About Me

I was born in Los Angeles, a third-generation native, and grew up in a family of voracious readers. As an undergraduate at Reed College, I decided I wanted to become a historian.  I was attracted to history, the sweep of events, the outsized personalities.  Russian history was my specialty.  I attended Keele University on a student exchange in Russian Studies, in pursuit of that field, when I woke up in the middle of the night on my 21st birthday, and realized I wanted to be a writer. What attracted me about history was the story, the characters, the writing itself.  But I didn’t want to be an academic. I wanted to be Anais Nin, wear a cape and false eyelashes and have Henry Miller for a lover.  It didn’t happen, alas. Henry was dead by that time, and I have a hard time with the eyelash glue. But I did become a writer.

I’ve taught fiction writing in the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing program, at UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, at the AROHO Residency at Ghost Ranch, and at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers summer writing conference. Most recently, I’ve lectured at the UCR Palm Desert Low Residency MFA and Antioch Low Residency MFA programs, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing and Publishing. After two novels set in Los Angeles, I’m deep into a book set during the Russian Revolution.

116 Responses to “About Me”

  1. Jeffrey Weinthal Says:

    Dear Ms. Janet Fitch,

    A few months ago I sent you a fan letter / fan email. Ever since you responded I’ve been inspired to write many new things with you being my mentor. I recently heard that you wrote some short stories before your major two novels & I would like it if you would tell me where I could get them. Are they on the Internet for free or do I have to sift through back orders of old magazines?

    Also, I saw on your website that you have a book out there called: “Marina Makarovar”. Is this a new novel released after “Paint It Black” or just something that I didn’t know about before? I purchased a copy of “Kicks” for my 21st birthday last November & loved it!

    Again, “Paint It Black” is easily ranked as my favorite book of all time. As for “White Oleander”, that book was the one thing that kept me going during the time that my mother was dyeing from brain cancer.

    My mother was a native Californian & proud to be one. Reading your writings makes me feel close to her spirit even though she died in March 2003. I think that the connection between your stories & my feelings concerning the death of my mother stem from the fact that I see her as someone you would really get along with. She was also a writer & her stories were somewhat like yours. I remember when I was young she would tell me stories about how she grew up in Long Beach & graduated from Stanford University.

    As I’m getting very close to receiving my associate’s degree, I plan to begin my work as a writer (for both books & movies) as soon as I can. I was wondering if you could take some time away from your busy schedule to email me some tips about how to be a better writer & what steps I should take after college to become a successful career writer. It is my biggest hope / dream that we can meet in person one day (hint, I’m living in Austin Texas right now) maybe at one of your book signings. I would very much like to if you could please somehow find a way to let me & your other Austin Texas fans know when & where you will be appearing in our neck of the woods.

    You have given me so much & I hope that one day I can properly thank you for your endless gifts of hope & everything that is good in my life. I will be posting this message on your webpage & sending it to your email.

    With all my best,

  2. meagan casey Says:

    dear janet,
    I am sort of a compulsive writer and obsessive reader. I’m a big fan of your novels.In fact they opened me up to many other writers like Oscar wilde, and T.S. eliot. I am 21 and have had every kind of minimum wage job you can imagine. My dream is to have some kind of future in literature. I can’t really afford school, so i was wondering if you had any advice about how to learn more and maybe become a successful writer one day. Is it possible to have success without some kind of degree? I have no idea how to even try to get started. I would love to hear any kind of advice.

    with lots of hope,

    • Sure, it’s possible, you just have to read a lot, write and get input on your writing somehow. Melville didn’t go to college, neither did Conrad or Walt Whitman. But most contemporary writers do get an education somewhere along the line. You learn things that you didn’t expect to learn. It’s one thing to read TS Eliot and another to take a course in modernism. Check out community college, it isn’t as expensive as all that. To learn more about writing? John Gardner wrote the best book–The Art of Fiction. There’s also Annie Dillard, The Writing Life. When you read,don’t just read for the fun of it. Take a paragraph and analyze how the writer puts his/her sentences together. Try it with your words in their grammatical structure. Make up exercises for yourself. Wish you lots of luck–if you go back into my blog on myspace (myspace.com/paintitblackbook–there’s lots of writing tips. but all writers do what you’re doing, they have conversations with the best literature, not only of their time, but of all time.
      wish you all the best with your dream!

  3. Jessica Says:

    Dear Janet,

    I’m a junior in high school and our final project is to write a report about our favorite author, and I chose you
    I just finished White Oleander and was absolutely blown away.
    I’d like to ask what your “philosophy” for writing it. What inspires your stories? Does anything from your own life make it’s way into your stories?
    In your opinion what makes a novel “a classic?”

    I’d be greatly appreciative if you could answer these questions and write back to me!
    Jessica H.

  4. Sierra Says:

    Dear Janet,

    Ive read White Oleander & Paint It Black numerous times. I am just dying to read more. I crave your words. You’ve been a huge inspiration to me.
    Hope to see more soon!


  5. Dear Janet,
    Thank you for signing your fabulous and brilliantly written book, White Oleander, at the Jackson Hole Writing Conference! I am the Kansas screenwriter/RN/new blogger/aspiring novelist?

    I’m also tall, of Swedish heritage, blond, but nothing like Ingrid–hopefully!

    Best wishes,

    lost in–
    Lawrence, Ks

  6. Melissa Thompson Says:

    Dear Janet,

    It was such an honor to meet you at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. Thank you for all of the insights you shared.

    I do hope you come down to San Diego sometime soon!


  7. Hi Janet,

    I moved to America from the former USSR some years ago, but you probably know more about Russian history than I do, since I never paid much attention in class.

    I have a memoir due out from McMillan next year, about growing up in Russia in a gypsy family of performers. Growing up in Russia, I couldn’t wait to leave it. But now, after so many years, I’m beginning to appreciate the richness of the Russian culture. There’s nothing like it!

    Love your books:)


  8. rob martin Says:

    This article just made my day, thankyou…

  9. Hi Ms. Fitch,

    I read White Oleander a few months ago and it instantly became my favorite. I’ve asked all my friends to read it because it really is an amazing story. I just wanted to share how you’ve inspired me to read more books and to try writing as well. I’m still on the hunt for “Paint It Black” since none of the bookstores I’ve hunted have it. Looking forward to reading it and your upcoming book.

    Your fan from the Philippines,

  10. Mahabba Says:

    Hi Janet,

    Thank you so much for writing White Oleander. I just finished reading it and I love the story so much as it resonates so closely with the ideas i have for my own story. I love the language, the new terse images and the powerful emotions the book evokes in the reader. It has gotten me re-inspired to continue with my own story. I love Astrid. Thank you!

  11. Hi Janet — I just wrote about your blog at my site, Writing/Life: Notes on Craft & the Creative Process. You’re doing wonderful work here. I love your new, thoughtful piece on the Franzen/Daum interview. I’m adding you to my favorites — and am inspired by your example!

    Christina Baker Kline

  12. Helen Fairman Says:


    It was such an honor and a pleasure to meet you at the Smart Gals Speakeasy last night. My friends and I stumbled upon it after the SLAKE reading at The Hotel Cafe and were saddened to discover that it was to be the last. You, and many of the mourners, are such an inspiration to us fledgling writers. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

    Goodnight, Gracie!

    Helen Fairman

  13. Hello Janet,

    I’ve tried emailing you back but my emails aren’t getting through. I’ve showed your image to two of our researchers here at the Museum and they’ve both said they need a clearer image so they can make out the image and, especially, the text above the figure’s head. Is there any chance you have a clearer photograph?


  14. I’d like to re-publish your PARENTING TIPS FOR WRITERS. Please contact me via my blog http://www.karenselliott.wordpress.com. My FB link is there for messaging.

  15. shatyra Says:

    ms. fitch, I read your book White Oleander and absolutely loved it. I am now doing a project about the book. And would like to give some more background information about you. Could you please tell me a little bit about your childhood and just a little more about yourself. It would ne greatly appreciated. Thanks =)

  16. Ellen Griffin Says:

    I have never left an author a note or a fan message because I suppose I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong. But I just want to thank you for writing Paint it Black. I have read a lot of books, my one love. Paint it Black is still the only one that has impacted my life in so many ways. I have worn my copy down with wear but I can open it on any page and find new meaning. When I read this book I feel safe, and for that I want to thank you. I don’t know how to put my love this book into words (and I know that sounds odd) so all I can really say is thank you. Thank you for every word.
    I have read your other books and of course they are incredibly beautiful too. It has been years and Paint it Black is still on my bed side table. Your fan from across the pond in Ireland x

  17. Janet, I absolutely LOVE your writing, and I have read your books multiple times (especially ‘White Oleander’) …
    I actually met you that one time you came to MI – I’m sure you don’t remember, but we had a long conversation about Dostoyevsky and Dylan Thomas after you were done speaking!

    anyway, i’m such a huge fan of yours…can’t wait to read the new book !!!

    p.s. any advice on getting someone to read over a manuscript – like, for free? lol

  18. Janet,
    Sincerely touched by your writing. Inspiring to see a writer with a style all too like my own out there publishing. Get a lot of inspiration from the objectivity in White Oleander… and also from Josie’s exploited bluntness…. Your books serve me in that they jog my mind, take it a course all its own, and the images of those landmarks along the way have stuck with me throughout the years, since I first read your written sentiments. Please know that I am yet an amateur in this field, but aspire to become widely renowned and highly recommended. Please keep writing, if only to partially fill that void which blemishes my heart, that which makes it shiver beneath a layer of cold. Please, lend a hand to those of us who are climbing that same wall, hanging by a thread, our harnesses wearing thin. Help me to endure through the hard times with my writing, inspire my pen to yet produce words which may someday change the lives of others, many or few, like yours have mine.
    Yours oh so truly,

  19. Edna Felix Says:

    Hi Ms. Fitch.
    I’m reading White Oliander for a project. I’m doing master’s in social work on virtual online by USC. Is this coincidence that you teach at USC and the teacher asked a project on your book? I don’t need informations about you, but i need about the characters in the book, their life, personalities, etc. Could you help me with that? You know, few words directly from the author is a good impression. Thank you.
    Edna Felix

  20. Lately I’ve been getting some attention from my Writing Professor at college. I’ve been asking him how I can improve my writing, and he told me to go back to my favorite novel and observe how it is written along with what is written. The very first book that I thought to look back on was “White Oleander”. I was really too young when I first read it to grasp all of the emotional dealings that the book touched on, but I still picked up on your incredible use of language and remember the feeling of your characters becoming real people to me. It was the first time any book had ever become a part of my life, and I still carry it’s messages with me to this day. Now that I fully understand the dealings of the novel and even experienced many for myself, it became more solidified in my mind as the greatest novel I’ve ever read. I will be reading through it closely, trying to pick up on why it moved me so successfully. Thank you for being courageous enough to be an artist, and giving me and others the opportunity to read your mind.
    – Katie

  21. Dear Janet,

    Originally I saw White Oleander as a movie. I was captured by it. Truly, I was. As I got older I went in search for the book and I am reading it for the third time now. I love it. The first two sentences of the story had me hooked and I can’t express the amount of gratitude I feel for you. I went through a similar situation. An absent and cold mother, a life moving from home to home, the loss of many things, but your book helped me come to terms with all of that. For that precise reason, I am getting two tattoos in it’s honor this upcoming June. One, an Oleander on my thigh, and the other, a quote from your book. I was wondering if you have a P.O. box that I could contact you at? Ideally, this tattoo would be in your handwriting, and so I was wondering if I could send you a blank envelope and a stamp in the hopes that you would quickly jot the quote down on a piece of paper and mail it back so that I might get the tattoo. Having it in your handwriting would mean a great deal. Not only have you helped me through rough times, but you’ve inspired me to become a better writer, and to write things that inspire other people. I know this request is a bit unorthodox, but I would be thrilled if you obliged.

    Yours truly,
    Zoey Aleigha

    • That’s very cool, Zoey, I’m hugely flattered that my work has meant so much to you. But believe me, you don’t want my handwriting on your body! People would squint and scratch their heads. It’s amazing you feel that way about my work. However, if you still want to do it,
      Here’s a street address you can write to me at. You pick the quote, I’ll write it out. But it might be a while, I’ll be traveling in May…
      Janet Fitch
      at HCD
      14320 Ventura Blvd. #422
      Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

      Wish you all the best,

  22. Just found out you’re teaching at USC. I graduated from their MPW program in ’98…they are some lucky Trojans to be in your class I’m sure! 🙂

  23. Hello Janet
    Thank you for White Oleander. It gave me the strength and courage to battle past demons and it set me straight. If you are ever in Montreal, Canada, please contact me. It would be my honour to take you out for lunch. If you ever wondered if your books have been helpful to anyone out here, the answer is a resounding Yes. Thanks for the help.
    Imogen Gough

  24. Allyson Says:

    I am a fan of yours, and I was wanting to get some feedback on a page of writting I recently wrote. I was wondering if you would be willing to give me your email adress so if you would want, you could critic it and give me some critics and comments! THANK YOU!!

    • I don’t critique people’s work, Allyson, as I teach and am working on a major project of my own, but I encourage you to find a critique group, take a class, reach out to other people. University extension classes are wonderful gathering points for up and coming writers. I wish you good writing and thank you!
      my best,

  25. Sarah Butler Says:

    Dear Janet,
    I was very inspired by a quote of yours, and would love to have your permission to include it in the book I am writing. My book is called “Popularity and the Illusion of Normalcy.” It’s an inspirational book, directed specifically to those teenagers in high school who don’t fit the mold, who are considered too different or strange to be a part of the society of so-called normal. It addresses those who deem themselves popular to disillusion the fact that anyone is truly “normal,” for what sets the standard for what is normal? It encourages the people labeled “different” to accept the most bizarre parts of their being and use these parts of who they are to uniquely love themselves, and others, to a greater extent. The quote is this: “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. . .If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~JANET FINCH
    I would be incredibly happy to include your quotation in my book. But either way, I am a huge fan of yours!
    Thank you,
    Sarah May

    • Hi Sarah–
      First of all, it’s spelled with a T–FITCH. But this is not my opinion, this is the opinion of the very sociopathic character Ingrid Magnussen. I think your book is an excellent idea–everyone thinks they’re strange… the loneliness isn’t what needs to be cultivated. When we find likeminded flawed beings, we don’t have to be lonely. but acceptance of being flawed, or human–is the most wonderful thing. Embrace the human. Growth isn’t to rid ourselves of our flaws, it’s about deepening our humanity, embracing the flaws and weaknesses as deeply human, and having compassion for ourselves and others–the opposite of Ingrid’s approach.
      all best,

  26. Hi Janet,

    I read nonfiction 99% of the time and most of my friends read fiction but whenever they offer to share a book or recommend something for me to read I ask if it is as well written as your books.

  27. Janet,

    If this has been previously addressed on here, my apologies, and please just ignore me. But if not I’m sure many of us would love to know a few of your own guilty pleasures when it comes to shows, music, and/or authors you enjoy. My other question is: as an accomplished writer, do you feel any pressure to be eloquent and profound every time you put pen to paper, or do you sometimes just make bullet point lists like the rest of us? 🙂

    • I don’t have guilty pleasures, I just have pleasures!
      I don’t watch TV but I love movies–special favorites?
      Movies made from Tennessee Williams plays, Barbara Stanwyk movies, The Philadelphia Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Andrei Tarkovsky films. Bergman.

      Music–I love music across the genres. Always investigating areas of classical music I’m unfamiliar with. Right now, that seems to be Russian opera. I have a weakness for the 1920’s Louis Armstrong and Debussy. Also T. Rex. My current favorites are: Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Rufus Wainright, Eleni Mandell, Kayhan Kalhor, Phillip Glass, Tchaikovsky’s the Snow Maiden, and Handel. Might answer at further length in a blog entry!

      Second question–yes, I make grocery lists like everything else. But when I write–an email, or even a facebook post–I always try to say something interesting, put a little effort into it.

  28. Thank you! I know and enjoy some of those films and artists and will now be investigating the others you mentioned as well. The older I get the more open I’ve become to appreciating interesting art from all genres, but the less tolerant I feel of forgettable mass-produced crap (the same goes for food). I’m going through a Cole Porter and Burt Bacharach phase right now, personally.

    In a way, I’m heartened to know that you make grocery lists just like the rest of us… I suppose there are only so many things you can say about a gallon of milk (although I’ll bet YOU could make one seem beautiful and significant if you felt like it). The thoughtfulness and personality imbued in your emails and posts is unmistakable, which is one reason I now count myself among your newest admirers.

  29. Esther Says:

    I first picked up “White Oleander” by chance back in 2003, since my older sister had to read it for class. I’m glad she did! Otherwise, I would have never discovered such an interesting writer. You are very eloquent and your stories are always packed with vivid details.

    After searching on Google, I wasn’t surprised to learn that you grew up in KT and more West LA-ish around that area. Much of your setting seems to be based over there, but we were born and raised in SGV (though our parents are Chinese immigrants).

    I’m currently a student at Pasadena City College (PCC). Pretty much the only thing I like to do is read and write. You’ve inspired me to start writing and publishing works of my own!

  30. Joe Huffman Says:

    Hello Janet

    A friend of mine has told me that you are her favorite author. Her birthday is coming up in a couple months and I was wondering if it would be possible to buy one of your books, mail it to an address of your choice along with more than enough return postage and have you sign it for her and mail it back to me? She wants to write for a living and I try to encourage her to go for it but a signed copy of her favorite book by her favorite author would be truly inspirational! I hope this isn’t too absurd of a request, as it would be an amazing gift and I’m sure she would really love it.

    Thank you for your time, and good luck on the new book!

    Joe Huffman

  31. I was just rereading White Oleander for the thousandth time and thinking about how much I would LOVE a book about Paul Trouts childhood. You give so many little hints about his childhood and issues but nothing really substantial. Your an amazing author, I would love more books by you.

  32. Dear Janet,
    I’m a language student from Russia. I read your book “White Oleander” 6 years ago when I was 18. It made such a lasting impression on me that after all these years I’ve decided to write a graduation paper on your book and I’m currently working on it. I’m not sure if American university graduates have to write something similar, but it’s a very big deal in Russia, it has to be about 100 pages long and consist a scientific view on the subject 🙂 I devoted this paper to the symbolism in your book. I point out key symbols in your book (white oleander as Ingrid’s symbol, hot wind Santa Anas as the symbol of upcoming danger) and among them I decided to give greater importance to the white colour itself and call it a key symbol in your book. Since it’s so frequently used in the book and is in the title. The descriptions of Ingrid abound in white colour. My guess is that white is Ingrid’s colour and what it means is coldness most of all. But also perfection and beauty. What do you personally associate white colour most with? And why did you decide to make Ingrid wear white and be surrounded with white objects? I’ve conducted a little research on association with white colour. Most people put the association “purity” first, then comes “innocence”. Coldness seems to be a rare answer.
    Sorry I broke down your work of art into these so-called scientific pieces. Hope I didn’t disgust you with my letter. It would mean to world to me if you answered.

  33. Alexis Escarcega Says:

    Dear Janet,
    I write to you tonight with nothing more than admiring words and a happy heart that I found this blog! I just want to say how much I am in love with your books! As a teen I found the book Paint it Black in my high school library, then my English teacher gave me his copy of White Oleander. I fell in love with both and have read them each about 3 times. But I would have to say Paint it Black is my favorite book of all time. I feel like I’m there with every character watching everything go down while I stand in the side lines. It gives me chills. I know you must be a busy woman and you must have a billion fans that write to you in a day, I just wanted to put this out there in hopes that you can see it (: just another real big fan of yours, wishing one day to meet you! Please come to San Diego if you get a chance!

    • Thanks Alexis!
      So glad you liked Paint It Black in particular, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for that one. Hope I’ll get to San Diego when my Russian novel comes out!

  34. Rachel Preston Says:

    Hello Ms. Fitch!
    I have no idea how to write you a fan letter so I’ll just leave a comment here. I want to thank you for writing paint it black. That is by far my most favorite book. The first time I read it I must have been 14 and it made me cry (in a good way) and I could not put it down. I am now 18 and have read it so many times, and I still feel pulled in. This story is so comforting…you have an amazing way with writing. Thank you so much.

  35. Seonaigh Maree Says:

    Hello Janet,
    Firstly I’d like to say that White Oleander is quite possibly my favourite, most read book. Everything about it is brilliant. Thanks for writing it. I actually plan on getting a tattoo inspired by the novel on my 18th.
    Secondly, I’d like to ask you just one question in particular. I am writing my Extended Essay (a requirement for the IB Diploma Programme in the senior year of high school) on White Oleander. More specifically, on the psychological affect that Ingrid’s narcissism had on Astrid as she moved from home to home. After doing some in depth research, I have found that Ingrid portrays many of the characteristics of the disorder and think that it would make an excellent paper.
    When writing the novel did you have in mind Narcissistic Personality Disorder for Ingrid, or was this something that shaped itself?

    Again, thank you so much for writing. I can’t wait to read Paint It Black (it’s on it’s way from Amazon right now) & I’m sure it will live up to all of my expectations.

    • Generally writers don’t diagnose their characters, we build them. But I definitely know a couple of Ingrids, and she probably could be so diagnosed…. so glad you enjoyed the book! Hope Paint It Black will be equally interesting for you on the psychological level! best, Janet

  36. sue Warschaw robertson Says:


    trying to get in touch with you re Alma. Have photos from Mom

  37. I’m sure you’ve heard this ever since you published white oleander but I want you to know that your brutal, ferocious, and awe inspiring books have really pulled me through when I’ve felt weak. Your works challenge my writing skills every time and drive me to improve. I hope to one day have such a book that can inspire others. And for that sole purpose alone. With all my respect and admiration: Sam

  38. Anonymous Says:

    Dear J Fitch,
    Just wanted to let u know that in the 90s when I saw the movie based on ur novel WO, I cried with joy. I wuz strugglin with forgivin my mother for what she did to me, and thru ur characters, I wuz finally free. I saw my mother in Ingrid. I understood that my mom is who she is-stop wastin time hopin she is gonna change. She loves me in her own way. She is who she is. I just read the novel and want to say thank u for sharin ur gift with us and changin my life. Thanx.

  39. Raychell S Says:

    Dear Janet,
    I have been a fan of your writing since I picked up White Oleander for the first time at age 14. (My childhood bedroom still has 27 names for tears painted in the ceiling). At 21, I stumbled upon an autographed copy of Paint it Black at a used bookstore. Your beautiful words took root inside my heart, and when I wander over my bookshelves to choose a book like medicine for an ache I can’t quite name I’m likely to choose yours. I will have to fight you over Henry Miller though. ♥. I’ll trade you Miller for Bukowski- I’ve recently discovered some men are best left well enough alone.
    I’m pursuing a degree in childhood education and child psychology, but if I had a little more courage would probably switch to professional writing. We are always most afraid to fail at the things we care the most about.
    Your words both in your books and your blog have encouraged me now more than ever to make that leap and I wanted to say thank you. I moved from California two years ago, but if I was still there I would be putting my name as close to your workshop as possible. If there’s ever a book with my name on it, you, (along with Wilde, Plath, Salinger and cummings) are a little bit of the reason. Thank you for your words.

  40. Hey, I just wanted to stop by and say that I am a huge fan of your writing and I look forward to your next novel. I “friended” you on goodreads, and I noticed you had a blog. Wishing you all the best!

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  42. Cathleen Says:

    Hi Ms. Fitch! I wanted to let you know I just finished reading White Oleander. I like to consider myself an avid reader, and NEVER before have I become so attached to a character as I did reading this book. Even with her flaws, Claire is magical to me. I never broke concentration reading about her and I cried my eyes out when she died. I rented the movie and as soon as I saw her I was crying. The way you described all of the characters was flawless and I think it is the most beautiful book I have ever read. I would love it if you could e-mail me at cmgab8@yahoo.com. I have loved writing since I was little and have been thinking of writing again and would love some advice. Thank you!

  43. when’s the russian novel coming out?? i cannot wait!x

  44. Kelly Kulpa Says:

    Hello Ms. Fitch,
    I love White Oleander. I’ve read it so many times, every page is dog-earred.
    Where do you think Astrid would be now?

    • Wow. Okay, it came out in 1999, so 15 years later… she was probably 20 or so when the book ended so she’d be like 35 now. I think she’d be an artist, probably in a big city, might have been married once or twice, maybe with a child. Bet she’s a good mother but might have problems maintaining a relationship… Bet she keeps herself and her child very separate from her own mother, that she’s a pretty private person.

  45. Ms. Fitch,

    I just wanted to say that your novel saved my life. I first read in on the recommendation of a good friend, and loved it – but it had no meaning to me yet. It was an amazing piece of literature, but nothing else to me: then my mother died.
    I was 15 and when she scrummed to her many illnesses I still thought she was perfect. That year I found out so much about her I had ignored, so much she had lied to me about – I had no idea who she was, or really who I was. I ended up in foster care, but was very lucky to have one family that loved me and took care of me [and still does]. My life went downhill, and my ways of coping went healthy in the slightest. But, I swear to you, Ms Fitch, that november evening on my bathroom floor was my inspiration put myself together. I had been struggling in school, in life. My own issues became more and more apparent and your novel was the only text I could find that made sense. Ingrid was just so honest to me. She and my mother saw the world in this beautiful way, and both taught their daughters as such. I know that most people have such a hate for Ingrid, or Ingrid like people, however, I couldn’t hate her. The first read, for an unknown reason, the second because she was my mother.
    I have never since found an author who could capture the intricate relationship I had with my mother, nor how you captured loss in Astrid without her mother dying.
    I know this is long and way too personal but I thought you deserved to know how impactful your novel has been on my life. I don’t think I could be where I am, four years later, without having chanced on your work. Thank you.


  46. Hi Janet,
    I read your book a few years ago and I loved it. It spoke to me more than any other book I have read. One quote that really spoke to me was “The Phoenix must burn to emerge. ” Last year was a really rough year for me. My dad was sick and needed to get triple bypass surgery. It turned out that he had a small heart attack and the doctors said it was amazing that he was walking around for as long as he was without dying. On top of that, I lost the one thing I always wanted; a place where I feel like myself and where I am actually happy. Ever since reading your book and having to write a paper on it and dissect every part of it, I felt attached. I recently got a tattoo of a phoenix with that quote next to it. It is my favorite one because it reminds me that although I’m hurting now and that I lost a lot, I know that it is not the end and that I can start over. Thank you for this gift, because every time I look in the mirror and see that tattoo I feel motivated to move forward through the pain.

    • I’m so glad that image resonated with you, helped you through these rough passages. Yes, we are phoenixes, and we renew ourselves in fire. If you feel comfortable about it, you can post your tattoo in Fan’s Tattoos–I’d love to see it! Such an honor, that you felt that strongly about something I wrote.

  47. Farida Says:

    Hi Janet,

    I just wanted to let you know that White Oleander is my favorite book. Astrid’s outlook on the world around her has really stuck with me. She’s surrounded by all of these flawed people and situations, yet still manages to see their beauty (the imagery in the novel is stunning, by the way). Also, I wanted to share my favorite quote from the book:

    “Take notes. Remember it all, every insult, every tear. Tattoo it on the inside of your mind. In life, knowledge of poisons is essential. I’ve told you, nobody becomes an artist unless they have to.”

    Even though Ingrid goes to crazy lengths to protect her pride and is certainly not the best mother, I still think she is a brilliant woman in terms of her insights into life and human nature. It’s frustrating that such an observant woman could be so oblivious to her own poisonous nature.

    Anyway, thank you so much for writing this book! I have not been able to find another that has affected me as much as White Oleander has.

  48. Cristobal Rendon Says:

    We met at the LA times festivals of books last year, remember maybe? It felt as if I was in the presence of royalty. You must be royalty. Your writing is so satisfying and so exquisite it dressed you as richly and exquisitely as the thickest set of robes in a game of thrones episode. You are by far my most revered author among all the books I have ever read and I simply wanted to send my regards for living up to my expectations when I met you. I read in my French class that expectation gets the heart ready for the best kind of happiness (le petit prince), so I already know I’m going to love your new Russian novel.

    On a side note I hope I don’t sound like a john Lennon fan!

    • Hi Cristobal–
      I feel like that about writers whose books I love. It’s a privilege to have good readers, who receive on the same wavelength you’re sending. Thanks for this kind note and good reading to you!
      Janet F.

  49. I am a huge fan of your book White Oleander. You’re writing is truly a gift. The novel is written with such detail, which brings me to the question: Is this novel based off personal experience with the foster care system? If not, where do you find sources with such compelling stories?

    I’m a producer of my high school’s nationally award-winning broadcast journalism program. Because of your novel, I suggested that we create documentaries on the LA foster care system. I’d love to do an on-camera interview with you if you feel that you can speak on the subject! If you have any contacts within the foster care system who would like to share their stories on-camera, I’d love to talk to them, too.

    You can look at some of our work on our website.

    Thank you for your time!

    • Dear Annika,
      What a nice note! If you look around on my site, you’ll see numerous interviews which have answers to these questions. Congratulations on the success of your school broadcast journalism programming. As far as sources for documentaries on foster care, I put up signs in places I thought former foster youth would see them–junior colleges, twelve-step rooms, Planned Parenthood. I have no contacts for you, but I know there are online resources now for foster youth and for former foster youth, perhaps also your local junior college or state university. This is where the journalism part comes in! Good luck, it’s an important subject and I appreciate your contacting me. Wish you all best,
      Janet Fitch

  50. Hi Janet,

    I landed on your web page while I was surfing on the internet.
    Thanks for the outstanding posts.
    I liked reading them.

    I am running the I.A.C – Inscribink Authors’ Circle. We are a developing website with 10K+ followers on Facebook.

    Would you be interested in sharing one of your articles on our website ?

    Or, would you be interested in being one of the writers on our ever developing website project?

    Thanks for considering. Let me know if you have any questions.


    Hawk G.
    Editor, Inscribink


    • Dear Hawk,
      I don’t mind you reblogging as long as you site the source, but I’m afraid I’m not doing much outside finishing my new book! Thanks for the kind words,
      Janet F.

  51. Hello Janet,

    When I read White Oleander in 1999, I had just about given up hope of ever finishing the novel I’d been struggling to write at that time. It was such a hard story and I frequently felt beaten by it. Your novel woke up something deep inside my heart, the passion with which you wordsmith, weaving the threads of your perfect story to its amazing conclusion inspired me to keep working, to put one word after the other and carry it through. That first novel (Pendulum) didn’t really go anywhere, but I did finally finish it, thanks to you.
    Now, I’ve just finished my fourth novel (Broken) and it feels like my best work ever. Sitting here, thinking about the people who inspired me to put pen to paper in the first place, you came to mind. I wondered (even though I know you are a very busy person) if you would possibly be able to find the time to read Broken with the idea of contributing an “author blurb” to put on the cover if you like it. It would mean so much and I would be indebted to you for life if that was possible. Again, thank you for writing White Oleander. It kept me alive.

    Roni Askey-Doran

  52. smitty Says:

    you dedicate white oleander to a man from council bluffs…who is the man? i am from the area and it makes me curious? do you have ties to this area?

  53. Dear Miss Finch.
    In the hopes that you’re really reading this, I will try to keep it short although I have so much to say to you. To be honest, White Oleander is the only book of yours I’ve ever read. I found it when I was 16 on the bottom shelf in the back of the school library facing forward on an easel.
    In the 5 years since I first opened that book, this book has become my salvation. I read it several times a year between other books, I’ve written poems to Astrid, or from her perspective, I’ve become so close with her like an old friend. I’ve had very horrific situations happen in my life as well, this book is one of the only things that’s ever helped get me through them…I have so many questions. I want to know more.
    I am so thankful for you, for writing this. I apologize I haven’t read any of your other works but I promise I will right away. You just have no idea what your book did for me, your words and this story, it’s unbelievable. I know in my heart that although I’ve read a hell of a lot of books and I’ve got a lot more to go this will always be my favorite.
    Lots of love from your adoring fan.

    • Thanks Amy! Maybe there’s more in Paint It Black, or in other people’s work. So many books that can change our lives, or help us get through this one.

      • I’m sure I will be just as entranced by your other works. You are a phenomenal writer. You are the reason people like me write with all of their soul. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have a glass of wine and a real conversation with you..
        Thank you for reading and responding to me.

  54. 1kurtsi1 Says:

    I so look forward to seeing you at the Palm Springs Writers Guild. Am very familiar with White Oleander, and have interviewed Alison Lohman for our local paper. My ebook, TOO EARLY FOR FLOWERS: THE STORY OF A POLIO MOTHER is in film development and look forward to hearing of the highs and lows of the process.

  55. You were a most interesting speaker today. Good luck on the Russia book..That country has always fascinated me, and have been there in the magic of winter and in the never-ending summer on the Trans Siberian Railway. Good luck!

  56. Jaime Fields Says:

    Dear Ms Fitch,
    Hi. I am a ninth grader right now, and a few girls in my class and I recently read your book, White Oleander. We really enjoyed it and wondered where you get your inspiration. Many horrible things happened to Astrid, did anything happen to you when you were young? Did you find yourself putting any of your qualities in her? We have lots of questions and thought it would be nice to write to you. Thank you for reading this and I hope you can find the time to respond.
    Sincerely, Jaime

    • Hi Jamie,
      There are lots of interviews on this blog–I’ve put them in one place so it might be easier for people to find– where I’ve talked at length about this question, and perhaps many of the others you were wondering about. Short answers aren’t the most satisfying, but here’s the short answer to your questions: no I wasn’t a foster child and the external events of the book are imaginary. However, the inner feelings are true. That’s the case with most books. And as with dreams, where everyone is you–there’s a lot of me in Astrid, but also in the other characters as well. But I’ve done a lot of thinking about these questions, so look around the site! Thanks for your kind note, and I wish you good reading and a terrific holiday season! All my best wishes, Janet

  57. […] I attended the panel, ‘Fiction:History on the Page’, moderated by Janet Fitch. Authors Alexander Chee, Laila Lalami and Steward O’Nan read the opening lines from their […]

  58. Dear Ms. Janet Fitch

    My girlfriend is deeply in love with your book white oleander. Her birthday is coming up soon and I really would like to get her a signed copy with her name. If there’s anyway this is possible please email me. She’s so inspired by your work. Her copy of your book that she has has been read so many times that it has fallen apart at the seems. I think this would make her world.

  59. Rachel Figueroa Says:

    Who is the man you are referring to on the first page of your book White Oleander, “To the man from Council Bluffs”. This is where I live.

    • Hi Rachel–my father! He was raised there, his family had a grocery store that’s now an evangelical church. The Council Bluffs Free Library was his favorite spot–as a little kid if he wasn’t home for dinner, his mom would call the library and without asking whether he was there, would say, “Send Vernie home for dinner.”

  60. Dear Ms. Janet Fitch,

    I am currently studying the International Baccalaureate in school and I am taking higher level English Literature, I have a huge interest in foster care I have decided to write my “extended essay” which is a 4000 word essay on a topic of the students choice. I have decided to write about “White Oleander” due to the fact I am highly interested in the foster care system and I am going to relate it back to the system that I have experience with people in my past. I was wondering if you would possible be available to answer some questions of mine in order to write the essay. if not, I understand but thank you for your consideration.

    Caitlin Brooks

  61. Jennifer Mangan Says:

    I love your writing! Do you have anything new coming out? ?

  62. Malik Says:

    What was your childhood like ?

    • I was completely lost in my fantasy world. I thought I was going to grow up to be a horse until I was 9. My hold on reality has always been a little shaky!
      Sorry for the late response, I’ve been editing my latest novel.

  63. I don’t even know how to explain the influence you have had on me growing up. My mom was one of those tragic people that only recommended to me the most tragic of literature growing up. She recommended to me to read “This Was Then, This Is Now” for the first book I ever read as a novel when I was in 5th grade. I remember throwing the book at her sobbing when I was ten wondering how she could recommend me a book that heartbreaking. And then, I read White Oleander and Paint it Black, and they haunted me, but in a way I could prepare myself for. Because of my mom, aside with her first choice novel for me, I never would love words or poetry without you. When I felt like I could write, I would consistently write after I read a major poet because I know you did, and I’ve always wanted to visit the places you love about LA because it would feel like I was going with you to write a book that would appeal to the lonely girl I was. I know you write short stories just for fun, but you wrote two novels that I will never shake and definitely shaped who I am as a person. I want to do that one day, and I thank you for doing that for me. I’m not much, but I wouldn’t be here without you. I’d love to meet you one day for helping me know I’m not just a wallflower. People who seem worthless or forgotten still matter. Thank you. Really.

    • Hi Melanie, thanks so much for this beautiful letter. I am very touched and I only wish I had seen it earlier–please forgive me for the late response, I’ve been busy finishing up my new novel, The Revolution of Marina M. Wishing you good reading and thank you so much. Janet

  64. Jeffrey Weinthal Says:


    Dear Ms. Janet Fitch,

    I don’t know if you remember me but I’ll never forget you and your work. The last time I wrote to you on your blog I told you about how White Oleander was the one thing that kept me going when my mom died of brain cancer back in March of 2003 (I was only 14 then). You’ve saved my life in countless ways I sincerely thank you for that. As for Paint It Black, it’s by far favorite book of all time. I’m very much looking forward to your new book that’s coming later this year. Also, I’m excited about the Paint It Black Movie that will arrive in theaters in a few months. I know that this is a lot to ask but I was wondering if you could somehow get me a signed of your new book? I’ll pay you for it in any way that you want me to either by mail or online. I live in Austin, TX right now.

    Thanks for everything,


    PS: below is my mailing address

    Jeffrey Weinthal
    5200 North Lamar Blvd.
    APT # N104
    Austin, TX 78751

    • Hi Jerry, I don’t handle books but I can send you a bookplate to put in your copy–or maybe I’ll be coming to Austin on tour and you can do it all at once! Thanks for these kind thoughts and all best, Janet

      • Jeffrey Weinthal Says:

        Thanks Janet. Since you’re unable to get me an autographed copy of your new book, would be willing to send me something else autographed? Perhaps a photo of you that I can frame? If you can’t then it’s ok. I am forever in your debt for helping me through the hardest part of my life.

        Thanks forever,

        – JEFFREY

      • I can easily send you a book plate–autographed to you, that you put inside the book–I’ll draw you something too. All best, Janet

  65. Jeffrey Weinthal Says:

    Thank you SO much for being of kind as to send me an autographed book plate.

    My address is:

    Jeffrey L. Weinthal
    5200 North Lamar Blvd.
    APT # N104
    Austin, TX 78751

    Thanks 🙂

  66. Julie Bastedo Says:

    Dear Ms. Fitch,

    I am writing to you to ask for a special favor. But before I share it with you, I would like to share a story that explains it all.

    Four years ago, a young girl, bright and scared, entered into my English 9 class. Fourteen years old and skin and bones. She was new to our district. She moved north from Florida. That’s all I knew. I got to know her well over the course of the year, and that’s when I found out why she came to us. She and her father came north to escape her mother. Her mother – depressed and suicidal and a danger to herself and her daughter. And yet Morgan loved her dearly. She was so angry and so in love with her mother at the same time.

    A year later, her mother took her life and I took Morgan under my wing. I watched her grow and kept in touch, always checking in to make sure she was well and thriving. But I could see how much pain she was in, she would always be in.

    This year, she’s in my class again – this time, AP Literature. Her summer reading selection? White Oleander. I hadn’t read it, but she told me she chose it because the book changed her life. Because it spoke to her in a way nothing else had. This December, her class built me a bookshelf for a lending library to sit in the corner of my classroom. And each of them donated a personally inscribed copy of a favorite book. She gave me her copy, scribbled in the margins and bursting with reflections, of White Oleander.

    I told her I couldn’t accept it. She said I had to take it. So I did. And I read it. And it is simply beautiful.

    So here is my request. Soon, Morgan will walk the stage, a graduate of our fine high school, having overcome more than most kids will ever experience. And I would like to give her something special. Would you consider sending me a signed copy of the book, with a note to Morgan? I can think of nothing else she should have with her when she takes this next step into the future. My contact information is below. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

    Julie Bastedo

    • Dear Julie, I don’t see your contact info here. But if you send me your snail mail at oleander@pacbell.net, I can send you a personalized bookplate she can put in her book, and a note for her as well. Is she graduating in June or sooner? What a tough life, and I am profoundly touched that something I wrote helped her through it. all best wishes, Janet

  67. Jeffrey Weinthal Says:

    Hi Janet,

    I just received the stuff that you autographed for me in the mail yesterday.

    Thank you SO much,

    – Jeffrey

  68. shaik shaida Says:

    Hi Janet,

    I am very happy and glad after reading the above comments , and hopefully i will start reading your book “white oleander”.And one more thing you look very gorgeous mam.

    Thank you so much ,

    shaik shaida

  69. Hannah Paige Says:

    Dear Ms. Fitch
    You don’t know me, but I am one of your many readers. I stumbled upon your book, White Oleander, one day at the library; I am a frequent flyer at such establishments. Allow me to express how grateful I am that such a mundane activity changed my view as a writer. I am a young writer–I am only eighteen years old–but I am dedicated. As you can probably imagine, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the career of a young writer, I believe that is why so many juvenile writers don’t make it. They don’t develop the kind of endurance, the real grit, that it takes to keep going. But the other part of persevering through the craft is courage. You taught me that, Ms. Fitch. I have had many mentors over the years, people that I have looked to for advice and guidance along the way to where I am today. But no one, other authors included, has taught me the importance of having the courage to write what YOU think is important. You have inspired me to write whatever I want, to not take into consideration what others will think, because that is what I deem the world needs to hear. Your book was a heavy piece of literature, but it was one that I admire adimentaly. I am in awe with how brave you must have been, and no doubt still are, when you brought that manuscript to editors. I know how intimidating that process is, and to bring such a controversial topic to light, with such accuracy and poignancy was no easy feat. I am grateful that you did. Now, White Oleander is one of my favorite novels, because of your fluid voice as a writer, your ability to weave words in a seemingly effortless manner (I know how hard this is as well), but mostly because you wrote it. Most authors these days, I think, are often more concerned with what the public will think, how their books will be marketed and received, and the amount of royalties that they will receive based on those factors. But you don’t. You write purely for the sake of showing the reader what he/she might be avoiding in their everyday lives. You have inspired me to take leaps as a writer, to write what people need to to notice, need to see all the way through, no matter how grotesque or controversial the subject matter may be. You are one of the reasons that I chose to write a novel on 9/11. While I am in no way comparing the events of 9/11 to rape and the difficulties faced in the American foster system, I would, if you wouldn’t mind, like to compare you to me for just a second. While I don’t have the audacity to claim to be the same writer as you are,–I hope to be some day, but that is for another letter–I am a writer. And I have chosen to be one that writes the truth: always.
    Thank you for your words, your courage, your dedication.
    Hannah Paige

    • Thanks Hannah, this was a wonderful letter, and you were right, even as a I was reading the galleys, I thought, “Who is going to care about this?” (besides me.). Turns out if it matters to you there will be others to whom it will matter. Wish you good luck in your writing and thanks for taking the time to write to me! best, Janet

  70. Alex Davis Says:

    Hi Janet,

    I just wanted to tell you how much I loved White Oleander, and how much the story meant to me. Often when I read a novel I form a mental image of the events, but it’s never been as vivid as Astrid’s journey through life. I live near Orange County but I’ve spent enough time in Los Angeles (my dad’s from Long Beach) that I could really appreciate you bringing each location in the story to life. I’m something of an aspiring writer myself, and I was blown away by the detail that you put into your work. I have a full-time job in commercial real estate but I think my heart’s always been in writing! I haven’t done a lot of it since college (I’m 24 now), but I always loved my writing classes. Reading your work inspired me to pick up a pen and start mapping out a new story!

    I hope to someday possess your ability to pull readers in and make them feel an emotional connection to my characters the way I did with Astrid. I had a shaky time during my teenage years after losing my mother, so I could connect to parts of what she went through. I was hoping to keep this short, but I know I could go on for hours about what your novel means to me.

    Thank you for inspiring me to write again, and best of luck with your new work!


    • Thanks for this! Good luck with your writing… you should check out Richard Ford’s books with Fred Bascomb, a real estate agent, as his protagonist.

  71. I’m a new writer with a completed novel and its uncompleted sequel pending publication. Hoping for interest in the protagonist, I am building an author’s site on WordPress, a frustrating endeavor for the technically challenged. The series revolves around a Border Patrol agent who grew up in the foster care system, and has social difficulties.

    On the “About Me” page, I reference White Oleander, recommending that my (non-existent, future) fans check it out. The site is up, but still under construction and has no viewers yet. I just wanted to inform you beforehand to make sure it’s cool.

    I loved that book.

  72. […] the internet, but I encourage these writers to think beyond that. In “Coming to Your Senses,” Janet Fitch tells of a conversation with a five-year-old who had no interest in going to the zoo to see an […]

  73. Bob Morris Says:

    Ms. Fitch. I read that you edit fiction manuscripts privately. Are you still doing that? If so, could you reply regarding details? Obviously I am looking for an editor for a novel I’ve written. The genre is medical fiction. Thanks. Bob

    • Hi Bob,
      No, I’m not doing any editing anymore, Sorry It’s taken me such a long time to get back to you, I”m building the new website now… If you are still looking for an editor, contact me at janetfitchwrites.com, and I’ll ask around, see who might be available. All best, Janet

  74. […] writing this, I took a look at the personal bio of Janet Fitch, the author of one of my favorite fiction books, White Oleander. The beginning of her bio reads […]

  75. Martin Gillvray Says:

    I have read the white oleander and realised that you were the author. It is a very long time since we were at Keele. Hope you are well and best wishes. Martin Gilllvray

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