It's almost like something out of a novel by Jack Kerouac: In 2008, Anna Stothard landed at what must have been the last scruffy hotel in Venice Beach, a dingy pink monolith at the end of the wild road trip she took after finishing college. Before she knew it, she'd fallen for Los Angeles.
Stothard hadn't planned on it, but when an opportunity arose, she finagled her way into AFI's screenwriting program. She already had an impressive résumé: she'd published her first novel, "Isabel and Rocco," at age 19, and the degree she'd just finished was at Oxford University.
She has now published three novels in the United Kingdom, but in America we're catching up. "The Pink Hotel" (Picador: 288 pp., $15 paperback), longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize, is her first American publication; movie rights have been optioned by Anna Paquin. It's a coming-of-age novel about a young woman who comes to Los Angeles for her mother's wake and, after absconding with some of her belongings, seeks out her mother's lovers.
Sometimes mysterious, sometimes troubling, it's a hypnotic account set among grifters, drifters, and modern bohemians informed by her two years in the city.
Did you begin working on the book after you left the city?
I had this plot line — a girl finding her mother's love letters and looking for the men who loved her — but I didn't know where to put it. I thought I would set it in L.A. because it's such a storyteller's city, where everyone is coming to work out who they are. I didn't sit down at my laptop and nail it until I got back to London — partly because I missed [L.A.].
Recently there's been some discussion about whether American readers expect female writers to create female characters who are nice, relatable. Your protagonist — whom you never name — sometimes makes problematic choices. Were you concerned about her likability?
It never crossed my mind. I certainly wasn't self-conscious about what other people were going to think about her. People have said she isn't relatable. I relate to her — maybe that's obvious, I relate to her fully 100%. It never would have occurred to me to try and sweeten her in any way because she was what she was — she came out fully formed in my head, the one constant creature with all her foibles and traits.
"The Pink Hotel" is set in grittier parts of L.A., in Venice and East Hollywood. How much was that based on your experiences here?
I lived in the apartment that's in the book: in Thai Town and Little Armenia. I used to come out of my apartment block and there would be a huge Armenian wedding going on, then walk down the street and there would be Thai Plaza and Thai kids peeling oranges and lighting incense at a big altar. Then at the end of the road there's the Pink Elephant liquor store. Somebody did get chopped up into tiny pieces and put in the skip [garbage dumpster]. Which was actually the moment I decided I had to leave L.A. — not because it was dangerous but because I looked at the policemen and coroner's tape and assumed it was "CSI" or something. It's probably time to leave L.A. when you start thinking everything's a film set.