by Garth Meyer
Grasshoppers blew onto Redondo Beach from the southwest. Young boys gathered them and sold them to feed the chickens.
Whale meat was also available, according to the newspapers.
Nearly a hundred years later, a young man sat in a car in a nearly empty parking lot at the former Columbia Pictures studios in Culver City. The dome light was on, it was early morning and he was writing a story in a diary.
Once completed, he would move on to his position as production coordinator on Showtime projects such as “Californication”.
Ashton Politanoff has written a series of short stories this way, published one in 2014 and is set to publish his first book on August 14, “You’ll Like it Here” (Dalkey Archive, Dallas, Dublin) which stems from articles in the South Bay Journals from 1911 to 18.
The experimental novel comes with a list of accolades, including William Finnegan, author of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning surf memoir Barbarian Days.
Some of the incidents in Politanoff’s 218 pages are 100% true, some are half true, and some are partially true.
A woman found a dead bird with white plumage, for example, in 1913 on Redondo Beach, but her later bird hat was not shot on the Palos Verdes Peninsula as she walked along a row of bushes.
“I changed (reporting) for what I needed to do to satisfy myself as a reader and an artist,” said Politanoff, a Redondo Beach resident and 2003 graduate of Mira Costa High School.
Sources for the book’s public domain material were primarily The Redondo Reflex, along with the El Segundo Herald, the San Pedro Pilot, and the Torrance Herald.
Politanoff estimates that he went through 3,000 (scanned) pages of newspapers in his research. Additional details were taken from Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogs of the time.
“As a book is adapted to a screenplay, I was adapting these cuts to this experimental novel, in the same vein,” said Politanoff, who teaches writing at Cypress College.
“You’ll Like It Here” opens with idyllic reporting followed by part two in which life speeds up, violence appears, and in part three, the residents of Redondo Beach begin to encounter the Spanish flu.
For a time, before Politanoff married Katie O’Connor, a 2004 Mira Costa graduate, he lived in an old bungalow at 615 Emerald Street in Redondo Beach.
“(During my research), I almost felt like I was going back to Emerald, in a way,” he said.
Once the manuscript was formatted, he sent it to Diane Williams, editor of the literary magazine “Noon” (New York), who had previously printed Politanoff’s short stories.
“Noon” released an excerpt from “You’ll Like It Here”.
This fact was later the subject of 10 targeted query letters that Politanoff sent to literary agents. Nine of the 10 requested the manuscript.
He also sent the query to two publishers and went 2 for 2.
Politanoff and his eventual agent, Jackie Gilbert in New York, worked on the manuscript for five months. Gilbert then entered into a deal with Dalkey Archive in March 2021.
“I loved the cover, it looked old but modern,” Politanoff said. “They were very respectful in asking my opinion.”
A former tennis player at Loyola Marymount, Politanoff graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in literature. He later earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Cal State-Long Beach.
He and his wife Katie have two young sons. Politanoff taught for three years at Cypress College – composition, literature, screenwriting, and creative non-fiction.
Following the release of “You’ll Like It Here,” Ashton Politanoff will appear at Stories Bookstore in Echo Park on August 18 at 7 p.m., chatting with author Kathryn Scanlan. Emergency room