Like her first two books, Nina Revoyr's new novel, The Age of Dreaming, takes place in Los Angeles. This time she goes back to the riotous early years of film.
What led you to silent film as a subject?
I work in a building that was the former home of Mary Miles Minter, a silent film star whose career was destroyed by a scandal in the early '20s. Reading about the era, I discovered there had been a Japanese silent film star, and I was intrigued by the idea that there was someone who was Japanese, a film star and a sex symbol at a time when there was such anti-Japanese sentiment. Discovering this gave me permission to make up the character Jun Nakayama.
Your first novel is set in the present; your second includes the Watts riots; and this one goes back to the '20s. Why are you moving backwards?
I am in love with writing about Los Angeles. There is so much undiscovered territory for a writer: eras and neighborhoods and stories that have not been told. But it's hard to write about L.A. when I'm in L.A. It's easier to write a love letter when you're not there. I wrote Southland when I wasn't living here. Once I moved back, the only way to create the distance I needed was to go back in time.
After two novels that center on young women, was it difficult to take on the voice of an elderly Japanese man?
This is in some way the most autobiographical book I've written. I feel very close to Jun. The things he was dealing with were very familiar to me. How do you live a creative life? How do you do what you're meant to do? How do you recognize and embrace love? What do you do in the key moments of your life?
Do you like happy endings?
This is the only happy ending I've ever written. I wanted to show that happiness is possible in smaller, quieter ways, even if someone's initial ambitions aren't fulfilled. It's probably the only happy ending I'll ever write. The one I'm working on now is devastating.
What's next? Will you leave L.A.?
The next book is totally different. It's set in rural Wisconsin in the early 1970s, and it's about a young Japanese-American girl living in a small town that is deeply affected by the unexpected arrival of a young black couple. It's very dark, and it has a lot of baseball and dogs and pastoral scenes.