Why Jean Chen Ho’s ‘Fiona and Jane’ Takes You for a Ride in Southern California Suburbs – Daily Breeze


There’s a Southern California rite of passage that Jean Chen Ho captures in the story “Go Slow” from her debut album “Fiona and Jane,” which hits bookstores on January 4.

The titular characters just turned 16. Fiona saved her money and bought a car. Jane has yet to pass her driving test, but Fiona’s new car means freedom for the two as they zip through the suburbs between southern Los Angeles County and northern Orange County. It’s a story that could certainly resonate with people who grew up on the outskirts of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods and towns where buses are scarce, yearning for adventures where you certainly couldn’t ask your parents. to lead you.

“When you get your driver’s license and learn to drive for the first time, it’s just an incredible freedom that opens up,” the Los Feliz-based Ho said in a recent phone call.

“Fiona and Jane,” which Ho describes as a “collection of related stories” or “a romance within stories,” spans roughly 20 years of friendship between two women: Jane, the American-born daughter Taiwanese immigrants, and Fiona, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Southern California. It’s in “Go Slow” that Ho explores the geography of the area, as the girls set off in an old car named Shamu to places like Norwalk, Garden Grove, Seal Beach, and Signal Hill. “There are a lot of special stories that come out of those places, and I wanted the girls to have that experience specifically in the book,” Ho explains.

Ho herself was born in Taiwan and spent her later childhood and adolescence in Cerritos.

“Although I don’t name Cerritos specifically, many of the places I grew up in LA and Orange County, and all the road trips that are very particular to living in suburban LA, land in the book,” she says.

“The book isn’t autobiographical,” adds Ho, “but I certainly got a lot of impressions from my teenage years and my own life — leaving home and graduating from high school — then coming back to LA in as an adult and being able to I appreciate the city and the place where I grew up much more after having spent a few years outside.

The characters first came to the author as adults dealing with the aftermath of Fiona’s divorce in “The Movers”, which Ho had written as a one-off short story. “I had no idea I was actually writing a book,” Ho says, adding that a book felt like a “pie in the sky” dream. At the time, she was writing several short stories, but “The Movers” had an impact on her.

“I was really curious about who these characters were or could be outside of this story,” she says.

Ho started playing with their stories and family stories. “I wrote a few stories about them when they were teenagers. And then I wrote a story after that, it was them approaching their 40s,” she says. really non-linear way exploring who these women were, and then I really gave myself the space to listen to them.”

Something that would emerge from this approach is not just Fiona and Jane’s friendship, but their individual relationships with their families, especially their mothers. Early in the process, Ho realized that Jane had “a really contentious relationship” with her mother. Fiona’s close relationship with her mother developed as Ho delved into the character’s story of immigrating to the United States as a child.

“It taught a lot about how his relationship with his mother went and why they’re so close and why they’re so dependent on each other,” Ho explains, “and why, in a really unexpectedly, Fiona feels like she just has to make a really clean break with her mother.

With “Fiona and Jane”, Ho develops a rich world around two women, their family and friends and the metropolis that is their home. This is the kind of book that makes you want to know more about them. In fact, Ho says there are other stories in this universe that didn’t make the final cut of the book. “I think about those stories and wonder if I can continue to work on them in the future,” she says.

“Maybe I’ll try to publish them as one-offs after the book comes out, but I spent a lot of time with these women,” Ho adds, noting that she spent five years working on the book. . “I paid so much attention to them and their families, their lovers, other people in this universe, that maybe it’s good for me to take a little break from this world and work on another thing for now.”

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