LSQ: Khane is what we call a “strong female character,” although not in the stereotypical way. Would you talk a bit about how her character came to be?
Lucy: I feel like Khane sprang ready-formed from the Yiddish folktales I’d been reading. There are bits of her that are based on personal experience–my love of stories, the horrible morning-sickness I had when I was pregnant with my son–but then, in lots of ways, she’s not like me at all. What I love about her is that she is helpless, and she knows she’s helpless, but she’ll never allow anyone else to know it. She’s proud as well as pragmatic. She’s not the sort of character I usually write–most of my female characters are shy and neurotic like me, because it’s a mind-set I can perfectly understand–but her pride and pragmatism seemed perfectly in-keeping with the folktales I’d been reading as research for this piece.
LSQ: Story plays a big role in this piece. What does story mean to you, personally?
Lucy: Very pleased to hear you say that story plays an important role in this piece! I am usually one of those writers who prioritizes her characters at the expense of all plot (although my excuse–which I’m sure makes editors roll their eyes–is that I use the characters to develop the plot, as I feel like I can’t get a good idea for what’s going to happen without first getting a feel for my characters and what they will do). My favorite quote about writing is from Henry James’ Art of Fiction:
“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
With this piece, though, I’d been reading so many tales of Jewish folklore before I started writing that I suppose the story had to take center-stage. But Khane is a character who defines and empowers herself through stories, so even when story takes center-stage, it’s still, in a way, serving the needs of character. And, at the end, she uses stories to take control of her life–she knew a lot of stories, and could always find a way to thrive within them–which is what I am trying to do all the time!
LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story and why?
Lucy: I remember being very pleased with the description of Khane’s unborn child as her little, ship-wrecked mariner (especially as I had a ship-wrecked mariner of my own not so long ago), and I enjoyed the verbal sparring between her and Moyshele. But I think, mostly, I remember what a visual story this was for me–how I could see the glint of the gold chain, the snow feathering down between the boards of the roof, the image of Khane picking up Velvl’s legs and dragging him home through the snow. Writing it didn’t feel like work, instead it felt like watching a movie in my head.
LSQ: You use Jewish mythology in this piece, which I really enjoyed. Do you plan to draw on it again in future works? Which tales are your favorite?
Lucy: Yes, I would love to write more about Jewish mythology. It’s a passion of mine anyway, but I’m also writing a short story collection of feminist folklore–sort of myth-inspired fantasy stories that feature female characters (as you can see, I haven’t thought of a snappy title yet, and would be totally open to suggestions!).
As you can tell from “The Gold Chain”, I like stories about golems and dibbuks. My favorite tale (from Yiddish Folklore by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich) is called “The Dibbuk Melody of Tolne”. It features an old cantor in the synagogue being replaced by a younger model, dying of bitterness and grief, possessing the younger cantor in the middle of a service, and then being exorcised by a rabbi who teaches both ghost and victim a sweet melody in which to sing the blessing. It’s such a humane ghost story, and though there are terrifying elements, nobody is really evil. That’s the kind of tale I admire (and find it very hard to write, because let’s face it, evil characters are fun!).