Why Jean Chen Ho’s “Fiona and Jane” takes you on a ride through the Southern California suburbs – San Bernardino Sun
There is a Southern California rite of passage that Jean Chen Ho captures in the story “Go Slow” of his first “Fiona and Jane”, which hits bookstores on January 4th.
The main characters have just turned 16. Fiona saved her money and bought a car. Jane has yet to pass her driving test, but Fiona’s new ride means freedom for the two as they roam the suburbs between southern Los Angeles County and northern Orange County. It’s a story that certainly could resonate with people who grew up on the outskirts of LA, in neighborhoods and towns where buses are scarce, adventure-hungry where you certainly couldn’t ask your parents to. walk around.
“When you get your driver’s license and learn to drive for the first time, it’s just an incredible freedom that opens up,” Los Feliz-based Ho said in a recent phone call.
“Fiona and Jane,” which Ho describes as a “collection of related stories” or “a story novel,” covers about 20 years of friendship between two women: Jane, the US-born daughter of immigrants Taiwanese, and Fiona, born in Taiwan and raised in Southern California. It’s in “Go Slow” that Ho digs into the geography of the area, as the girls make their way 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 these places, and I wanted the girls to have that experience specifically in the book,” says Ho.
Ho herself was born in Taiwan and spent her later childhood and adolescence in Cerritos.
“While I don’t name Cerritos specifically, a lot of the places I grew up in in Los Angeles and Orange County, and all the driving that’s very special to living in suburban LA, lands in the book. “she said. said.
“The book is not autobiographical,” Ho adds, “but I certainly learned a lot from my teenage and childhood impressions – leaving home and graduating from high school – then coming back to LA as a teacher. adulthood and power I appreciate the city and the place where I grew up a lot more after spending a few years away.
The characters first came to the author as adults facing the aftermath of Fiona’s divorce in “The Movers,” which Ho wrote as one-off short story. “I had no idea I was writing a book,” Ho said, adding that a book sounded like a “pie in the sky” dream. At the time, she was writing several short stories, but “The Movers” marked her.
“I was really curious to know who these characters were or could be outside of this story,” she says.
Ho began to play with their stories and family histories. “I wrote a few stories about them when they were teenagers. And then I wrote a story after that, it was them who were approaching their forties, ”she said. “I wrote this in a really non-linear way in terms of 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 one-on-one relationships with their families, especially their mothers. Early in the process, Ho realized that Jane had “a really controversial 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 informed a lot about how her relationship with her mother went and why they are so close and why they are so dependent on each other,” says Ho, “and why, in a truly unexpected way, Fiona feels like she just needs to make a really clean break from her mom.
With “Fiona and Jane”, Ho develops a rich world around two women, their family and friends and the metropolis that is their home. It’s 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 book’s final cut. “I think about those stories and the possibility of continuing to work on them in the future,” she says.
“Maybe I’ll try to publish them as one-offs after the book’s release, but I’ve spent a lot of time with these women,” Ho adds, noting that she spent five years working on the delivered. “I have paid so much attention to them and their families, to their lovers, to other people in this universe, that maybe it is good for me to take a little break from this world and work on another thing for now. “