Sunday, October 31, 2010

Favorite Halloween Books

I love a good scary story now and then, and today's the perfect time to pick one up. Here are my four favorite spooky/scary/Halloween stories:

Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Attic with Myla Goldberg

Originally printed in the Washington Post Express

If there's one thing Facebook stalking old middle-school classmates can teach us, it's that people change. Reconnecting with those ghosts of friendships past can provide some insight into our former selves, which is what Celia Durst learns in Myla Goldberg's third novel, The False Friend.

"Part of what inspired me was that I remembered something very mean I had done in elementary school," Goldberg recalls. "I remember being the kid who was picked on all the time, but one time I threw a pair of scissors at my best friend at the time and scratched her on the leg. She didn't tell anyone and I blocked it out, but as an adult I remembered having done that."

Kids don't always turn into the adults you'd expect. "You have people you knew in high school, like the guy you're sure is going to be a Hollywood star but 10 years later he's a podiatrist," she says. "You never know what course we're going to take."

Goldberg's third novel follows Celia as she pieces together the disappearance of her best friend, Djuna, who vanished when they were 11. At the time, Celia told everyone that Djuna got into a stranger's car. Decades later, Celia remembers that Djuna fell into a hole — and she told no one. When she returns home to confess, no one — family, old friends who were there that day — believes her. Celia has a difficult time realizing that her memory may be fallible, something Goldberg says we all have to accept.

"I think, ultimately, we can never know ourselves and people we love can never know us," she says. "Memory is not this sacrosanct, golden thing, and if you talk to other people about your past you can figure out what memory's failure can teach you. Memory's failure is as good a way to learn about ourselves."

Goldberg's husband grew up in upstate New York, where she set the novel.

"The area fascinates me," she said. "It's a place of fallen empire, which ascended when the U.S. was making stuff and factories — cites and cultures sprang up around that. Now the U.S. doesn't make as much stuff, and the area is dead, depopulated and boarded up. It tied with my thinking about the people we are now versus what we were."

She also drew on her own childhood neighborhood in Laurel, Md.

"I attended high school in Greenbelt and I used it in the book," Goldberg says. "The great thing about fiction is that you can make a patchwork and draw from wherever you want."

Friday, October 22, 2010

In the Attic with Edwidge Danticat

In my journalism, I never have the luxury of including every quote or topic that comes up in the course of an interview. I recently interviewed Edwidge Danticat for a piece in Express (which you can read here) about her brilliant cultural criticism/memoir Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work and I had to cut out this question:

In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, you write that “the immigrant artist, like all other artists, is a leech and I needed to latch on.” You also mention in the introduction that the executions of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin are one of your “creation myths.” How much of being an immigrant artist is telling other people’s stories, and how much is telling your own?

I think any artist is sort of a sponge and a lot of the re-creation of experience is a re-telling of your own experience where it encounters other people’s experiences. Being from an immigrant family, and with the past my family has, there’s always a person who tells it. As a result, people are often cautious around you. Even when I was a kid, I was the kid who told everything. I was shy, but I was a big observer and people were cautious around me when I started writing. My parents and my aunt spent much of their adult lives under the dictatorship, and even at the dinner table, where it was private, they would say, “is it safe to say this?” Having a writer in the family is counter-intuitive to that. Often when my relatives in Haiti read things of mine, they say, “how do you know that?” I always say, “I was listening when you didn’t realize it.”