Research Notes · 11/23/2012

Panorama City

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Antoine Wilson writes about Panorama City (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).


By themselves, photographs seem very limited to me in their ability to convey a sense of place, or at least a sense of place that I find useful, novelistically, but as stimulants to the memory, I find them invaluable. Whenever possible, I use photographs to supplement my in situ notes.

I take photographs for other projects, too, and one thing that’s pleasant about shooting for novel research is that I don’t have to think like a photographer. I just point and shoot. As a result, the pictures end up mundane and quotidian. But frankly, they’re often more interesting than those I take while trying to be a photographer.

Here are a few shots I took while researching Panorama City, the place, for Panorama City, the novel, paired with some lines from the book they may or may not have inspired.


“There were signs on everything, there were signs on the trees, there were enormous billboards, shop signs, there was writing everywhere. My gift has always been gab, but even if I was a stronger reader, I couldn’t imagine reading all of those signs, it was like driving through a crazy book, it would take a hundred years to read it all.”


“Big full trees ran along Aunt Liz’s street, they met above the street and kept the road in shade, they kept the street shady and cool, they leaned away from the houses toward the middle of the street, like they wanted to exclude the houses from their company, which made sense, the houses were made of dead wood, the trees were made of live wood, the living wants to be with the living, the dead with the dead.”


“Many houses had rolling gates and the vehicles were jammed together inside the gates, on the lawns and on the driveways, as if each lot was its own little harbor, everything tied down for a storm, but there were no storms coming, in fact, there was hardly any weather at all.”


“The battle between good and evil played itself out everywhere, he said, and our mini-mall was no exception.”


“Only the people in the milky blue house would turn out less than decent, or decent in their own way, but not of like mind, which is only to say that there are many different reasons for letting a lawn grow in a wild state of nature, not all of them philosophically sound.”


“I went out the back door, the sunlight was blinding white, everything was bleached.”

For more Panorama City photos, check out my heteronym Jean-Jacques Arsenault’s book Shopping Carts of Panorama City.

For another photo project of mine, check out Slow Papparazzo (book and blog).


Antoine Wilson is the author of Panorama City (HMH, 2012) and The Interloper (Other Press, 2007). He is a contributing editor of A Public Space and lives in Los Angeles. More at: and twitter: @antoinewilson.

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