Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me, originally published by Flatmancrooked, and recently re-released by Nouvella Press. The Los Angeles Times named her a Face to Watch for 2014. Her debut novel, California, was published by Little, Brown on July 8, 2014. California debuted at #3 on the New York Times Bestsellers List and has been the #1 bestseller on the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestsellers lists. It’s also been on the IndieBound and Publishers Weekly Bestsellers Lists. California was a fall 2014 selection of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. (FYI: Edan and Stephen Colbert are now besties.) Check out Edan’s website at http://www.edanlepucki.com/.
Prick of the Spindle Interviews Editor Nathan Leslie talks with Edan about life, California, California, and writing, to name a few.
Nathan Leslie: Edan—First of all, thanks so much for forfeiting some of your precious time to talk to me about your work. I am a fan of both California and If You’re Not Yet Like Me—very different works. I’m wondering if we can start by talking a bit about your childhood and how you think it may have influenced your work.
Edan Lepucki: Thank you so much! This is an interesting question, one I don’t get often! I was born and raised in Los Angeles by parents who grew up in blue-collar New Jersey towns. But they both fit in better in California, I think: my mother can’t stand the cold and loves attending the music festival in Coachella every year; and my father, who now works in the entertainment industry as a location manager, has always been into alternative lifestyle and perspectives: numerology, Reichian therapy, and so on. They divorced when I was young and so I spent much of my youth shuttling between their houses, with a dual identity: one for my mom’s house and one for my dad’s. Both households were very liberal and my passion for reading and writing was always celebrated. I think my upbringing allowed me to write about whatever I wanted, no matter how dark the subject matter. Also, I have a big family: two older sisters, and then a half-brother and half-sister, on my mom’s side. So many personalities have taught me a lot about interpersonal communication and miscommunication, and that’s helped in writing scenes! I’d say that growing up in LA was at once magical and totally boring—which is how I’d describe the writing life, which requires imagination and discipline in equal parts.
NL: I laughed quite a bit when I read If You’re Not Yet Like Me. I think it has something to do with Joellyn’s callousness, but I know it’s all in the timing, also. Can you talk a bit about the way you approached writing this story?
EL: I love Joellyn for her barbed and biting wit, and for the fact that she’ll say anything. She is not self-aware, and I think her often funny judgments mask a deep insecurity. As for how I wrote it, I simply leaned in and listened to her voice. I know it sounds weird and mystical and hokey, but that’s all—I let her tell the story and really tried to see the world as she does, with a sharp, spiky gaze. People have told me that I have these interesting sentences and images at the end of paragraphs, and maybe that also contributes to the book’s humor…using rhythm and timing on the paragraph level, and ending with an image that implodes a passage, rearranges what the reader assumes. But that comes in the moment, and I try not to plan for it.
NL: How do you go from writing a comedic novella to a rather epic apocalyptic tour-de-force?
EL: The books are quite different, aren’t they? But, then again, I guess they’re from two different sides of me. Each piece I write requires a different tone and use of voice, and the imagery emerges from the characters I’m working on. They both were written intuitively. I guess I was in a sassy place when I wrote the novella, and an anxious/mournful one when I wrote the novel! Then again, there are jokes in California, and a few heartbreaking moments in If You’re Not Yet Like Me.
NL: In California, you portray the future as a massive regression, to say the least, but also one in which remnants of the life we know now can still be found in scraps. Which aspects of consumer culture would you miss most if your vision of the future comes true?
EL: Ahhh…so much! Frida misses lattes in the book, and that would definitely be one element I’d miss a lot (i.e., every damn day). I think most of us who live in cities would miss the ease of life: going to grab a pastry if you’re peckish, stopping into a bookstore to get a paperback, picking up some Windex on the drive home in your gas-guzzling vehicle. This world is so lovely, and it’s destroying us.
NL: It’s a haunting depiction of the future in that it does seem so realistic, not otherworldly and remote. It’s not that much of a stretch really, just a step or two from where we already are. Is this what you were going for?
EL: Yes. I wanted the future to be uncomfortably close and recognizable. That way, the reader feels complicit in the making of this particular future, and that’s scary.
NL: Both books have an intimate nature. What do you think would happen if Joellyn and Frida swapped places—each plopped down in the other’s novel?
EL: Oh what an amazing thought experiment. I actually wonder if Joellyn and Frida are all that different. Frida just had to work harder, because of the way the world turned out, and she was lucky to find a partner to love and be loved by. Frida is kinder, I think, but Joellyn is tougher. I can imagine Joellyn pissing people off on the Land, and also kicking a Pirate’s ass. I can imagine Frida going on a date with Zachary—but then just convincing them to be friends.
NL: What is your writing process? I know it’s a hackneyed-as-hell-question, but bear with me…
EL: I write when I have childcare, which is Wednesdays through Fridays. I write for 2-3 hours at a time, straight on the computer, often while listening to music on my headphones (of the sad-sack indie rock melancholy variety). I write in order and often use my journal after writing sessions to figure out what my next step will be. As I said before, I write intuitively, without an outline, but I am usually about two or so scenes ahead of myself, in my head.
NL: Has writing for The Millions helped your fiction?
EL: I don’t think it’s shaped it, per se, but working for The Millions has definitely brightened my reading life and helped me when I was in the lonely muck of novel writing. Writing about books and writing has helped me understand what I know and think—it’s enabled me to think through ideas that interest me. That’s been such a gift. And receiving feedback from readers has sustained me when it felt like no one in the world would ever care about my stupid fiction.
NL: You teach at Writing Workshops Los Angeles, which you founded. In the work of your students over the past few years, do you see any prominent literary trends?
EL: My students at Writing Workshops Los Angeles are so incredibly talented and smart, and they’ve helped me a lot with my own novel writing simply by submitting their own novels-in-progress. I’ve learned by teaching them about pacing, character, voice, and so on. As for trends…no, I don’t think I can think of any.
NL: I read, with interest, the Edan Lepucki reading recommendations in the back of my copy of California. I’m wondering if you have an updated list of a few books you have enjoyed since then.
EL: Oh probably so many! Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam comes out in June, and it’s fantastic—such an accurate and compassionate look at a female friendship. I really liked The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, which is billed as her personal diary, but it’s been reordered so it’s not chronological. The form allows her to stretch out and consider all these random topics, from parenthood to writing to the power of possessions. It’s a very cool book!
NL: Here’s a better question: which writer—dead or alive—would you most like to meet?
EL: I’d love to meet Margaret Atwood someday. If Edith Wharton could come back from the dead, she can come over any time.
NL: What are you working on now and how is it going?
EL: I’m revising my next novel, Woman No. 17, which is set to come out spring 2017. It’s going…pretty well! Some days it’s exciting, because I am making thematic connections as I rewrite. I love that. Other days, it’s like pulling teeth, trying to write a new scene or reimagine a passage. Hopefully today will be a good day. Here I go…
California by Edan Lepucki
Back Bay Books, 2015
Paperback, 416 pp., $16