Jane Smiley in Carmel Valley

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author talks about her new book, the movies, and her passion for horses

Peter Fish

On setting her new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, in Hollywood:

For Americans, Hollywood just looms huge. It's a feature of our environment, like Mt. Everest.

Her all-time favorite movies:

In no special order, Tom Jones, Ashes and Diamonds ― a great Polish movie ― Pennies from Heaven, and The Return of Martin Guerre.

Her horses:

I have 11. I don't have any racing right now. The nice thing about horses is that you don't have to hide the fact that you love them in different ways. They're not like kids.

On what makes a good racehorse:

Doesn't everybody wish they knew? Lots of stamina. Lots of determination. Lots of good luck.

Her favorite racetrack:

Probably Santa Anita. It's so playful and elegant. I wrote an essay not long ago saying that betting is a terrible thing, but if you're going to bet, why don't you support a fabulous Art Deco masterpiece like Santa Anita?

On hobbies:

I cook everything. Last week I made the best apple pie I've ever made, with an oil crust. I like the Pink Lady apples ― they have the best flavor and don't cook down to a mush.

Her favorite road trip:

I love California Highway 198 from U.S. Highway 101 to Coalinga. It's the most beautiful and haunting road.

On moving to California:

I came here from Iowa and got off the plane and never looked back. It took me about one second to get used to it. When we had been living here four months, we went to Tuscany on vacation. I remember sitting in our villa, thinking, What are we doing here when we could be in Carmel Valley?


Jane Smiley's new novel is Ten Days in the Hills (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007; $26). Her horse-racing memoir is A Year at the Races (Anchor, 2005; $14).

Read more about Carmel Valley »