I love the idea of such a light and sparkling place having a dark, scary shadow

Edan Lepucki is an American author and staff writer for The Millions. California is her first novel.

How meaningful was it for you to set your novel in California?

I was born and raised in California, and I live here now. Almost all of my work is set in my home state, or there is a character from here; I feel very strongly that where I am from has informed me deeply. An early draft of my book was actually set in the Pacific Northwest, but that didn’t make sense geographically or weather-wise, or emotionally and thematically. California is the mythic promised land (Hollywood dreams; groves and groves of fruit trees; the miraculous beauty of places like Big Sur and Yosemite; a haven for people to start over), and I love the idea of such a light and sparkling place having a dark, scary shadow. Also, California is the first to discover and experience a lot of stuff, and I think it’ll be first to experience the end of the world.

One could read the novel as a dystopia, but also as a thriller. As a writer, do you consider genre to be constraining or liberating?

When I’m writing, genre is far from my mind. Instead, I’m thinking about character, scene, image, sentence rhythm, and so on. When I started California, I knew it had a dystopian or post-apocalpytic bent, but I also wanted it to be about a marriage. I tried not to think too much about the post-apocalyptic tradition while I was writing for fear that I’d get too intimidated and not write a word! I love to read certain literary thriller writers like Tana French or Megan Abbott, and I love Gillian Flynn. I think some of Jennifer Egan’s work—like The Keep—could be consider thriller too. In the end, I love character-driven fiction with pretty, smooth sentences that is also super fun to read. If that’s a thriller, a dystopia, or something in between, then great. But it’s not my first concern—as a reader or as a writer.

Cal and Frida are the protagonists of the novel. Why did you choose to have a couple at the centre of such a desolate setting?

As I said, I wanted to write about a married couple. I was interested in their private, interpersonal drama against this high-stakes back drop. I am married and like being married, and I wanted to explore that kind of intimate, long-standing relationship in my fiction. It was fun to write about a couple and figure out their connections and conflicts. They’re isolated and struggling to survive, and those pressures change the nature of their dynamic. That’s fascinating to me.

Chapters alternating between Cal and Frida’s point of view structure the novel. Could you tell us a bit a few words about how the novel took shape?

The alternating chapter structure was one of the few “freebies” that the novel handed to me. I knew the perspective was going to shift between the characters from the get-go, and it was simply a question of when to switch from one to the other. I liked seeing their experiences from both sides, and I enjoyed the secrets that each held from the other. I felt I got a complete view of their marriage by shifting between Frida and Cal.

Some of the earlier communities mentioned in the novel were built by actual companies like Amazon. How do you feel about this now that the novel has been at the forefront of the conflict between Amazon and Hachette?

I love that the affluent, gated Community I named Amazon resonates that much more strongly now that the book’s become somewhat of a poster child in the Amazon-Hachette dispute. It makes me feel accidentally cheeky, not to mention clairvoyant! Amazon is a large and powerful corporation; it makes sense that one of the Communities in my imagined future would be named after them.