The sight of leaves falling to the ground signals the arrival of fall. With the kids back in school, mothers can breathe a sigh of relief. That is until your son or daughter arrives home in tears with the story of how the school’s bully has ruined his or her life. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of political correctness, bullying is still an issue. But, the fact of the matter is its real and it leaves deep emotional scars for years to come.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Myla Goldbergtackles this ever timely issue in her latest release THE FALSE FRIEND. It’s the story of a group of childhood girlfriends who are forced to come to terms with past school-aged transgressions. Emotionally gripping as well as painfully true to life, this book deserves a place on the top of your must-read list.
As part of this interview, Doubleday Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, make a note to look for the trivia question at the end. You’ll be happy you did! And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.
Jen: The path that leads to an author’s publication can sometimes be as interesting as the novel itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into your life before the fame, please share with us your educational and professional background.
Myla: I went to Oberlin College, where I majored in English. After that, I lived in Prague for a year, where I split my time between writing and teaching ESL–but mostly writing, because in the early ‘90s, Prague was a ridiculously inexpensive place for an American to live. When I returned to the States, I moved to New York City, where I variously worked for a literary agent, as a production assistant for a terrible movie, and as a freelance reader for television movies. I liked that last job best because it gave me the most time for my own work. I quit it when Bee Season started doing well, and since then I’ve been able to spend most of my time writing, while also serving as a migrant adjunct at various MFA programs around the city.
Jen: Has writing always been a passion of yours, or was there an “Ah! Ha!” moment when you knew that this would become your career?
Myla: I’ve wanted to be a writer since at least second grade. I used to sit at an electronic typewriter (it’s this machine where you press lettered buttons, and the corresponding letters are printed on a piece of paper) and pretend I was writing a novel.
Jen: Your writing career has been quite diverse from children’s literature to book reviews as well as novels. Of all the genres you have explored, which is the most rewarding personally and why?
Myla: Novels! I consider myself a novelist who occasionally moonlights in other genres. Novels are pretty much all I read, and all I’ve aspired to. I love the immersive experience a novel offers, and the room it offers a writer to explore all sorts of narrative and psychological back roads.
Jen: Your first novel BEE SEASON was a huge success garnering many awards as well as the prestige of being made into a movie starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche. First of all, how did you arrive at the premise?
Myla: I read a Granta essay that framed spelling bees in terms of all the kids who lose, rather than the one who wins. Then, I visited the National Spelling Bee, and weeks later that experience combined in my back brain with this class I’d taken in college about Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, along with stories friends of mine had told about being in spelling bees, and that pretty much had me hooked.
Jen: Secondly, what role did you play in bringing your story to the big screen? And looking back, would you have done anything differently in the process and if so, why?
Myla: I was the one who told the movie producer that he could write me a nice check and go make a movie out of my book. Plus, they flew me out to the set once to meet everybody. I was pretty happy to let other folks take a crack at adapting Bee Season, because I had a hard time seeing how such an internal story could comfortably transition to a visual medium.
Jen: Your latest endeavor THE FALSE FRIEND is a powerful novel that examines the repercussions of childhood bullying on one woman’s life. A question I just have to ask…why did you choose to tackle this subject? And, were you a victim of childhood bullying?
Myla: About ten years ago, I remembered this girl who I’d sometimes been mean to in elementary school. We were both pretty socially marginal (translation: we were nerds; not the cool kind), so we clung to each other and battled each other with equal vehemence, each of us secretly seeing the other as an impediment to our own popularity. Until remembering this, I’d retained all sorts of memories of when I’d been bullied, but I’d forgotten the occasions when I’d been mean myself. When I tracked the friend down to apologize, she told me that she didn’t remember me doing anything particularly nasty, but that she knew she’d been pretty awful back then, and hoped that I’d forgive her, so we parted mutually forgiven and unsure of exactly what we were forgiving the other for. Nothing from my experience was remotely close to the scale of what happens in the book, but that was what laid the seeds of the story.
Jen: At the beginning of the book, the lead character Celia experiences flashbacks to the disturbing event that led to her friend’s disappearance. Why did this incident come to the forefront at that particular moment in her life? Was it simply that her guilt lay dormant too long?
Myla: To my mind, Celia’s dormant guilt effectively paralyzes her. She has progressed in her adult life to a certain point, but her personal life is being held hostage by these old memories, until finally her frustration and unhappiness forces them to the surface.
Jen: Her husband Huck is put in a precarious position when confronted with the supposed sins from his wife’s past. How does this revelation affect their relationship?
Myla: Well, for starters, he’s not her husband, as much as he seems like he is and would like to be, which is part of the paralysis I was just talking about. When Celia tells Huck what she remembers, he wants to be supportive, but isn’t sure if that means believing her despite what his own instincts might tell him, or siding with those who point out all the inconsistencies they see in Celia’s version of the past. All of this forces them to confront the stasis in their relationship, and whether there’s anything they can do – together or individually – to help move past it.
Jen: Celia’s parents choose to hide behind their rose-colored glasses rather than admit that their daughter may have played a part in the wrong- doing. Why would they rather turn a blind eye? Do they feel as if Celia would not be able to face the truth if it was to surface, or are they hiding something?
Myla: I’m not sure they’re turning a blind eye so much as feeling completely unequal to the task of open and honest communication. They both take a crack at communicating with Celia, with varying degrees of success, but talking is definitely not something they’re comfortable with, or used to. Celia’s dad definitely feels protective of her, so he’s held back in part by that. And I think it’s fair to say that almost all parents are blinded by their love for their children, to one degree or another. That said, I think Celia’s mom manages to communicate quite a lot to Celia about her own memories of that time, and what she thinks Celia may or may not have done.
Jen: The reaction Celia receives from her childhood girlfriends is not what she expected. How has the revelation of her cruelness changed her recollection of Djuna’s disappearance?
Myla: What Celia hears from her childhood friends affects her own memories of that time, which is always the case when you talk about old memories with somebody else. Every time you hash over a shared memory with someone, you come away with a different version of events than you arrived with.
Jen: Without giving too much away, is Celia capable of accepting the consequences of her actions? Or is she, too, a victim of her own circumstances?
Myla: I think Celia is deeply troubled by the actions she took as a girl, but the course of action she pursues in the book shows that she’s very much interested in understanding these actions and accepting the consequences. Everybody’s a victim of circumstance; that’s merely the baseline we all start from.
Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. Will you be participating in a book tour? If so, what can you share with us?
Myla: Lots of cities! Lots of very cool independent bookstores! I’m a little worried that my daughters will think I’ve run away from home, but other than that I’m excited to get out and go all over, reading from the book and meeting folks.
Jen: Please take us on a tour of your website.
Myla: No way! You should just go there: www.mylagoldberg.com. My book tour schedule is there, plus all sorts of weird little essays I’ve written over the years, along with a few interviews, and other oddments. Plus, it looks real pretty.
Jen: What’s next for you? Any new projects or films?
Myla: Um, yes? Just don’t ask me what they are, because I don’t know yet! I’m completely monomaniacal when it comes to writing. When I finish a project, it’s not like I can move onto the next item on my laundry list of ideas. I need to read a lot and talk a lot, and go look at art, and eavesdrop on folks, and wait for something new to obsess me.
Jen: Thank you so much for taking time to chat with my readers. I think your novel is quite appropriate for this time of year with back-to-school issues on everyone’s mind. Bullying needs to be addressed at all levels from pre-school to adulthood. Thanks for making it a priority in your writing. Bravo!
Myla: Well, that’s nice of you to say, but I didn’t have any sort of social agenda when I sat down to write THE FALSE FRIEND. The idea naturally arose out of my own thoughts, experiences, concerns, and desires, which is pretty much the only way I know for books to happen.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my interview with Myla. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?
Be one of five winners to correctly answer the following question for a chance to win.
Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Erin Valent. You won’t want to miss it.
Until next time….