bathrobes—but also because she finds a certain (privileged) security in “homelessness so close to home.” Like a child who runs away to the basement or a cardboard box in the garage, Magdalena really isn’t seeking an escape from her marriage, rather she is yearning to be found by her husband, Ricky. So she seeks refuge in what she thinks is the closest and most easily found location: a hotel less than three miles from her house. Sadly, or perhaps central to the plot of most any discovery, neither Ricky nor Magdalena can see what is literally right under their noses. But they learn and they try and, in typical L.A. fashion, they drive onward into the sunset.

As we motor off this virtual page I’d like to leave you with these driving tips from Magdalena, straight off the pages (and freeways) of So L.A. where she says:  “Ricky, like most Angelinos, doesn’t believe in the blinker. He maintains that by initiating the blink you actually hinder any small chance you have of actually getting over. The guy on your right, when he sees the click-click of the yellow light, will speed up and close in on the gap. But I disagree. One of the remarkable things about Los Angeles, one of those things that no one seems to talk about, is how we all do manage to get where we’re going. We slide from the fast lane (wave) to the middle lane (wave) to the slow lane (wave) to the exit ramp (blinker off), and we merge. It may not be singularly graceful or without incident, but 99.9 percent of the time we do manage to make our exits, our left turns, our way home.”

Thanks again to A Chick Who Reads for allowing me a guest spot on her fabulous blog!

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

TLC Book Tour: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

The following review by appeared on the blog Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile.

You can find the full article here: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

At first glance So L.A. might draw you in with its gorgeous cover. It might entice you with its chick-lit feel. However I can promise you that what is in these pages is so much more than that. A mixture of dry satirical humor, and a no-holds-barred look at the culture that is L.A., this is a story that is hard to define. What I can say, is that it is brilliant.

I think it’s fitting that I read this book while sitting in a 60 story sky rise in Downtown L.A. Overlooking the hub of the busiest parts of Wilshire Boulevard. This is the setting that Hoida chooses for her book, and it works wonders with Magdalena’s story. From small town girl, to big city business owner, Magdalena’s point of view is a fresh and honest take of the high society that is Beverly Hills. Her life is by no means perfect. Sure, she has the perfect shoes, the perfect house and even the perfect nose. She soon finds though, that all those things don’t add up to a happy life.

It’s honestly hard to like Magdalena because of how exasperating she can be sometimes. She is definitely a character that you want to save and slap in equal measures. Trying, and failing, to cope with the death of her brother is all that Magdalena does the majority of the book. However, it’s definitely true to life. She tries to fill the gap with things, with fake people, with fake smiles. All the time falling deeper and deeper into the craziness that her life has become.

In the end So L.A. is about hiding from oneself. About changing what is on the outside to try to compensate for what’s on the inside. I won’t say that Magdalena’s story is happy. It does show how easy it is to fall into a life that isn’t your own. About how easy it is to feel lost, but hide it from the outside world. Briget Hoida’s book may look like chick-lit at first glance, but it’s infinitely more than that. I loved it, and I think you will too.

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.
 –
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 :)
 –

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.
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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: The Tall Wall

There are a lot of reasons why I adore my agent, the charming Sally van Haitsma. To begin, she’s smart. Really really smart. And by really really smart I mean smart in the way of getting obscure cultural references and understanding that some darlings cannot be killed all in the same breath. She’s also persistent. As in, she never, ever gave up on me or my book, even after we were told by the Big Six (and the little sixty) that it was, perhaps “too Hollywood insider” for anyone outside of the Hollywood set. Also of note, she cares. Which is rare when it’s true, and with Sally it’s always true. But if I had to list the best reason why I’m so smitten with Sally, I’d have to admit it’s because she’s tall.  Really, really tall. Almost as tall as she is smart and that’s why I like her.

ImageIn the first six–or sixteen– drafts of So L.A. Magdalena, the protagonist, was tall, but it was Sally who pushed me to make her taller. To make her own her tallness and to translate that tall onto the page. When you’re 23 or 36 tall is sexy, but when you’re 13 and taller than pretty much everyone in your junior high school –administration included– tall is not so delightful. In fact it’s painful. And even though I’m six feet it was Sally who had to reminded me of what it means, how it feels to be tall. Through her tallness, and her caring boldness, she pushed me back into the arms of a too-short eighth-grade-boy at the junior high dance. She made me slow dance with that short, sticky boy in my mind, the Karate Kid’s “Glory of Love” on perpetual repeat. While we brunched at Antoine’s Cafe, the two of us compared inadequate inseams and the brief but lasting horror of stirrup-pant blunders (thank god for scrunch socks and safety pins).

Which is important. Especially in Magdalena’s world where she admittedly “augmented everything” sans corneal implants. And height. And it’s important too, in today’s world of “perceived imperfections” where patience isn’t valued. Where girls (and boys) are having cosmetic surgery at 12 and 14 to “fit” the “beauty norms” of an increasingly image obsessed society. Don’t believe me? See here: The Upside of Ugly. Or consider my kid. He was born with one ear that is bigger than the other. The medical explanation is that the cartilage is missing. As his mother I was urged to fix his big ear “before the age of five.” I refused. He’s older now, way beyond five yet recently a doctor asked him, at his check up, if people bullied him about his ear and if he wanted to get it fixed? He looked at the doctor like she was crazy, held his big ear and said: “No way! This is my lucky ear.”

So what I want to say is: It takes time to grow into your face. And time to grow into your height, too. Why would anyone want to alter that? Why would anyone want to augment what inspires resilience? What gives them character? No matter how awkward or painful?

“The Tall Wall” an excerpt from So L.A. by Bridget Hoida

IN ADDITION to their supposed intuition, the Jablonowski women were also tall. At six feet I’m their crown jewel. Although I never saw it that way. What I saw was a girl hunched over at her seventh-grade dance, ignoring her grandmother’s pleas not to slouch, hoping—just for one song—that she would shrink short enough to be swirled in an awkward shuffle around the floor.

And because I towered over most of the boys in my sixth- through eleventh-grade classes, it was impossible for me to be pretty. To be pretty was to have Guess? Jeans that zipped just below your ankle, not two inches above. To be pretty was to have a spiral perm and jelly shoes and stretch pants with stirrups that actually stretched under your foot (and did not, for example, have to be cut off and pinned inside two pair of scrunch socks). To be pretty was to have your boyfriend’s name puff-painted on your pink jean jacket and an arm full of Swatches and friendship bracelets that linked you to Heathers or Valeries or Kimberlys or Kristens.

To be pretty was to be short. Shorter, at least, than the boys. Which, at fourteen, stretched out on my extra-long day bed and flipping through Vogue, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Because when I looked at the glossy pages I didn’t see short girls. I saw stringy, awkward gazelles with spaghetti limbs draped in lace and slumped artfully across the pulpits of abandoned southern churches. I saw muted beach pictorials of barely-there bikinis and legs as long as the surfboards they perched upon. But apparently, as my mother explained while she stroked my straight hair, Real people don’t live in Vogue, Laney. They live in suburbs and neighborhoods and apartment complexes and farms. Real people have to work for a living and can’t spend all day in their underwear flipping through magazines and imagining themselves shorter.

I’m not in my underwear, I said as I slid on a pair of super-short cut-offs. And I don’t imagine myself shorter, I said as I slid the magazine under my pillow. I imagine myself tall, in a world with tall people who think that I’m pretty.

Well sounds like you’re home, my mom said as she motioned out the large bay window toward Junah and my three tall cousins bent over grapes in the field. Ready to join Tall World, because it’s crush time.

You so don’t get it, I said as I tugged an old Esprit t-shirt and ran out into the hall. You just don’t get it at all.

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OUTSIDE OF the land of giants that were largely male and entirely related to me by blood, the rest of the world had pegged me as Too Tall. At least for a girl. Worse yet, in their opinion, I refused to put my long legs up to any real use. I mean sure, I helped people reach top things on shelves and such, but I refused to bump, set, spike, lay-up, free throw or triple jump. Because I was neither athletic nor pretty I was left with smart, which I embraced fully and added to it—more from necessity than from desire—some flair. Let the pretty girls have their acid-washed jeans, cinch belts and China flats. I was going to be an artist. And because real paint supplies were too expensive, I took to installation and made-do with myself. I wore argyle sweaters and color-changing lipstick. I studied the fashion magazines I hid beneath my pillow and pieced together a new vision for myself. My mom was more than happy to let me take over the Singer, and with it I learned to sew sections of Junah’s old jeans into patchwork miniskirts that I adorned with safety pins and grosgrain ribbon. I was the first girl in Lodi to wear ankle socks with patent-leather pumps and, when it was cold, I pulled up mismatched leg warmers. If I couldn’t be pretty then at least I’d be striking. I’d be memorable. I’d be something more than a tall girl, tugging on the hemline of her store-bought skirt and slouching in the corner.

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

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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.

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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!