Interview With an Author: Susanna Hoffs

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Susanna Hoffs and her first novel, This Bird Has Flown
Author Susanna Hoffs and her first novel, This Bird Has Flown. Photo of author: Jay Roach

Boasting one of pop’s most beloved voices, Susanna Hoffs graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Art. In 1981 she co-founded The Bangles, with whom she recorded and released a string of chart-topping singles, including "Manic Monday," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Hazy Shade of Winter," and "Eternal Flame" (which she cowrote), before embarking on a critically acclaimed solo career. She also wrote, recorded music for, and appeared in the Austin Powers movies, and played herself on Season 1 of The Gilmore Girls. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, filmmaker Jay Roach. This Bird Has Flown is her first novel and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for This Bird Has Flown?

I've been a lifelong reader and have always loved disappearing into stories, whether in a novel, a film, a play, a painting, a song. I'd harbored a dream of writing a novel since I can remember, and one day, it hit me: If not now, when? and I took the plunge!

Are Jane, Tom, Pippa, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

They are all inventions of my imagination, but they sprang to life so vividly during the writing process that I began to feel I knew them as intimately as I do my real-life friends. I so enjoyed hanging out with them, and they never ceased to charm and delight me, though at times, of course, worry me.

Same question for Jonesy, Alfie, and Leopard Pants. They seem like they might need their own space!

The musician characters! Since This Bird Has Flown is my first novel, I thought perhaps the adage write what you know would be useful in crafting the story. Thus, I decided to make Jane a singer-songwriter-musician. Jonesy, Alfie, and Leopard Pants are all "superstars" who loom large in Jane's mind. I will say that my experience performing with The Bangles and as a solo artist on co-bills with brilliantly talented "rock stars" gave me rich fodder for writing about that world!

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

The novel evolved from earlier iterations, and some characters and scenes I loved didn't make it into the final novel. But my sense is that they will resurface, re-purposed in another novel. They say sometimes you must "kill your darlings," and I did experience a bit of that. I did have Jane and her one-hit wonder-ness very early on in the process.

Over your career, have you ever performed at Royal Albert Hall? If so, what was that like?

I have not. But I took a tour of the venue when I was in London for research!

Have you ever lived in London and/or Oxford? Do you have any favorite places? A hidden gem that someone visiting should not miss but would only learn about from a resident?

I have not lived in London or Oxford, but I've visited several times and love both cities. In Oxford, my hidden gems are The Covered Market and a charming housewares store called Objects of Use, the rooftop café at the Ashmolean Museum, and a café called Vaults and Garden with a lovely patio amid ancient gravestones with a view of the iconic Radcliffe Camera building on Oxford's "Campus."

Do you have a video from earlier in your career that you feel has haunted you over the years, as Jane feels haunted by her video of "the one song"?

I wouldn't say I'm haunted by any of the videos I've made, but if I were to pick a moment in one that seems to have cemented an impression of me over the years, it would be in the "Walk Like An Egyptian" video, when the camera pulls in close, and I look side to side.

What is the most ridiculous "tour name" you know of someone using (one you have used for yourself or someone else)?

I hear Keith Richards uses Ben Dover and Mick Jagger, Neil Down. Once upon a time, I was Major Hive.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Small Pleasures: A Novel by Clare Chambers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and always, The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Charlotte Bronte
James Baldwin
F.Scott Fitzgerald
Zadie Smith
Tom Perrotta

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

I've learned so many things! Passion drove the writing of my novel. It was an unexpectedly joyous experience for such a solitary act and required a great deal of patience and stick-to-itiveness. But my characters, even the pompous and tricky ones, provided endless delight! Additionally, I spent a lot of time studying narratives and story arcs from favorite novels and films. So, what I'd like to share with other writers, is seek the joy in it! Find love, compassion, and empathy for your characters, even the seemingly unlovable ones! Keep reading and learning!

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Jane Eyre.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

No. I had the great fortune of being raised by a psychoanalyst father and an artist mother who were incredibly open-minded.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

No. I have too much Jewish guilt to fake anything.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing; I loved both the cover and the words written inside it!

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are many: Jane Eyre, Sophie’s Choice, The Paying Guests, The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

There are so many! Jane Eyre. The Great Gadsby. White Teeth. Couples. Madame Bovary. Giovanni’s Room.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

All of the above.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I watched the films Reds, All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) and Shampoo in the same week and it was like a masterclass in craft and storytelling. I was left feeling inspired to continue to write because stories, even dark ones, connect us as humans.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Black coffee to start. Walk with a friend. More coffee, an apple, and toast with almond butter and a drizzle of agave nectar. Write write write. Dinner with friends. Watch a movie or binge a show. Read before bed. Repeat daily.

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Question: What matters most to you?
Answer: Love and connection.

What are you working on now?

My next novel!

Book cover for This bird has flown : a novel
This Bird Has Flown: A Novel
Hoffs, Susanna