We’re lucky in the Writers’ Program to have so many interesting and prolific instructors who offer their time and expertise to teach a wide range of courses. Our newest addition is Edan Lepucki, a fiction writer whose work has appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, Narrative Magazine, and the Los Angeles Review, among many other publications. She’s just finished a novel, is thinking about her next one, and will be teaching Introduction to Fiction Writing this fall quarter at the UCLA Extension Figueroa Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Here, Edan shares her thoughts on writing and on her upcoming course to give all of us a chance to get to know her better.
Q: What first drew you to the craft of creative writing?
A: From a very young age, I wanted to be a writer. I loved to read, and I think I just wanted to extend and deepen that experience for myself, and to try my hand at creating whole worlds and characters on the page, just as my favorite writers–like Judy Blume and L.M. Montgomery–did. Reading is still what draws me to writing; it is the art form that most moves me. In high school, I began to read poetry as well as fiction; what really attracted me to writing then was the image-making and language play aspect. To this day, I still love crafting a sentence and coming upon the perfect simile.
Q: When you first started getting published, did anything surprise you about the literary marketplace?
A: I submitted my short stories to magazines for two years before one was finally accepted for publication. After that first publication, I didn’t get a second acceptance for another two years. I had prepared myself for rejection, but I guess I didn’t expect it to be such a slow process. I was surprised by how much patience and tenacity it takes to be a writer: to do the work, to make the work better, to try to get published, and to keep writing even in the face of so much rejection. Lan Samantha Chang, my teacher at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where I got my MFA), once said something very wise to me (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Getting a story published won’t change your life, but revising it until it’s the best it can be, will.” I remind myself of this every now and again–it helps keep my priorities straight.
Q: In your fall course Introduction to Fiction writers learn the fundamentals of fiction and even begin sharing their work with others. This “workshop” experience can be a bit scary for first time writers. What’s your advice for students who have never allowed anyone to read their work before?
A: The workshop experience can be daunting, but it’s also enormously exhilarating to have people reading and commenting on your work. If you’re new to the workshop format, I would say that it’s okay to feel a little nervous about sharing your writing with others; that nervousness simply signifies how important your writing is to you. In my classes, I try to establish a comfortable and compassionate environment where we can discuss material seriously and constructively. I ask students to find the “dream” of a workshop manuscript–what it wants to be, rather than what it might be currently, as a draft. There’s a real sense of the group helping each other to become better writers. We’re all in it together. I think, too, that people are often surprised by how much fun a writing workshop can be–it’s a wonderful intellectual conversation and exchange of ideas.
Q: What’s your favorite short story of all time and why? (Sorry, but you can only choose one.)
A: After days of deliberation, I’ve decided on “Terrific Mother” by Lorrie Moore,which is about a woman who goes to an artists’ retreat with her new husband not too long after accidentally killing a friend’s baby. There are awkward dinners; there are squished spiders; there are otherworldly massages. Like all good fiction, it defies summary. I absolutely love Moore’s prose–it’s beautiful, funny, and smart–and this story’s ending is the kind that will make you gasp-slash-sigh and then bring the book to your chest. It’s masterful, sad, lovely. Read it!
Q: In addition to writing and teaching, you also work at the independent bookstore Skylight Books here in Los Angeles. What would you tell the person who is about to go buy a bunch of books at Barnes and Noble?
A: Not only do I work at Skylight, my husband works at Vroman’s in Pasadena, and we met as coworkers at Book Soup. Needless to say, my household is a big supporter of independent bookstores. I love the individuality of indies, not only their distinct atmospheres– from their layouts, to the music they play, to their staff–but their book-buying tendencies as well. There’s nothing better than discovering some small press title, or a cute handmade journal, or a hard-to-find art book, when you’re at a bookstore. I find the uniformity of the chain bookstores really boring. I also don’t shop at Amazon because I believe very strongly that independent bookstores are valuable cultural centers. I want to support that. For instance, Skylight holds a monthly literary salon, as well as a number of book clubs, and there was even a midnight release party for the latest Thomas Pynchon novel. That’s awesome. Independent bookstores care about the local literary community, which makes them a haven for writers. I’ve learned a lot from attending panels and readings at the various bookstores in L.A. I feel really lucky to have that in my community. (Sorry, I’ll step off the soap box now…)
Q: What do you want students to take away most from your classes?
A: I want my students to leave my class enchanted by the great stories and novel excerpts we’ve read, and to be inspired to keep writing. I want them to have grasped useful techniques and vocabulary to approach the craft of writing, which will in turn give them confidence to move forward. In the end, I want them to understand deeply how challenging it is to be a good writer, and to have the burning desire to take on that challenge. If I’ve done my job, they will also have made a couple of new friends with whom they can share their work in the future.
Mae Respicio is the Program Representative in Creative Writing onsite and Screenwriting online.