Never mind these autumn temperatures: Call this the spring of María Amparo Escandón’s novel, “L.A. Weather.”
“I feel like it’s a rebirth, a renewal,” says Escandón of the paperback edition that arrived in September with the Spanish edition (titled “El Clima de Los Angeles”) to be published Oct. 14. To celebrate these releases, she’ll be in conversation with Beatriz Acevedo at the Skirball Cultural Center on Oct. 11 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. (To register for the free event, click here.)
When the novel was first published in 2021 during the depths of the pandemic, she – like thousands of writers whose books were published during Covid’s worst days – couldn’t go on a traditional book tour or promote it with in-person events. That’s what she’d done with her first two books, “Esperanza’s Box of Saints” published in 1999 and “Gonzales & Daughter Trucking Co.” in 2005.
But pandemic or not, “L.A. Weather” still managed to create a stir.
Not only did the novel hit the New York Times bestseller list, but it was also a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick and on numerous “Best Of” lists (including those of Real Simple, Harper’s Bazaar, Barnes & Noble, CNN, Ms. Magazine, and Good Morning America). Set against the backdrop of a turbulent year plagued by political upheaval, drought and wildfires, the fast-paced story follows the lives of the Alvarados, a modern Mexican-American family navigating a series of upheavals and betrayals.
“It’s actually been surprisingly well received because it’s a very local story,” says Escandon, who started calling L.A. home after moving here in 1983 from Mexico City. “I have had people say to me, ‘I wasn’t interested because you talk so much about the freeways that I’ve never been to because I’m not from LA.’ And I respond that, well, there are different kinds of readers. Readers who gravitate towards the familiar, things that they know about that they’re comfortable with. And then there are other readers who like to be taken to new places and explore other worlds. I don’t hold it against anyone if they feel alienated by the fact that it is about a very local culture. But at the same time, other people have really, really enjoyed it because in one way, and that was kind of my aim, it does debunk some myths about LA.”
“You know there are people out there who’ve never been to L.A. who think that we all live like the Kardashians!” Escandón laughs as she says this. “And we don’t. We suffer regular, plain old lives. We do the dishes. We have our own aches and pains and torments and things that happen to us. We struggle with paying the bills. So I wanted to make a metaphor with the weather in LA and the regular people’s lives because there’s also the myth that it’s always 72 and sunny. We do have weather, and we do have terrible weather.”
Another of those myths she says she works hard to dispel – not just in this novel, but in all her writing – is a stereotype about Latinos: The characters in “L.A. Weather” include a father descended from a family who has been in California since before it was a state; a mother who is from a Jewish family who emigrated to Mexico from Poland; and three young, urban professional daughters engaged in their successful careers.
“I did want to make these characters far away from the cliché, to complicate our views about Latinos,” says Escandón, reeling off stereotypes she wanted to overcome.
“There’s this idea that all Latinos are just one big monolith,” she says. “That’s not true. We are so many. We have the whole spectrum of society, just like any other group.”
Another of her aims with “L.A. Weather” was to “change the narrative” around Latinas, she says.
“I wanted the three sisters in the book to have successful careers because that is the trend. That is what is happening now. Latina women excel in college, they are the number one ethnic group starting businesses in America, they’re coming with full force,” says Escandón, who may as well be describing herself.
After arriving in the States with no money or contacts, she and her then-husband managed to build a thriving advertising agency representing national brands like Wells Fargo. She also has worked as a screenwriter and film producer – the film “Santitos” based on her first novel became a huge success in Latin American countries and helped launch the vanguard of modern Mexican cinema, garnering 14 international prizes to boot.
Still, there’s a problem, she believes. “There is this cliché that we have to fight against – this mindset that Latina women are always stuck at home with a bunch of kids. Which some are, of course – I mean, I myself have two kids and all of that. But we have to work harder to get to where we want to go, because we’re kind of swimming against the tide. I did want to add my two cents, to contribute to changing this narrative a little bit.”
French writer Annie Ernaux awarded Nobel Prize in literature
Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner writes about music and life in new memoir
Things to do in the San Fernando Valley, LA area, Oct. 6-13
‘If I Survive You’ author Jonathan Escoffery on humor, tragedy and coping
Censoring books means censoring empathy
Her success in rendering a nuanced portrait of Latinos in the United States was no doubt part of what earned “L.A. Weather” the honor dearest to her heart, winning the prestigious Rudolfo Anaya Fiction Book Award from the International Latino Book Awards.
“This is the first award I’ve won for my writing,” says Escandon, who has also taught writing through UCLA Extension Writers Program for more than two decades. “I was so humbled because there were writers coming in from Chile, from Argentina, from Mexico, from Colombia, from all over the Spanish-speaking world.”
After all these years, she says, it was sweet validation.
“I guess, finally, I know what I’m doing!”