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

Bridget Hoida on: Quotation Mark Murder

In So L.A. I was looking for a way to tell not what really happened, but what could possibly happen. The novel opens with Magdalena falling off a boat and then moves both forward and backward in time.

This is how most people tell stories. They begin in the middle and then jump around, forgetting, amending, and calling attention to the most important parts, while the listener rarely ever exclusively listens but instead interjects and provides his or her own connections, observations and experiences. Eliminating quotations allowed me to access some of this interplay. This is important both for me as a writer, and for Magdalena’s character development. Although Magdalena may appear to be whining about the lack of parking on Robertson, what she’s really bemoaning is a deeper, more personal, unspeakable grief. In my mind, having your brother (or anyone you love deeply), fall to his death off a granite rock is devastating. Although Magdalena is awake for most of the novel, she is walking through (and waking in) the intense fog of grief and her motivations, as well as the plot, are submerged—that is they happen off the page.

For her nothing adds up and so she seeks to make trouble where there is none –Ricky’s imaginary affair; Puck’s unintentional betrayal.

Because the plot of So L.A. is elliptical (and dependent upon the unreliable narration of Magdalena), and, as has been noted, void of conventional quotation marks, I needed a structure of some sort to hold the narrative together. Robert McKee’s STORY! gave me just that. A primer for how to write a winning screenplay, McKee offers priceless nuggets of advice, like “The Problem of Surprise” or “Characters Are Not People” which not only became the headings of some of my sections, but also function to bind the narrative together and instruct the reader (albeit satirically), how to approach the accompanying text.

This week I’ll post on the Three Levels of Conflict: Imagination, Memory, and Fact from Magdalena’s grief-addled perspective.