Janelle Brown on taboos, motherhood and her novel ‘Watch Me Disappear’

In her work and in her life, Janelle Brown sticks close to home. A Bay Area native, she got her bachelor’s in English at UC Berkeley, then worked as a staff writer for San Francisco-based Wired and Salon.com through the dotcom boom of the ’90s. In 2002 she followed the filmmaker she was dating to Los Angeles. “Thank God it worked out,” she told me. “We just celebrated our 12th anniversary.”

Brown doesn’t roam far afield in her fiction, either. “My books tend to be page-turners with dysfunctional family relationships at their hearts,” she says with characteristic bluntness. Her first novel, “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything,” (2008), was a satirical romp through the new-moneyed Silicon Valley suburbs. Her second, “This Is Where We Live” (2010), was a poignant sendup of Los Angeles’ hipster culture. In “Watch Me Disappear,” out now from Spiegel & Grau, Brown returns to Berkeley, where a seemingly happy family has come undone in the wake of a mother’s disappearance.

On the umpteenth day of L.A.’s latest heat wave, Brown and I fanned ourselves and chatted in the backyard of the comfy-chic Silver Lake home she shares with her husband, their 5-year-old son and their 8-year-old daughter.


Your reading at Skylight Books was packed with your many, many Los Angeles friends and fans. How does living in L.A. affect you as a writer?

There was so much anti-L.A. rhetoric floating around San Francisco, I was afraid I wouldn’t find my people here. The opposite turned out to be true. L.A. is a literary city full of smart, interesting people doing smart, interesting things — and doing them from outside the confines of the traditional routes. If you want to be a writer, you’re supposed to move to New York, not L.A. So the writers who come here approach their careers from a different direction, and they come together like magnets.

In 2006, the New York Times Style section asked me to write about the literary scene in L.A. They wanted me to…

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