Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”
–Excerpt from Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Celeste Ng, 2014.
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Celeste Ng: A favorite daughter’s death reveals her mixed-race family’s complicated secrets.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CN: I struggled with this question for an unreasonably long time and finally gave up because I realized that no matter what parents I named—Amy and Isabelle? The Virgin Suicides? Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?—the novel would struggle with the huge expectations those parents would have for their offspring and probably end up drowned in a lake.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CN: Startling metaphors and images, unexpected moments of connection, plenty of dashes, tea (both hot and iced), Swedish Fish, many hours staring at the computer, certain days where “working” means deleting the things I wrote the day before.
Proportions will vary according to taste.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CN: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Just stunning on every level: plot, language, structure, craft.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CN: Actually, the hardest part and the most rewarding part are the same: imagining your way into someone else’s skin, thinking their thoughts, and then trying to set those down in words.
Get a copy of Everything I Never Told You at IndieBound.
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son.