Today I'm speaking with a Chicago author who is currently promoting her new novel The Sunshine When She's Gone, which is of interest to me because it's about a couple struggling to manage the ways their lives have turned upside-down since having a child (check) and what happens when one of them suddenly absconds with the baby to Barbados (a hypothetical check, because I would like to go to Barbados but maybe not with the baby.) Thea Goodman’s short stories have appeared in New England Review, Other Voices, Columbia, Confrontation and The Brooklyn Review among other journals. You can find out a lot more about her here.
Tell me about how you chose the book’s title. It’s evoking Bill Withers but not quite.
The book remained untitled for a scary period of time. It took several months and many lengthy discussions with my editor to come up with the title. Bill Withers, Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone, is such an evocative song about love and loss and I found it running through my head while editing. It’s romantic and I think the book is too. The “The” as opposed to “No,” is declarative and better for a book’s title. It also speaks to the theme of love’s ambivalence that’s present in my novel. The word “she” could refer to Clara, the baby or Veronica, the mother, and the “Sunshine” could reference the glaring light in the Caribbean or the dull tepid light in a New York winter. Weather, in many ways, defines our experience whether we admit this or not.
Who is the baby in your book trailer?
I don’t know the baby in the video but she’s very cute. I would pick her up in a second. Her cuteness, quite literally, saves them.
Why did you choose to have Veronica and her family live in Manhattan as opposed to any other major city (or suburb for that matter?)
Veronica and her family live in Manhattan because I think that city and its relentless intensity amplifies experience (for better or worse.) The experience of new parenthood and a crisis in a relationship is exaggerated in my book. It’s very easy in New York to forget the rest of the world and to sense your own problems as all-important and consuming. In other words, narcissism thrives in New York City and my characters are self-involved. That is not to say that I don’t love them and Manhattan! I do and I am from New York so the environment is most familiar to me.
Similarly, why did you send John to Barbados?
Barbados has the most perfect climate of any place I’ve ever been. I wanted John to feel he was headed to a paradise.
What practical lessons have you learned first-hand (or vicariously through trusted sources) about traveling with an infant?
From traveling with infants I’ve learned that less is more. Fewer toys, fewer books because the world is fascinating enough and baggage is heavy. Also, don’t over-hydrate them: I once fed my baby daughter so much out of fear of dehydration and to prevent her ears from popping that she threw up…on me.
What are some of the biggest lies you ever told (and did you get caught?)
Writing a novel is a big lie of sorts. In waking life, as a little girl, I once stuck my finger through a painting my parents had—a large abstraction in drab tones-- because I didn’t like it. It offended my six- year–old aesthetic sensibilities and the painting made me sad. Every day I’d pick at the tear and make it a little bigger. They eventually noticed the hole but had no idea how it got there. I felt really guilty but never confessed.
Veronica has a difficult delivery in the book and I was wondering whether this is autobiographical. If so, how long was it before you stopped thinking about it at night as you were trying to go to sleep?
I, too, had a difficult labor and delivery with my first child. I’d never had to face my own mortality before. I thought about death a lot especially when I woke up, for close to a year. At night I simply passed out.
What did you do to celebrate when you learned your book was an Oprah.com pick?
It was pretty thrilling to hear about Oprah. Hearing about it and jumping a little was going to be enough celebration but the day coincided with a friend’s birthday dinner so we had oysters and champagne.
What (if any) feedback did your spouse provide for you about your portrayal of a marriage during new parenthood?
My husband simply read the manuscript in one sitting. This was all I needed to know.
What are some of your favorite depictions of parenthood in pop art?
The parenting in Mad Men is hilarious because it’s so very different to how we parent today when we are over-solicitous, indulgent, scrupulously honest. The depiction of the mother in Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs felt true to life in terms of her diction, tone, and the type of concerns she expressed about her child.
When did you move to Chicago? How are you finding it as a place to raise a family?
I moved to Chicago in 2003. It’s a wonderful place to have a family; there is so much space, tons of cultural things for kids to do and many communities like the one we live in that are devoted to our children and their happiness. This combination is very unique.
If you got a weekend to yourself now, what would you do with it?
A weekend to myself feels like standing at a huge buffet, salivating with hunger and unable to choose what to eat. I’d probably sleep late and then read in bed for as long as I wanted.
How does it feel to be the 341st person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
Affirming; I’m in good company!
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