California Author Edan Lepucki Talks Influence And End of Days
Edan Lepucki was just minding her own writerly business when she was suddenly thrust into the center of a pop culture frenzy earlier this year. When her book, California, came up on the TV screen one evening, brought forth by the hands of none other than Stephen Colbert, her fate as a famed author was sealed. Since then, she’s had quite the ride.
At the time, only her indie novella If You’re Not Like Me, a f–ed up comedic romance of sorts, had been published. California was her first novel, and with big five publisher Hachette – one whom Amazon had recently and infamously waged war upon. Hachette also happened to publish Colbert’s works, and he was a little more than miffed with Amazon’s business practices. So in an act of light, modern anarchy, Colbert held up California on air, the green cover so unmistakable, and said “buy this book from Hachette and not from Amazon.” Not even on shelves yet, and it had graced the eyes and ears of the American public. It’s about the end of California, the apocalypse. Everyone was enthralled. Lepucki, it seemed, had won the publishing lottery.
I recently had the chance to chat with Edan about her influences, the dark process of writing about the apocalypse, The Colbert craziness, and what it means to have a little bit of fame in her back pocket.
Robbie: My favorite and lamest question: who/what are some of your biggest influences, writing or otherwise, and why?
Edan Lepucki: My favorite novel is The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m generally influenced by Margaret Atwood–I love not only her speculative fiction but also her realist work for its sharp observations and droll wit. I also really love Jennifer Egan‘s work and have been greatly influenced by her novel Look At Me, which is smart and complicated and compelling, and also sexy and scary. I also am on a big Edith Wharton kick–I love her complicated women! Other things I find inspiring: the films Badlands and Heavenly Creatures, the TV shows Six Feet Under and The Wire. My son’s three-year-old brain that asks me, “Why am I not a beast?” The first thing he told me this morning was that he is a squirrel and needs an acorn for breakfast. I mean–?
Robbie: ha! That’s amazing. Oh, to be a kid again.
So, there’s kind of an American fascination with the end of civilization. What do you think draws people to a “post world” narrative, one where civilization as we know it is gone?
Edan: It’s totally human to imagine our current world, lost. Perhaps it’s a way to understand death, to translate it from the personal loss, the obliteration of self, to a larger, cultural one. Since the fall from Eden we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse narratives, and I think it’s cathartic to imagine the worst as a way to accept and improve the present. I wonder, too, if technology’s hold on us has us longing for it all to just disappear, to be left naked among the elements.
So which character is your favorite from the book, and why?
Edan: This is a hard one. I actually love them all like family, and for different reasons. I love that Frida isn’t cerebral, that she reacts based on impulse, and that she is impetuous and fierce. I love that Cal is cerebral, that he is so tender and gentle, and that he has adapted to so much change since leaving home at 18. I love Micah because he’s a brilliant, sexy, asshole who once had great ideals that perverted along the way. I love Sailor for his naivete, and August for his grace and political know-how, and Anika for being so bossy and brave. I love Bo and Sandy Miller for their courage and purity.
Robbie: If the world had a catastrophic incident, like an earthquake or flood, what’s the one thing in Los Angeles that you’d like to see spared?
Edan: My childhood street, Edinburgh Avenue, just south of Melrose. The disaster can take out all the ugly McMansions built in the last 5-10 years, but the Spanish 1920s stucco homes must stay.
Robbie: Apocalyptic stories have a terrifyingly real possibility of becoming fact. When you wrote California you really had to imagine all of the sad and terrible things that could occur, as if it it were all real. What was the darkest place for you in the writing process?
Edan: For some reason, writing it was actually thrilling and cathartic; I am not scared that this future will happen because I’ve lived through it fictionally. That said, it was very hard to write the scene where Frida tells August about her brother Micah being a suicide bomber. I really had to get in touch with Frida’s grief and anger. That was tough.
Robbie: Ok, so the obligatory Colbert part: your time with Colbert was highly publicized (they call it “The Colbert Bump” on Wikipedia). How did that experience personally change you as an author? Did it give you confidence/faith in “the machine”?
Edan: It hasn’t changed me. I mean, yes, I am so grateful and wowed that it happened, and I feel extremely lucky. But the writing process is still as difficult and fulfilling and frustrating and fun as ever; I still doubt myself and my work, Colbert or not. I feel the same about “the machine” as I did before: that it’s a noisy, noisy world and if you’re unknown, something truly exceptional has to happen for your cultural product to rise above the clamor.
Robbie: Finally, what have you learned on this journey that you’d want to share with other writers? Your story is probably more unique than others, but just one piece of solid gold for them…
Edan: This is cheesy, but true: Don’t give up. I have been writing for a long time, and California is not the first novel I tried to sell. If you love to make art, make it, and keep making it.
Robbie: Not cheesy at all! It’s actually great advice.
Check her out on The Colbert Report
California is out now from Little, Brown.