Thursday, May 18, 2017

Q&A with Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki, photo by Adam Karsten
Edan Lepucki is the author of the new novel Woman No. 17. She also has written the novel California and the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and McSweeney's. She is the founder of Writing Workshops Los Angeles and a contributing editor to The Millions.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Woman No. 17 and for your characters Lady and S.?

A: I don't know where a lot of my ideas came from, and with Woman No. 17 especially, the world just seemed to materialize and come into focus as I wrote. (Though that makes it sound effortless, and it was not!) 

I do know that the very first idea I had for the book was when my first child was 15 or so months old, and he couldn't speak. My nephew talked really early (like full sentences around age 1), so I expected my kid to do the same. He did not.

That's totally normal, but I was nervous that he would never speak. I began to wonder that would be like, what kind of parent I would be, what our relationship would be like, and so on.

Not long after, I read Andrew Solomon's amazing nonfiction book, Far From the Tree, which is about parents of children who are different from they are, whether they are deaf, autistic, and so on.

The parents Solomon writes about are so heroic and loving, and they really strive to connect with their kids. It was such an informative read, and also really inspiring. But it made me wonder, what if you weren't such a great parent, and you were unable to accept your child for who he is, and what he could or couldn't do? 

That's how Lady sprouted to life--though she wasn't really a character until I sat down to write. Her immediate imperious, declarative, critical, funny, and brutally honest voice was there right away. I loved her, I worried for her. 

As for S, I truly don't know where she came from. She's such a strange young woman! As with Lady, she emerged as I wrote.

Q: The creation of art is a major theme running throughout the book. Why did you decide to focus on that?

A: I have a lot of artist friends and, like most people know, I enjoy visual art. I've always wanted to write about that world, in part because I wanted the chance to create my own art, however fictional! 

Now that I'm done with the book I can see that I was interested in exploring modes of representation, be it via visual art, Lady's memoir, Seth's internet presence, and so on.

Beyond that, there is the question of how we represent ourselves: to other people and to ourselves. What is performance? What is real? Can it be both at once? Art is a way to get at those ideas and muck around a bit.

Q: The book is set in Los Angeles. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I was born and raised in L.A., and except for stints (2-5 years) in other places, it's the city I return to. As I like to say, it's where I am meant to be.

I love writing about L.A. because it's such a complicated city, with all kinds of people, a sense of mystery, and a combination of ugly-pretty that appeals to me immensely.

Setting is important to me; I find it adds a specific tone to what I'm writing, an essential backdrop for the characters. It emits a certain kind of energy that I believe the reader can feel. But maybe that's just woo-woo California hippie talk there!

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The book is named after a photograph in the novel. One of the novel's main characters, Lady, is the model in this photograph (numbered 17 in a series of photos of women).

The nanny she hires, S, is an artist who loves the photographer who took this picture and she becomes obsessed with the photo. There are other connections to the photos, and some secrets, too.

I thought it would make a good title because it sounds mysterious and foreboding, and it puts the word (and subject matter) "woman" front and center, while also demanding anonymity, and that namelessness is oppressive. I love those tensions.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing a few essays and I've recently started a novel--it's a zygote. I can't say anything about it yet!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: favorite food is an egg--what a miracle of a food!--and there are many in this book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Edan Lepucki, please click here.

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