We’re delighted to have Michelle Richmond as our guest author. She has a new book, No One You Know, which follows on the heels of last year’s New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog. Booklist has given her new book a starred review, and calls it “A thoroughly riveting literary thriller. ”
I’m writing from my tiny office at my home near the beach in San Francisco, where we’re enjoying a splendidly warm and balmy October–a great relief after the cold, foggy months of summer.Thanks to the women of The Debutante Ball for inviting me over!
With my third novel, I set out to write a book about sisters, and about storytelling. I was inspired by the first line of Graham Greene’s wonderful novel, THE END OF THE AFFAIR: “A story has no beginning and no end. Arbitrarily one chooses the moment of experience from which to look backward or from which to look ahead.” I copied that line into my notebook when I began writing the novel, and I kept coming back to it over the next few months. The questions that were always in my mind were, how do we tell our own stories? How do the stories that we invent for ourselves, and those that others tell about us, impact the course of our lives?
No One You Know is narrated by Ellie Enderlin, a coffee buyer from San Francisco. Ellie’s sister Lila, a math prodigy at Stanford, was murdered two decades before, and her sister’s death has haunted Ellie for her entire adult life. The book opens in an out-of-the-way café in a small village in Nicaragua, where Ellie comes face to face with a man from her past named Peter McConnell. Many years ago, McConnell was implicated in her sister’s death in a sensational, best-selling true crime book. This meeting sets Ellie on a journey to discover the truth, to rewrite her sister’s story, as well as her own.
While the novel is, at heart, about sisterhood and storytelling, I ended up doing a lot of research into the fields of coffee and mathematics, in order to better understand the characters. One of the questions I hear most often from readers is, “Why coffee? Why math?”
I’ve been rather obsessed with coffee for a long time. I drink it every morning, religiously. It has been a ritual since my college days–the morning cup of coffee to clear the cobwebs in my brain before I begin my day. Making Ellie a coffee buyer gave me a chance to explore coffee’s origins, some of the interesting stories behind it. It also gave me an excuse to attend cuppings, tour a coffee warehouse, and hang out in cafes in the middle of the day. That part of my research was sheer pleasure!
Math is another matter. I have nightmares to this day of walking into a university math class at the end of the semester, on the day of the final examinations, having never attended a single class. While writing about coffee was a way of indulging my passion, writing about math may have been a way of tackling my demons. I also thought it would be an interesting contrast between the sisters–Ellie the coffee buyer, who experiences the world through her senses, and Lila the math prodigy, who experienced the world through her intellect. While I definitely didn’t want the novel to hinge too much on mathematical esoterica, I did want the flavor of mathematics to be part of the book. The narrator is as math-phobic as I am, but she is able to appreciate some of the stories behind mathematics with a layperson’s eye. I have always been drawn to “found texts” in fiction, so it was great fun for me to have Ellie come across Lila’s math notebook from her days at Stanford.
I guess the main reason I delve into things I know little about in my books is that the research, for me, makes writing a lot more fun. I like to learn something while I’m writing a book, just as I like to learn something unexpected from the books I read. While writing The Year of Fog, I learned a lot about memory. For my next novel, which I’ve just started writing, the narrator is a doctor, so I certainly have my work cut out for me!
7 Replies to “No One You Know by Guest Author Michelle Richmond”
Someone very wise said that every book is either a mystery or a romance–but I think a good book has a bit of both, and yours definitely does! I look forward to reading it.
Thanks for being our guest!
Lovely post. Can’t wait to read your novel. And the weather in SF HAS been amazing. I live just across the bridge in Marin, so if you ever want to meet for coffee…. Take care and best of luck with your third book!
Thanks for joining us at the Ball, Michelle. Hmmmm…. coffee and math – two things I would never think of putting together that I just know will be fascinating in your hands. Can’t wait to read it!
This sounds like EXACTLY my kind of book! Welcome to the ball, Michelle! Isn’t it funny the fascination we have with math geniuses? Those of us who manipulate words think of math as some kind of alien language, I think, and the people who speak it fluently must be downright otherworldly.
I love THE END OF THE AFFAIR, too! I used to live near the part of South London in which it was set.
LIke you I like writing about things I know little about. It’s fun.
Great to ‘meet’ you, Michelle.
I love that about writing–using research to delve into subjects that fascinate me. It makes me think there’s something off about the way we were taught in school; I love learning so much now that I’m an adult.
Your book sounds fascinating, and you’re in good company writing about math-genius sisters (founding Deb Kristy Kiernan’s Catching Genius also featured one). Math (or our feelings about it) is such a perfect illustration of the disconnect that we often experience from one another.
Thanks for being our guest today!
Hi Michelle! So glad that we finally got you over there–after our little middle-aged memory lapses!
Wow–we’re soul-sisters with the coffee–my brother worked at a cheese shop when I was a child and they sold coffee beans there–this was back in the days when such a thing was unheard of. The aroma of stepping into that store was intoxicating and to this day I can’t inhale the scent of coffee without being transported elsewhere. Sadly, I think it was too many late-night cram sessions in college with far too much coffee, and I hit my limit with caffeine and now can’t have caffeine at all–it’s so sad…I guess the good thing is I’m not caffeine-addicted?! But I also am the math-averse one, who perhaps actually LIVED that college nightmare of yours (i.e. never showing up for class till the final exam…what can I say? It was senior year, spring semester. I had two internships and 19 credits. My boyfriend’s roommates were math brainiacs and offered to do my math homework for me because they thought it was “fun”! All I know is I took that class at night because everyone told me to do that b/c you get more empathetic teachers who know you’re only in there to fulfill the math credit requirement, and thank goodness I had a truly empathetic professor who passed me despite my failings…
Now, to find that coffee…
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