Raymond Chandler had Los Angeles. Stephen King has Maine, and William Faulkner was devoted to fictional Yoknapatawpha County. But for writers Susan Straight (Highwire Moon, A Million Nightingales), Gayle Brandeis (A Book of Dead Birds) and Michael Jaime-Becerra (Every Night is Ladies Night), there’s no richer setting than the Inland Empire.
They and quirky moderator Tod Goldberg hosted a punny and ultra-opinionated panel bright and early Sunday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, devoted to what the organizers called Inland Empire Fiction: The Other California. What followed was a hefty dose of self-depreciation that relaxed into passion for a region where, as Straight—who grew up outside the March Air Force Base—described, everyone comes from somewhere else and brings their stories with them. Her current project is a trilogy of novels that follow a slave family from Louisiana as they resettle in the IE, checking back every few generations to see how they’re adjusting to the smog.
Likewise, Brandeis waxed about how her time in UCR student housing was such an unexpected melting pot of international scholars that she began to see Riverside as a true microcosm of America—a place where larger tensions can be intimately explored.
While Jaime-Becerra dished about growing up as “pinche new wavers” in the malls of Chino Hills, Goldberg composed on-the-spot the opening lines of a new IE bestseller set in Ontario: “As the plane taxied into the gate, lives crumbled.”
“Where’s the great Muscoy novel?” wondered Straight, “and where is Muscoy anyway?”
“By Top Cat Liquor!” shouted a woman in the audience. And, thus inspired, we shuffled off to get some mid-morning Bloody Marys. (Amy Nicholson)