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Brené and Celeste Ng on Little Fires Everywhere


My conversation with Celeste Ng is the first of two episodes on Little Fires Everywhere, where I'll cover the book and the series. We talked about the writing process, the stories that we tell, and the stories that define us. We also covered how our hometowns shape us, how parenting is a shame minefield, and how we all have the power to mourn moments even while we’re in them. Celeste also filled us in on what she thinks about the series and what it felt like watching Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington create a show from her novel. I loved this episode as a reader, as a writer, and as an observer of what it means to be human.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Ok I'll. This is little fires everywhere, weak, not just this episode, but this week we have two episodes. First, one is with less who wrote the book. The second is with carry one, Clinton and Aris Witherspoon, who both star are in the series on Hulu an executive produced the series I am a huge fan of this book and a huge fan of the series. So first I talked to Celeste Ing. Favorite? Bio of hers is really her twitter, Bio, that just as fiction writer, science, Nerd Ex Cleveland or in bear finally, sincere novels everything ever told you little fires everywhere? Of course, a bio by a writer, no question She is actually the author of two novels everything I never told you which I'm just starting because of how much I love little fires everywhere everything. I know
told you at a New York Times, best seller, a New York Times notable book of twenty fourteen and Amazon's number one best book of twenty fourteen. It was also named best book of the year by, like a dozen publications, Little fires everywhere was published by Ping when press in September twenty seventeen. It's also New York Times. Bestseller Amazon number two best book invest fiction book, twenty seventeen and at work as the winner of several awards so celestial. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Shaker Heights, Ohio, which I shall see in this podcast, I believe shaker Heights is just one of the main characters of little fires everywhere, God, it's such a good book in its such good series, so last graduated from Harvard University. She has anything from the University of Michigan and one the hop what award her affection essays. It Heerd everywhere of New York Times. One story, the guardian
also a recipient of the push cart prize and a fellowship from the national endowment for the arts tack in future, can she is on. However, you become one with unlocking ass podcast and me Celeste eying. It's such a fun conversation. I loved it as a you're and I loved it as a reader and a watcher thing you, the last for being on unlocking es. Thank you so much for having me I have like a million questions for you. It would be so much more helpful if you can download me into your brain is attach a cable to one end of my head and for the other and in your head and it'll just go straight across I need, you see how you think I wish I knew because it would certainly make my future rating process is a lot easier. If I could figure out how I wrote this novel and my first one and then try and do it again.
What I'm learning is that every project seems to be its own completely different more and I feel like I have to start from the ground up in of learning what the story is and how the stories put together, who the characters are. So it's it's a mystery to me as well as the sort of thing that I think I just learn. By doing it's interesting because. I guess I'm getting ready to start my maybe six or seven the book. I M trade in this year and nothing's the same and everything's the same. What's constant is that it's a new process and that I guess Europeans has taught me give me some grace that I know I'll get through it. That's the only difference. I think that sad experience, a sort of getting me faith that it is possible. It's like the earlier books are proof of concept, but yes, one is sort of Whole other beast where I'm like? Ok, so I thought I knew what I was doing there, but actually it goes differently. So we'll see the window, but I know it's possible in theory to write a book. I know it
possible do you saw these plot problems in these structural problem. They just don't really remember how it's done, and so I feel like I'm well sort of fumbling around. As I mean oh trying to work on the next project, I I know I learned something I just I just don't know that it's directly applicable to what the next thing is seems to be the mystery of writing. So before we get in, little fires everywhere. I first I gotta tell you that's an unforgettable book. Thank her! That's an unforgettable book. One cannot get the dialogue these scenes the emotion I can't shake it. Sometimes I want to shake it some of its hard as hell, but you can't shake this book and I'm just now ordered your First one, so I'm dying to jump in before we get into the book itself.
Let me talk to you as a writer I have mad crazy respect for fiction writers. How does that done? Actually, I mean like how do you seeds. They were going to grow into something late, that you know you're gonna grab? Is that all intentional? It's always intentional, but it doesn't happen in the order that it happens on the page. I think what does that mean for me a lot of what it is it? I I think it is a lot like getting to know a person in real life, and this is where I have huge respect for nonfiction writers, because I go. How do you make a coherent story out of life, which is inherently messy, which doesn't always have the neat residences that we want infection which doesn't always resolve itself freight where there are- always clear cause and effect swayed fiction. I love it because in my boy I can change that. I can change. But he's back story so that there are no their future makes sense in it.
Fiction. Writing I'm always amazed at how people manage to eat a kind of explain and pull together the threads of what's really happen, while sticking to the facts and for me when I'm writing a character when I'm writing a plot, I start off maybe the same way that an interview would start interviewing the subject. What's your name? What do you do wary from when you grow up? You know, what's your job, do you like your job? You know how did you get into that job and, as you said to know more about them. You start to understand who this person is, and you get a sense of sort of what their? Whether story isn't. Whether issues are you go? Oh, what what made you interested in in becoming a cattle ranch? That's that's really usual profession. Oh well, ok, so your dad taught you a lot about the outdoors and what was your relationship with him? Like an you started, sense of what form this person do, who they are and that's how I feel as every journalist that I talk to, you explain to that sort of how they get to figure out what the story is. I did the same thing as a fiction writer. I think why would this person do this? You know who is this person
they're back story. What are the memories that shaped them and only once I've written out a lot of that can either go back and go ok, you're relationship with your father with your sister or that thing you didn't get is going to cause you to do this other thing in the past and I can sort of go back and revise and is only in the process of revision that I go back and plant the seeds. As you were saying, I've got a sort of sea with the whole story is, and then I can go back and put the trail of of bread crumbs in for the reader to follow the benefit. Is that the reader. It looks super seamless, but on my end, its very messy and its. I feel like I'm moving all over the place until it's done so argue. Going does so interesting to me were uncovered right now right and I'm here by myself in my house, but if some was here like law and our producer, someone from my team baby like ok too, in based on writing I we asking our survey she can now. They can't stop me because
Are you saying that you write back and forth in future and passed in memory and present? Why you writing these books yeah. I don't write in the order that the pages are so. I am sure there are writers, author who started paid one and they just straight through to the end, and it's done. But for me, I'm all moving back and forth. I'm going. Ok, here's the character! What happens next? What happens next the traditional question of fiction and then at a certain point I was I myself going into the past and going more. Why did they do tat? How did they become this person? What's the back story of this gesture or this motion, or this action they did, and so I'll go and I'll write what happened before and then what happens at the end of my first draft, which is a termite he's really loosely, I feel like it generated a whole bunch of puzzle pieces and I think, most of them go into the finished picture, but I dont know what the picture is.
Some of the pieces then I made, may be actually don't go in this puzzle at all, and I have no idea what order they're supposed to go. It. I've just generated all these pieces and then the process of subsequent drafts is figuring out which pieces fit together. What's the whole picture that I'm making, maybe these pieces don't actually in this puzzle at all, but what I'm always doing as I'm writing pieces of the story, and then I have to figure out how to tell the story once I know what the story is. Ok, grab at Harvard right. Yes, what did you study? I said Inga english, american literature and language, I think, as the official title of the concentration as they call it at Harvard and then imagine and then I got an embassy in prose writing at the University of Michigan yeah. But where did you get the therapeutic? Sperience that, are you No, really I mean I'm asking, I was like someone that has like a lot of background in that. Where did you get this? I've always been really interested in psychology, just, I think, because I've always been really interested in people and what makes them take. So I took us,
college class. When I was in high school at sugar, hey, hey school, you can take psychology as a senior citizens intro level, and I thought it was fascinating Look some history of psychology classes and things like that as elective, when I was in college just understand, I've been to therapy be myself into something that I wanna be serve open about, because I feel like there's still a big stigma around going to see a therapist and I Would you like pretty Everybody would probably benefit from going to see a therapist, and I wish it was something that was universally available, and in grad school as well for an elected, I took a class in child psychopathology. It was with a friend of mine who wanted to become a child psychologist and, in fact, is now a child psychologist. We had to take alas, that was not in the english department, and that was not in the writing. Department and she's had come. Take this class with me, and I said, ok and it was just really interesting, to learn about the ways that people tend to think the ways that what we go through shape, who we become all of that sort of stuff. So I've done
some formal learning about it, but a lot of it. Just comes from observing people Can you handle thinking about what they're like Itunes An introvert and a shy person myself, and so when I am at a party, my usual, mode of operation, is to stand off to the side and listen to the conversation and not participate a lot, but I am constantly listening to what people are saying. We their signals trying to figure out who they are the true, the mode of survival for a shy person to in a red other people's emotion? That I really, I think, a lot of that has helped me sort of figure out why people might behave the whether they behave in fiction. It's interesting because I would I guess I would explain what I do as understanding the connection between how we think feel and behave and little fires everywhere was such a master class in that
That means a lot actually from someone with your experience is a painful mass or class at times and also hopeful at times. So I want to dig in to me. I could talk to you about the writing peace for ever, and I think it's interesting to the folks who listen, because a lot of us are writers and were all story. Where's, because humans are meaning making species, and I think also what you said is really true. I became a pattern hunter around thinking, feeling and behaviour as a means of survival, just as someone who wanted to fit in and it didn't and is so there's something deeply accurate and uncovering about the way you write about people is so here so that my weird plan is. I have all these quotes from your book. Fahrenheit yeah that frickin did everything from lightning HANS, no pun intended me on fire to like make me want to not get out of bed, I wanna ride
them to you, ok and which is always weird. Have someone read your work to you? It's funny to note here. What lines resonate with other people, because it sometimes they are the lines that resonated with me when I was writing them and sometimes airlines that I really didn't expect- and I find this fascinating. Ok, we'll good, I'm glad, because that kind of the plan are right. So I think watch was hard. And true and shocking and regulatory for me about the book. And then later that series on Hulu. There are a couple of things: perfectionism motherhood. Niceness as a lucky sorry, ass, anti racism tool licences is now
a tool for anti racist work, yeah, yeah and deployed as well as so often deployed as that. So let's Alex I'm in a reed this from little fires everywhere, all her life She had learned that passion like fire was a dangerous thing. It so easy He went out of control, scaled walls and jumped over trenches, sparks leaped like fleas and spread as rapidly abroad could carry embers four miles better chicken role that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an olympic torch or perhaps to tend to carefully like an eternal flame, a reminder of light. In goodness, that would never could never said anything ablaze carefully. Controlled domesticated be in captivity, the key she thought was to avoid conflagration. This philosophy had carried her through life and she had always felt had served her quite well. Of course she had to give up a few things here and
But she had a beautiful house, a steady job, loving husband, a brood of healthy and happy children. Surely that was worth the trade anyone wanting to talk about the quote and where it came from men God bless America, that passion like fire is a dangerous thing. Yet I think, as Americans we have. We have this idea about ourselves where we're like you're supposed to follow your dreams and you're supposed to be yourself and so on, and that's true up to a point, you know what we tell especially kids and especially young women. Now we'll let you can be anything you want to be a you know, just just Lena near do all those things, but the truth is that if you go past a certain point and it shifts depending on your people- surgical, ok, that's a little too much right. You know like it's a girl, your supporting law, too much what rate and I think most women have experienced. In some way, where you're supposed to be confident will not that convent noise, bossy right, you're supposed to say
your mind? Oh, but now you sound a little shrill, it's like the hidden. You know you get this sense, I think, as is you become a woman in our society? This is very narrow, range and respect it right in the middle and anything below that you're, not trying hard enough. So it's your fault and anything, that's a little too much will now you're making people uncomfortable so that your foul to a sort of thought about this buying that you know Alina Richardson, whose who's the viewpoint character, and that quote is sort of thinking about. That she does have these ambitions. And yet she is also Sworder, been told and feels that maybe she's not supposed to go too far right you're supposed to the ambitious but not too much weight, because that could be dangerous and you're sick, to believe in social causes, but you don't wanna be a fanatic, so you We do it in a very decorous sort of way. I do think it has a lot to do with her being a product of the suburbs it she grew up in this suburb and she was raised in the suburbs and she's got routes.
Air- and it would be true of any suburb that use its this space, where you think you can have it all where you can be kind of in the Middle EAST, close to the city, but you're, not in the city, because maybe that's to urban in all of its coded meanings, but you're you're still close to the cities you're not out in the country with all those coded me the idea that you know in the suburbs. You have space of your own and yet theoretically you still have neighbors. You know, Is this idea that in some ways you can have your foot in in every sort of territory. You can have the best of all possible worlds and none of the downsides, and none of that is true, but it's a space where we think we can be moderate and I think following a Richardson, that's really true, and particularly for shaker heights. It's a place that really, I think, wants to position itself as being idealistic, but moderately so, and so that's. I think, a lot of the the viewpoint in another sort of like her reason for being that's her. Her whole sooner ethos that passive that you just read: passion like fire
is a dangerous thing. I mean all the fire metaphors and analogies like the whole book was smoking, but time I was done. I was like, oh my god. I get it and I have to admit that I didn't do that consciously in the first draft, when I went I gave this manuscript to my agent. You didn't have a title and she said great, I think it's ready to send your editor, but you you need to put a title on it and she made me go through the book and list all of the phrases that I thought could work as a title, and so I had one we pages of them and the one that we settled on was little fires everywhere, and it didn't strike me until we were going through that led to the book was basically done at that point, that you know needed revision, but if it was in its basic shape, I didn't even realize until that point how many fire images there are in the book
it works really. Well, as a metaphor, not only for the trouble that they're having, but also for the passions that they have that in some way I can get out of control right. Fire is essentially the tool. It can be something that's really destructive org. Me, something that is really useful and maybe even productive in an image of the the forest fire, the prairie fire that birds, everything down and enriches the soil, It is a sort of the this double edged sword for all of the characters and their relationship to it. You know we were drawn to fires in it. We also fear
which has ended up working really well, and now I can't imagine about having indifferent title, but I didn't realize how many fire metaphors there were in the book. So that's that's something for the the subconscious. I guess yeah it's interesting to is, I would say, a lot of the pros in the book is flammable you're waiting for a spark to hit some of these passages cause. You know that it is. I hated you know everyone who knows me knows. I worker metaphorical people start crying, but you are waiting for a spark to hit some of the kindling in these passages cause. You're like this is one spark away from an unstoppable blaze. What's happening right here, this micrograms, and these ironing, though, that you can call them micro, aggression that happen in this book. It's maybe in the nineties. They were micro, aggressions right now think so there, and there are certain things that you can again say are our maybe not intended to be aggression soon, that, since their micro aggressions, but micro makes it seem like there. Small, and I know that a lot of people don't like the term because of that, but I think you were defined
that as something that is aggressive but isn't intended to be, the book is full of them and will mean a life is generally full them for anybody who is in a position of light. You are so aware of the position that you're in and people who are in power by definition, are not aware of the power they have so often there's a quote from Carl Yoon. I came across. I think when I was getting, I think, doing my doctoral work that I had my daughter in the middle of my ph dot d program and it was met with very mixed. Feelings from congratulations to gosh. We thought you were gonna, be somebody, so I really think that it is clear cell. Why would you do this to yourself? Yeah? You really have potential and I remember this quote from curl young- that we had studied Union Stephan, some class in it sad, the greatest, tragedy of a child. Is the and lived life of apparent Tommy?
that with me and Alina, tell me about your thinking about that. Did you think about Maybe not, but I hope, but not a liar. I did think about that idea and her that quota and I like in a lot and if you're, about to read my first book. I think you will see a lot of residence in that first book as well. Oh god, it's some! that I I think about myself. I really you know. I love my life. I love my son. I cannot imagine life without him, but I think that every parent so goes. Oh, my life would have been really different, nothing better or worse, and ensure that they just different. If I had taken a different route, if I had not had a child, if I had had a different child, if you know any number of things were were different but having a child is is a big change in your life and I started writing. First novel before I became a mother and then I finished reading it after I had my son and I think that experience really did bring home for me just what a big change in life that was
and just always that you always have to give something up in order to get something else right. You know it's the sort of thing that people people not like this you knew. Oh, I had to give up axed have my child. We want to see, you can have it all, but the truth is you have to give up certain things and it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not even certainly not necessarily the runway. Likewise, if you had wanted to go and become a you know and arctic explorer. You know no climb out of recently that you might have to give up other things like having children ray. There's always a trade off added something that I think about a lot now that I am apparent, I am still after a mean- and I see my mother, the that she was when I was younger and the life that she's differently. Now I realize why she made some of the decisions that she did because now can see things through closer to her perspective, to will you you know you needed to get ex done into that's why we didn't do this or I needed this, and I see now why you took this job instead of that job right, you start
you see just that, there's always a trade off and so in, those novels and the particular little fires everywhere. I find myself just thinking. What about what it means to be a mother and her. You reconcile with the things that you got to have her you didn't get to have and how much that ends up being carried forward onto your children for better farmers, I dont think Mother really intends to to put those are two expectations on her child necessarily, but you can't help when you're apparent from having certain expectations ritual very positively. I want your life to be better than my life in whatever way you see, of course, right, you know, that's the end You right, that's probably when every parent would say, but the truth is that you are a different person from your child. Your circumstances are probably going to be quite different from your child's and you may not be the best judge of what's that.
Or worse for your child and that's a really hard thing to reconcile with, as apparent I reconcile with that on a daily basis, as I think most most parents do you like, but I think this would better for you there like, yes, but I think this thing would be better for me, read asked you will be much better if I got to play minecraft right now, then, if I didn't ex wines ensure that you get right and I had an you many many other situations that are much harder to parts out. You're, like what is gonna be better for you and you No, you don't get to do over some sort of iter fine thing about being apparent, and I wrote both books as I work through this experience of motherhood and that's a lot of what I think about and have been so glad that a residence with other people, it's been a reminder of like oh right, we're all trying to figure this out as best we can. Yet it's interesting because I think I was talk about from my research parenting is a shame minefield. You know groundwork yeah and we're-
so shaming to other parents, because where the most likely to shame others in areas where we feel the most vulnerable to shame Abso jail, where we thought where we feel full of self worth, we usually don't judge and shame others when were scared to death, that we're making colossal mistakes were very quick because
embedded in shame and judgment is ranked ordering. So you know I want to speak in a parenting. I want to read this quote: okay to a parent, your child wasn't just a person, your child, with a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast, eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you long for all existed it once you could see it every time you looked at her lair in her face was a baby she'd been the child should become in the adult, should grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously like a 3d image and paid your head spin, it was a place. You could take refuge if you knew how to get in and each time you left it.
Each time your child passed out of your sight. You feared you might never be able to return to that place again. Yeah. I I think about this guy every time I look at nice, I know who it is in this phase now we're. I just feel like about every lake. Thirty to forty its he get slightly larger like age? Is he a feeling is growing just ass? I keep having to buy new pants for him and Like that, you know I can't just how are you getting so much bigger so quickly, but it enshiu, all along that you can see them. During their always so your child, and when I look at it as I see how he is, but I also see you know the baby that he used to be an Now you know in the twenty first century. I think this is exacerbated by things like you know. Facebook or Google photos will be like here's. Your memory he's from you no seven years ago, and they, like you, know out of the blue, a photo from your past. What kind of pop into you
life, and you know my my child is standing in front of me at age. Nine, but then he's also on my phone at age too, and I see both of those things superman closed over each other sort of at the same time, raids. It's that serve uncanny feeling looking at him and being able to see all of his past selves kind of wind up on top of each other. But that's that's. A lot of without passage came from That feeling of the sea my child and trying to appreciate where he has, but also still remembering. We doesn't seem like long ago that he was just a little kid like that long ago, since he was a baby and it always irritated me, you know and when I was little and my parents are remember when you you used to be so cute. You remember when you were very little use you this thing I, like you, know I'm seventeen or whatever age. I was get it more now that for them that time was so compressed. You know that
I'm that they remembered from when I was five you the time they were speaking to me. As you know, a young adults, the felt probably like the blink of an eye to that work no let right and for me, I'm like. Why are you still talking about what I was like when I was five, you know I and the whole grown personnel are very different and, of course, the truth is that I still had that person with me and now I see it from the other point of view- and again it's just something I think about a lot when I you know see my son and I see him growing, I think about how and is moving differently from me and I'm gonna remember all of those things and meet the challenges to hold on and remember them, but also not to kind of enforced those on him not to still treat him like he's that little kid, it's again a really hard line to walk as apparent when I read that passage it. Every time I see my. I wasn't aware that I was doing it until I read that, like I think, that's the beauty of words and good writing is that it wraps language around,
I'm saying that you're doing that you're not aware of, but I do think every time I look at Eleanor Charlie I see them when I told them I them now, and I see I see even gone, and you know in and Ellen's twenty, so she is gone, but yeah she's with us now during the quarantine, but and then I when it goes out of my sight. There's almost like a little morning every it's! You really capture that beautifully honey. I think how can there not be that kind of warning because Even when things change in ways that you love, even when you're happy with how they are- and you know, you're excited Ito Here- You're still like oh, but I dont have this other thing any more. In if they don't cancel each other out? It's not what I do. I have a twenty year old and that's great, like I'm gonna way that against having a two year old right like you, you can't really compare those using their just different
Nobody tells you this about parenthood, or they tell you and you can't really conceptualize what it is until you kind of start to go through it riots and then your life, Oh, I see y all that will soon, as I had my son, people kissing o enjoy these days. They're gonna go so fast and like really because it feels like their endless, like. I have slept about three hours in the past week. Right like this, this I'm here it will last forever. You can't see past that, and it's only later on that you gonna go. Oh, I understand what they were trying to tell me there's so much. I think about life that you can't really understand. You ve experienced it in some way and that's that's one of the things that I think rating can do as it can at least give you sort of a glimpse about what it might be like if you haven't experienced it or if you have hopefully like you said he can It cannot take you ain't that, for he would can kind of crystallize it in a way that internally old onto it language gives us a handle right exactly here. So this is the other thing that- and I think this is made speak to just me, but luckily it's my pod, castaway,
yet a really just talk about what we have at times, which I love I'm trying to find the intro. I have so many pages of notes here, but there was a leading Senate set said something like an paraphrasing, as our children grow we have to get accustomed to lessen, wasn't much sometimes yeah. And then you right it's about pearl me as daughter becoming a team. You're, a new right. It's training yourself, too low, on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it to sync, your teeth into it to consume, seeds core and all that is probably the line that the most readers have called out for me as one that really really resonating with them. I really am me so they, because when I was writing ere I was trying to everyone-
Son see when I was writing that he must have about five. So he was right in that state where sometimes he more hold my hand rate like that, that kind of state, and I'm like this- is good you're supposed to be growing more independent is fine. I like that you want to do things on your own and at the same time, unlike you, don't want to hold my hand anymore, Let us not go with me any more. You only want to stuck with me sometimes rate like moment, a kind of recognising that I was oh, I'm gonna have start letting go, and it's just gonna, be letting go more and more and more as we go along like there's, gonna be less and less handholding as we go like an that's right that it still makes me really sad and I was trying to capture that killing and I worry that it might seem mellow dramatic or we know MA, am I'm reaches really. It was her readers when they tell me that that captured something that they were feelings. You because I feel it even now like celestial, sometimes get hold his hand and sometimes he likes to smuggle but he's you know, he's and his hands his leg he's very to privacy. Now he's like oh yeah,
an end because we're doing we're all stuck in the house together during this green quarantine and he's you know he can have little like. Faced time. Are you know Skype play dates with his friends. They play setup monopoly boards in it play on their own board, while their play he's like. Can you gotta There is now that I can have privacy, and, unlike that's, why you're and her privacy right. You should be allowed to talk to your friends right, that's fine and am also serve like oh, but my baby, I'm so near by Do you like? I don't want to. Let go of you. So that's the ceiling, and I was really happy that they worked that line into the adaptation, because it for me, it's one of those certain you, no universal feelings of motherhood and it's one of the few moments where I think the two mothers in his book who are very different and a lot of ways seeing each other directly for just a second and kind,
recognise that they are both going through something similar and then, of course, they diverge. I was really happy that they took that line and they manage to work it into the dialogue on the show. It was in its incredible lie so funny because- Ellen, whose twenty against quarantining with us and we ve been together now, ten or eleven weeks since we her spring break cancelled whenever an told my husband. A couple weeks ago I was like Elinor we're snugly nuclear laughingly having in it she was spilling tee with me about, what's going on, afraid of life, and it was awesome. And then she just rolled over, and she was coming with me, and I said I forgot what it was like to feel the full weight of a child on you. You know and I'll take my twenty euro yoke of my sons, gonna be fifteen. The sheer restoring high school- and I is not that's not where he
is like heel. He gets it he's now afoot taller than me suitcases near. The top of the head is like bye, mom levy or whatever, but I forgot the feeling of the full weight of a child on you, yeah there's a really great passage and think the House of Mirth. I went through this phase last year, where I was trying to fill in the gaps of the classics that I had somehow missed in my english major education and I was reading Edith. Wharton had never really read a lot of an there's. The passage is one of the best descriptions of holding a baby that I've ever read labour is, is holding this person's baby and it talks about how the baby kind of wiggles and then kind of like suddenly cover lacks, is, and you can feel the whole weight of kind of melting into you, and when I read that I remembered like oh right, you know you used to be that small and used to just, like you said the whole weight of them they're. Just there completely trusting you in a way that they don't can't when they get a bit older, now its complete vulnerability, yeah
and others like ok, I trust you, I'm I'm yours and the kind of relaxing and of Milton to your arms and it's so strike you get such a narrow window, and yet it you know, makes such a big impression and you you could have done almost never get that back. It's kind of lovely that you you got to have. That you guys were yet it S. Just for a minute I'll, take it ok, couple more questions, so shake heights where you grew up and which is, I would consider just as a reader a main character in this book. Absolutely, yes, would you agree? absolute absolutely. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to write this novel. Actually, when I started thinking about it, I had been away from home for about ten years, and I was just at that point where I could look back with a bit of perspective and realize oh they're, all these things about it that were really weird. No a lot of things that I put into the book in a sort of its perfectionism, its emphasis
on rules other things and at the same time I could also recognise other a lot of things about it. That will really pretty amazing and that shape me into the person than I am, for example, the fact that race was even something that we try to talk about right, even if we didn't have the greatest conversation, the fact that it was something that was even acknowledged, the fact that they were always trying to do. Right, even if they never totally lived up to their own ideals? That strikes me now as something that's pretty unusual about a community, and without sure yeah, and so you know I wanted to I wanted to try. And write about sugar hope as if it were character. As you said, and show it in you know all of its with all of its faults, but also with all of the things about it that were really admirable, just to show all sides of it and to give a portrait of it like you would give a portrait of like a relative, that you know he want everyone to see the great things about them. You want to acknowledge
things about them that are weird or less than desirable, but you six centric an eccentric right. You know, there's your kooky Andrew there's, your weird uncle, who you know always smokes, is really terrible, smelling, cigars or whatever you know where it is in this area. You have that one uncle who is always feed drinks all too much probably gonna, say some things and you just cut it. You know design when you're going to argue were not a lot like that. But it did? You also want people to see the good things about them and the things about in that you see really admirable and to just be able to hold both of those things right at the same time, and shaker our heads, for me is, is definitely one of the main characters of the book on its part away said the book there. I didn't, I thought about fictional using it, because it's it's scary to write about your hometown, it's scary, to write about a real place because people can then say to you: that's not how I experienced it and you have to try and get it right, but I didn't
that I could write it about somewhere else, because it was this real place having to fictional as it would have would have taken away a lot of the character of place? There was no question in my mind as I read, and I watched that you were writing from the bones, as they would say that you were gentlemen like you were, you are writing from the bones on Shaker heights. A couple questions. Firstly, I gotta say just what I do is a researcher and social scientist, and I dont think ever thought about this before your work honestly, before this book spokesperson clay that as we try to learn,
got ourselves and develop more self awareness. I think it would behoove all of us to think about where we grew up as a character in our own narrative. I dont think we do that, but certainly for me, Texas is as strong of an influence in character and my life had it ban a grandpa grandma even maybe even a parent, because the Texas raised me and its own ways that I've sunk into in love and hate and hate it. So I love again. The psychology class is completely paid off because really cuz like Understanding place a sense of place is a character in our lives. I don't know we can do the work. We need to do all of it without that. The second thing that struck me about and I'm coming off, memory right now, cuz. I got on my notes here, but I don't have my copy of the book because I'm a moving books to the office
There were some, I think, real kind of by laws or marketing material from Shaker heights in the sixties or Seventys in front of your book yeah. So I think exactly right, I mean I think that. I think we notice the effect of where you grew up. If it's only we notice, I didn't really obvious cases. So, for example, I'm a daughter of immigrants, and so the immigrant story is why that we think a lot about right. How did it change? Who you were? How did it shape you if you were born somewhere and then you chose to come somewhere else rate or if you were brought there for whatever reason, We understand that that's gonna shape, who you are right, but it's not always as obvious like you say. If it's something that's less and less dramatic shift. I started to think about this because my first novel set in a fictional town in Ohio. And people in Ohio really excited about it and they said. Can you talk to us about how being? hi. When she
to you are- and I had never really thought about that question What time zone of growing up in Ohio, and particularly in Cleveland in the nineties, it was not the most exciting place to grow up with the most exciting time to grow up and general speaking, we would sort of joke and say, like all the reason it formed us is that we really wanted to get out of here. Right, like I wanted, there's nothing here. You know the answer by who were from like Iowa Nebraska save semi facetiously. Well, we You know we were shaped by the fact that, like what we really wanted to do was to escape rural Nebraska rate and then might be true. I mean a lot of times what your shipping yourself against is in opposition to something, but it all you know. I had this think a lot with this book and with my first book about what it meant to be from Ohio and should be particularly chinese american girl living in a high rate, and so, like you said all that I think really has a huge influence on who I became an like. You said it's probably true forever.
To what extent are another? The passage it you that you said the sailor violence where's that I haven't the beginning and others which are thinking about. There's too, paragraphs as a beginning, and one of them is in advertisements from the creators of the village. That's the one the other one is from an article in cousin policy and where she grew heights had been in nineteen. Sixty three, it had been determined should be the wealthiest supper per capita, and they came in this before In part, in became a women's magazine. It was still just a general interest family magazine, so pre Helen Girly round era, and they came and they did a profile of the. Community, and I was amazed and reading and at how much had not changed in a way. And you know the particulars had changed, but the the general ethos of the town was the same. The advertisements is whether you buy Homesite in the school section, broad acres in the shaker country estates or one of the houses offered by this company in the choice of neighborhoods. Your purchase includes
so it is four gulf writing tennis voting. It includes unexcelled schools and includes protection forever against appreciation and unwelcome change, that's that was how that was what they were selling. That was the dream that they were selling to people come here, You can have all these things and it will never change it will always you will be protected, it will be the same. It will be a little trouble free you. So here's, what struck me and I M a product of the suburbs- you know I'm in the product an interesting suburb outside of Houston that I think was people magazine, featured ass our junior year for the highest number of suicides of well. So affluent, most of dads worked. Mom stayed at home, the dad's road that freeway to downtown oil. The oil and gas you know. But what struck me? Why is the inherent
unwinnable. Tension between the promise of diverse city, inclusive III and around race and everything would be pretty. Easy, and there would be no conflict. It was weird. Owing to be. It was definitely my red of your book and tell me this is true, not my reading. The book was definitely a diversity through color. Lined ness approach like we're all the same, we're all the sameness, and so it was as f. The promise of Shaker heights was being lived out through me. Angelina, like yeah did, did you did you Is that true, or is that I think there was goal in the era that I was there, which was the nineties lay, should clarify that at the beginning. So at the time-
that this advertisements the beginning was first written, we share your heights, most other communities was not thinking about racial diversity and in fact they were sort of like we're going to have the right kind of people, which is mostly white and christian people, not Jews. Not people of color is on. It was not until the fifties, Shaker heights kind of decided. We are going to make diversity part these the fifties. Yeah I mean it had been happening along, but there was an incident that happened in the nineteen fifteen, where there was the whole of a wealthy black lawyer was they put somebody put a little firebomb in his garage and this was a real turning point for the community where they said were what are we going to do? We are seeing in all the neighborhoods around us segregation happening were seen: white fight happening, How are we going to respond and they decided to respond by making differ any sort of the cornerstone of the community.
At least in terms of we're gonna get everybody to kind of live together. We integrate the neighborhoods, we're gonna do all of these things it had before, You know not not been a focus of love, but starting in the fifties, it became the sort of racial experiment and people kind of said, Workin do this we're going to give subsidies for black families to move into white neighborhoods or for white families to move into black neighbourhoods? And that's how we're going to encourage integration going to integrate all the schools and make sure that their all kind of blending. As well as they can be, and it was by the time, we got to the nineties, like you, said this sort of effort. Is he like we're all you know we are all the same. We are all equal, and I remember that being just the way that people express their racial awareness at the time The name is, if you wanted to show that you were racially aware, and you were sensitive to raise the way that you said it was. I dont see race rate
really is the same in my eyes, and I think that was at the time what they meant was. I will treat people equally, but now we can also hear how that says: forget about this very large aspect of your identity and of your experience and pretend that it doesn't matter I mean now we can here than in a very different light, but at the time I think, that's that's my sins of how it was across the country. If you wanted to talk about race, you wanted to do it in a survey it doesnt matter raised, doesn't matter ray? I think that was the approach yeah. It was the idea that we were going to somehow become posts, racial that race race, as a concept with something I could only be negative and divisive and we had a kind of ignored and I think we see that differently. Now we see that that it's a lot more complicated you catch, serve, take race out of the equation and pretend
nothing else is the same. I kept, I don't know if you ve ever read Ostend Channing Browns work nearby, I kept there's a quote that she she's an amazing, does anti racism, work and amazing writer. There's a quote that says we You believe niceness disproves. The presence of racism is easy to start believing bigotry is rare and that the label racist, should only be applied to mean spirited intentional acts of discrimination it. So so spot on its like crazy But you know I think, people a lot of people who had been aware of it, because many people were but a lot of people suddenly became starting with the run up to the chief has the sixteen election will you know, I think a lot of people who hadn't been aware of it, because many people were but a lot of people suddenly be. I aware that you could be racist without being corn and quote me rain, and there is an awful thing like war. Are you calling me a racist as if you know like the problem? Was the name racist rather than the thing they give? It actually caused the harm that it's a hard thing to reckon
all right, but I think we have to write like you, you, you kind of have to do that. If somebody points It's you that your causing harm you have to besides your own feelings, about being called out on that and try to focus on not causing the harm and that's why, hard, especially if you ve never been asked to do it. Sympathy for that, but I also feel it you know: that's the work that has to get done. It's it's worked at the people, who are in power and have privilege have to do. There's no way round that people can't do that work for them now. That's it yeah! Ok, my last close that I want to read to you because man killed me. This is hard. I have some of this in mere. I hear. Rules existed for reason. If you followed them, you would succeed
If you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground. He I have a lot of any me too. I mean that's how that's that's why I wrote that there's a lot of Elinor Richardson in me and again that sort of her the distillation of her essence, I'm kind of a good it She is by nature in a lot of ways. You know I was raised to be very like obedient and nice and compliant as many as many women are, especially my parents were ino very much like you need to follow the rules and like behave, health, and I realize now that part of that was because we look different. We where people of color we were in a place where we would stand out, and there was a sense that to do otherwise could be very dangerous. So you had better follow all the rules. Do not that we do not put a toe out of line, and you know that's true for so many people color, especially for black people ray you can be following all the rules and still get in trouble, but
feel that I want to believe that there is this system of right and wrong, and if you just do all the things are supposed to do, that you will be fighting rate and the truth is obviously that is not true right. There are certain people who will be fine if there following the rules, and maybe even if they're, not following the rules, though be given the benefit of the doubt, and then there are many people who can be following the rules to the letter, and They were still end up in trouble through no fault of their own liking, and you think about something as simple as like you be a black person driving a car and do we have? nothing wrong and you might still get pulled over great and I If don't know black person personally, that has happened to errand and is not just about raised, but it is about that idea in some ways that there is a way that you can keep yourself safe, that you can in some way control how other people are going to perceive you or have other people are going to treat you and- The thing is when you realise that that's not actually true for many people there
in a way that you consider protect yourself, you can stay and those on the right side of things that you can keep yourself out of trouble that you can't always control how people are going to see you or react to you. You can always- whether people are going to give you the benefit of the doubt, but we really want to believe that right and our God, yes, it's built into it you're a biologically ray. You know and as we know, we ve been talking about this in race, but even just in terms of I think about liking relationships and like little spats that have with my husband like he wants to believe there is it, but I did exactly what you told me and yet, for some reason, you're still mad at me, because I didn't do x, Y and see you don't when there there's so much that goes unsaid. That's not in always, I think, made explicit in any relationship, and you know you. You start your recognise, how fragile the wrong word, but you start recognize how much you have to kind of red any situation and kind
the just sort of your expectations- and we are doing to what's in that re, regardless of what the rules are like the rules are, I did something I say sorry, you have to forgive me and he doesn't work that way right now. I think. That's, no. I think- and I think that's parthia anxiety round the pandemic right now or people just give me the rules because I'll follow them. So I can see if you can promise me, I can stay safe than my ass. We say that my parents will be safe, just gimme. The rules, yeah the grown ups with the rules in the region, and we don't. We don't have those grown ups right now or where busily firing them or not. Listen to them and Andrews they're, not even sure, about the rules. They have their best guess, because everyone is sort of figuring out as they go along. Scary, we would like to be yeah. We would like to be told like ok, there is definitely you know we check off these boxes. We will be fine and you can't do that like it's as as in so many things in life, there is no guaranteed outcome with that, and it's really really hard, and I say that as somebody who would love you know, I love having a play.
And I love it when I have a plan and it takes care of all the things you know and it works, but most of life isn't like that. You know you can't you can bet, but that's why Elaine. I was hard for me to master sympathy, for some time is, but that part of her I understood because I have it so I was you know. So let me ask you a couple quick questions that I have a ten question. Rapid fire to clothes were getting ready yes, but we ask who was your favorite character and little fires everywhere and who is your least favoured? And at least here It is hard because my job is that a half of empathy but favorite easy was really really fun to right, because she gets to say and do a lot of the things that were told. You should not say you can't do that. Don't say it out loud right like everything that was to be inside voice. She says her outside worries and that's really that was fun to write her. Oh, I love her. Yeah? Who was? Did you struggle for with The tea for anyone I did I struggled to.
Empathy for Lena Alot, even though I am very much like Alina. She does what it things in the book that are really unlike a and that really difficult, but as the author, my job is to try and understand why she did them why she thought they were the right thing. Even if I go oh no honey. That was not the right thing to do like you have to be able to see why she thought she was doing the right thing, and that was hard. And took it to provisions on my writers group would say you know it feels like you have your your thumb thumb on the scale a little bit yeah. Well, I don't that's not the since I want. I want people to be able to understand her too, and so I would have to go back and find ways to generate empathy for her to explain how she ended up the way. She is what did you think about the adaptation? What did you think? What do you think about the who is special? I very lucky I went into it wanting to give it space for it to be something different. I think that is supposed to be copyrighted supposed to be an attitude,
it's on the screen and there are different needs on the screen. I write a lot of internal thought. You can't do that on the screen. You can have a character, just sit there if it does not make for gripping television so I really liked what they did and I, like all of this sort of new directions that they would take things they still felt to me like they were organic to the characters, and yet they got to explore things that I didn't in the book. I didn't get too in the book. I hadn't thought of you. In the book. I really like them. I don't know how I got so lucky to have two such amazing actresses as recent years. A lot of tv shows, I think, you're lucky to have. You know like what does have one actors and others at five guys and in this case, to have two actresses, who are just me
only talented and who will we like both of them? It reminds us that we have to kind of have some empathy for both of these characters rate like they all of their sort of natural, charisma and talent, goes to making us like these two women who, both of whom do some really morally questionable things, yeah yeah yeah. I thought they didn't make job with adaptation? That was really happy, and it's interesting too, because I, a lot of my friends, you ve, read and watched its two different experiences, both amazing. I'm so happy to hear that I mean that. Was that what I wanted, Anita you, what I've been saying is that if you hear a cover song, There you want to hear the same melodies and the same word. It's the same song, but you want it to be a different experience. Ray you want to hear you know, like nine inch, nail singing songs and then Johnny Cash singing the song and have try really heifer interpreters. What are they recover? Songs? You know
play on her and when I heard Johnny Cash is gonna, do a cover. I was like Johnny like Johnny Cash. Like the man in black Johnny Cash. How is that going to work? But when I heard it it was a completely different song, and yet it was the same song and that was joy is it for me, and that was what I wanted from an adaptation. I wanted them, he'll be different experiences, and I think that these I think they succeeded in doing that. You know where the loyalty and fidelity was to me too, the characters. Yes, examine shaker heights to the characters and so yeah. So let me ask you this: what was like it when you got the call that this was going to happen? completely surreal surreal? I work with a really great foam age and an richmond enrichment easier, and he was like ok I've, censure, novel to reach witherspoons production partner at Helen.
Try nor a new shatter at and she really likes it. We happen to be a branches exude. I just got his email and she really likes, and she said she read it overnight and she's gonna have restricted by tomorrow, and I was like yeah sure. That's really gonna have she's really get away this vote by tomorrow. You she did and the emails that they said and then, when I got to talk to them on the phone, it was so clear that they had such love further and so many points of residence between the book and their own personal experience of their own lives, the issues that they thought about and then, when they decided to bring, carry an it was just one of those moments where went yeah. I trust them completely like. I would be happy to give this to you and let you do with it. What you want, because I can see that you're looking in the same direction that I'm looking in and so whenever you end up doing with it, I feel like will be faithful to the heart of the book. And that really has ended up being true, it's been a really great experience. I love that. Are you ready for your rapid fire? Ten? Yes, I'm ready, ok,
the blank. For me, vulnerability is scary, number do your call to be brave, but your fear is real. It's right caught in your throat. What's the very first thing you do take a deep am I doing this right? Is this? Have you had in this perfect Earth Association yadda, something that people often get wrong about you? They think that I am a pushover be informed people. Ok, no such indifference right between being nice, and being run over like people eyes, but people, sometimes that they can then pushed me around and then usually they find out that their horribly mistaken. I love it sort of fun yeah I'll, be there to be there's nothing better than when when people are in the hard way that kind and fierce can coexist. I like Bagley, ok, last that you Benjamin loved
we're bending it right now, but we're avenging the great on Hulu at with L, fanning and Nicholas, holds in, and yes, fantastic. Ok, it's so final! I do know that ok, favorite movie! one year on just one of your favorite these one more time the Philadelphia story Kay- answered that you'll. Never forget, Emily totally blinking has only ok. I have to pick one of all the countries that I've been to you. I was thinking in college. I went to see fountains of Wayne play this tiny little grungy Edith in. And I mean all the Cutler many continents it I've been here, but I've been thinking about that when, because he he died recently, yes- and it really brings home this particular moment and at EU level, I saw you and now you died because of rice pandemic. That's going on so in that, at the top of my mind, right now, that's their favorite meal, one of your favorite meals, anything that my mom has cooked. Basically, here, if you
you're going to have come over here, she's gonna make something special for you. What would it be? She will make her egg roles which she usually only makes on like family get together, like that, we usually a thing thanksgiving, an egg roles and Christmas and grows and she makes them from scratch, and only does it family occasions, but they're so good. Oh, my god, I cannot make them the same way, that sounds really get. What's on your nightstand a ring we really really giant stack of books on top of it is on immunity by your this, which I've been re reading for reasons that are probably obvious, but it just strikes me how interconnected the concept of health is. You can't limit that you yourself, it is a community saying that you have to take care of Adam. It seemed like a good book to read, at this particular moment in the Pacific together. Well, together, that's right. Give me us shot of an ordinary moment in your life. That brings you joy. It is probably
just goofing around with my son. We have a habit of ripping off of just something that Many might say any sort of phrase and we'll just. Very at and make ponds and make it sillier and then make it sillier and keep trying to one up each other until we end up with something that makes absolutely no sense and it's just it's never planned stood impromptu. But it's it's this little unspoken rule on you, don't rural free game, that we play together. I wish I could see the look on her face right now, we're on zoom, and you could see how much joy just describing it. Ok, last question: what are you deeply grateful for right now? I'm really deeply grateful for from my family, both my extended family but also my immediate nuclear family. We ve been stuck together in the house for about. I think this is eleven weeks now, less track, but I'm really grateful that we have. You know a home that safe that we
hen move our lives into the house. You know my husband, I could both worker Molly and that we, like each other, like, if I had to be quarantine with people at least I got to be quarantine with two of my favorite people, who honestly still bring me joy ice. Just zoom call recently with friends to watch a movie with my husband and my son: and my has music. So your I totally sick of us after all this time and again, not totally still want to see you so yeah. I'm really grateful that yeah. I feel pretty lucky that they're pretty great I really appreciate the craft and the art and the work that you're putting out in the world not only did it kind of take me away. It taught me a lot, so I am grateful for that. So thank you. Thank you. That is a huge huge compliment to hear. So. Thank you and thank you for your smart questions. Do this was really fun but you're welcome
Transcript generated on 2020-06-05.