The winter I turned twelve a massive blizzard hit New York City. The snow began on Sunday evening and continued through the next morning, when my sister Alex and I sat beside the radio and prayed for the divine announcement: all New York City public schools are closed. When it finally came we yelped and ventured out to hunt for fresh snow. This was our winter challenge, to find snow that hadn’t been stepped in, damaged, or destroyed. We were trailblazers, explorers, charting new territory, mapping new ground, searching for a perfect patch, smooth and glittering in the alley outside our house in Queens. Snow changed the city like magic, stifling the noise and smothering the dirt. Kids sledded down Skillman Avenue, snowmen sprung up on fire escapes, buses stalled and groaned like dying mammoths. The newspaper deliverymen had already made their rounds, ruining a fair amount of our alley’s purity, but I found an untouched patch in front of the Kaminskys’ stoop. “Over here!” I shouted to Alex, and we plopped into the snow, made angels, tramped around, wrecking all of it, relishing the satisfaction of being the first to walk in that spot.
Margo Rabb’s novel, Cures for Heartbreak, will be published by Random House in February 2007. Her fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, Seventeen, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere, and has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She received first prizes in the Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, and American Fiction contests, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. Visit her online at www.margorabb.com.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
- HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
- MR: This story is a patchwork of real events, people, and places woven together with fiction. The character of Perry is based on a friend I had when I was twelve, whose parents had died. The ghost story about Perry’s mother is based on a ghost story told to me by one of my mother’s friends, which had happened to someone she knew. The Wales House is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house, The Old Manse, in Concord, Massachusetts. The phrase “Man’s accidents are God’s purposes” was carved into a window pane by Hawthorne’s wife Sophia with her rose-cut diamond ring in 1843. And the scenes of the narrator’s deaths are based on the deaths of my own parents. The block in Queens is very much like the block where my sister and I grew up—and we really did hunt for untouched snow.
- HT: Do you believe that “Man’s accidents are God’s purpose”?
- MR: I’m not sure. But I’m fascinated by the need to make sense of the senseless. It’s like the question of life after death. The answer to it is impossible to know, yet most people can’t help but try to come up with an answer anyway.
- HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
- MR: I usually try to temper the tragedy in my stories with plenty of humor, but this story didn’t allow for much humor. I finally just let it be what it wanted to be.
- HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
- MR: I wrote the first draft about three or four years ago, and then put it aside because I was too close to the material at the time. Recently I took it out again and decided to finish it. I think enough time had passed to allow me to look back on the events of the story with some distance.
- HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
- MR: Larry Brown quoting Antonya Nelson: “You’ve got to have a leather ass.” Larry Brown also said, “Believe in yourself and don’t take no for an answer.” Pinckney Benedict’s sage advice: “Just don’t bore me.”
- HT: What are you working on now?
- MR: I always seem to have several projects going at once. I’m completing a collection of eight interconnected short stories, which I’ve worked on for a long time and is nearly done. I’m writing a piece for Book Magazine about a trip a friend and I took to the Anne of Green Gables house in Prince Edward Island, Canada. And I’m also finishing up my second Jewish girl detective novel, which will be published by Puffin Books in April 2004. In the series, the girls run away from their home in Queens and end up in a small town in the Midwest. It’s sort of a modern-day Nancy Drew with some Little House on the Prairie and a few knishes thrown in.