In anticipation of Celeste Ng’s visit to Salt Lake City on Friday, May 17
, in support of the paperback release of Little Fires Everywhere
, we reached the author to ask her a few questions about her books—which include Little Fires Everywhere
, released in 2017, and her debut novel Everything I Never Told You
—and her evolution as an author, as she sees both novels go from page to screen in upcoming film and TV adaptations.
City Weekly: How has your relationship with Little Fires Everywhere changed since you finished and first released it in 2017?
I still love the book. I’m so happy that it’s been embraced, that it’s found such a readership. Maybe the best analogy is I feel like it’s my kid that went off to college. As weird as that sounds, I spent all this time nurturing it and helping it to grow, and now it’s gone out and it seems like it’s doing okay in the world, you know? It has friends, and it has a job it likes, and so I check in on it, but I feel like in some ways it’s taken on a life of its own in a really nice way. I’m just sort of happy to get to see what it’s been doing.
Do you reread your own books? Have you reread it since you finished writing it?
Not in full. I read it several times during the editing process. I think when I did copy-editing, you have to keep reading it, you know, so I gave it to my agent and she gave it to my editor, and she made changes, and I read it and reworked it. And then we gave it to the copy-editor, and they make changes, and so I reread it and reworked. And then you get page proofs and you reread it and reworked it. And then I think by the time I got the final copy, I did read through it to see what it was like as a finished product. But I haven’t reread it since then, I just revisit parts of it as I do readings and events. I haven’t read it cover to cover again.
Being a best-selling author has meant transitioning to other formats—Little Fires Everywhere is being adapted for a Hulu mini-series, and then there’s a movie for Everything I Never Told You. I’m wondering how that process of working in different formats and being a producer alongside being an author has been for you?
It’s been good so far! I have sort of a small involvement in each of the two adaptations, which is what I wanted, because I feel like my job, really, is writing the novels, and I wanted to give those productions space to become what they’re going to be. They should be adaptations; they should be a little bit different. With the series for Little Fires Everywhere
, I got to go out and sit in on the writers room and talk with the writers; I read all the scripts and sent them notes; and I’m sort of allowed to be one of the people giving input, but they have been doing a great job as they go. Mostly I’m just thrilled at everything they’re planning. With Everything I Never Told You
, likewise I’m kept in the loop and I got to read the script and make some notes, but I’m sort of trying to keep to the writing and let them make of the project what they’re going to do with it.
So it’s a whole being in itself, basically.
It is! And it’s one where I feel like I sort of know what I’m doing but I prefer to leave it to the experts in some ways, so it’s been actually a learning experience for me because it’s so different. Even meeting with the writers on the TV show, we’re all writers but they think about story and they think about how to tell it in a really different way because it’s a visual medium, and because they’re making eight hours of television, which is a lot. It’s been really fascinating for me to kind of learn about this and get to be an observer and listener at the table.
I will ask this, and you can answer as much as you want, obviously, but what are you working on now?
I am working on two novels. I’ve sort of been ping-ponging back and forth between them because I find it really hard to work on a new thing when I’m still kind of talking about the old project, so I’ve been sort of dabbling with both of them, and my hope is this summer, when I’m done with travel, I’ll have a chance to sit down and pick one and kind of make some progress on it. They’re both novels. I won’t say too much about plot because it could change; I could tell you the plot and two years from now it could come out and be a dinosaur space romance, but I think they’re going to deal with similar themes to my first book, which had to do with being an outsider versus belonging, about identity and family and relationships between parents and children from generation to generation. Those seem to be the subjects that I keep coming back to.
Little Fires Everywhere also very much touches on that relationship between parents and children, mothers and children especially. At its core what would you say the novel is about?
It’s very much about motherhood and all the complicated facets of it—how we experience it and what we’re told it should be like. But I think it’s also about power and control, because that’s part of the mother-child relationship too, is who has power over who, and how that plays out in the community, too. It’s really all about power and sort of where that runs into feelings.
When you were writing Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, did you set out intending to write these stories about complicated women and complicated motherhood, or was that something that just kind of happened?
Well, I didn’t go in thinking I was going to write a story about complicated women and complicated motherhood, but I think that is my view of women and mothers, is that they’re complicated people. They’re not this idealized figure that they often are portrayed as being in literature. So when I tried to write the stories that I realized I was interested in telling, the women in them are, of course, complicated and sometimes difficult and just very multifaceted. I think that was me trying to show women as I see them, in real life.
The suburbs in Little Fires Everywhere sort of become a character of their own, a space where you just don’t talk about things, where things are brushed over. And then it’s only through disruption that change happens, and obviously that’s something that can be translated on a lot of different scales. Do you think that disruption is necessary is necessary for that kind of social change—on any scale?
I don’t know if it’s necessary, but it does seem like a lot of times that’s what it takes. I think that as human beings, we like to be comfortable. That’s totally natural, and a lot of times being comfortable means not dealing with things and kind of accepting things, or looking the other way, or telling yourself that things are good. And a lot of times, change is difficult, and I think both of my novels look at that it sometimes does take a huge thing to shake you out of it. When I think about my own life, or people I know, it’s really hard to make a change in how you live your life or who you are, and often the thing that makes that happen is a huge catastrophe or a near miss, something that kind of shakes you up. And I think the same is true for communities. In the novel, Shaker Heights is almost a character in and of itself, and it’s a little complacent, in some ways, and it takes something really big to kind of get people’s attention. I think that’s true for communities as well as people.
We are excited to have you in Salt Lake—I am, in particular.
Oh, thank you. I am really excited to get to come to Salt Lake because I’ve actually never been out there; I’ve never been to Utah either. It’ll be my first time! So I’m really thrilled to get to come and just spend half a day in the city. I’ve heard such good things about it.