Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.


LAist Interview: Joy Nicholson

Before you
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all. Your financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.


Silver Lake-based author, Joy Nicholson, doesn't focus solely on the Southern California region, but her two books certainly capture many aspects of the region's anomie. Her first book, "The Tribes of Palos Verdes," chartered the journey of a young girl lost admist the SoCal surf culture after her parent's divorce. Nicholson's latest novel, "The Road to Esmeralda," travels further south to record the adventures of a couple living in Mexico.

When she's not writing, Nicholson focuses her time on rescuing dogs from euthanasia in animal shelters all over Los Angeles.

You can meet Joy at her book signing for "The Road to Esmeralda" on Friday, June 17th at 7 PM at Dutton's Brentwood.

Support for LAist comes from

Age and Occupation:
38, writer, dog rescuer

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
Almost forever. I now live in Silverlake, and grew up in Palos Verdes.

Let's talk about your latest book, THE ROAD TO ESMERALDA.
Okay--thanks for asking about it.

What inspired you to write it?
The book changed a lot as it went along. It was initially romantic--
inspired by my travels; driving through Latin America in a Bronco with my husband and dogs. As I became more politically annoyed, open-eyed and amazed, (as a result of my travels) the story started to reflect the quagmires of nationalism, racism and commercialism I was experiencing everywhere in the world.

This book is more of a genre novel than your last book, "The Tribes of Palos Verdes"--why the change?
What is "The Road To Esmeralda"? Political genre? Expatriate American
genre? Sexual politics genre? I'm not sure.
I had already written the "Tribes of Palos Verdes" and, honestly, that book is all I have to say on the subject of family politics. I wanted to move on, write what happens when bad governments act like bad families. The macrocosm of the microcosm.

How long did you spend time in Mexico?
I've lived in Mexico twice. Once for about a year in the Yucatan,
another time for about five years in the state of Guanajuato. In
between, my husband was working as a sound-man on Animal Planet, so we traveled to remote locations all over the globe. We're going back to Mexico in a year or so, but to Queretero. It's clean and crazy there. It's my favorite town in Mexico.

Do you agree with people's perception that Los Angeles is more Latin now? Do you feel the spirit of Mexican culture in LA? If so, how does it manifest?

Hmmm. I think I'll answer this way. Many Latin Americans feel that
California was always/will always be Latin. We gringos took over for a bit, but in time, the numbers will shift again.

I'm actually not a big fan of nationalistic culture, whether that be
American, Mexican, French, Israeli, Bolivian, etc. In a DNA analysis,
race doesn't exist. The kind of costume you wear, food you eat, way you form words into language, is interesting as an art form, but no more significant than that. All that said, I think we're talking about style.

Is LA more Latin in style now? Goodness, I hope so. I mean,
would you rather waltz in a buckled hat like the Puritan forefathers,
or salsa dance in a red dress?

Support for LAist comes from

Did you read Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" while writing this book? What writers influenced this story?

I read and reread and reread every book ever written by Robert Stone.
He is a genius--truly. In many ways, he 'taught' me how to write in
third person--though we've never met.

I did not read "Under The Volcano" while writing Esmeralda, though I
read it several years earlier and probably internalized a lot of it.
Paul Bowles was a big influence, too. I kept thinking "Why don't more
women take on these themes?"

What is "One Dog At a Time"?
One Dog At A Time, which consists of myself and my friend, the
documentary director Elise Duran, goes into the highest kill animal
shelters in Los Angeles and rescues, well, one dog at a time from
death. We take dogs just about to be euthanized (killed by gas or
pentobarbitol) and get them back to health, then find homes for them.
When one is adopted we get the next dog.

What are some typical dog-centric stores, streets or playgrounds in LA that you like?

I spend half my life at the Silverlake Dog Park, and the dog-friendly
Back Door Bakery these days. In Mexico, Europe, Brazil it's more
sane--one can bring dogs anywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, the movies. LA is a very 'two legged' centric city, and that gets annoying. What's the big deal about taking your well behaved companion into Circuit City? Many of the people inside are fairly horrible and smelly and badly behaved, you know?

What's your preferred mode of transportation?


How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?

As often as I can. I want more light rail. Silverlake to the beach...and beyond.

Best LA-themed book(s)?

Joan Didion has written about LA in a way no one else has ever even
come close to.

Share your best celebrity sighting experience.

I am in love with Linda Blair, so any time I see her is the best
experience. She's often around Toluca Lake. I've seen her at our mutual vet in Toluca Lake.

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?

Staying home, blowing off whatever you were going to do that would make you get on that wretched freeway. Almost no price is too high. Whatever you were going to do on the 405, forget it, stay home and read.

What's the best place to walk in LA?

The best walking in LA is any stretch along Sunset Blvd. Every facet of LA is represented on Sunset.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are
you going?

I'm asleep. I get up at about 4:15 am usually, so I crash very
early--and hard.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

I would like to be here in the year 3,000 to see if we've gotten sane
public transportation yet. And a good mayor.

What's your beach of choice?

San Onofre. Good childhood memories of surf trips. And Lunada Bay and
R.A.T. (right after Torrance) beach.

What is the "center" of LA to you?

The Silverlake dog park. The Los Feliz library. Suehiro restaurant
downtown. Dodger Stadium. The New Otani Hotel.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.

I would live in any dry, deserted desert county in a heartbeat. Take,
Hemet, for instance.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

I would really like to live in the LA Observatory in Los Feliz. With
the telescope intact. Or in the resevoir-keeper's house in Silver Lake.

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do
find it challenging to make new friends here?

I've been here so long that I don't know. LA is home to me--completely.

No matter where I've lived I always come back and feel comfortable
here. I'll probably leave it again, and come back again. I'm
co-dependent on LA. My best friends have been my best friends for a
long time, but I tend to meet new people easily. There are always new
people to meet in LA.

What is the city's greatest secret?

There are lots of smart, curious, intrepid, secretly-stashed people
here, but if you only hang in Sunset Plaza, etc, you would never know

A great secret place is the park/trails at the top of Bronson Canyon.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

I just say no to drinking unless it's an emergency.
And I say no to driving whenever I can avoid it.

Describe your best LA dining experience.

I LOVE to go out to Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park and eat a
vegetarian reuben. The decor at FYH hasn't changed since the 70's:
there are plenty of rainbow posters and earthy browns-with-orange. I
dream about yummy, soy cheese vegetarian reubens. And I like rainbow
posters, so it's pretty much heaven to me.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?

I have lived among you and found you just as weird, sad, smart and
insecure as West Coast Supremacists. But you tend to sing 'old college songs' at parties more often, and drop the names of your alma matter into every sentence. Which freaks me out.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of
hurricanes and long winters?

A long winter is VERY long. An earthquake is short. A hurricane is not a particularly attractive threat, but I'd take it over a long winter.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

In a really soft bed on Ativan. With my husband. And he better not