Edan Lepucki on California’s Alternate Ways of Being
In Conversation with Christopher Hermelin on So Many Damn Books
Edan Lepucki visits the virtual Damn Library by the power of the internet to discuss her intergenerational time travel novel, Time’s Mouth. We get into all the fun stuff, like time travel mechanics, Reichian therapy, making fortresses, Santa Cruz, and how she’s seeing her career at this point. Plus, we talk about The Possibilities by Yael Goldstein-Love, a book that Edan helped name.
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What’d you buy?
Edan: Birth Control: The Insidious Power of Men Over Motherhood by Alison Yarrow
Christopher: Poor Deer by Claire Oshetsky // Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson
Edan: Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson // Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It by Greg Marshall
Christopher: The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass // Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
From the episode:
Christopher: I went to UC Santa Cruz, so I was very excited about how Santa Cruz-y this book was. I don’t feel like a lot of people try to tackle how sort of bizarre that city really is. What is it about California for you? I mean, this book could have been called California as well.
Edan: That title was already taken. I’m so glad that we have another Santa Cruz person. My best friend went to UC Santa Cruz, and she’s a year older than me. So I visited every year from high school until I was a junior when she left for college. And then every year after that, I would go once or twice a year to Santa Cruz. So I felt a little bit more familiar with it than I might have otherwise.
And I was always like, so in awe of this strange place. I’m sure there is a lot of fiction set in Santa Cruz, but I haven’t read any of it. It’s not one of those overly described places, but it kind of should be because of its, you know, just the natural landscape and the kind of sociological swath of different people there. It’s just a really weird place.
I do think there are places that I go to and I don’t know them very well, but immediately I know I want to write about them. I went to Ben Lomond, which is outside Santa Cruz, a few years ago. Near Ben Lomond, there’s this little loop hike that’s like a quarter of a mile flat where you can see redwood trees. A lot of people take their kids there because you can say you “hiked.” But you just were among nature and that was easy. I’ve been there a couple of times and my older kids were very young. As soon as I went to Ben Lomond, I just, you know, there’s like one funky general store. There’s just a… for lack of a better word, there’s just a vibe there that is just thick with some complicated feeling. And so, I always call it like, “The black cloud is coming for me,” when there is something that I have to write about whether I want to or not. And that was one of those landscapes.
I am from California. I was born and raised in L.A. and then I lived up north briefly in the Bay Area, and now I’m back down in L.A. again. And I don’t know, I mean, I think any place is interesting if you are looking closely about the specifics of it.
Some I have students are like, “Well, I’m from the suburbs of Connecticut. That’s not that interesting.” And I’m like, oh, no, no, no. Every place, you just peel it back and there’s just layers of compelling material. But I think California in particular, because it’s sort of world famous and has all these mythologies about it that are both at once true and not true, make it a particularly ripe subject for fiction. I can write characters who are of this place and too close to it to really understand its legacy while also being able to kind of comment on that legacy.
So the people in the story in Time’s Mouth seek out all these kind of alternative ways of being. And Ursa comes from Mystic, Connecticut, because she believes that California will have a time traveler, fellow time travelers. And then she gets mixed up in the counterculture. But then her son, who was raised on this all female commune outside of Santa Cruz, he doesn’t really recognize that he’s so steeped in like California lore, so when he’s an adult in L.A. seeking out his own kind of wackadoo therapy, it’s like he’s a California cliché, but not. Because he’s a unique individual. So that’s kind of fun to play with.
I just think it’s a beautiful place that has all kinds of fun stuff to describe. And Los Angeles in particular is like a place that people totally nail it in terms of elements that are true about it. You know, that it’s like beauty conscious, health conscious, maybe sometimes a little vapid. It forgets its history. And that’s also totally untrue. At the same time, like if you really come to this city and look at these particular neighborhoods, they’re not like that. Just like any place is its stereotype. It isn’t. So that’s fun for me.
Christopher: L.A. is a very strange place because of its island neighborhood, It gives a sort of feeling that you can be right about it. But you’re only right about 10%. Like you’re not seeing there’s still 90% that isn’t that.
Edan: I live in northeast L.A.. I live on like, a dead end canyon street that looks out on an undeveloped property. It’s private land that the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy is trying to buy. But right now, it’s just, you know, open land that somebody wants to build, like. 80 houses on. Right now it’s just a bunch of black walnut trees and raccoons and coyotes. And like, that’s not really the L.A. that other people don’t like. My house is on a septic tank, like, it’s almost like I live in the country. But then you drive down the hill and then you’re in, like L.A. vibes. So I just think it’s fun that I have this life, this kind of unknown Los Angeles life. And so that’s kind of what I’m trying to get out in my fiction.
Christopher: Up in Santa Cruz, you’ve got this fortress that they live in. I mean, like there’s “fortress vibes” to it. And California had this big sort of dystopian fortress. I’m curious about your fascination with making castles for your characters.
Edan: I am really interested in domestic space. Like, I just like people in rooms talking. People ask, “What kind of movies do you like?” And I say I like people in rooms talking. So I like that in fiction as well. But I also really do like story and plot and things that happen. And for me, I am attracted to those kind of like stories of enclosed communities.
So in California, we have these people who, you know, don’t want to be found and have these spikes, and have made all kinds of crazy things. They’re like a kind of cult. In Time’s Mouth, I have this group of women led by Ursa who watch her time travel.
That’s another rule for the time travel. When someone time travels, the atmosphere in the present gets changed and you feel this euphoria, just witnessing time travel. So they watch her time travel. To be honest, now that I’m trying to write a new book, I want to try to remember those moments when you come up with ideas, because I think it’s kind of interesting, like, where did these things come from?
But I think there is some sort of strange mystical element to where just, you know, pop, something’s in your mind where it wasn’t before. I had always wanted to write about a Queen Anne Victorian house. I don’t even know why. I just love them. There’s a neighborhood in L.A. near Dodger Stadium that has a bunch of these Queen Anne Victorians. So I was like, I’m going to write about one of these and make it huge, you know, because I can do whatever I want. I have the biggest budget ever and, you know, just make it huge and see it kind of fall into disrepair and have it hidden in the woods.
I’m very interested in what happens when nobody’s watching. What kind of special language arises? What rules do people create? How do they bound themselves within this atmosphere? Because I think that’s really dramatic and you want to keep reading to know what happens. And at the same time, I get to describe this house and the the different rooms and the tower that Ursa doesn’t let anyone into, and she watches over the land. All that stuff was just really fun to write.
Christopher: Yeah, well, it’s fun to read too.
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