After writing about music and art for more than 40 years in this newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, and other publications, authoring two books on jazz musicians, and playing guitar in a panoply of uniquely named and sounding bands, Josef Woodard finally nicked the novelist notch on his belt this week with the publication of Ladies Who Lunch.
Across 267 quick-turning, punchy pages, we walk in the high heels of recent divorcee Danielle Wiffard as she explores the celebrity and high-net-worth dating scene in Los Angeles during the glitzy and gilded 1990s, reflecting on progress and problems regularly with a snarky, boozy coterie of couture-wearing cacklers. The book’s sardonic, tongue-in-cheek tone makes for plenty of darkly comedic turns, but Woodard frequently drops deeper nuggets of cultural analysis about L.A. and California at large.
“It’s an indictment of Los Angeles in a way, but I love L.A. too,” said Woodard, who’s lived in Santa Barbara since he was one year old. “I love partaking of its cultural treasures that we don’t have here. But then I also love getting the hell out of there and coming home to little Santa Barbara.”
The book is a time capsule, having been written 25 years ago when Woodard was visiting L.A. multiple times a week for work, often staying with his sister, Katrina Leffler, who was married to Van Halen’s manager, Eddie Leffler, until his 1993 death. “With her support and urging, the book started out being a straighter story of her life,” said Woodard. “But I quickly steered it off into this more bizarre, exaggerated, satirical direction. I wanted to keep this comic gonzo air, which also gave me license to veer off into some weird little twists and adventures.” He estimates that the tales and characters are about 15 percent true.
With a pandemic producing free time, the siblings dusted off the manuscript — which had some “near misses” in traditional publishing circles over the past quarter century — and decided to take the self-publishing route last fall. Leffler, meanwhile, started recording the audiobook version. “It’s weird to think that the person narrating is the person who the protagonist is modeled after,” said Woodard.
Though he could have updated the novel — and parts do feel more relevant than ever, like watching Malibu burn over a blackened catfish lunch — Woodard left everything as it was.
“What I came to realize was that what I wrote during that period is now an official period piece,” he explained.
More daring is for a first-time male novelist to write in a woman’s voice. “It was kind of bizarre, but that was also liberating,” said Woodard. “It’s like an actor who sinks into a role that’s detached from themselves, so they are able to do things or say things or invent things from outside of their comfort zone. I just became Danielle Wiffard for a year. I don’t know if I want to be her anymore.”
As to what he thinks of L.A. today, Woodard hasn’t visited so much in recent years, but he does believe there are many more socially and ecologically conscious pockets of the metropolis than existed in the 1990s, from Echo Park to Santa Monica. “I do sense more cultural awareness,” he said. “But I still get a creepy vibe driving through Beverly Hills.”
411 | Josef Woodard is speaking in a virtual author discussion hosted by Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.) on Tuesday, April 20, 7-8 p.m. Click here to register.
Woodard will also be signing books at the Mesa Bookstore (1838 Cliff Dr.) on Sunday, April 25, when fellow scribe DJ Palladino and Diane Arnold celebrate their four years of owning the bookshop. Palladino will also be singing copies of his first novel, Nothing That Is Ours, and reading from his soon-to-be-published second novel, Werewolf, Texas.
See LadiesWhoLunch.me for more information.