Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling Bee Season, which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 2000 and made into a film, and of Time's Magpie, a book of essays about Prague. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and failbetter. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Author biography courtsey of Random House, Inc..
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In an interview with her publisher, Goldberg discusses the spark for her debut novel, Bee Season:
"In 1997 I went to D.C. to visit the National Spelling Bee. I interviewed the kids and I sat in the auditorium and watched the whole thing -- it was intense! If nothing else, that was what made me realize that I could write a novel about this. It's an alternate universe; there's just so much there.
"For me it became a microcosm of the childhood experience, for just about everyone that I know. You grow up, you have parents who have expectations of you, who want certain things, and you try really hard to fulfill them. And then you realize that you can't always. That kind of moment is defining for a lot of people. The spelling bee functions in two days to sum up that entire childhood experience."
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In the summer of 2005, Myla Goldberg took some time out to talk with us about her favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There are so many different ways different books have influenced me that to name one book as the most influential just isn't possible, so I'm glad I get to make a list....
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz -- Whenever I read this, the lushness of the prose acts as a narcotic. Schulz is filled with beautiful, startling images and unexpected twists of the imagination.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville -- Melville does whatever he wants in this thing and gets away with it! There's essays and theater and prose and it's all compelling and smart and funny.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov -- The narrative structure of this is so ingenious and cool and it works so seamlessly. The book is a major inspiration to me to take risks when I write and to look for the less obvious way to tell a story.
War with the Newts by Karel Capek -- This is another example of a writer doing whatever he wants, having a great time, and writing a brilliant, funny, prescient book. Newts feels like it could have been written yesterday instead of seventy years ago.
Atonement by Ian McEwan -- I love the way this book tells its story, and the vividness of its characters, and McEwan's prose is always a pleasure to read, but the thing that really gets me about Atonement is the way McEwan nails a certain kind of solitude that belongs only to childhood and what a child's mind and imagination will do when left to its own devices.
I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal -- Hrabal's writing is irreverent, surprising, and gorgeous. His ideas and his images burrow into the mind and build permanent nests.
Anything by Alice Munro -- I know I'm not naming a specific book here, but that's because Munro's stories have come to me singly, in different ways. She packs so much so smoothly into her stories; each one is a complete universe, as complex and fully realized as any novel. And her grasp of human psychology is masterful.
Blindness by José Saramago -- When I was reading this book, it was all I wanted to be doing. One of the most compelling, frightening and all encompassing reads ever.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Songs from the Second Floor -- A strange, funny, beautifully-shot film that comes across like a series of surreal oil paintings come to life.
The Shining -- I love a good scary movie, and this is one of the scariest of all time.
Bladerunner -- Rutger Hauer is the sexiest replicant ever, and Ridley Scott's evocation of Philip K. Dick's dystopic future has branded itself on my brain.
Poison -- The way Todd Haynes interweaves three seemingly disparate stories in this film is something that film hardly ever gets away with.
Welcome to the Dollhouse -- This movie is dark and funny and absolutely right about just about everything.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I can't listen to music when I write, but I listen to it whenever I'm not. Favorites include Thinking Fellers Union Local #282, The Magnetic Fields, Django Reinhardt, Sviatoslav Richter, Sol Hoopii, and the Arditi Quartet
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
If I had a book club, I'd be the one who never read the book on time.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
The best books to give and get are books that the giver is personally passionate about.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
My desk is big and cluttered, but a few staples on it are my Edgar Allan Poe action figure, a gargoyle, and artwork by friends.
What are you working on now?
Nothing! I'm recovering from the five-year process of writing my second novel, Wickett's Remedy. But I look forward to trying my hand at just about everything in the upcoming year -- short stories, a children's book, and maybe even a movie or a play.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I've been writing since I was a kid; it's all I ever wanted to do, and I feel like writing continuously from an early age played a big role in helping me to get to where I am now.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
A few living writers whose work I think ought to be read by a lot more people are Janette Turner Hospital (Oyster), Donald Antrim (Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World), and George Saunders (Civilwarland in Bad Decline).
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Find a reader who is smart and honest and will read your work critically and constructively and stick to that person like a lamprey.
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