Brooklynite Ivy Pochoda may not have planned it, but Red Hook’s menacing beauty prompted her to write the Dennis Lehane-championed thriller Visitation Street.
Zola: The novel is told from five points of view. Why did you choose to shape the story this way? Of the five, which was your favorite perspective to write?
Ivy Pochoda: I began writing Visitation Street when I was in graduate school at Bennington. Every month we had to turn in 25 pages of fiction. Most students chose to write short stories. They had a new idea each month. I, on the other hand, was starting this novel. Yet, I didn’t know where I was headed. I fumble in the dark as I write. After completing the first chapter, I had no idea what came next. So I switched perspective and began to write from another point of view. Then the next month I did it again.
Of all the characters, I always loved writing Jonathan the most. I think he’s the most misunderstood, and in many ways I feel he’s the most like me. There are so many places in my life where I imagine I might simply have let go, not pushed myself, mistaken having a good time for doing something worthwhile. The way he saw the world came naturally to me.
Zola: The book is set in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, where you grew up. Many of the characters feel as though they’ll always be trapped there. Is that how you felt?
IP: Well, I did and I didn’t. It’s difficult to get to Red Hook. And it’s an interesting choice to live in such an inaccessible place. Manhattan is glittering across the water, yet out of reach. The bus often doesn’t run and the subway is miles away. There’s a definite sense of isolation out in Red Hook. But one of the reasons I created so many characters who feel trapped is that, during the time I lived in the neighborhood, I befriended two fairly young residents who claimed never to have left Brooklyn. This fascinated me, so I tried to understand what had kept them from hopping the subway and heading into Manhattan.
IP: I always tell my writing students, “Write the book you want to read.” I was living in Amsterdam when I wrote The Art of Disappearing. It was a place that struck me as filled with a dark, questionable magic—an oddly mutating city. And I wanted to read something that captured that feeling. Red Hook’s beauty is found in its isolation—in the shadows and alleys and a certain menace I noticed in the water. I didn’t set out to write noir exactly. But noir turned out to be the best way to capture elements of the neighborhood that appealed to me.
Zola: Certain characters in the novel believe they can hear the dead. Do you believe in ghosts?
IP: Hmmm. Well, I guess the truthful answer to that question is that I’d like to. I don’t. I think that if I could believe or confirm the phantasmagoric it would answer questions I have about the depth and breadth of the natural world. I’m like Cree that way. I want so badly to believe, but I’m hemmed in by reality. So that’s why I write!
Zola: Visitation Street is the second book chosen by Dennis Lehane‘s new publishing imprint. What’s it like getting that kind of endorsement from someone so revered in the mystery genre?
IP: Oh my word! It’s beyond all imagining. It’s hard for me to articulate how humbled I am by Dennis’s endorsement. It’s so rare that an established writer holds out a hand to a newcomer. And for someone of Dennis’s stature to do so isn’t simply generous, it’s extraordinary.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.