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Life Arts

Music + Love + Ghosts = "Bellweather Rhapsody"

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Kate: I think a music lover who has never been a player can definitely have a deep connection and understanding of music, one that informs their philosophies about the world and people. My feelings about music are, however, distinctly colored by the fact that it's something I once did and do no longer: I miss it. It's not like I threw away a great bassoon career, but it was a big part of my life during some pretty formative years, and when I look back now, it's with a certain sense of loss. The David Foster Wallace quote I use for one of the epigraphs-- "Every love story is a ghost story"--really captured that feeling for me: in Bellweather, I wrote about what I loved, what I gave up, and how it haunts me, like a friendly ghost.

JB: I was wondering if you still played. And now that quote has an unexpected new layer for me.  Thanks!  In both of your novels, you dwell on secrets: what we hold close to our chests and how holding it there affects our relationships and lives going forward.  Have you always been tantalized by puzzles? Do your friends run the other way if they feel you probing for unspoken depths?

Kate: I have! Always loved mysteries--I think, in some way, all stories are mysteries, right? The essential mystery of a narrative being "how will it end?"

JB: You have a point there.  Speaking of stories, I'm betting you were a big reader as a kid. Would I be wrong?

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Kate: You would not be wrong at all! I read like a tiny person possessed--basically, anything I could get my hands on. I particularly loved funny mysteries and ghost stories, and some of my favorite authors growing up were Bruce Coville, Ellen Raskin, Diana Wynne Jones, and James Howe, before graduating to Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Then I found Margaret Atwood, and the rest is history.

JB: Speaking of Ellen Raskin, how did she come to contribute the unusual first name of one your characters?

Kate: I adore The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin's 1979 Newberry award-winning novel for children, and in many ways Bellweather is an homage to its twisty, off-kilter and character-dense mystery, and all the ways it influenced me as a young reader and writer. Without giving too much away, I had already named one of the characters and then discovered, totally by chance, Ellen Raskin's middle name--for which my existing character's name could serve as a diminutive. Ellen Raskin passed away in 1984, and this discovery almost felt like her ghost popping up to say hello. I hadn't even planned to reveal the character's full first name at all--it had seemed totally beside the point--until that moment. It just felt like the right way to end the book, and to pay tribute to one of the writers who made me.

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JB: Nice touch!  How did you get started? How did you translate yourself from "a tiny person possessed" with reading to a writer as well?

Kate: I loved to read and be told stories so much, I didn't want them to stop. From a very early age, I wanted to imagine my own; before I could spell, I dictated. I always think back to a great quote from Eudora Welty: "For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading." That was my path, without question.

JB: What kinds of stuff did you write first? And who did you dictate to?  That must have been a trip for the lucky one!

Kate: They were stories about characters from movies and books that I loved--I remember writing about The Secret of NIMH in particular--that I would dictate to anyone who would listen and could hold a pen: my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my babysitters. Later I ended up writing a lot of stories about a land of anthropomorphized cats. I've been a cat-lady in training basically my whole life.

JB: I didn't find your two books at all feline-heavy. In fact, I don't recall a cat making an appearance at all in Bellweather Rhapsody, although I could be mistaken. When did you graduate to other topics?

Kate: It's true--there are no cats in Bellweather ! (It was a deliberate decision to include a dog instead, Auggie the corgi mutt--though I've long thought corgis are sort of the cats of dogs.) Reading books like The Westing Game and Bruce Coville's Nina Tanleven series of ghostly mysteries made me realize humans were already complex enough main characters on their own, without the added complication of being human-felines.

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JB: That's so funny. Our corgi Punkin was a great dog, but I didn't think of him in cat terms.  On the other hand, we also had a cat, Max, who clearly thought he was a dog. I wasn't a cat person at the time, so that dog-like personality clinched the deal and made me willing to give him a chance. Does that count?

We've now discussed the two books already under your belt. Having gotten to know you a bit from our conversation, I can't imagine that you're not fast at work on something else. What can you tell us about your latest project?

Kate: I'm working on a big fat book about family--about parents and children, brothers and sisters, the families you're born into and the ones you make in the world, and the mysteries that are other people. And also time travel. So far there aren't any cats, but the book is still young.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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