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September 19, 2006

Book Notes - Jennifer Banash ("Hollywoodland")

Hollywoodland, author Jennifer Banash's debut novel, is truly a fairy tale. More Grimm than Disney, the book follows the career of Sierra from her troubled childhood, to nude modeling, to porn star, to television star, then finally, the ultimate pop culture icon.

As the first release from Impetus Press, Hollywoodland perfectly fits the publisher's mission statement to publish "literary fiction with a pop or urban sensibility."

In her own words, here is Jennifer Banash's Book Notes entry for her debut novel, Hollywoodland: An American Fairy Tale.

Thursday: Understanding in a Car Crash: This is the song that opens the book, so its terribly important to the narrative. As a side note, I was involved in a pretty horrendous crash a few years ago that resulted in breaking my back and incapacitating me for almost a year. Much like my main character, Sierra, I was a lousy driver, addicted to acceleration and, as a result, I took other people’s lives into my own hands on an hourly basis. When I first heard this song on a mix CD a friend had burned me, I knew immediately that it had to be the song that Sierra’s listening to as she crashes her car in the opening pages of the book. Sierra, who is based loosely on the infamous 90’s porn star Savannah, has lost her career, her fortune, her celebrity status, and her love life—and has now wrecked her face in the crash. Lines like “I don’t want to live this way forever, a dead letter marked return to sender” really resonate in the scene and help to set the tone for the story itself—which is admittedly very dark indeed. In hindsight, I think the whole screamo thing is pretty silly, but the song worked in the narrative, so I kept it.

Madonna: Hollywood: I can’t tell you how many times I listened to this song while I was writing this book. Madonna should probably get some kind of personal acknowledgement in the book itself—especially because I downloaded the song illegally. (Shhhhhh . . .) Much of this book was written last summer while I was living in Paris, so, in essence I was about as far away from the Hollywood lifestyle as you could get.—it was dark and grey, and I was eating croissants and cafe cremes every morning. For some reason, this song really helped to put me mentally back in that space of garish neon, looming palms and dark nights, endless parties and white lines reflected on the slick surfaces of mirrors. The lines “You’re riding in your car in Hollywood. You’ve got the top down and it feels so good” are, of course featured in the narrative. It really represents the ridiculous optimism Sierra feels about “making it” in Hollywood—ridiculous because, of course, the chips are stacked against her from the very beginning. “Shine your light now. This time its got to be good . . . ”

Missing Persons: Destination Unknown: This really reminds me of growing up in the 1980’s, the birth of MTV and largely of celebrity culture. Of course we’ve always been fascinated by celebrities, but the 1980’s took it to a whole new level. I wanted the book to be timeless—unplaceable in really any decade, but I knew I also wanted some 1980’s reference in there as well—especially because it is a decade that’s close to my heart in many ways. Also, Missing Persons being a California band was important to me. Of course there are many bands from California, but this song really puts me in a place where I can hear the waves, feel the sun-baked asphalt under my feet and be reminded that “No one walks in L.A.” The whole album should probably get a paragraph, but you get the idea. This song also shows up at a major turning point in the narrative, where its clear that almost anything could happen and that nothing is ever certain.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication: “Its understood that Hollywood sells californication . . . “ First off, I love the word californication—its just so perfect. Not only does it speak to the Hollywood studio system and the grinding out of superstars, but it also speaks to the porn industry as well, and the particular brand of porn that is manufactured there, as well as the very particular type of women manufactured In Hollywood as well—same hair, same bodies, same French manicured nails. I should probably also mention that I’m not a giant fan of the Chili Peppers. Its funny, when you’re writing a book the songs you end up including in the narrative aren’t necessarily your favorites, or what you’d listen to in real life. They serve a purpose in the narrative, or they are the songs that define a character you’re writing about. This was one of them. I actually probably listened to “Scar Tissue” much more than “Californication” while writing this book, but, for whatever reason, “Scar Tissue” just didn’t make it into the narrative.

Delores Del Rio: Cryin’: The first time I watched Delores Del Rio perform this Roy Orbison cover in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive, I realized that I was holding my breath. It’s just an extremely powerful moment in the film, and a glass-shattering performance as well. There’s a very deep sadness to it, and, somehow the fact that its sung in Spanish—a language I am, admittedly, not fluent in—not even close—makes it all the more heartbreaking. I listened to this song incessantly while writing the scene where Sierra crouches in her empty garage and puts the gun to her head. The film Mullholland Drive was also tremendously important to me as I was writing this book, and, besides watching the film a number of times, I did buy the soundtrack as well. It was really important for me to get the whole old-Hollywood aesthetic into the narrative: Silver gowns, black and white films, the drifts of smoke moving across a darkened room, the reflection of parted red lips in a mirror—mystery, glamour, and equal parts heartache.

see also:

Popmatters interview with Jennifer Banash and Willy Blackmore

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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