Five Questions for Dana Spiotta

This week, ALOUD is hosting novelist Dana Spiotta in conversation with Janet Fitch and LA Times staff writer Carolyn Kellogg on “Artists and Survivors: Lost and Found in LA.” Spiotta’s critically acclaimed Stone Arabia takes place in Los Angeles and follows the downward spiral of a musician in the midst of his niece making a film about him. We caught up with Spiotta, who went to high school in Los Angeles, but now resides in New York, on how her time in L.A. still echoes in her work. Reserve your free seat for the ALOUD event on Thursday, June 28 here.

Why were you compelled to set Stone Arabia in Los Angeles?

So far, all my books have Los Angeles as a setting. Maybe it is because I spent my formative years here, but Los Angeles fires my imagination.

How did the cultural scene of Los Angeles impact your story—what were the consequences of this particular setting on your characters?

Locating my characters in a very specific time and place is everything to me. I think people are shaped by landscape and architecture, among other things. Although most of the novel takes place in 2004, I was thinking of L.A. in the 70s (on the Sunset Strip) and L.A. in the early 60s (in Topanga). I guess my larger subject is American culture at the margins, and L.A. seems to have room for a lot of subculture. It is geography, partly. My character is a musician, and so I thought of all the great music that came from L.A. in the 70s and early 80s.

What are the challenges or benefits of writing about a place where you are not located?

What did Joyce say? Silence, exile, cunning. It is easier to write about a place you don’t live in, somehow.  But I do visit very often. Places can become too familiar. Los Angeles is not too familiar to me. I can still see it.

Can you share what you are working on next?

I can’t say much, but there are some L.A. scenes in it. Brentwood in the 80s, when I was in high school.

Have libraries had any influence on your writing?

I have always felt at home in libraries. I do a lot of my research in all kinds of libraries. I like to browse stacks and make discoveries. I like looking at what is above and below and next to the subject I am interested in. I think I would like to be a librarian in my next life.


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