Mandana Towhidy by Amy Davis

Mandana Towhidy by Amy Davis (amydavis.com)

I used to think of writing a novel as one of the most noble acts on earth. There was something about the ability to create a world on the page that spoke to my soul. Perhaps it came from all the reading I had done, the places I had been, the people I had met, they were so real and yet… they were a reality that only existed in the mind. And to my heart, there is a beauty in this, in living in another world that exists only in the written word. Mandana Towhidy, author of Arcadia, talks about her experiences writing a novel about teen girls living their dreams in the Hollywood Metal scene during the late ’80s-early ’90s.

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Miss Rosen: Please talk about the inspiration to write a novel? Where did the idea, desire, and drive come from ?

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Mandana Towhidy: I think, especially as a child who loves to read and as a teen who uses reading/writing to escape, it does most def transport you into places maybe you couldn’t get to in real life. Whatever “real life” is. I have always been writing and have always wanted to write a novel…just to write it. Check it off the list. Say I did it. And figuring out where or how to do it was maybe daunting for a while. And with the pressures and the busy-ness of life, it was a challenge. But I read something someone wrote, maybe it was Joseph Campbell. I think he said something like once he decided to write, he would renounce all fun, work, obligations, visits, everything and focus on it and it alone. This struck a chord with me. I soon followed suit…telling my editors and creative heads that I couldn’t take on any work for a while. Was very hard at times (I ate one donut a day for a little while due to lack of funds). But the result was voila! I had a novel. I also had a great agent already and I didn’t take that factor for granted. Finding an agent can be hard enough. I had one and he is a great one and that also pushes me to keep writing books. I wrote four books before Arcadia. But it really felt like Arcadia should be the first one out of the gate.

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I had been talking about this book for years before I actually wrote it. I grew up loving Heavy Metal and lots of crazy girl rockers that were around before my time like The Runaways and Suzi Quatro. I loved high school films like Fast Times, etc. I knew I had a story to tell about a time in Los Angeles where very young people could get away with scandal on the Sunset Strip. And, I thought it could be fun.

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While writing my novel I discovered the strangest thing. I didn’t quite have control over what was happening. I had an idea, in as much as an image came to mind, and I had a sense of direction, but in a lot of ways, I was discovering something I knew and did not know at the same time. Please talk about the milieu for Arcadia, the space and places you wanted to explore, and what you found—or did not find—there as you made your way across the landscape of this inner world.

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YES! My dear friend and someone I also consider a mentor, Amy Davis (who also did the portrait of me for this interview) used to tell me, “You can’t force the muse…”. She was right. You, too, are right on. I think maybe for a lot of writers, we know the roundabout of the story but once we sink our teeth into it, other branches and people and feelings and occasions show up unexpectedly. We get awakened in the middle of the night with inspiration to write something we had never thought of or could ever know in a wakened state. Perhaps. I think for a lot of books, especially older books, there are many layers. I always say for Arcadia, there is a superficial layer of hair and clothes and beer and partying. But, depending on where you are in your headspace, that deeper layers will become very clear. At its core, Arcadia is about something that is totally unrelated to its story, if that makes any sense (probably not). Also, whatever you’re experiencing in your everyday life will seep into the words, characters, situations, chapters, voice. How can it not?

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There is something very very magical that happens once you commit to going down that road in novel writing.

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Talk to me about the era in which Arcadia is situated. You return us to this era that has long since disappeared. Please talk about its importance at the time and in retrospect. What was gained? What was lost?

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Arcadia is set in the late 1980s/early 1990s Los Angeles/Hollywood/Sunset Strip/suburb of LA. Pre-cellphones, pre-internet, pre-DUI, pre-social media, pre-everything that we have now. A time of super partying and DIY and a time when very young people could go virtually anywhere with a fake I.D. Los Angeles was ruled by kids then, not real estate developers and tech heads turning every cool neighborhood into Silicon Hell. It’s a high school narrative, a coming-of-age story of a girl in this world who is trying to navigate through all the crap and the good and the confusion. I think when you are experiencing things or back then when we were experiencing things, we took for granted that EVERYONE was experiencing the same thing. But they weren’t. Now everyone and everything is homogenized. They are all on the same page. You know what’s going on in every nook of every city and it’s all the same, pretty much. Back then…we were isolated. Which made it even more special. I hadn’t seen or read anything from the viewpoint of a teenager on the Strip into Metal and going to high school in a suburb of LA. There is a lot of detail, maybe in some cases too much. But, at the very least, it’s all there. For everyone for all time. Wanna know what they drank. It’s in there. What they thought? Drove? Ate? Wore? What color lipgloss they used or who the most popular bands were…it’s all in there. Plus, all the deeper stuff. Which I think has to do again with the reader. What they need to know/see, they will. I also wanted something from the perspective of a young girl, as that era seems to be run by boys. But that’s not true. Yeah.

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The symbolic importance of Arcadia, especially today, it is highly relevant. With IG and all the social media bullshit, there is so much fake and faux and just plain illusion, how do you know what’s real and what’s not? How do you decide who is really who they say they are based on their posts? Everything is so histrionic and narcissistic now, how does one get through it? Forget the forest, no one even cares about that anymore because they’re too busy posting selfies. The main character in the book, Ronnie, is looking for answers to all of these same questions…what is the meaning of existence? It’s not driving a Beamer or posting a photo of your ass online to get attention. The meaning of life may have been confusing back then, but it’s got to be even more diluted now with what’s going on. So it’s highly relevant in today’s world. And hopefully somewhere in the midst of all the shallowness, there might be some people who step back and listen and look…and question. And hopefully, one day, on a day they didn’t see coming, they finally get a glimpse into the reason why everything is the way it is.

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