Join Carol Goodman, in conversation with Nina Shengold, to discuss her new novel The Night Visitors. Ms. Goodman, who attended Family’s Crisis Hot Line training and is now a volunteer at Family, will discuss how working at Family influenced the writing of her novel. Proceeds from sales of The Night Visitors at this event will be donated to Family.
The Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock: Sunday, April 28, 2019 at 3:00 pm.
In the fall of 2016 I was teaching at SUNY New Paltz when a student came to my office to explain why she was behind in her work. I’d heard a lot of excuses in my years of teaching, but nothing quite like this. My student had fled an abusive marriage in the city and was living under an assumed name upstate with her two young children. She was struggling to make ends meet while also dealing with the post-traumatic stress of surviving domestic abuse. Of course I gave her an extension and asked what else I could do. She said that it had been helpful just to talk to me.
That didn’t really seem like enough, though. I wanted to help her more, but I didn’t know how. I asked some of my colleagues, and the English department secretary told me that there was a place called Family of Woodstock that gave assistance and counseling to survivors of domestic abuse. I looked up the organization and was impressed to learn of all the services they provided—from food pantries to domestic violence shelters to a crisis hotline. I was happy to have such a resource to tell my student about.
She’d beat me to it. The next time I spoke to her she told me someone else had told her about Family. She’d gone to their New Paltz branch and received help in obtaining Section 8 housing and finding a job. She was hopeful and optimistic. The people at Family had been wonderful.
I was hopeful for my student, too, and made a mental note to check out Family at the end of the semester. Maybe I could volunteer for them. Listening to my student had struck a chord with me. On the day after the 2016 election I called the hotline and a volunteer told me I could come in and fill out an application for hotline training. The next session began in February. I told the volunteer that I’d fill out an application, but she must have picked up something in my voice, because she told me to hold on. When she came back she asked, “What are you doing right now?”
“Sitting here feeling crappy,” I told her.
“Do you want to come in and help with a mailing?” she asked.
I told her I’d be right over.
In the months between that day and when I began volunteer training I started The Night Visitors; by the time I began my shifts on the hotline I had finished most of the book. It may seem surprising that I wrote most of the book before I began working at Family, but I’m glad I did. The first thing I learned in my training is that everything you hear at Family, on the phone or in the building, and any personal confidences shared during training, are completely confidential. I know that I never used anything that I heard at Family in this book because I’d written most of it before I started there. I did ask in my training if I could share procedural methods from the training and was told I could. So I was able to give my character Mattie some of the techniques I learned in training. Mattie knows how to brace her body for a physical blow and how to ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide. I also learned, though, that much of what Mattie does goes against procedure, but by then I knew Mattie was the kind of woman who might throw out the rules when she had to.
The people I have met at Family inform the spirit of this book. Their dedication, selflessness, good humor, and kindness never cease to amaze me. They have taught me that there are kindly ones willing to help the vulnerable, and that family is not determined by biology—it’s what we make from the people we help and are helped by. And in the end, that’s what I wanted for my characters, Mattie, Alice and Oren—to find their family of choice.