Author Interview: Celeste Ng

We spoke with Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You about her inspiration, the importance of independent bookstores, and more.

Little Fires Everywhere is a breathtaking novel about art, motherhood, and truth. Mia and her daughter, Pearl, move to the perfectly planned community of Shaker Heights as the last stop on their nomadic adventure, bringing some much-needed permanence to teenager Pearl’s life. They both find friendship, but the connections they create with their landlord’s family will soon change all of their lives. Impossible to put down or stop thinking about. A great read.

Stef Schmidt, Water Street Books

This has been a critically acclaimed book and a commercial success, and deservedly so. It’s subtle and heartbreaking—if you love dysfunctional families and books that explore the complexities of psychology and relationships and being an outsider, this one’s for you. “Lydia is dead,” it begins. “But they don’t know that yet.” The writing is so moving and perceptive, and we had a fabulous discussion about it at book club.

Claire, East City Bookshop

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

I always start writing because there’s a situation that puzzles me: “How did this sixteen-year-old girl end up in a lake?” “What would lead someone to burn down their house?” I start to imagine the circumstances that might have led the characters to this place, and the story emerges from there. In Everything I Never Told You, I wanted to look at how keeping secrets—even with the best of intentions—might start to corrode the family from within. In Little Fires Everywhere, I was intrigued by how meeting someone with a life completely different from yours might shake your entire view of the world. In both cases, I had to dive deeply into each of the characters before I understood their stories.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

It’s always weird to listen to anyone else read your own work, so I haven’t listened to the whole audiobook! But I’ve heard segments from both audiobooks, and I’m struck by how both narrators bring each character’s voice to life and make them sound so different, even though it’s all the same actor.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

Paper books are always what I reach for first, because I like to flip back and re-read as I go, and underline and dog-ear pages. But I loved the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, with its huge cast—a different actor for each character! It made listening to the book a completely different experience from reading. And for memoirs, I love to hear the authors read their own work; there’s something special about hearing someone tell their own story when it’s deeply personal.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

Everything. Independent bookstores have championed my books from when I was an unknown debut author: Booksellers who fell in love with my novels pressed them into customers’ hands, and the stores themselves graciously hosted me for in-store conversations when I got to meet and talk with readers. Without them, so many readers would never have found my books. But it goes much further than that: Independent bookstores create communities of people who love to read and who value books and storytelling—the lifeblood of the book world. Without them, NO authors could survive.

Header photo by Kevin Day Photography

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