María Amparo Escandón, L.A. WEATHER

María Amparo Escandón, L.A. WEATHER

New York Times best-selling novelist María Amparo Escandón joins Zibby to talk about her book, L.A. Weather, which was a Reese’s Book Club Pick. The two talk about the things all mothers find themselves fearing, why María’s father would call with weather reports for L.A. even though he lived in Mexican City, and what inspired her to start writing when she was in the second grade. María also shares how even though her children are grown adults, moms still don’t have time to read books!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, María. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss L.A. Weather.

María Amparo Escandón: Thank you, Zibby. Thank you so much for the invite. Yes, I’m also a mom, and yes, I don’t have time to read.

Zibby: How many kids do you have?

María: I have two. They’re in their thirties, so they’re out in the world. When they were growing up, oh, boy, a handful. They’re barely a year apart. It was one right after the other.

Zibby: I have twins, so that was literally at the same time. Then I waited a while. Then my last two kids are seventeen months apart. I’m glutton for punishment or something. You certainly have time to write, or at least now. You’re a filmmaker and all this amazing stuff that you do. First of all, can you explain to listeners a little more about what L.A. Weather is about in case they’re unfamiliar with it? Which would be unlikely as it is a Reese’s Book Pick and all over the place, but just in case they missed it, L.A. Weather.

María: L.A. Weather is a family story. It’s basically a family story, but the backdrop, of course, is LA. It’s in the title. It’s the weather. It’s the LA weather. I use the weather in LA as a metaphor for the life of this LA family. Some people out there believe that the LA people live like celebrities and everything is wonderful and sunny and great over here. That’s far from the truth. The reality is everybody has ups and downs and drama and heartache. When people say, oh, LA, it’s always seventy-two and sunny, that’s also far from the truth. There is all kinds of weather events that affect how people live here in Los Angeles, the fires being lately the most out there in the news. I myself have been evacuated twice. We do have weather.

Zibby: Which part of LA are you in?

María: I live right by UCLA. We have a mountain right up against our home with coyotes and deer right in the middle of the city. It’s pretty wild, literally.

Zibby: We spend a lot of time in the Palisades.

María: Okay, so you know how pristine and — a lot of times, because California, being so beautiful, I love it, they preserve the beaches. They preserve the mountains. They try not to build up everything. There’s a lot of vegetation around. There’s reserves. The Ballona Wetlands are right on the beach. You would say, oh, that’s prime real estate to build condominiums, but they don’t. They really preserve it. I like that about LA. It’s very respectful of the surrounding habitats and nature. Anyway, the story is about a family.

Zibby: Yeah, sorry. It’s a story about three sisters. Speaking of twins, in your book, I was having a heart attack reading the beginning. Oh, my gosh. I don’t know if that even counts as giving it away because it was right at the start. It was quite an opening. Let me just put it that way. You are immediately gripped. Every parent’s worst fear is something happening to the kids, especially when the grandparents are on watch. Every time I leave them with anybody, you’re holding your breath a little until you get home. Even just some of the imagery you put in the scene, the shoes that had scratched the boat that the mom had just been partying on, and now they’re in the emergency room, oh, my gosh, just the detail. How quickly life can change is basically that. Life changes on a dime. You don’t know.

María: Yes, I know. Because I have kids, that is one of my worst fears. Now, of course, they’re adults. When they were little kids and they were growing up, to leave them with a babysitter or an aunt or a grandparent, like you say, you leave them with some trepidation. It’s a mom’s worst fear for something to happen to your kid. I needed a trigger of that caliber to propel the family into chaos. That’s what happens. Without getting into all the spoilers and all that, this is a trigger that puts everything into question in the family. In order to come together, first, they need to disintegrate. Then it’s, rebuild, rebuild, rebuild when everything happens. It’s actually a disastrous year for this family. They have everything, disease, wars, betrayal, secrets. I’ve had years like that in my life. Some people have told me, there’s just too much happening. It can’t be real. I was like, oh, yes it can, definitely. It’s one of those years when you were at your New Year’s party and you’re toasting for the new year and you think about the year you just lived and you go, good riddance. Get out of here. It’s a year in the life of this family starting January to December. All the weather events that I write about, the fires, the flash floods, if there is a full moon, the temperature, all of that is real. I researched it. On the day it says there’s a full moon, there was actually a full moon. Fires are all real. They happen in the right moment in the story on the right day. That is real as well. There’s just one that I made up, which is Christmas morning. I wanted it to rain, and it didn’t. I said to my husband, “You know what? This is fiction. I’m going to make it up.”

Zibby: That’s really neat, wow. One character I found alternately — well, let’s talk about the dad character because this is mostly about women. This story centers around the women. Yet there is a man going through a hard time and not really knowing his place in the world. I feel like you hear so much about when people retire and losing life’s purpose and suddenly only able to sit in a chair. Usually, the TV is on versus off, but still, whatever. That sense of being lost even when you’re home, which I think he really encapsulates, tell me about crafting him as a character.

María: I based Oscar, actually, a little bit on my dad. He’s not exactly like my dad. My dad fell into this depression in the eighties where his business went under. My mom got cancer. It’s a perfect-storm situation where everything sort of collapses. Instead of just going into fix-everything mode, he went the other way. He just landed on the couch and watched The Weather Channel for hours on end. It was really funny — well, it wasn’t funny. I lived in LA. He lived in Mexico City. He would call me long distance to tell me, take an umbrella, it’s going to rain. He was my weatherman. Really, it’s exactly like you say it. Oscar was lost. Even though this is a story about women, all the story, but here is a guy who is surrounded by a wife and three daughters and an aunt. It’s all women around him. All these women, one or another way, affect him very directly. His wife, his daughters, even his aunt, they all have expectations. He feels very stressed because he feels responsible and feels like he needs to deliver. Sometimes men have these issues. It’s pretty taxing on their personality and their lives.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s hard to watch. It can be hard to watch when that happens as well. That was, of course, just one of many interactions that the family has, and different personalities. You do such a good job immediately letting us get to know all the different people with details. It’s just very immersive. Tell me about when you got your start writing and doing everything with film and all of that.

María: I actually started writing in second grade. As a matter of fact, because I was writing, I flunked, and I had to be held back in second grade because I hadn’t learned anything. When I started to get real serious was when I was sixteen after I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I said, I want to really do this. I joined a workshop. I was a . Everybody was an adult. I was a teenager. It was very formative. It was wonderful. I’ve been writing ever since. I got a lot of stories published while I was living in Mexico. I got them published in journals. I was writing in Spanish. Then when I moved to LA when I was twenty-three right after college, I decided, well, if I’m going to live here, I better learn English. I better learn the language and learn to write in English. I joined workshops at UCLA Extension and eventually became a teacher. I’ve been teaching there for twenty-six years. That really was a wonderful experience and really helped to learn the language. When I wrote my first novel, Esperanza’s Box of Saints, I said, I’m going to write it in English. It was hell. It was so difficult. I had the dictionary, the thesaurus right by my side. I used to call my friends. How do you say this? My kids were little, but I would ask them because, obviously, they were born here, so they were fluent. My eight-year-old and my seven-year-old, it’s like, how do you say this? Oh, Mom, why don’t you just give up and stop bothering us? I did learn a lot. The novel got published. I said, okay, so maybe I can do this. The three novels that I’ve written have been published in English. Then I’ve done my own translation into Spanish, which was also a lot of fun, to go back to my native language and trans-create into Spanish.

Zibby: How did it feel having this get picked by Reese’s Book Club? What was that like?

María: Of course, I fell off my seat when I was . What? I’ve been a fan since the beginning. I’ve been a fan of the club. I read most of the books that she picks. The fact that she picked my book was a shock to me. I had no expectations. It never even crossed my mind that something like that could happen. I feel very honored because I love all the authors that she picks. I think that they’re fantastic and very talented and creative. To be able to be in that group is quite a privilege.

Zibby: I saw all over Instagram that many of you authors met up at the new pop-up. That looked like fun.

María: That was great. That was quite something. She’s a force of nature. She’s incredible. She’s an entrepreneur, great actress, but also a producer. She has her book club. Then she has an NGO which is called LitUp. Your listeners, you guys should really look it up. What she does is she does a call for entries for writers who come from underrepresented minorities. They pick the best projects. They’re manuscripts of novels or collections of short stories. They become fellows. Then they pair them up with mentors who are published authors. They work with them on their projects. I think that’s amazing. She’s doing that. She’s doing so much for women’s literature. This pop-up that she did in LA is — you know a pop-up store. It’s a store, but she did it beautifully, all pastel colors. She, of course, was selling all the books with all the authors and other items that she also promotes like furniture and candles and mugs, just cool stuff. She did an event. There were maybe about eight of the authors in town. We met there. It was so much fun to actually meet them in person. It’s such a rare thing these days to be at an event. It was a small event, but the fact that I was able to meet the authors that I’ve read their work, it was really cool.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Congratulations. Really neat.

María: Thank you.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

María: For first-time authors who get their work published?

Zibby: Or aspiring, people who want to be authors.

María: I would say when you’re developing a story, you want conflict. I think that’s something that really moves stories along. Obviously, bad choices make great stories because the more you get your characters in trouble, the more interesting it becomes. It’s no wonder that all those stories, “And they lived happily ever after. The End,” it’s because when there is no conflict, why continue the story? It becomes really boring. Okay, Prince Charming, now they’re married and happy. They have kids. End of story. Look for conflict. Get your characters in trouble. Another thing that I would probably recommend aspiring writers is, eliminate the word aspiring. If you’re already writing, even if it’s a journal, you’re already a writer. You’re not aspiring. Somebody who aspires is somebody who is not doing it at the moment and would like to do it. By just eliminating the word aspiring — it kind of weighs you down. If you take it out of your vocabulary, you say, I’m a writer, it’s almost like, yeah, you’re doing it. You’re already there. I like that.

The other thing that I would probably recommend is, embrace writer’s block. It sounds weird, but the reality is, I believe writer’s block is my brain telling me, stop and think. Don’t just sit down and try to write because you’re not ready. Let yourself get into the mood. Get into the story. When I get asked, how many hours do you write a day? I say, I write all day, day and night. I write in the car, at the grocery store, in the shower. I write everywhere all the time because I’m thinking about my characters all the time. How many hours do I type a day? Well, that’s different. For me, it’s like downloading what I’ve been thinking about. When you have writer’s block, it’s because you want to type before thinking. Put your computer aside. As you go about your day, just think about your characters, about your story, the plot, all of that. All of a sudden, you get the juices going. You start getting excited about it. Scribble a little note here, a little note there if you want. Then when you’re ready, then you sit down and type. I think that really helps. That’s one way of embracing writer’s block.

Zibby: I love it. That’s great advice. I think people beat themselves up for the thinking part, but it is so essential. You’re absolutely right. Amazing. Thank you so much, María. Thank you for coming on today. Thanks for chatting about L.A. Weather. I’m actually coming to LA next week, so I’m hoping the weather is very nice.

María: I think we’re going to finally get some rain.

Zibby: Just in time. Well, whatever.

María: At least for a couple of days. It never lasts long, unfortunately. Thank you,

Zibby. Have a wonderful time in LA when you come.

Zibby: Thank you. This was a pleasure to meet you.

María: I really, really appreciate your invitation. Thank you.

Zibby: My pleasure. Thanks for coming. Buh-bye.

María: Bye.

María Amparo Escandón, L.A. WEATHER

L.A. WEATHER by María Amparo Escandón

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