By Kate E. Stephenson
In this first week of March 2014, I hereby call to order the 32 meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every meeting, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.
Club members, this week meet Kate Racculia.
Kate Racculia grew up in Syracuse, New York, and attended college at the University of Buffalo, where she studied illustration, design, Jane Austen, and Canada. She has her MFA from Emerson College and now calls Boston home. She teaches workshops in novel and genre writing at GrubStreet, Boston’s non-profit creative writing center, and has been a bassoonist, a planetarium operator, a coffee jerk, a designer, a children’s bookseller, a proposal writer, a prospect researcher, and a karaoke god.
She posts many pictures of her cat on the Internet and is a total sucker for a saxophone solo.
Her first novel, This Must Be the Place, was published by Henry Holt & Company in 2010. Her second, Bellweather Rhapsody, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in spring 2014.
Find more Kate on her website, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook!
Without further ado, Kate answers all your questions:
Who named you Kate and why?
I was supposed to be a Sarah or a David, but legend has it that my father’s father began calling me ‘Kathleen’ in the womb. So I’m a Kathleen who goes by Kate (and went by Katie when I was little). I made the Katie-to-Kate transition toward the end of high school, as my friends started calling me ‘Kate’ as a nickname; and now, of course, my college friends who first knew me as Kate occasionally call me Katie. It’s the circle of Kate life.
How did you become an author?
The members of my extended family are all dramatic storytellers and voracious readers, Scrabblers and crossword freaks; it was probably inevitable that the combination of nature and nurture I was born into would produce a novelist. But I think ‘the how’ of becoming an author, for me, has everything to do with how much I love to read. There’s a great quote from Eudora Welty: “For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” I read all the time growing up. All the time. The first stories I wrote were essentially love letters to the books I knew and loved—and who am I kidding, the books I write now are too. You read enough—and you love enough—books, and you itch to write them yourself; and by reading them closely, thoughtfully, they teach you how to do just that.
What was the muse for your first completed/published book?
My first book, This Must Be the Place, is a coming-of-age mystery, set in a fictional small town in upstate New York, where I’m from. It’s the story of four individuals, two teenagers and two relatively young adults, all trying to figure out who they are in the world and where they want to go, and how their lives intersect one October. There are scads of personal and artistic influences packed into the novel—my love of pop culture and music (from the Beatles to the Pixies to Foreigner), my love of movies and the stop-action monsters of Ray Harryhausen, and my love of art, specifically the strange, magical shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell—but if I had to pick one muse above the rest, I would have to say upstate New York: full of old secrets and odd characters, and the belief that autumn isn’t an end but a beginning. It’s the place I came from, and the place I take with me.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished my second novel, Bellweather Rhapsody, which will be published in spring 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (wahoo!). Bellweather is another mystery, but it’s also a ghost story, a love story and sort of a…musical? In book form? I like to mess with genre. It’s set in 1997, in a dilapidated hotel in the Catskills during a conference for teenage musicians; a young music prodigy disappears on the first night of the conference under bizarre circumstances…and that’s just the beginning of the adventure for a large ensemble cast of drama queens, bassoonists, conductors, caretakers, failures and phenoms. I said before that I’m still writing love letters to the books that are close to my heart, and Bellweather is exactly that: a tribute to Ellen Raskin’s young adult mystery The Westing Game, my very favorite book as a kid.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Whoah, big question! And my big answer is that I’m a happy person with a good, full life, and I get to do work that I love. But in terms of recent accomplishments, this winter I taught my first-ever fiction workshop at GrubStreet, an amazing community of creative writers in downtown Boston. It was a class about world-building in fantastic genre fiction, and my students took it upon themselves to continue meeting as a writing group after class ended. That made my heart grow three sizes.
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
Who’s your favorite literary character?
Tie: Turtle Wexler and T.S. Garp
What’s your favorite quote?
“Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer. 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.” – Kurt Vonnegut
If you weren’t an author, what profession would you like to try?
I should have been a librarian.
If you could do one thing in your life over, what would it be?
Tried out for a musical in high school. I did nearly everything else you could possibly do in drama club—worked on sets, painted signs, designed t-shirts, played in the pit orchestra—but I never acted on stage.
And now a little reading…
From Kate Racculia’s This Must Be the Place:
Amy considered the postcard: a boardwalk scene. Throngs of people wandering in the sun. Sparkling blue ocean to the right, cheery awnings on the shops. She sniff ed. The man beside her on the bus stank of tuna fish and cigarette smoke.
This must be what it feels like to die, she thought.
She was sore all over, sore and too tired to be scared. She suspected this was what it would feel like to die: to give up everything that came before, to just— cut it off . Tear it out. She wasn’t religious. Her parents died before they had a chance to impart much wisdom on the nature of immortal souls, and her grandfather, when she first went to live with him, told her he was allergic to church. But she suspected there was something beyond what she knew. Beyond what she could touch and smell. She suspected there was a sort of transition period, where you had a chance to say good- bye to your old self and your old life, and this was hers, on this Greyhound, her sandaled feet propped on her backpack, with nothing but a postcard on which to mark her passing.
Not that she ever intended to mail it.
She’d never intended to, not even when she bought it. She’d been waiting for Mona to finish her shift at the pizza place— and by finish her shift Amy meant break the suction with her boyfriend’s face— and was killing time in one of those boardwalk junk shops. The boardwalk was full of junk; there was shit everywhere. Key chains and T-shirts and snow globes (how lame was that, snow globes at the beach?), and stupid little sculptures built out of shells; Amy, of all people, could appreciate tiny objects, but there was just so much. It made her think of how many people there really are in the world, and whenever she thought about that, she felt suffocated and insanely lonely, which was classic irony when you thought about it: that realizing she was one of a million billion or whatever made Amy Henderson feel like she would never be anything but alone.
She bought the postcard because the guy behind the counter was giving her weird looks and she wanted to prove to him that she wasn’t loitering, even though she was: she was a fucking grown- up. She had money.
She smoothed the card over the top of her leg: ocean city misses you! said bright red letters across the sky. Hardly. She chewed her pen and turned the card over to the blank side and wrote, Mona, I’m sorry.
She didn’t know what else to say, so she filled out the address. She still wasn’t going to send it, but it felt good to state the facts: Desdemona Jones, Darby-Jones House, Ruby Falls, New York.
Maybe she should apologize a little more. I should have told you, she wrote.
What was the one thing she wanted to tell Mona? What could you put on a postcard— knowing that some nosy postal worker would probably read it, and you barely had enough room to say anything important anyway?
You knew me better than anyone—I think you knew me better than me.
That would make Mona happy. Mona wanted to be someone’s best friend more than anything in the world. It was a little pathetic; but then sometimes it made Amy a lot happier than she wanted to admit.
Mona would worry, so next she wrote: Don’t worry. I swear I’m happier dead, which was a little mean, because it would make Mona wonder whether Amy had flung herself off a cliff or across some train tracks or taken a whole bunch of pills and gone to sleep. But Mona should know better. If Amy hadn’t done any of those things while they were still stuck in Ruby Falls, she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it once she finally escaped.
It was getting late, and Amy wasn’t so tired that she didn’t know how hungry she was. She’d bought a few bags of pretzels at the last bus station, and now she crunched into them happily, her lips shriveling from the salt. She started to remember where she was going, and that of course made her remember where she’d just come from, and she thought of Mona, who would have been so scared when she found her just—gone.
Kate’s Book Club is a column on Kate-book.com featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on Kate-book.com every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to Kate to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.
Other great Kate reads: