Kate Racculia is one of my favorite authors, teachers, mentors and friends. Her 2nd novel, BELLWEATHER RHAPSODY, is a 2015 ALA/YALSA Alex Award winner. Here is her description of the novel:
My second book, Bellweather Rhapsody, is a genre-bendy mystery about teenagers and talent, music and murder, and a great big nostalgic love letter to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Stephen King’s (and Stanley Kubrick)’s The Shining, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, and my past life as a teenage bassoonist.
At a crumbling, possibly haunted hotel in the Catskills, while it hosts a weekend retreat for high school musicians—on the anniversary of a famed murder-suicide, no less—a teenage prodigy disappears. Is it suicide? A prank? Or is there a murderer loose at Statewide ‘97? The search for answers entwines an eccentric cast of characters—for everyone has come to the Bellweather with a secret, and everyone is haunted.
We are so excited to have Kate as a guest on The Debutante Ball!
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
Star Wars. Star Wars is making me so, so happy right now. I was a hardcore Star Wars geeklet, once upon a time, Return of the Jedi sheets, Darth Vader-shaped action figure carrying case, stuffed Ewoks and all. Going to see the re-releases on the big screen in the late nineties was a high point of my high school career. Then episodes I, II, and III were so thoroughly underwhelming I put all that ardor where I believed it belonged: in a metaphorical shoebox under my bed.
But episode VII opened that box and released a torrent of love for a movie that is both satisfyingly nostalgic (it’s an original trilogy reference buffet!) and progressively subversive (what else to make of a villain who’s arguably a critique of angry fanboy entitlement?). It may remind me of stories I was told, and loved, as a child, but Episode VII is very much of this moment: it gives us a young female Jedi when the popular narrative, in a bit of bonkers revisionist history, says that Star Was is for boys, and a Black stormtrooper-turned-rebel and Latino best-pilot-in-the-galaxy at a time when the diversity of representation in fiction—the need for fictional characters who are not just themselves diverse but are allowed to be a part of stories that are diverse—is a crucial conversation.
Episode VII reminded me of what great popular storytelling can do: comfort us with worlds we once loved, yes, but also show us how much larger those worlds can and should be.
What are the hardest and easiest things about your job?
For the past eighteen months (gosh, has it been that long?), I’ve been a novelist with on-and-off part-time jobs—processing interlibrary loans, teaching undergraduates, manuscript consulting, fundraising research—and in that time, I’ve finished the first draft of one manuscript (currently ageing like a fine cheese in my filing cabinet), and am a third of the way through a second. And, to be honest, until I wrote that sentence (which makes it look like I’ve accomplished things, even if I don’t have a pub date on the horizon), I had real anxiety about whether or not this great freelancing experiment was working. One of the hardest things about freelance writing/consulting/doing all the random things is not having an external sense of how you’re doing. Writing a novel on spec is a kind of hope marathon, where you’re occasionally buoyed up by fantastic writing days, those bright moments when you solve thorny plot holes, but day to day sustenance comes from force of habit and hope, kept steady on a low flame. You have to wake up every day with a certain amount of faith in both the necessity and urgency of literature in general, and your own specific faith (which can border on delusion) in the made up people and places in your head, and the bizarre things you’re asking them to do.
I spent eight years building my original writing practice around full time office jobs. At those jobs, when I completed a small task and received a grammatically painful but gratifying ‘Thx!’ email, I got a generic sense of accomplishment. I’ve discovered those little bumps of ‘good job, Kate!’ are something I need—to keep that low flame of writing-hope going, even if the accomplishment has nothing to do with the flame. When you freelance, you have to make those little bumps of accomplishment for yourself, and they can end up being things that are essential but not, to me, as intellectually stimulating as the tasks I once did at my day jobs. Like: I went to the gym. (Mental email to self: Thx!) I did laundry. (Mental email to self: Thx!) I made a giant pot of soup. (Mental email to self: Thx!).
But the easiest thing about this job? Loving the freedom. I don’t have to ask for time off, because I’m my boss. I can choose: what I work on and when. I can chase whatever rabbits down whichever rabbit holes I desire. I mean, holy crap, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I am a writer who lives on the money she makes writing (for now, at least). I read for a living, and think and analyze, create and pretend, and despite how challenging and uncharted these past eighteen months have been, they have been worth it. Life is a process, and I’m in it: remaking my routine, building my systems, and finding new balances that allow me be in the world, to do my work, and be present for my people. It takes time. Not unlike writing a novel.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I was hired once to draw a comic strip for a newspaper aimed at bowling leagues. I don’t remember much about the characters or the ongoing narrative (it was more Far Side than Family Circus, only with bowlers), but I do know I had a joke about setting the gutters on fire. My sense of humor was perhaps a bit obscure for the readership, and I was invited to be successful elsewhere.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
First: read. Read everything you can get your hands on—read what you love and what interests you, but also read what you don’t think you’ll have any interest in whatsoever, because you might be surprised, and surprising oneself is always delightful. Read widely and diversely, new books and old, for edification and for pleasure, in the morning and at night, but (and this is key): starting a book does not mean you must finish it. There are simply too many good books in the world. And at the end of one’s life, the last thing you’ll regret is not finishing the books that you didn’t really want to read.
Second: notice. Do stuff. Travel. Try new foods and watch movies you’ve never heard of. Go to concerts. Go out in the woods, sit by the water and listen. Walk a city block by block. Work. Love your job. Hate your job. Learn something, whether you’re loving or hating it. Fail. Figure stuff out. Talk to people you’ve just met and ask them about their lives. Talk to people you’ve known your whole life; ask them what they haven’t already told you. Be open and alive and aware. Pay attention. Try to be, as Henry James said, “one of those on whom nothing is lost.”
Third: write habitually. Reading, noticing, and doing come first, for me, but writing as a habit is essential—however often it fits into your life, whether daily or weekly or weekend-ly, put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keys. Inspiration alone is for amateurs; inspiration (or love, really) combined with habit gets the writing done.
When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
I don’t remember having an explicit, clear plan about what I would be When I Grew Up in high school. I took a career aptitude test, probably in conjunction with the PSAT or some other pre-SAT standardized test, in my sophomore year, and my guidance counselor interpreted my results as indicating interests so various that I was (and I’m paraphrasing) “not fit for any profession.” (He was joking, I’m sure, but that’s pretty high on the list of things you can say to an overachiever that she will never forget.) I went to college for art, though in the course of four years of illustration classes I realized I was better with words, and sometime after getting my MFA I realized I should have been a librarian.
But if you had asked me as a child of seven or eight, I would have said I wanted to grow up to write books. The older the dream, the more it’s simply a part of who you are.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon (EST) on Friday, January 22nd, to win a copy of BELLWEATHER RHAPSODY (U.S. only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Kate Racculia is a writer who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her first novel, This Must Be the Place, was named a Must-Read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and her second, Bellweather Rhapsody, is a 2015 ALA/YALSA Alex Award winner.