After 30 years of screenwriting, Deena Goldstone—best known for her films A Bunny’s Tale (1985) and Safe Passage (1994)—put down one pen and picked up another. “I had the first sentence of a story in my mind and I thought, ‘I will tell nobody,’ ” Goldstone says. In her debut story collection, Tell Me One Thing, Goldstone masterfully weaves the separate stories of four broken lives into an encompassing tale of visceral grief, its rippling effects and how it’s overcome.
In the opening story, “Get Your Dead Man’s Clothes,” Jaime O’Connor confronts a deep-rooted animosity towards his abusive and recently deceased father. “Irish Twins” follows with the one-year reunion of Jaime and his destructive younger sister. In the final story, “Aftermath,” Jaime finds solace in an unexpected friendship after a tragic accident. In another story triplet, “Sweet Peas,” “What We Give” and “The Neighbor,” Trudy Deegan resorts to isolation while mourning her husband’s death. When a disgruntled neighbor intrudes upon her life, Trudy finds that surviving alone in the world won’t suffice. In Goldstone’s closing story, “Wishing,” Anna is whisked away by a whirlwind romance. When a hidden secret is revealed, Anna learns that only she can save what’s left of her relationship with Owen.
Grief can evolve, come in waves, and change someone’s life completely. Goldstone knows from first-hand experience. “In our family, we experienced an enormous amount of grief early on, 30 years ago when my daughter was born,” says Goldstone. Eva, Goldstone’s daughter, was born with cerebral palsy. “When you’re hit with that kind of grief unexpectedly, it completely rocks every foundation you have in your life,” says Goldstone.
Goldstone was fueled by her hardships and experience raising Eva to write the book’s title story. Because Eva was born without the ability to speak, a unique relationship grew between mother and daughter from day one. “I basically had to do a mind meld,” Goldstone says. “I was the voice for her. It’s hard as a mother, when you want to make things better for your child.” Goldstone wanted to further explore this with Lucia and Maggie in “Tell Me One Thing.” When Lucia leaves her husband with her daughter Maggie in tow, she’s met with consequences she struggles to acknowledge. “But Maggie doesn’t talk the next day and the day after that, and Lucia spends those days watching her intently,” Goldstone writes. “Suddenly there’s nothing casual or easy about her interaction with her daughter.” While offering her house in Santa Monica as a hideout for the runaway duo, Bernadette, a close friend, stands from afar as Lucia and Maggie’s intimate relationship takes a downward spiral: “Bernadette can see these two dark-haired and sprite-like creatures begin to spin their own communication, to build a universe of only two. It feels so intimate that sometimes Bernadette has to turn away, as if she’s witnessing something too private to be shared.”
Making the switch from writing screenplays to short stories was liberating for Goldstone. “The screenplay form is very unforgiving,” Goldstone explains. “You have to find a way to create characters in a brushstroke.” Though enticed by the new freedom, Goldstone found it difficult to feel comfortable with her own style and prose while working on her stories. “A screenplay is so dialogue and character driven. I was so conscious that every sentence had to be right,” Goldstone says. Goldstone was most influenced by author Amy Bloom’s work, particularly the story “Sleepwalking” from her powerful collection Come to Me. In the story, Ruth is left to care for a son and stepson after her husband’s death. Bewildered by the anguish setting in, she grapples with her role as a mother. “Even though I read it years ago, that’s where I began to understand how to write about grief,” says Goldstone.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Goldstone now resides in Pasadena with her family. Her time spent in California has made an impression on her stories, from the winding scenic roads and abundance of nature to the endless stretch of the Pacific Ocean. Goldstone’s attention to detail and affinity for landscapes is akin to that of writer Rick Bass. “One of the wonderful things about California is there’s an expansiveness here,” Goldstone says. “It renders some of our own struggles and puts them into perspective.”
Steph Derstine is Fiction Editor for Foxing Quarterly. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and lives in Austin.