VENDELA VIDA interviewed onstage Saturday (October 20) in the Studio Theatre at 1 pm and reading at 8 pm in the Brigantine Room.
LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME (HarperCollins). See review at http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2007-01-18/books_reviews.php.
With just one sentence, Vendela Vida's novel grabs you. It compares the sunset to a bruise, and right off you want to read more of Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name.
She laughs when I mention it, talking to me on the phone from San Francisco.
"I believe in first sentences," she says. "It's one of the first things I teach my writing class. That sentence was buried in my notebook for a long time, and I finally figured out a place to put it."
It opens her story of Clarissa - fierce, funny and totally furious when she discovers that the man she thought was her father is not the real deal. She sets out for Lapland to find her real father, leaving behind her boyfriend, who knew the truth all along.
"I grew up hearing stories about Lapland - all about the Sami and the reindeer boots - but when I went the first time, during the summer, I was disappointed. The sunlight was relentless, people were drunk all the time. Theirs is a hibernation culture. People party during the summer and sleep in the winter.
"In the winter it was amazing. I couldn't believe that a place could be so mythological and yet so contemporary. Clarissa's trek south from Lapland reflects the thawing process she goes through, and the landscape reflects her interior."
Northern Lights is her second novel, following on the heals of a non-fiction book about coming-of-age rituals for young women (Girls On The Verge) and her much-praised - including by Joan Didion - first novel, And Now You Can Go.
But one of the first things she mentions is her second life as a teacher at the a non-profit writing lab 826 Valencia.
"What's great about it is that it's open to everybody. It's amazing - we have everybody from kids who want to write a novel to kids who need help writing.
"Lately, I've been teaching 16-year-olds how to write their college application essays. It's great when April comes around and you can see the tangible results."
The trick? Avoid clichés, she says. "Admissions committees have seen thousands of essays about working at the Mexican orphanage or the best game of your life. Stick to what's unique about yourself."
Does the fact that Vida is married to McSweeny honcho and Staggering Genius Dave Eggers make them one of America's hottest lit couples? She doesn't think so.
Sitting in her car waiting to pick up her daughter, she says she's not feeling so unique.
"Mind you, when you live with another writer and you want instant feedback, he can't exactly say he doesn't have time when I know he's just sitting there watching TV."
Additional Interview Audio Clips