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Meet the Writers: A movable feast of locals and transplants, with big books on the menu

A black-and-white image of seven writers in a restaurant.
Writers Dan Marshall, from left, Charles Finch, Meredith Maran, Matthew Specktor, Jason Grote, Lorraine Martindale and Joy Hui Lin gather for lunch at Louise’s Trattoria on North Larchmont Boulevard.
(Boris Kachka)
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This story is part of Lit City, our comprehensive guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles.

Matthew Specktor grew up in Los Angeles, but like many of the writers gathered for lunch at Louise’s Trattoria on North Larchmont on a recent Tuesday, he spent formative years in New York having meals of a different tenor.

“I remember a night in the ‘90s when I was out with two very, very, very famous writers,” he said. “And I’m sitting there, and there’s lots of cocaine, and there’s arguing about Martin Amis, and I’m just thinking, ‘I’ve just got to go home, man. This isn’t anything; this is just two people with bad opinions!’”

Specktor, most recently the author of the memoir “Always Crashing in the Same Car,” soon high-tailed it back to L.A., a scene brimming with transplants from colder climes — and bolstered by writers who fight traffic and inertia to find each other.

This particular lunch was the first post-pandemic outing of a series organized by local author Steph Cha (“Your House Will Pay”) and more recent arrival Charles Finch (the Charles Lenox mysteries). Cha couldn’t make it to Louise’s because she was working on a TV show, a side gig shared by several of the nine writers assembled, including memoirist-screenwriter Dan Marshall (“Home Is Burning”). But what connects them is their original passion, books.
“Nearly half of us met at Yaddo,” said Meredith Maran, author of several memoirs, referring to the storied writers’ colony in upstate New York, where she and Finch, along with Specktor and Jason Grote, a playwright now developing films and video games, spent a pre-pandemic season.

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Since arriving in Silver Lake from the Bay Area in 2012, Maran has turned her guesthouse into “casita artista,” a micro-Yaddo for visiting (or relocating) writers, including Joey Soloway, Michael Chabon and Kate Christensen.

“There seems to have been a mass migration from New York,” said Joy Hui Lin, who grew up in Orange County, roamed the world writing travel pieces and is now back in the sun working on a “poetic surf novella.”

Much newer to this coast was Adele Griffin, a YA writer who moved to Hancock Park from Brooklyn last July. “Oh, my gosh, everything’s a little easier,” she reported. “We were out last night, and I brought all my negative New York energy — ‘We’re going to be late!’ But I think that time is different here.”

“It’s the legalized weed,” cracked Finch. It’s also, he added later, the blessed distance from the competitive pressure cooker: “In L.A. you can write what you’re writing,” and not worry about keeping up with the Amises.

In an entry from his COVID-19 diary “What Just Happened,” out Nov. 9, critic and novelist Charles Finch binges on the Beatles and reaches a turning point.

Nov. 4, 2021

There was some industry talk at the lunch; Grote’s wife, novelist Lorraine Martindale, talked about her past life as a New York editor. When Griffin announced she’s switching to adult fiction, others chimed in to say YA might be on the wane (“Give me a zombie!” Finch imagined an editor demanding). But in part thanks to Finch’s rapid-fire prompts (“Matthew, are you reading anything good?” “Jason, are you a sci-fi guy?”), books dominated the conversation.

Among the writers discussed: Hanya Yanagihara, Geoff Dyer, Cixin Liu, Elif Batuman, D.H. Lawrence, Jung Chang, Neil Strauss, Susan Choi, Colm Tóibín, Henry James, William James, Marcel Proust, China Miéville and William Gibson. Specktor was reading “Ulysses” for the fourth time; Robin Wasserman, a memoirist writing for TV (“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”), confirmed her dislike of “The Brothers Karamazov.”

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Finch doesn’t know where his and Cha’s movable feast is heading next, but he’s certain that, barring any nasty new variants, it’s back for good.

The recurring meal seems to be a common strategy among Angeleno writers. Griffin, the newcomer, is catching on quickly. She has writers over every Wednesday for lunch. In fact, she said, “I got a longer table delivered today, to fit as many people as I wanted.” Maran pronounced it a vote of confidence in a post-pandemic world — and in Griffin’s adopted city. “When you’re talking furniture,” she said, “you know it’s real.”

In a quarantine diary, “Your House Will Pay” author Steph Cha reads Ivy Pochoda , watches “Iron Man 2” and “Fleabag,” and works a “Starry Night” puzzle.

March 25, 2020

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