"Love & Saffron" by Kim Fay tells the story of a burgeoning friendship between two women in the 1960s told in a series of letters as the two share recipes and insights that ring true to this day. Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.
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Exploring the nexus of food and love with author Kim Fay as we chat about her latest book (and how she discovered tamales don’t actually come from a can).
Acclaimed writer Kim Fay’s new novel, “Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love,” is a story about two women — a young food journalist in Los Angeles and a Camano Island columnist — whose relationship deepens as the two embark on an exchange of letters in the ’60s, sharing recipes and insights that ring true in the here and now. This marks Fay’s second novel and third book among a canon of other works. “Love & Saffron” also hints at personal experiences that Fay weaves into her fiction. Los Angeleno had the opportunity to chat with the author about writing, food and her love and appreciation for the diverse cultures Los Angeles has to offer.
Los Angeleno: What was your going in to writing “Love & Saffron”?
Kim Fay: Well, that’s a hard one because I’m one of those writers who take forever to write anything. I have an idea, and I get to writing, and I feel like I write in layers. I’ll start with kind of a thin layer then I’ll add more to it. Then I revise and revise some more. My first book took 14 years to write, but “Love & Saffron” took three months because it was an anomaly. … I started writing three days after the lockdown started. … I wrote from beginning to end without stopping. I didn’t go back, I didn’t layer, I didn’t do anything. I also was writing a book that I never thought about publishing — this was very different.
L.A.: Do you feel that being locked in is what forced you into a different mode?
K.F.: I do. I feel it was two parts. I feel that, yes, the world shut down — it was my husband and I — and we had just moved into this house three weeks before the lockdown. So, we were in this new place, and I didn’t have all of my old habits because it was a new house. So, I started writing. But I also think I wrote the book as much for me as I did for my friends. It was really comforting.
L.A.: Since you’ve gained so much inspiration from others, have you ever thought of writing something more autobiographical?
K.F.: I actually think that I’ve always wanted to write about my family, but I could never find my true threads. That’s another reason “Love & Saffron” came out; it was the first time where I took actual family stories and put them into my fiction.
L.A.: With this being a book with food at its center, I have to ask — is there a dish that you think “is L.A.”?
K.F.: It’s tamales. It has to be. This is also a bit of a joke because when I was growing up, my grandfather always gave me canned tamales. If you’ve never had canned tamales, they are this weird, weird meat wrapped in thin masa, wrapped in paper. So, growing up, tamales were my favorite food.
When I first moved to L.A., a friend said, ‘Let’s go out for tamales.’ And we went out and I said, ‘What the heck is this?’ because I had been raised on this weird, white-bread, canned food. One of the reasons I like them is they’re everywhere. I also think it’s interesting they’re made differently depending on where you are from. So, while it’s seemingly simple, it’s really versatile.
L.A.: “Love & Saffron” takes place in the 1960s, a very tumultuous time that’s often compared to now. Did the current state of affairs bring you to that connection, or was it strictly nostalgia for you?
K.F.: There was a point when I was writing about the Kennedy assassination; what was in my head were big bad things that happened yet somehow, you’re all in it together. I was really thinking a lot about the pandemic itself and how we needed to come together. I don’t think I was comparing in any way. I was just trying to find where our human connection was during a really divisive time. That I was conscious of, and the fact that the ’60s are nostalgic in certain ways for certain people — but not everyone.
L.A.: As an Angeleno, you know our culture and it comes up at various points in your book. Was it important to you to draw the cultural distinctions?
K.F.: It was very important to me because even now, we have the internet, we have Instagram, but I still find that people are very fascinated by places they’re not familiar with. And I think Los Angeles, because of its great diversity, has had the opportunity — I can’t say it’s always taken — to be progressive. Whereas the lack of diversity up in a place like Washington has kept it more insulated. And I kind of wanted to show what happens when you do open yourself up. So, I needed the distinctions because if there weren’t distinctions, there would be nothing for Immy to open up to.
But L.A., even now, is still a very distinct place; its cultures are very distinctive. There’s still a great divide, and there’s so much room for us to bridge the gaps and bring people closer together. I have friends who’ve never even touched down in certain parts of the city — it may as well be a foreign land to them. That, to me, seems like a crime because you’ve got the world [here]. Spin in a direction and drive, and you’ve got really every country in the world in this city. I just find L.A. to be possibly the most exciting place I’ve ever lived.
“Love & Saffron” hits shelves on Feb. 8. For more deliciousness by Kim Fay, visit www.kimfaybooks.com or follow the author on Twitter @kimkfay.