20 Questions with April Dávila

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Los Angeles Local Author April Dávila is a fourth generation Californian and Pushcart Prize-nominated author of the debut novel, 142 OSTRICHES. She has lived briefly in places as far-flung as Ecuador, the Caribbean, and the Marshall Islands, but always comes back to California. The daughter of an artist, Dávila studied marine biology at Scripps College before studying writing at USC. An attendee of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a past resident at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, April runs LitWeekLA, a weekly newsletter covering Los Angeles area literary events. Her website AprilDavila.com was named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writers Digest.
(Photo credit: Rob Greer)

What part of Los Angeles do you call home?
After 10 years in Silver Lake we moved north a bit to La Cañada. We love it. It feels very suburban and kid-friendly, but it’s just a quick shot down the 2 to the city.

Are you a native of L.A. or a transplant?
I grew up in Northern California, and I met my husband when we were both living in San Francisco. Three years later, when we moved down to Los Angeles, we swore it was temporary. Like all good Northern Californians, we had well-developed opinions about our home’s superiority over Southern California. We loved the fog. We loved the compact size of the city and how we could get around without a car. We said 5 years. 5 Years for me to go to grad school and for us both to build our careers, and then we would move back.

But we really came to love Los Angeles. We found a wonderful community of writers and filmmakers, all working to create their art on a professional level. It was exciting. Five years passed quickly, and when it came time to enroll our eldest in school, we decided to stay. I do sometimes miss the fog, but I don’t regret our choice at all. We’ve built a great life down here.

How many books have you written?
142 OSTRICHES is my first book, but I am already nearing completion on my second. I hope to introduce it to the world before too long.

Did you publish traditionally or independently?
I decided to publish traditionally. There are pros and cons for either route, but I knew I didn’t want to be in charge of marketing. I just want to write, and having a traditional publisher seemed the best way to stick with what I know.

What inspired you to write this story?
The first question I get, when people learn the title of my debut novel, is usually some variation of “why ostriches?” Short answer: they’re fascinating, which, when I started this project, I didn’t even know. All I knew back then was that I wanted to tell a story set in the California desert. As an ecology major at Scripps College I’d fallen in love with the Mojave’s explosive sunrises, its defensive flora and hardy fauna.

The trouble was, my protagonist was based (loosely) on my mother and her experiences growing up on a dairy farm in the Sacramento valley. After being assured by my mother that it would, under no circumstances, make sense to plunk a dairy farm in the Mojave, a fortuitous combination of search terms lead me to the OK Corral Ostrich Ranch, just sixty miles from my home in Los Angeles. I immediately emailed the owner, Doug Osborne, to ask for a tour.

Within minutes of arriving I knew I’d found something special. The birds were so strange, with their prehistoric skin and Lancome eyelashes, and Doug spoke of them with such affection, even while swatting away their invasive pecks. This was a place for contradictions. The perfect setting for a story about a family torn between love and hate, loyalty and abandonment.

Which characteristic of your protagonist do you most admire?
Tallulah is super tough. She doesn’t see anything as impossible. She can figure it out, whatever it is. I really admire that about her.

Which characteristic of his/her/their nemesis do you enjoy?
I really didn’t enjoy writing my main character’s nemesis. To make “bad guys” believable, you have to find their humanity, and I found his to be so painful. He’s such a damaged person, and to touch into that was difficult. To find sympathy for it was even harder.

What’s the best part about being an author?
My greatest disappointment in life is that I will never get to be or do all the things I wish I could be and do. I will most likely never go to space, or fight for survival in the wilderness, or work on an ostrich ranch. But as a writer, I have the best of excuses to dive into all the things that spark my curiosity, to steep myself in them for as long as they hold my interest, then move on. It’s the best.

And the worst?
The hardest part about being an author is touching into the emotional truth of damaged people. Because happy, well-adjusted people don’t make for a very good story. And, as the author, if you aren’t willing to get deep into what makes a character tick, you’re only ever going to write the surface level of their interactions. So I dive in. And some times (a lot of times) I only really capture a character when I can tolerate being uncomfortable long enough to write a scene as they would experience it.

How do you keep the momentum of writing/editing/publishing/promoting?
It’s hard, especially during a pandemic. I’m not feeling super creative these days, and it’s disappointing that I can’t be out doing my book tour. That said, writing is a job. I sit my butt down and do my best at all of it.

The thing I find most helpful is to set intentions. Every time I sit at my desk, I decide what I’m going to work on, and how long I’m going to work on it. I find I’m more creative in the mornings, so I try to set aside an hour or so to write before lunch. After lunch I send emails, write blog posts, check in on social media… all of it.

What’s your “writing ritual”?
I wake up before anyone else, pour a cup of black coffee and drink it while I write one page in my journal. Sometimes I can go immediately into writing fiction after that, but more often I turn my attention to waking children, making sure everyone is fed and (in pre-pandemic times) off to school. Then I sit down to write.

I expand my Scrivener window (I’m a huge Scrivener nerd) so that I can’t see anything else on my screen. I set the Do Not Disturb on my phone for 1 hour and put it face down. After one hour, I allow myself to get more coffee, use the restroom, and then, if it’s a good day, I’ll do it again and get one more hour in.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Follow the enthusiasm. Technically, it wasn’t given to me, I just overheard it, but it’s great advice. I wrote a blog post about it: https://aprildavila.com/enthusiasm/

What’s the best advice you could give another author?
I have three bits of advice I give when people ask:
1. Follow the enthusiasm (see above)
2. Writers read. If you want to be a writer, you must read. A lot.
3. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Success is 10% talent and 90% work.

How do you interact with your reading audience?
I’ve been blogging at aprildavila.com for 10 years. Sometimes it feels like writing into the void, but when I was out on my book tour (before I had to cut it short and scurry home due to Covid 19), I was really touched by how many people stood in line to get a book signed because they were fans of my blog. It has really proven to be a wonderful way to connect with fellow writers and readers. I’m also big on Twitter (@aprildavila).

Where are you most social online?
Twitter. Hands down. I quit Facebook a while back, because duh.

Where are you most social in real life?
Probably in the bleachers at my kids’ sporting events. Most of my friends these days are other kick-ass moms I’ve met at some sort of kid-related thing.

What’s your favorite place in Los Angeles?
There are some beautiful trails near our home in La Canada. Usually, when the kids are in school, I drop them off, then take the dogs to a trailhead for a quick walk in the woods. There’s this one trail that dips down to follow a little creek through some oak trees and it smells so good, like damp earth and anise seeds. Then you pop out at the top of the trail and can see all the way to the ocean. It’s only about a mile loop. I can usually walk it and still be at my desk by 8:45. It’s a great way to start the day.

Do you have a hobby or go-to that helps you recharge?
I love a good long walk. Usually, when I walk, I listen to audiobooks, but if I’m stuck on a story, I’ll leave the earbuds at home and, I swear, it works every time. Something about just being outdoors and moving my body sets everything straight and gets the creative juices flowing.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading DEPRIVATION, a mystery thriller by Roy Freirich, and listening to EDUCATED, the memoir by Tara Westover.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my second novel. It’s an epic adventure story spanning three centuries. That’s about all I can say about it just yet, but I’m very excited about it. Please check out my website for more information (that’s where I’ll post it when I have it) and say hello. I love connecting with people online and (someday, fingers crossed) in person.

142-Ostriches-cover-high-resSet against the unexpected splendor of an ostrich ranch in the California desert, April Dávila’s beautifully written debut conjures an absorbing and compelling heroine in a story of courage, family and forgiveness. April is currently offering a free copy of 142 OSTRICHES to share with a friend for those who have already bought her book or are planning to purchase. Click here for details.

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