Novelist Kate Racculia on Her Latest Book, Bellweather Rhapsody, OR Why You Need Thoreau on a Desert Island

May 19, 2014

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Kate Racculia is funny. Very funny.

I was lucky enough to have taken a novella-writing class with her during our MFA years at Emerson.

Even then, Kate’s effortless humour and quirky characters infused the workshop setting with some much-needed levity and depth – no easy feat. 

Her newest novel, Bellweather Rhapsody, just earned an ‘A’ from Entertainment Weekly. It’s perfect for music lovers who enjoy a rollicking suspense novel.

Below, read Kate’s thoughts on bassoon-ing, tattoo-ing Kurt Vonnegut, and shooting a gun on Mother’s Day. At a shooting range.  

What would you like Book Dumpling readers to know about you?

Hi, I’m Kate! I love to write, but I love to read even more; it’s because I to love to read that I became a writer in the first place.

I am also a very big fan of saxophone solos, cats, horror movies, Dr. Pepper, grammar nerdery, apple pie, typography, being near water, Beethoven, murder mysteries and Jessica Fletcher.

I don’t have any tattoos because I’m afraid of needles but, if it did, I’d probably get this Kurt Vonnegut quote tattooed up and down my arm: “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’”

Do you have any funny stories regarding writing this past book?

I like to conduct experiential research when I’m writing; I try to go to places and do the things I’m going to ask my characters to go to and do.

In Bellweather Rhapsody, one of the characters is involved with a home invasion and shooting.

I’ve had my apartment broken into (thankfully, not when I was there), but I’d never so much as held a gun, let alone shot one.

I’m not sure if this officially qualifies as a funny ‘ha-ha’ story, but I thought it was entertaining that I asked my friend, Jason’s, father to take us to his gun club to practice target shooting—that ended up being Mother’s Day.

What is the last, great book that you read and to which type of readers would you recommend it?

The last great book I read was Pamela Erens’ The Virgins – a story about a legendary teenage romance at a prep school, told from the perspective of an outsider imagining the couple’s relationship.

I’d recommend it to readers who like stories about schools and young love (with a tragic edge), who crave a gorgeous sentence, and who want to learn, by example, how to rock a first person unreliable narrator.

Which one book would you recommend that everyone read at least once?

No book is for everyone, but To Kill a Mockingbird comes pretty close.

What types of books would you suggest your protagonists read? (Thanks to Jennifer Warren at CBC for this awesome idea). [Kate: seriously, a great question!]

Bellweather has eight (count ‘em, eight!) main characters, but for the purposes of answering this question in less than a thousand words, I’ll limit my response to the two readers. Minnie Graves, traumatized form witnessing a murder-suicide at the Bellweather hotel as a child, becomes a serious aficionado of horror movies and horror fiction in her teens.

She’s already very familiar with the entire back catalog of Stephen King, but I would suggest she look into Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery.

Harold Hastings is the Bellweather’s elderly concierge, and he fancies himself something of an amateur sleuth; he loves noir detective mysteries, but he hasn’t read much that’s been published after the 1980s.

Even though Bellweather is set in 1997 and it would require an act of time travel to get the books in his hands, Hastings would love Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries, specifically Case Histories.

How do you pick your next book?

I have books stacked all over my apartment, and sometimes it’s as simple as looking at a shelf, assessing whether I’m in the mood for something short or long, light or dark, and just going with my gut.

Lately, I’ve been on a mission to read all of the books people have recommended or loaned to me so that I can return them before I move!

Do you have a favourite bookstore?

I adore the Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts. They have an incredible selection of both new and used books (their used book basement is LEGENDARY), and the staff is out of this world: helpful and kind, amazingly well read and hilarious. They just hosted the launch for Bellweather, which was basically a dream come true.

But to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a bookstore I didn’t like.

E-reader or the real thing?

The real thing. Though I do like my Kindle—especially for books that are just out in hardcover or have a long wait at the library—there is no substitute whatsoever for holding a book in your hands, and feeling the weight of its pages shift from right to left as you get closer to the end.

What advice would give to an aspiring author (regardless of age)?

Read. Find what you love, what challenges you, what moves and surprises you, and chase it.

Read some more.

Write, and don’t worry when it’s not perfect, because it isn’t supposed to be: writing, like life, is a process and a function of time.

Keep writing. Never stop reading.

Tell us a little bit about the book that has a soft spot in your heart.

I was a teenage bassoonist; I gave it up in college, but for about eight years I played in concert bands and orchestras and pit bands, and I wouldn’t trade a second of it (even the time I spent practicing) for the world.

Bellweather Rhapsody is first and foremost a mystery, but it’s also a love story about music: both how much I loved and miss playing but, more than that, how much love and joy music itself has brought into my life.

If you could add one of your books to the high school curriculum, which one would it be?

One of my own books, that I’ve written?

My first book, This Must Be the Place, has two fifteen year old protagonists, and would, I think, really speak to kids in high school, though Bellweather is also about being young (or older and lost) and trying to figure out what to do with your future.

If we’re talking one of the books I own, I would have LOVED Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle in high school: I think it would make for a great unit on narrative voice and first-person POV. It’s both deliciously weird and genuinely haunting.

Which question do you wish I had asked you?

I’m stuck on a desert island and can only have three books with me for the rest of my life (or at least until they send someone to rescue me). WHICH THREE BOOKS?

Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game—because it’smy favorite book of all time; Westing is funny and smart and strange and alive, and reminds me not only of what books are capable of being, but of how big the world is, and how full of wonder other people are.

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay—because I’ve been meaning to re-read it for some time, and its decades-spanning grand adventure would fill those long desert island days.

Thoreau’s Walden—because I haven’t read it yet (I know, shocking!) and for some reason I think it’d help me cope with being by myself in the middle of a lot of nature.

 

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