With so many concerts going on around the LA area Friday night, I decided to look for an event more my pace. Luckily, on Facebook I found Celeste Ng was scheduled to speak and sign books at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. Her newest novel Little Fires Everywhere had been gaining momentum on the best-seller lists, and since I recently read and enjoyed Everything I Never Told You, I went to the event to get insight on the author’s work and writing process.
In Little Fires Everywhere, a suburban mother is dealing with her house burning down amid her seemingly perfect life and trying to piece together what sparks ignited the blaze. The story takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio — the author’s second hometown — and at the event she spoke about the “metaphorically rich” planned community and how rules shape it. She used the example of how residents couldn’t leave trash cans out on the curb for collection; it was too messy, so the city had golf carts go in the back of residents’ houses to fetch the trash to bring it up the driveway to the truck at the curb.
This fascinated me. In the book jacket, her bio reads she grew up in Shaker Heights — where she said she lived from 10 to college — and Pittsburgh. Recently I had just realized I spent half my childhood in Chicago and the other half in Sacramento. The most recent novel I’m working on surrounds a teenage girl secretly becoming a mermaid at a nightclub in Chicago, but I based the character’s neighborhood on my original neighborhood of Rogers Park that had such an idyllic quality that it didn’t feel like it was in Chicago, and from Celeste’s description maybe more like Shaker Heights. And I too had moved to Sacramento at age 10 up to college. Chicago has more personality, of course, but maybe Northern California suburban living might creep up into a later story.
Celeste also discussed her writing process and how the idea of her latest novel germinated in 2009 but the actual writing didn’t come until after 2014’s Everything I Never Told You. So the characters evolved in her head, so she encouraged writers to not be so consumed with how long the story is taking to get on paper and then the long road to being published. She even praised how Sweet Tarts and other candies got her through writing, with a tweet about Sweet Tarts catching the attention of the company that sent her a package. Like many writers, she worked at home, the library, and cafes, which felt inspiring since it felt like I could create a great novel though I spent so much time writing it in all the same places near me.
The event drew a packed room with about 75 or so people braving rush hour traffic. I bought the hardcover book and got it signed, but I choked when I met her because I wanted to tell her about my author aspirations. Sometimes, I can get my words out when meeting authors quickly at book signings and sometimes not, but she was polite and I’m looking forward to reading the novel soon.