Cassidy Lucas, THE LAST PARTY

Cassidy Lucas, THE LAST PARTY

Zibby is joined by the writing duo behind Cassidy Lucas, Julia Fierro and Caeli Wolfson Widger, to talk about their second book, The Last Party. Julia and Caeli share how they met through Julia’s Craigslist listing for a writing group, the ways in which working as partners has strengthened their skills, and what’s happening next for Cassidy Lucas and both writers individually. Julia and Caeli also tell Zibby all about the birthday party camping trip that inspired them to set this book in Topanga Canyon.


Zibby Owens: Welcome. I’m here today with the duo behind “Cassidy Lucas.” I’m holding up air quotes for nobody to see. I’ll let them introduce themselves so you can recognize their voices as we talk about The Last Party. Welcome. Go ahead.

Julia Fierro: Hi. I’m Julia Fierro, one half of Cassidy Lucas. This is my voice. It’s amazing, Cassidy has two voices in the real world. Hopefully in the book, they meld into one. Do you want me to talk a little bit about my bio, or Caeli’s going to say hello?

Zibby: Yeah, you go.

Caeli Wolfson Widger: This is me, Caeli Wolfson Widger, fifty percent of Cassidy Lucas. This is pretty much my voice. It’s a little COVID-infused. Generally, this is me. Very happy to be here.

Zibby: Can we start with, why Cassidy Lucas? Why is that your pen name? How did you two get to hook up? How did you guys get together?

Julia: You know, Cassidy Lucas, coming up with a pen name was hard. It was harder than coming up with a book title. I don’t think it was something that we ever really thought about individually when we were publishing books on our own as our own birth-given identities.

Caeli: We’ve each published two books under our own individual names and then two as Cass. Sorry, go ahead.

Julia: We were trying to think of something that had a So Cal vibe.

Caeli: Yes, a breezy sound.

Julia: And a little androgynous-sounding. Oh, my gosh, we had such a crazy list. We couldn’t agree on anything. Then Caeli, how did we come up with it?

Caeli: Then we started combining our children’s names in every possible iteration. Some of those were ridiculous. I have a daughter named Cassidy. Julia has a son named Luca. That was the pairing that ended up sticking.

Julia: It was funny because two of our kids, when you combine their names, it sounds a lot like a romance novelist, which is fine. Great. It was Cecily Townes.

Caeli: Not the right tone for this book.

Julia: A little like Downton Abbey.

Zibby: How did the two of you — were you friends? How did you get to know each other? When did you decide to start writing books together? Why? Tell me about all that.

Julia: We’ve been friends for more than twenty — wait, no, sorry.

Caeli: About twenty years.

Julia: Almost twenty years. It was really a lucky meeting. I put on ad on Craigslist.

Zibby: No.

Caeli: Yes.

Julia: for a friend. No, I’m just joking, even though I was kind of doing it to get friends, but for a writers’ workshop in my home. I had just graduated from my MFA at Iowa. I wanted to hang out with writers, but I didn’t want to be part of the scene. I was nervous. I think it was my mom who was like, “Have a class in your home.” It was a real diverse group that showed up. Some people had no experience. Caeli showed up and was this incredible writer, poet. She was a poet but had started writing fiction. It was a dream come true. Caeli, you want to take it from there?

Caeli: That’s it. I had just finished my MFA at the University of Montana, as Julia said, in poetry and was dabbling in writing fiction but felt really shy about it. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, and I had recently moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn. I was just poking around in Craigslist looking for a writing workshop. Julia’s came up. I showed up with a short story. We quickly realized that we shared, as Julia likes to say, a reader’s brain and really had similar tastes but also similar ways of analyzing and interpreting fiction. Our favorite emoji to exchange is a brain.

Julia: It’s so sappy.

Caeli: I know. I’m very sentimental right now. Anyway, there you have it.

Zibby: I don’t know what it says about me that I don’t think I’ve ever used a brain emoji. A few times, I’ve used the light bulb emoji.

Caeli: We should switch to that.

Julia: It’s so gross and weird-looking, the little brain emoji.

Caeli: It’s a bad one.

Zibby: You met on Craigslist. Now fast-forward to this book. How did we come up with these characters and this plot for The Last Party? Tell me.

Julia: We had already published one book together as Cassidy Lucas, Santa Monica, which came out right in the heart of the pandemic. That book, we got to work on a lot together in person. It was a completely different experience than writing The Last Party, which we wrote only a few miles, or not even, away from each other, but we barely saw each other because of the quarantine. I do think that it’s really special when you — I’m sure people who write understand this, but also people who just love to read, who are in book clubs and book groups. When you find someone that you can communicate with and you can really share that very intimate experience of reading, which is such a solo experience, and that you can really communicate with somebody, it’s super special. For each of our books, Santa Monica, each of the Cassidy Lucas books, and The Last Party, we came up with a general plot pretty quickly. For both of us, the story, the action, the drama all comes out from the characters, so we really focused on divvying up the characters so that each of us would kind of be in charge of two or sometimes three characters’ points of view. In the beginning of each book, we stuck to our characters and then got to know each other’s characters so well that we could write each other’s characters as well and edit and add to what the other — I feel like that’s necessary. Each character deserves an author to be super invested in them. That’s how we did it. It worked.

Caeli: With regard to this story itself, I think we were — the whole Cassidy Lucas project began a little bit on a whim. We were like, what if we tried writing psychological suspense together? We did it. Santa Monica was not that far removed from the types of books that Julia and I have written individually. Then with The Last Party, we wanted to try and take it a step further toward genre. We’re both a big fan of the locked room, the group weekend away, that sort of plot trope. We agreed that we wanted to play with that convention, but we knew we also wanted to flip it on its head. That was the overarching structure that we came up with. Then as Julia said, then we populate it with characters that we really care about and can invest in and work on separately and then together.

Julia: Also, the setting was a big deal for The Last Party. Have you ever been to Topanga?

Zibby: Yeah. I have a place in the Palisades, so I’m there.

Julia: You’re like a local.

Zibby: I’m like a local. I was going to tell you about this book fair. I’m not sure when this is airing. I’m having a book fair in the Palisades Village on July 16th from ten to four. You should come.

Caeli: We’ll be there.

Zibby: I’m going to sell all the books that were in the back of my book, Bookends, that I mention throughout the book. You’ll have to come. It’ll be fun. Lots of authors coming. I’ll send you information after.

Julia: Good. My kids love — now they’re teenagers. Having moved from Brooklyn — there’s a lot happening in and around LA, but not as much in — I miss just picking up books off the stoops. We wanted to write about Topanga because, talk about a locked room. It’s such a —

Caeli: — , unique, quirky.

Julia: It’s a special place. Even just the atmosphere and the environment was so much fun to write about. I love writing about plants. Also, just the kinds of characters that you can create. The kinds of characters that exist in Topanga Canyon, some really off-the-track people, which in LA — LA is so sprawling, but I think it’s a really unique place. It was very fun to write about. We both have friends who live there, so we could do some research.

Zibby: Now I feel like I can’t go back without being terrified of this crazed man running towards my friends and me and whatever else might happen.

Julia: There’s definitely people camping in the woods, and bobcats.

Zibby: This is why I don’t camp. I’m happy to stay in my house. I am totally fine. I barely like to leave my house as it is, but I’m certainly now not going and camping in Topanga.

Caeli: I appreciate a staunch anti-camper.

Zibby: I don’t even want to glamp.

Caeli: I’m not even glamping.

Zibby: I’m not even glamping. There’s nothing you can do.

Julia: It’s funny because the idea of writing a book in Topanga came about because my husband had my fortieth birthday party at a kind of similar setting. I’m so neurotic and fearful of everything. We’re driving up into the canyon. I’m like, “Whoa. Where are we going? Okay, yeah, sure.” He’s like, “We’re driving all the way to the top.” We get out. It was this beautiful — I don’t even know what. It was an Airbnb, but all these different areas, there were no railings. The whole night I was like, “This is fun.” Caeli and another two couples were there. It was amazing. It was wonderful, so much fun. My husband and I spent the night there. It was outside. The bathroom was outside. It was just a hole. The coyotes were either fighting or having sex all night. We could barely sleep. I was inspired. That’s how we got to the setting. It was beautiful. The next morning, there were hundreds of hummingbirds. It’s a really majestically beautiful place.

Zibby: I think that’s the greatest thing about fiction. All the stuff you worry about, at least for people like and you me, obviously, who worry about stuff all the time — I’m always leaping towards the worst thing. I take a ferry to Shelter Island for a beautiful thing. Everybody’s enjoying themselves. In my head, I’m like, but where is the closest doctor? What if this happens? What if there’s a line at the ferry? What if I can’t — it’s ridiculous, but it’s not ridiculous when you turn it into a novel because then you just can build all these things around it.

Julia: Everything is filled with the possibility of demise.

Zibby: I totally agree. At every moment, yes. It’s crazy. I don’t even have anything to say about that. It’s just one of these things. You’re cursed with it or you are not.

Julia: People who go on writing retreats in the middle of nowhere, I cannot do that. Everyone’s like, I’m at MacDowell, or wherever, Yaddo. They’re in their own little cabin in the woods, true woods. I would probably have a nervous breakdown. I love horror movies, too, so I’ve watched all the stupid, clueless urbanites go away for a rural weekend. I’ve ruined it for myself. Caeli’s good at camping. She camps.

Caeli: Yeah, but not really by choice. It’s more of keeping the family ecosystem intact.

Zibby: I understand. When you’re working on a book, do you know the next book that’s coming? Do you already have the next book ready? Was this like, okay, let’s try this and then we’ll pause for a little bit?

Julia: After writing two books together in — I don’t even know. It feels like it’s been a year. It hasn’t, but pretty quickly. I think we we’re taking a break to work on our own books, but Cassidy might call us back to her.

Caeli: For the right price, Cassidy will do anything.

Julia: We haven’t run out of Southern California locations.

Caeli: Zibby, we intended for this to be a one-off, just a foray out of our individual careers and projects. Then our editor wanted two books.

Zibby: Twist my arm. I’ll give you another book.

Caeli: I know. She was like, “Do you guys have anything else in the works? I’m thinking that this would be nice to acquire as a pair.” Of course, as you do, we said, “Certainly, we have another book in the works.” Then we quickly hurried off to our coworking space to meet up and bang out this three-paragraph summary for The Last Party. We hadn’t intended to write two books, but we did.

Julia: We briefly thought Malibu. Then we were like, whoa, whoa.

Caeli: Maybe we’ll do it again. I don’t know.

Julia: As soon as we said the word Topanga, we were like — plus, we were there together at that place for my fortieth. It was a really remarkable space that this woman who was so independent and driven had created. There was probably, literally, not one part of this structure that was not a violation of some kind of safety code. I feel like Twyla, who, in The Last Party, is the host of the Airbnb property, this sprawling property in Topanga, we both kind of knew her without even sharing her first. I feel like the real heart of the story, that a group of urban friends were reuniting for this fiftieth birthday party up in Topanga, was just a natural choice because we had been those people. Granted, younger.

Zibby: There should be canyon literary tours. They do map-of-the-stars tours. You could take the Topanga tour with The Last Party. Then you could go to Laurel Canyon. There’s so much literature there, Stephanie Danler’s new book. It would be neat. There’s something kind of spooky about all canyons. I lived in Laurel Canyon for a little bit. I was scared out of my mind. Or a little package of novels about the canyons. I don’t know. There’s something fun in there.

Caeli: I’m in.

Zibby: Canyon lit.

Julia: Writing about the beauty here — I’ve lived here six years, seven years. It’s like being in a different planet than New York or anywhere on the East Coast. The beauty is majestic in a way that is awe-inspiring. I remember even the first time I went to the beach and saw the Pacific Ocean. It’s a very different world in natural beauty. The fact that there’s bobcats and whatnot roaming up in Topanga — my friend just said that they saw one right there just staring at them.

Caeli: It was an easy choice to set in Topanga.

Zibby: Where is your next party in life going to be?

Julia: We both just had COVID, so it’s not going to be in quarantine. It took forever to get that negative test. Caeli, would you like to — what’s our next party? You mean literary party?

Zibby: Any party.

Caeli: I’m moving, actually. I’m leaving LA. I’ve been here for thirteen years. It was a quarantine-era brainstorm that led to us moving to Santa Barbara. It’s not a radical move. Everyone’s like, you’ll be fine. Actually, we’re moving to the northern tip of Santa Barbara, to Goleta, to an area that feels kind of rural to me. I’m very excited about it because I can ride horses. I live about half a block from Lincoln Boulevard here in Santa Monica, which is not super charming. We’re out in a couple weeks.

Zibby: So a going-away party.

Caeli: Right, the going-away party. First, the moving party and then going-away party of some sort.

Julia: I’m kind of sad about it but also happy for Caeli. We did both buy our first homes, so that’s a big — something that maybe neither of us thought would ever happen. I’m really enjoying taking care of my house. I’m a real homebody. I do have these books that I’ve kind of been waiting until I was grown up enough to write. I think forty-six is the time. There’s material, at least for me, that even at a young age, like when I was in high school, college, I was like, oh, you’re not ready to touch that. I am working on a —

Caeli: — What do you mean? How come?

Julia: My dad’s story growing up in Italy during World War II, it’s such precious material that I felt like I knew I wanted to do it justice in a way that I had to have experience knowing how to write a story, and life.

Zibby: I think the mid-forties is the perfect time to write. I think they should be like, happy fortieth birthday. Get ready. You are going to publish a book in the next five to ten years. Good luck.

Julia: I didn’t publish until I was — oh, my god, I don’t even know. Thirty-seven, thirty-five. I had to really growing up and live some life to have enough wisdom to know what people were actually like. I’m excited to work on that. I feel like the work that Caeli and I have done together through Cassidy Lucas, tiptoeing a little into genre, even though it’s still pretty literary — I want to write the story of this historical novel about the liberation of Southern Italy during World War II with a little bit of a horror or magical realism, like a Pan’s Labyrinth but maybe not as scary. I have this book in my head, but I got to get it all out. It’s been sitting there for a while. Caeli’s working on something too.

Caeli: Writing together as Cassidy Lucas has, even though we do need to attend to our individual next parties, this process has really made me a much stronger writer. Julia and I both have our natural strengths. I’m more comfortable working in dramatized scene and present action and dialogue and that stuff. Julia’s extremely gifted in exposition, thought, emotion.

Julia: Neuroses.

Caeli: Deeper interiority. We’ve been able to indulge those strengths in the sections of the book that need it and then go into each other’s sections. In my sections, for example, Julia will add thought and reaction and some backstory, add the depth to my scene. Then I can go into her characters’ thoughts and revelations and really deep historical work and ground it in scene. It’s just been a really interesting exercise that —

Julia: — Balanced.

Caeli: I would agree with you that mid-forties are golden for writing. I am working on a nonfiction memoir-leaning project that I could never do until now.

Zibby: There you go. Amazing. I hope you feel better, Caeli. It was really nice to meet both of you. Hopefully, I’ll see you in a couple weeks. I’ll send you the information.

Caeli: Yes, 16th.

Julia: Absolutely.

Zibby: Feel better. Buh-bye.

Caeli: Thank you. Bye.

Cassidy Lucas, THE LAST PARTY

THE LAST PARTY by Cassidy Lucas

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