Edan Lepucki is a genuine phenomenon, and for good reason: first and foremost, with CALIFORNIA, she’s given us a very assured, excellent debut (trust me, it’s really good), and there was that awesome Stephen Colbert mention… She’s kind of a rockstar, and I’m thrilled that she took the time to answer a few of my questions! Please give her a warm welcome!
Edan, congrats on the new book, CALIFORNIA, and also the amazing success you’ve seen with it right out of the gate! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
Thank you so much, and thanks for your thoughtful review of California a few weeks back! I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember—since I learned to read, I suppose. Aside from my dancing skills (seriously, I challenge you to a dance-off!), I can only read and write. I have no other skills. In college, I enthusiastically double-majored in English and Creative Writing, and after I graduated, I worked at a bookstore in LA called Book Soup, and wrote short stories on my time off. I studied creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and after I graduated I started a novel. That one never sold, alas, so I wrote another one—California—to more successful results.
I was born at home in Santa Monica and raised in LA; I come from a large family of irrepressible showboats: divorced parents, step-parents, three sisters, and a brother—all of whom live in California. Aside from writing and teaching writing, I have also worked as a bookseller, a cheesemonger, and an SAT tutor (verbal only, obviously). I am the founder and co-director of Writing Workshops Los Angeles, a private writing school that offers small and rigorous classes from the comfort of the teacher’s home. I am married to a book-lover and whiskey-drinker named Patrick, and we have a delightful three-year-old son named Dixon Bean, as well as tiny white dog named Omar Little. Last year we moved from LA to the San Francisco Bay Area, to a town called Albany. It’s a bit sleepy for my taste, but it’s growing on me, and my god, the bread and coffee here is terrific.
What inspired CALIFORNIA? I know why I connected with Frida and Cal, but why do you think readers will connect with them?
A few years ago, the phrase “post-apocalyptic domestic drama” jumped into my brain, and I thought: Wow, I’d love to read that book! A few months of daydreaming later, I realized I was the one who would have to write said book. Around that time, I was driving down Sunset Blvd. in LA, and the streetlights above me had gone out; it was dark and eerie, and I started thinking about what it would be like if LA ceased to provide basic services, like streetlights, or road repairs, or a fire department (this isn’t far off for a few American cities now…). I imagined from there. What anchored my conjecture all along was this couple, Frida and Cal. I wanted to write a novel about a marriage between two people who truly connect. I wanted to explore conflicts between them that would be both familiar and extraordinary to the reader—and I didn’t want the conflict to be adultery, since that’s familiar in marriage dramas. Cal and Frida are very real and flawed characters to me who are struggling to survive, struggling with their isolation, and also grieving all that they left behind. I hope readers connect with their love, and understand how much they’ve lost.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences? If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
My influences include Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books), Jennifer Egan, Tom Drury, Lorrie Moore, Dan Chaon, Edith Wharton, Gillian Flynn, Edward P. Jones, Antonya Nelson, Dana Spiotta, Donna Tartt, and Don DeLillo. If I could read one book for the first time again, it would be Stoner by John Williams. It’s a quiet story about the life of English professor William Stoner. It’s told with such grace and precision that it’s utterly absorbing and devastating; I wish I could experience its heartbreak anew!
California takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, but the focus is on the characters. That said, why do you think post-apocalyptic stories are so popular?
I believe we’ve always been interested in, and feared, the end of the world. You could argue that Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden was an early post-apocalypse story! There’s certainly an upswing of these narratives in recent years. Perhaps the onslaught of technology and the easy access to news from around the globe has made it clear just how terrible and cruel the world is, and that scares us. At every moment there is death and violence somewhere in the world, often in our own country. I think post-apocalyptic tales reflect our anxieties, and also provide relief from them: it’s cathartic to exist in a fictional end-of-the-world, and know that it’s temporary.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a novel that takes place in the present-day, and it’s a real relief not to have to do so much world-building and ponder the death of the world on a regular basis! I have about 150 pages. After that book, I’d like to return to the world of California…!
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable in the face of hardship and isolation. Mourning a past they can’t reclaim, they seek solace in each other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.
Terrified of the unknown and unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses dangers of its own. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.
A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and deep-seated resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.
More about Edan Lepucki:
Edan Lepucki is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a staff writer for The Millions. Her short fiction has been published in McSweeney’s and Narrative magazine, among other publications, and she is the founder and director of Writing Workshops Los Angeles. CALIFORNIA is her first novel – See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/edan-lepucki/#about