Futureverse Podcast
Ep. 9. Edan Lepucki: Navigating Climate Anxiety Through Fiction

Ep. 9. Edan Lepucki: Navigating Climate Anxiety Through Fiction

Molly and Ramanan speak with Edan Lepucki, author of California and There Is No Place Like Home.

In this episode of Futureverse, Molly Wood and Ramanan Raghavendran interview Edan Lepucki about her works of climate fiction, including her novel California and her short story "There's No Place Like Home."

Their discussion probes the intersections of climate fiction, personal relationships, and societal dynamics in a changing world. From fears of societal regression to the intricacies of world-building, Lepucki shares how climate change informs her narratives, seamlessly weaving environmental concerns into the fabric of her character-driven stories and challenges readers to confront the fragility of progress and the complexity of human nature amidst a backdrop of environmental catastrophes.

Time stamps and the full transcript are below. This episode is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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Show Notes

(02:45) Reimagining Dystopian Fiction in the Face of Climate Change

(07:10) Flawed Characters and the Myth of Apocalyptic Survival

(14:22) Imagining Apocalyptic Worlds Through Sensory Experiences

(16:06) Exploring Bleak Worlds as a Cathartic Writing Experience

(21:16) Secrets, Storytelling, and Climate Change Challenges

(26:29) Edan’s Literary Inspiration

Edan (00:00): I think it goes back to this notion of the apocalypse being something we both fear and also desire because it's an image of renewal, it's an image of a lot of terrible things are going to happen, but in the end we will be totally remade. And I think there is a fictional mythologizing thrill to that.

Molly  (00:22): Welcome back to Futureverse, a podcast centered around climate fiction and how it helps us imagine our way forward through climate uncertainty.

Ramanan (00:29): I'm Ramanan Raghavendran.

Molly  (00:32): And I'm Molly Wood. We are both lovers of fiction. Given our work in the climate space, we are very drawn to the increasingly popular and occasionally devastating genre of climate fiction. And this is what brought us, the devastating part in particular, to Edan Lepucki.

Edan (00:47): Hello.

Ramanan (00:50): We are thrilled to have you with us. We will be talking to you about two of your works, California, which was your debut novel published in 2014, which features a young couple who have fled from climate-ravaged Los Angeles to eke out a living in the Californian wilderness. And your short story, There's No Place Like Home, which features a teenage girl within, and this is a theme, climate-ravaged Los Angeles trying to make sense of her father's suicide.

Molly  (01:19): Edan, thank you so much for joining us.

Edan (01:21): It's a pleasure to be here.

Ramanan (01:23): So we'll start with a very broad question, which is what made you want to write fiction that is inflected by climate in the first place?

Edan (01:34): It's interesting. California has been given the Cli-fi moniker, but I actually think it's kind of an unrealistic book from a climate change perspective in that I gave characters climate events, but I allowed my two characters, when they flee to the woods, to have a sort of pure relationship with the environment without a lot of fires or drought or anything like that. I wrote that book 12 years ago and now I feel like more of my work has climate either, if not at the center, then at least at passing glances because that is my reality now.

My books aren't autobiographical. Obviously, I'm not a teenager living in climate-ravaged Los Angeles with a father who committed suicide.

Edan (2:45): But it is, I mean, if you're anyone in the world today, you're thinking about climate change, you're having anxiety about it, you're wondering what you can do personally, how you can change these larger structures to make a difference. So pretty simply, it's just a topic that's on my mind, and as I think about characters and perspective that this sort of has to be a topic.

Molly  (02:49): Yeah. Let's dig into that a little bit more because it is true that California has this kind of gradual, insidious, multipronged decline that encompasses everything from earthquakes to certainly some very extreme weather events, but also geopolitics and terrorism and oil crises. I wonder, when you kind of fast-forward from 2014, it's been almost a decade since it came out, to now, are there parts of that? It sounds like you're saying climate is a bigger part of what, if you were to write it again, you might pull climate in even further.

Edan (03:26): Yeah. So it was funny, people were re-reading it, I don't know why, for comfort in 2020. And some people would say, "Oh, you predicted so much." And I think really the only thing I predicted, and I don't think it was a prediction because it was right out there for anybody to pluck, was sort of the disparity between the very rich and everybody else. And in that novel, I have the very rich basically privatizing everything and essentially leaving no tax base for anybody else. And so they live in these corporate-owned communities and the cities and everywhere else is just left to kind of ravage. And that's one thing that feels more realistic. But I did not predict Donald Trump becoming president for instance.

And so I don't know, if I were to rewrite it now, I'm not sure how I would do it because it's such a book that was written with a kind of 2012 perspective. But I do think that climate would be something that one can't escape, that that's a fiction that we told ourselves for a long time and now that's kind of the great equalizer even though, obviously, some people are experiencing climate change in unequal ways depending on where they live or how much money they have. But that's the sort of one thing that everybody is united, is that we're all kind of screwed and we all are going to face this fear and desperation.

Ramanan (04:57): Well, we're all kind of screwed.

Edan (05:01): Yay.

Ramanan (05:04): I feel like that could be a great title for a podcast, but-

Molly  (05:09): You need another podcast, Ramanan. Good idea.

Ramanan (05:12): I definitely do. Molly and I are going to do a third one called “We're All Screwed.” Coming back to fiction, look, we've now had a bunch of different authors on this program and your stories are very character-driven even on the scale of the fiction authors we've had on, they focus on intense romantic and familial relationships. The question is sort of why do you focus on those areas? What is it within you that leads you to zero in on those relationships?

Edan (05:42): I think I'm just thoroughly, I'm a pretty... Everybody always says authors are introverts, I am not. I love people. I get energy from talking to people and I find why people do what they do, kind of just an endless curiosity. And I, as a reader and a writer, love to kind of move beyond surface explanations and get into really complicated subtexts and multiple competing desires within a person. I am interested in recklessness, not in my own life, but in fictional lives. And those are the things that keep me writing. I mean, the two things I really like to do in fiction are, one, write sentences. I love to tinker with a sentence and come up with a metaphor, and two, learn about somebody else.

I don't approach anything I write with any kind of certainty about who the people are. I sort of write the book or the story to figure out who they are and to figure out what I mean about humanity through writing it. So I get a little bit cranky when books are a little bit too packed and character. I want things to feel in that old Aristotelian surprising but inevitable combination.

Edan (07:10): But I also want there to be these multiple layers and so that it feels more realistic. I want my characters to feel like actual people.

Ramanan (07:10): Yes.

Molly  (07:11): It's funny too because some of the reviews of California and certainly in No Place Like Home, I mean, these are some flawed characters-

Edan (07:20): Yes.

Molly  (07:20): Mainly the one. And some of the reviews of California I have noted, but these people are really annoying. And I'm like, "Well, yeah, did you think that only cool, awesome, totally with-it people would have to flee the apocalypse?"

Edan (07:34): You know what's so sad? Is that I didn't set out to write unlikable characters, and when I kept getting that note from readers, I was like, "Oh my God, does that mean that I'm unlikable?" And I mean maybe I am, that's a possibility. But I also was just like, "I think when we think about these climate apocalypse narratives, we have this image of somebody who can wield a Swiss army knife and they have their special tablet to make the water better and they're these heroes." And in the end, I have to wear contacts or I can't even hear because I'm so blind, and my husband is asthmatic and I do like to have my cappuccinos and I'm going to be useless in the climate apocalypse. And I think a lot of us are. So I think that heroism that we imagine is another way for us to delude ourselves.

Molly  (08:24): On that same note, if you don't mind Ramanan, I do want to dig into this idea of apocalypse myths because it seems like another big one that you dispel with is this kind of fiction of, and I say this as a bit of a prepper, the fiction that we could actually just all flee to the woods and make it and it would be fine. I mean there are these detailed descriptions of how gross the beets are. Not to mention how hard life is right? But the food situation is a real bummer.

Edan (08:57): Yeah. I mean, I think one of my, I'm realizing, now that I have three novels out, I realize that one of my obsessions is enclosed communities and the sort of promise of them. The promise of retreating from society and how that is impossible.

We're still yoked to the ways of the world through the language we use for instance, but sort of the promise of purity, the promise of detachment from the world’s ills I think. And then within that, what happens when you're with a group of people and you're isolated and the new language that comes up, the new hierarchies that appear, all that stuff is really kind of delicious to me. But I also went to Oberlin and there's a co-op system there and I know people love it and I'm very supportive of the co-ops. But God, the food was so bad. The tofu was always burnt and everyone tried to pretend like it was good, but it was not good.

Ramanan (09:53): I would like to say here, despite living in Silicon Valley as does Molly, I'm neither a survivalist nor a prepper. So tied back to an earlier theme, I'm screwed. Okay.

Edan (10:07): We're all screwed.

Ramanan (10:09): Most of us are screwed. You've talked before about how apocalyptic scenarios could, reverse is maybe an overstatement, but change a lot of the progress that has been made around gender equity. What are your thoughts on the relationship between gender and climate change? Which is something candidly I had not thought a whole lot about before.

Edan (10:32): Yeah. I think it goes back to this notion of the apocalypse being something we both fear and also desire because it's an image of renewal, it's an image of a lot of terrible things are going to happen, but in the end, we will be totally remade.

Ramanan (10:51): Right.

Edan (10:52): And I think there is a fictional mythologizing thrill to that. But I always wonder when we're remade, I think the idea of us being remade with all the positive trappings of society, that's not a given. And I think anytime we have an image of us going back totally to the land and depending on brute strength, who will ultimately prevail in that scenario?

So that's where that came from in California where we have this kind of return to a patriarchal culture where the men are on top because the women don't have as much upper body strength. And so they are vulnerable in a way that maybe we've always been vulnerable obviously, but we've progressed in society forward. So I'm also interested. I mean, that book also has the kind of note of elegy to it where yes, the world is being remade and we can mourn all the things that we will mourn.

Ramanan (11:53): Right.

Edan (11:54): You are going to mourn the coffee or the convenience and all the things that kind of made the world fall apart in the first place, but also you can mourn the things also that you have to give up, which might be a move towards gender and racial equality. So yeah, I always do a little thought experiment where I'm like, "These are all the good things and then these are the possible bad things." Maybe that's not healthy, but I'll be prepared. I'll be prepared to do the gender seminar at the Apocalypse.

Ramanan (12:25): Excellent. Well, I mean there's like a Lord of the Flies element to all of this, which is we think it's going to be great, but if we were all stuck in the wilderness for years on end, it is going to be different. So let's talk briefly about world-building, which is obviously something any author does. You talked about a bunch of things. Anything else you want to add to what your secret sauce is around making a world feel convincing and impactful? The layers of detail on personal relationships is one element.

Edan (13:00): Yeah. For world-building, I mean I as a reader, I hate the info dump. I don't read a lot of high fantasy for instance. I teach creative writing at Caltech and I have a lot of students who like to write high fantasy so I've read a lot of it. And, I think it can be quite good, but I realized one of the things I don't like about it is that I actually don't like accruing that level of information, and it can be done artfully, but I tend to just like a more immersive experience. And I think one of the reasons why I wrote California with two characters who really are in a state of ignorance as you would be if suddenly the internet went down, you wouldn't have access to information about the rest of the world, you really wouldn't understand why things were happening.

And I felt that that was realistic and also it made it easier for me. I could avoid the info dumps, which I just didn't want to write because I don't like to read them. In all of my work, I will say, I am writing something now that is requiring research and that's new for me, but typically I don't do a lot of research and I just imagine as deeply as I can. And I mean imagining spaces, imagining rooms, concrete places where there are objects to hold and smell and see, that's really the way that I get into all of my world. So the climate change short story, why am I-

Molly  (14:22): There's No Place Like Home.

Edan (14:22): I was like, "Wizard of Oz." There's No Place Like Home, that story, I got the idea of it when I was in Iceland with my mother in a sauna and I was like, "This would be a really interesting way to die, in a sauna." And then I started to just, just imagine a teenage girl at the end of the world and all the little things and what would her kitchen look like and what would the truck look like and what would this look like?

And a place that's so hot now, she has never worn a sweater. And just sort of getting in the kind of sensual sensory experience because I think that's how you get people to recognize how real climate change is.

Molly  (15:04): It's very effective too. I mean, in “There's No Place Like Home,” you just really drop into — I like that too, I'm with you. I like to drop into a universe already in progress. And so just the understanding like, "Of course, yes, water is going to be really expensive and you have to pay for it. And if you have to use money for something else, you have to...sh*^t in the yard again."

Edan (15:26): Exactly.

Molly  (15:27): So these are not, as we have alluded to, happy stories. They're pretty bleak, which is understandable given the subject matter. But, the way that you describe this imaginative immersion, what toll does that take on you emotionally?

Edan (15:46): I'm like, "They're bleak but fun."

Ramanan (15:48): I mean, we love reading them just to be clear, but-

Edan (15:54): I'm like, "Well, there are a few jokes here and there. There are some jokes." Yeah, it's interesting.

(16:06) California came out of a real two things. One, a real - just I was thinking about... When I started that book, I didn't have any children by the end of the book I had a child, and now I have three children. But at the beginning of writing that book, I was obviously, my brain was just sort of worrying over the future and, "Would I bring a child into this world?" But it was fun to write the book. There's something cathartic of just being in the worst-case scenario.

And I was writing that kind of assuaged some of my anxieties in a strange way. And same with “There's No Place Like Home”. I just went to the worst possible scenario. I mean not worst, but a pretty bad scenario. And just being in that world enabled me to allow space for that. And so writing, I mean writing is hard and I cry about it and it's terrible, but I also just love it. And so every piece I write, whether it's... nothing I write is like a romp, but they're all a delight for me to... All the worlds are so interesting to me that I want to be in them.

Molly  (17:09): Yeah.

Ramanan (17:09): Got it.

Edan (17:09): So yeah.

Ramanan (17:14): So I want to just pick up on one thing you mentioned, which is in the course of writing the book you had a child. So I mean those things are not connected, but it was in the same time period.

Edan (17:22): Yeah.

Ramanan (17:22): And motherhood plays a big role in the works of yours that we've read. So is this relationship between being a mom and a more dangerous world something that you think about a lot?

Edan (17:34): Yeah. I mean, I don't think parenthood is a requirement for having these thoughts or these anxieties, but I think knowing that you have people that you're leaving this world to, it makes them much more urgent. And so I can really lose sleep over thinking about any number of dangers to my children from climate change to school shootings to a possible despotic leader coming. There's many places I can go for that. But the idea that I will no longer be here, and then the thing that really hurts me the most is the idea that I will leave here and then their lives continue on, but they won't be able to dream or have the same opportunities as I have had because of climate change.

The idea that my kids might decide not to have kids, not because... If they don't want kids, that's great, but if they want kids and they decide not to because of climate, that to me is particularly heartbreaking because it's suddenly a sort of narrowing of a life and I've given them life.

So I don't want to cry on the podcast, but that's something that can really get to me. And all of my work since I've had kids is basically about either parenting or being parented and all of the many elements of those relationships, which I think are just what make up my life and many lives.

How you are parented, whether you're parented well or badly or usually somewhere in between says it decides a lot for you going forward and how you deal with people and how you think about love and acceptance and blah, blah, blah. So that's really fascinating to me.

And as a parent, it's a logistical nightmare and it's an existentially really fraught occupation to bring up people and help them move toward adulthood. So those are my subjects, at least for now, because that's what my days and evenings are spent doing when I'm not writing. And I kind of can't untie it from climate change right now. I mean, I'm also working. My new book is about a winemaker, and so climate is also very present in that book. And so I'm thinking about it even more than usual, I think.

Molly  (19:56): So my son had a climate apocalypse nightmare, and as he was describing it to me, I felt weirdly devastated. I just was devastated thinking about a child having this level of anxiety and fear about the future going forward.

Edan (20:11): Yeah.

Molly  (20:12): Yeah.

Edan (20:12): It's really tough. And it's interesting, I was teaching my Caltech students and we were talking about world-building and the issues with the idea of world-building. And there are horror and science fiction writers who talk a lot about the political ramifications of world-building and we started to talk about how a conception of climate change kind of takes away your understanding of a closed working universe and suddenly you have no solid ground to stand on. And they were sort of like, "Duh."

They're all 21 or 20 and they've had this conception of their lives from childhood. And so I don't know what that does to your consciousness or your sense of self if you have no sense of foundation. On the one hand, maybe that's good and we're not going to rely on preconceived ideas of stability that aren't real, but it is really kind of painful to witness the people you love most having those kind of fears.

Ramanan (21:16): The works that we've read, the two works, the book, and the short story, they both hinge around the idea of secrets and the consequences of keeping them and revealing them. And that prodded this question for us, which is: as we think about what these difficult scenarios and worlds might look like, it sounds as though your thinking is we may all become more insular and share less about ourselves as the world begins to fracture. Or is that an inordinately bleak interpretation of things that we should just inch back from?

Edan (22:01): It's a good question. I mean, don't you think all these preppers, the true preppers, they really do hoard the facts of their skills and their supplies and all these things?

Ramanan (22:13): Yes, they do.

Edan (22:14): I've been thinking about this because I'm actually trying to write a book that doesn't have secrets because I feel like it's sort of, it's not an easy, nothing is easy, but it's sort of an obvious plot device even when you don't plan for it, it's like one character keeping a secret from another can really make a story go. And I've been thinking about, "How can you write a story that has tension and suspense and a nice fun plot which does not have secrets?" And I'm also thinking about, have you guys interviewed or read the Amitav Ghosh book, The Great Derangement?

Ramanan (22:54): Well, no, we've certainly heard of it, and-

Edan (22:54): I haven't read the whole thing too, I have to admit.

Ramanan (22:58): We will have Amitav on at some point.

Edan (22:58): Oh, you should have him on.

Ramanan (23:00): Yeah.

Edan (23:01): But his book, The Great Derangement, which is about grappling with climate change, he talks about how the novel as a technology, as a form basically came up at the same time as the fossil fuel industry came up. Industrialization and the novel go hand in hand. And his argument is the storytelling devices we have maybe are not working for this climate moment.

And I thought that was really interesting and I'm seeing that I had to review a book called Fire in the Canyon by Daniel Gumbiner, and he kind of resists, which is a story about a winemaker who's dealing with fire in the Sierra foothills and he resists any kind of traditional climax or what you might want from the story. And I wondered if he was doing that because in a world that is grappling with all these changes and trying to figure out how to save itself, we need new storytelling devices.

So I don't think I'm reinventing the wheel with my new novel, but I'm sort of thinking if we're in this new modern moment, what is the plot going to look like and does the plot actually need things like a secret or a climax and all these kind of typical things? So maybe I feel the opposite actually, that people are not going to be keeping secrets.

Ramanan (24:21): Well, my main reaction is I want to read the book about the winemaker.

Molly  (24:27): Kind of me too, give it to us.

Edan (24:30): It's been really fun, but also just as despairing as my last.

Ramanan (24:36): Well that's fine. Just come back on here when you're ready.

Edan (24:41): Okay.

Ramanan (24:43): So we just spent much of this just talking about human beings and our flaws and your characters are flawed, which means they're normal except Molly who is flawless.

Molly  (24:56): Deeply.

Ramanan (24:58): One character's brother becomes a terrorist and in part has a response to economic inequality and the changing world and so on. This is just a continuation of the last question which is are we all going to become much more flawed in the face of what's going to happen to us because of the climate crisis?

Edan (25:19): I don't know, man. I hope not.

Ramanan (25:25): Right now I'm not feeling good about it.

Edan (25:27): I mean, I don't know. I feel like there's probably two ways to look at it and two versions and probably what the middle ground is true is that resilience and innovation and the tenacity, all those wonderful human qualities can rise up at the same time that our sort of basest desires and free for all for resources, also, are going to rise. But I mean, they say a character is revealed by what people do under pressure. That's sort of a creative writing idea. And so I think the same is true for real life humans as well. Although when I can't find a parking space, I am not my best self, so I'm a little bit worried about how I will be, but we'll have to see.

Ramanan (26:18): That's okay. The world will be left with just the preppers and we will go on to better things. I have a couple of questions to finish us off here.

Edan (26:28): Yeah.

Ramanan (26:29): Look, obviously you're deeply read. Which authors or books are your biggest inspirations?

Edan (26:36): Just in the whole world? Are we talking-

Ramanan (26:39): Well, two buckets.

Edan (26:40): Okay.

Ramanan (26:41): Bucket one, in the whole world since the dawn of time. In the second bucket, people we should get on the show.

Edan (26:50): Oh, okay. Okay, so first bucket, you can't get him on the show, Larry McMurtry, he is dead. I don't know why, but I've been really loving calling him my daddy because-

Ramanan (27:01): Love him, love him.

Edan (27:04): I read Lonesome Dove a few years ago, this is nothing new. He won the Pulitzer. He was famous, but I read his Western, his anti-Western Western a few years ago and it was completely… talk about immersive world-building, just a delight, character-driven book that I adored. And then I sort of just started reading all of his books and I'm interested in how he kind of undoes these myths of Texas. He writes women spectacularly well. I love his bumming around Houston 1960s books. I want to loaf around Rice University and be one of his characters. So he's one of my favorites. I love Jennifer Egan. I really admire her formal daring and how one book is always different from the next, but she's always circling technology and image.

A couple of years ago I read a bunch of Toni Morrison's novels all in the same year, and that was just a master class in the sentence. I really like Carolyn See, who's the sort of lost LA writer. She died, I want to say, a decade ago, but I think it was more. But she has a great apocalypse book called The Golden State that's about these west side bitches who then have to live through an apocalypse and it's one of those books as apocalypse as total renewal, but it's totally bananas. The first two-thirds is just this single mom in Topanga and her friend and they're sort of racist, upper-middle-class people in LA worried about the inner city, and then there's a nuclear apocalypse and it totally changes. It's a fascinating novel. As far as who should be on your show, I just read Manjula Martin's book, The Last Fire Season.

Ramanan (28:48): Okay.

Edan (28:49): She's from Santa Cruz and she lives in Sonoma County and it's about the 2020 fire season and she does a kind of history of fire usage and talking about indigenous land practices and her relation to the fire and gardening and climate change, and she relates it to her physical pain and her body. She has chronic pain and I thought it was terrific. And the afore-mentioned book that I reviewed would be interesting to have him on, Fire Season. No, not Fire Season. That's the other book, sorry, Fire in the Canyon by Daniel Gumbiner because I am curious about his structure of structuring a novel around a climate event and how do you do that in a way that's intriguing? A third, I have three fire books, they're all California, I realize, but there's a book called The Tree Doctor that's coming out.

Ramanan (29:38): We're in California.

Edan (29:39): Okay, perfect.

Ramanan (29:40): And we know about the fires, don't we, Molly?

Edan (29:42): Yes. Yeah, but the last book is The Tree Doctor by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, and that is another book that is linking the body with the land. It's sort of a sexy, funny book about a woman who's having an affair with an arborist and she also gets caught up in fire season, and it is a terrific book. And that I don't think is centrally about climate change, but all interesting modern fiction, I think it at least glances at the topic.

Molly  (30:14): It's funny because while I was reading this book and then hearing you talk about these California authors, I was thinking that there's a lot of, even in our reading for this podcast, it seems like there's a lot of apocalypse stories that come out of Los Angeles. I got a lot of Parable of the Sower actually-

Edan (30:33): Oh yeah, totally.

Molly  (30:34):... From your book. And there are a lot of gritty survival stories that come out of New York. I'm thinking of New York 2140 or we read this Odds Against Tomorrow. Now I want to do a whole separate podcast where I explore the mindsets, I guess. It's like Los Angeles is always the apocalypse. New York is-

Ramanan (30:58): Always climate-ravaged, damn it.

Molly  (31:00): Right, sorry. Climate ravaged. Los Angeles is always climate-ravaged and New York is disaster plus resilience, and I wonder what that's about.

Edan (31:08): Yeah, you're right. I mean, I don't know. I think for California, I think there's so much, there's a word in Manjula Martin's book, the Last Fire Season for when a civilization is in the sort of boundary between civilization, human-made world and the natural world and where they sort of come into conflict or contact with each other, and I think that's felt much more strongly in a lot of places in California more than New York.

Ramanan (31:37): I would agree with that.

Edan Lepucki (31:39): So I think that's why all of our mythology and our myths and our fears come from that. I mean, I live in northeast LA and I live at the dead end of a canyon road. And then I have this, there's undeveloped land right out my window that has like, "It's like the country out here," but I live in LA. There's raccoons and coyotes and owls. And it's an interesting juxtaposition to have this and then drive down the hill and be at Target.

Molly  (32:05): Yeah, fascinating.

Ramanan (32:07): We'd go on endlessly and we want to, but you have busy things, you have important things to do writing a book. So we're going to end with kind of a fun-ish question, which is you are teaching creative writing at Caltech, which just... That meme with the guy with all the question marks around his head, that's what pops into my head, which is... And this is a moment for you to dispel our preconceptions.

Molly  (32:33): Is this a university snob question? Is that what's happening here?

Ramanan (32:38): No. I'm just having a hard time just reconciling Caltech and creative writing, and I'm an engineer, so...

Edan (32:43): Well, I will say, let's see. I am their only fiction class that they have at Caltech. I teach it once a year, so I'm sort of the community, but not in the community because I kind of plop in once a year and then leave. But it's great fun to teach these students because, one, my class is an elective, so nobody takes it who doesn't want to take it. They're all big readers. It's annoying when someone goes to Caltech because you know they got straight A's, they got perfect SAT scores, they're good at math and they're also good at writing. It just doesn't seem fair because I have only one skill and it's writing and that's where it ends.

I think I came into the school thinking science was one way and humanities was a different way, but so much of science is similar to writing in terms of asking questions, seeing if those questions have answers, telling a story about something to yourself, and other people and seeing if that story pans out. A lot of them, they love collaboration. I've never seen a group of students be more interested in workshopping. They just love to interact.

Ramanan (33:44): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Edan (33:44): And I think it's because of the way that their classes work. I'll also say that they don't get a lot of opportunities to take straight, I mean, they have to take some humanities classes, but I have seniors who've only taken the bare minimum to graduate. And so they're not used to doing the stuff that I did in college, which is just sit around and have conversations about books, and so that's something that I have to teach them and sort of a more, it's a freedom and a style of learning that they're not totally comfortable with, so that's always fun. And they're so not used to having kooky teachers, kooky humanities teachers. I dance and I curse and I tell silly stories and I think they eat it up.

Ramanan (34:27): And do you have a good feeling is a great author going to come out of this?

Edan (34:32): I mean, sure. I always try to tease them from leaving their lucrative futures to the world, the poverty-stricken sadness that is being a novelist, but-

Ramanan (34:42): And climate ravaged.

Edan (34:43): Yes. Actually, I've had a few students be like, "So I had this job offer. It's only a 25-hour-a-week job, but I'm thinking I might not take it, instead, I'm just going to try to write." I'm always like, "No, no, no, no, no. Take your stable job and write when you're not at work and try to do both at the same time for as long as possible."

Molly  (35:08): All right. The university snobbery question did pan out. That was actually fascinating. Edan it's been an absolute delight. Listeners, California and the short story, There's No Place Like Home are fantastic reads. Yes, it can be a little brutal at times and also funny and very well imagined. We highly recommend that you seek them out.

Edan (35:30): Thank you.

Ramanan (35:31): You can find out more about Edan and all her work, climate fiction and otherwise on our website is edanlepucki.com. E-D-A-N-L-E-P-U-C-K-I .com. Thanks so much, Edan, for speaking with us today, and that's all from us. Goodbye.

Edan (35:47): Thank you so much.

Molly  (35:48): Thank you so much.

Ramanan (35:50): Thank you for listening. Please email us at futureverse@substack.com with any suggestions or ideas and visit futureverse.earth for the full transcript of this podcast and other information.


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