Having worked as a journalist for more than 15 years, there was only one thing left for Cobble Hill resident Sarah Goodyear to do with her writing: make things up. Goodyear’s first novel, “View From a Burning Bridge,” out now from Red Hen Press, is a dark and comical story about a disgraced New York reporter who, after retreating to rural Maine, finds herself in the midst of local hysteria over a meteorite crash. “View From a Burning Bridge” explores regional identity, journalistic values and the disconnect between life in the city and that on the farm. Goodyear checked in with GO Brooklyn’s Joe Pompeo about the book, her career and why Brooklyn is such a damn good place to live.
GO Brooklyn: What is “View From a Burning Bridge” about?
Sarah Goodyear: For a while, I was saying it’s about a woman who moves to Maine thinking she’s hit bottom and finds she has a lot farther to fall. I’ve said it’s Flannery O’Connor does “The Scarlet Letter.” I’ve also said it’s about a woman trying to make her way in the world and doing a damn poor job of it. Really, it’s about how small moral irresponsibilities can lead you into catastrophic actions.
GO: Given your background in journalism, is “View From a Burning Bridge” to some extent autobiographical?
SG: It’s certainly about a place that I’ve lived and a milieu I know really well. But it’s not autobiographical. The heroine and I have a few things in common, but we have other things not in common, among them, the fact that I’ve never made anything up when writing for journalism. But Maine really captured my imagination. I was very alienated when I was living there. I wrote bits and pieces of the book early on when I was still in Maine, sort of trying to help myself figure out how I felt about being so out of place. I think as a culture we tend to discount the importance of place and regional identity, and that’s part of why we’re so screwed up as a society.
GO: There are a lot of collisions in the book between New York City life and small-town rural living. Do you see one as being better than the other?
SG: I don’t see one as being better than the other, but I do see one as being better for me. When I came back to New York in 1999, I could have kissed the ground. And I now fully understand how much I am a creature of this place. It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate or understand other places, but this is my place.
GO: What is it about New York that you love so much?
SG: You’re in constant contact and negotiation with other people, and I really like people. You constantly have to figure out what other people are all about. There’s this wonderful dance going on between New Yorkers all the time, where they’re always reading each other and reacting to each other, and to me it’s just a very wonderful and natural way of human living.
GO: Were you injecting a sort of journalistic commentary into the novel by making the protagonist a reporter who got fired for making up her stories?
SG: It’s not so much a commentary; it’s just something that has become so ubiquitous. It seems like every three or four months there’s another instance where people are doing this, and its incomprehensible to me. I do think the fact that people do this all the time is a measure of how poorly connected people are to reality in our society.
GO: What made you decide to write fiction?
SG: I’ve always wanted to write fiction ever since I was about 4 years old. Maybe because I’ve published so many hundreds of thousands of words of non-fiction, I’m not too stressed out about the idea of whether this sells or not. I’m happier that I was able to do the book the way I wanted. This is a childhood dream for me.
GO: Is it safe to say at this point you like writing fiction more?
SG: Yes, I love to write fiction. I love sitting there and figuring it out, and I also just love to be able to read fiction and feel that correspondence with the people I’m reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader.
GO: Where would you like to see yourself five years from now?
SG: I’d like to have another book out. I’d like to be teaching –– I’m going to try to go back to school to get a masters degree to teach at the college level. I’d like to be part of the life of these streets around me, making a meaningful contribution not just as a writer, but as a citizen of New York.
Sarah Goodyear will be reading from “View from a Burning Bridge” at Sunny’s (253 Conover St., between Beard and Reed streets in Red Hook) at 3 pm on May 6. For information, call (718) 625-8211.