(image by Sage Brousseau)
My guest today is Kate Racculia, author of the fresh-off-the-press Bellweather Rhapsody. Welcome to OpEdNews, Kate. Your new book combines numerous elements, key among them, the potent and intriguing mix of mystery and music. How much did your background as a high school bassoonist play in the formulation of Bellweather Rhapsody?
Kate: It was instrumental! (I am totally unable to resist a pun.) When I was seventeen and a student bassoonist, I attended a weekend music conference at an old hotel in the Catskills--the Concord, which no longer exists--which served as the model for Statewide and the Bellweather Hotel. But not only did playing the bassoon facilitate the literal inspiration for the novel, it inspired the heart: playing helped me develop a true love of music, and this true love--or the loss of it--is what drives the majority of my characters.
JB: I'd like to understand more about the process, please. How did the combination of mystery and music come about? It's not a natural pairing and you already had a more conventional novel under your belt. You could have easily followed that trajectory this time as well.
Kate: The mystery and musical elements first came together because they're two of my favorite things. I grew up watching Murder She Wrote and Matlock and devouring the novels of Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. I come from a musical family, and played in bands and orchestras and sang in choruses all through middle and high school.
This Must Be the Place was written during a time in my life when I was taking stock of where I came from, how I grew up. As much as it's a love letter to the people, places and things that helped shape me, it's also a first novel--it's not that I pulled my punches, I was just less sure of myself in the ring.
When I sat down to write my second book, I made a much more conscious decision about the kind of book it would be, how I might play with genres (mystery) and arts (music) close to my heart, what I could do--and what I could get away with. I'm personally a little stranger, a little darker, than my first novel may at first appear, and Bellweather Rhapsody's genre-bent weirdness is more in tune with my sensibilities as a reader and a writer. Plus I always want my next novel-project to feel a little intimidating; a challenge keeps things interesting!
JB: Strange and dark, eh, Kate? Can't wait for the next one! In both books so far, the depth of your characters is astounding. I have been particularly struck by how fleshed out your teen-agers are. It rings true. How do you pull that off? Are you channeling your high school personna? Do you have resident young 'uns to grill? Where the heck do all the gruesome yet poignant details of teenage angst come from?
Thank you! Creating characters is my favorite part of the process, and I love writing teenagers; they're always close to my heart, no matter how intensely wrong-headed they may be. I think what's allowed me to write young characters with depth is my distance from my own teen years--which I'm absolutely channeling (with an assist from great teen TV like Gilmore Girls, My So-Called Life, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but with perspective. I can see and understand that time clearly now, in all its angsty glory. Adults are a little murkier, a little harder to figure out, probably because I'm still a relatively young one myself. Which may explain--particularly in a book like Bellweather-- why the adults sometimes act like raging teenagers.
Bellweather Rhapsody cover art
(image by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
JB: Funny. What about the twins angle? That was of special interest to me because I have twins of my own. Where did that element come from?
Kate: I'm an only child, so I find the experience of being a twin interesting. But in this case, the idea for having the Hatmaker siblings be twins is a nod to The Shining (another big influence on the novel). When you think of that movie, you immediately flash on an image of the Grady girls--the murdered daughters of the former caretaker--dressed in matching blue dresses, asking Danny Torrance to play with them forever. I had a creepy old hotel like the Overlook in my story, so of course I had to have a set of twins...even though the Grady girls are actually just sisters. And how alike are Rabbit and Alice Hatmaker, after all--even though they're twins?
It's not that Rabbit and Alice are alike; it's that special twin connection that interested me. And I'm woefully ignorant about the horror genre, either in literary or film form. So, that actually bodes well for a wider audience for your book, Kate, since I was entranced even without any appreciation for all those references which clearly soared right over my head.
JB: You touched on yet another intriguing phenomenon: the double-edged sword of prodigious talent in the young and its impact on trying to live a normal life, not to mention the prodigy's vulnerability to abuse by professionals as well as parents. What have you seen?
Kate: That's it exactly! The Hatmakers are so different yet so essentially connected: not so much reflections of each other as harmonic complements. There are a ton of twins and mirror images and dark (and light) doubles in the book, which is entirely the doing of my subconscious. Go, grey matter, go.
And I'm glad to hear that about the references! I'm a pop culture fiend, so there are a lot of nods in my writing--but I'm always cognizant that the joke or the setting has to work on its own first, that the reference can be an added but not critical layer of meaning.
I actually don't have much first-hand experience of prodigies, beyond finding the phenomenon of prodigious behavior (and the family and socio-economic networks that support or hamper a prodigy's development) fascinating. I did do some research on prodigies, including reading Andrew Solomon's incredible Far From the Tree.
JB: That sounds like something to add to my reading list. Thanks for the recommendation. Your book is infused throughout with reflections on music. They show you've thought about the subject a lot. How much did your bassoon playing have to do with it? And do you think a person who merely loved classical music but didn't actually play an instrument could have such observations?