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LAist Interview: Janet Fitch

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In 1999, Los Angeles writer Janet Fitch's first novel White Oleander became a national bestseller, aided in part by its selection as a title read by Oprah Winfrey's influential book club. Deemed an "overnight success" at the age of 43, Janet obtained fame and recognition after spending more than 20 years quietly honing her craft as a writer. White Oleander showed readers unique and underexposed aspects of life in the county of Los Angeles as Astrid, the novel's heroine, made her way through the area's foster care system while her mother, Ingrid, served time in prison for murdering a feckless boyfriend.

Janet teaches fiction writing at the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program and has just finished the manuscript for her latest novel Paint It Black, which Little, Brown will publish in September 2006.

Age and Occupation:
48, Writer

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How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you
live in?

I was born here. Went to John Burroughs Jr. High, Fairfax High. My mother was also born here. She went to Le Conte Jr. High and both Fairfax and Roosevelt on the east side. (The real East Side, people. East of downtown. Not east of La Brea.) The hospital I was born in is now the International Headquarters of the Church of Scientology, the old Cedars of Lebanon hospital on Fountain. I moved away, lived in Oregon and Colorado, but I always come back to LA. I hate the cold, love the neighborhoods, am scared of plastic places. I live in Silverlake.

Why do you live in Los Angeles?
It’s the capital of the 21st century.

Given the success of White Oleander, how did you approach the creation
of your new novel?

First I was Godzilla, then I was a single celled organism. Somewhere along the line I regained a human form and could work properly again.

What is the new novel about and how long did it take you to write it?
It’s about the aftermath of a suicide. I describe it as the "Fall of the House of Usher" set in 1981 punk rock LA. It’s about an art model whose boyfriend, a student, commits suicide, and she has to figure out what happens when someone shows you a whole different way of living, and then checks out. Are you that new person, or does that die with him? It’s about a whole lot of things, but that’s a central problem.