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Mind Openers: Hollywood Nanny

By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:15 AM

Mona Simpson, celebrated author and UCLA professor of English, gets the ideas for her novels "anywhere and everywhere."

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"Sometimes good ideas come out of overhearing something," Simpson says. "And sometimes, just in living your life."

That's what happened with her new book, My Hollywood, the story of two women — Claire, a composer and new mother, and Lola, a nanny with five children back home in the Philippines — whose lives become intimately entwined through Claire's son, William. Told by both Claire and Lola in alternating chapters, My Hollywood describes the underground competition for the best nannies and provides a close look at the two women's endangered marriages: one American, one Filipino.

Simpson's choice of a Filipina nanny in her novel was anecdotal, she says. When her son, Gabriel, was a baby, Simpson would take him to the park, where she fell in with a group of Filipina babysitters. She herself hired nannies to help care for Gabriel (now 16) and his sister, Grace (10), although Simpson says the character of Lola was not based specifically on anyone who had worked for her.

Mona Simpson will read and sign books in several cities across the country. To see if she will be in your city, use the visit Random House author search and search under Simpson's name.

My Hollywood is Simpson's long-awaited fifth novel. Her first one, Anywhere But Here, was published in 1987 and later made into a 1999 movie starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman. Three more books followed: The Lost Father (1992), A Regular Guy (1997) and Off Keck Road (2000).

Simpson says that My Hollywood took 10 years to write because she kept thinking of ways to change it.

"I wanted to give people literary pleasure and to open doors onto new kinds of relationships, new kinds of unchronicled opportunities for love and generosity," Simpson says. "I thought a lot about the question, 'Can you buy love?' We all want children raised with love. Can you get that by hiring it? It's an interesting question."