Riffle Backstory: Q&A with Kate Racculia, Author of BELLWEATHER RHAPSODY
BELLWEATHER RHAPSODY is Kate Racculia's second novel to be released May 13, 2014. The story takes place at the Bellweather Hotel where a high school music festival unravels when one of its students goes missing. Hailed as "witty," "charming" and "whimsical" by critics everywhere, Bellweather Rhapsody is a vivacious story where mystery, meets thriller, meets musical!
Kate Racculia was kind enough to answer some of my questions on her writing process as well as how she meets her characters and where she draws her inspiration from.
RIFFLE FICTION: What is the first book you remember having an impact on you?
KATE RACCULIA: The first book I ever read by myself was James Howe’s vampire bunny classic Bunnicula. I remember, vividly, the excitement of devouring it, of not only decoding the words but understanding them. It was like stepping inside someone else’s dream. I already loved books, and loved being read to, but reading to myself was a whole other kind of magic.
RF: What do you do to get ready to write everyday? What’s your routine?
KR: I don’t write everyday! At least, I don’t write fiction everyday; I worked full time while I wrote my first novel and nearly full-time while I wrote my second, and I couldn’t face coming home to another blinking cursor after staring at a computer in the office for eight hours. I developed a writing practice that fits into my life, primarily on weekends, and I don’t beat myself up about missing a day. Even on days when I’m not actually writing, I’m pre-writing—daydreaming and planning, imagining where I’ll start the next scene, or why that character is the way he is.
On the days I do write, I like to get up and go to the gym in the morning; I’m naturally a little anxious, so physically tiring myself out helps me focus. I come home. I take a shower. I make a pot of coffee. Then—and this is critical—I turn off the Internet. I’ll eat a sandwich while I read over the last day’s work, though I don’t let myself revise anything; you can get caught in an editorial loop (“I’ll just fix this little thing…and now this little thing…and now this”) and never get out. I read to remember where my brain left off, then I take a slug of coffee and slip back into the book.
RF: When did you first encounter the subject/plot of your book? What was it that made this story come alive?
KR: In 1997, when I was seventeen—and a teenage bassoonist—I attended the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) All-State conference at the once-grand, then-shabby (and now-razed) Concord resort hotel in the Catskills. Even at the time, I thought: this would make a great setting for a murder mystery. The hotel was dripping with history, rotten with ghosts. (The only thing that wasn’t memorable, ironically enough, was the reason we were all there in the first place: I don’t remember a single piece of music I played.) But I think Bellweather really came alive when I created the characters, when I could imagine this place that had so much personality suddenly full of human personalities to match.
RF: What’s the strangest source of inspiration you’ve experienced or used for a novel?
KR: There’s a little moment in Bellweather that is one hundred percent inspired by something that really happened to me at All-State. During a rehearsal break, a character is washing his hands in the bathroom and notices another player coming out of a stall carrying a French horn. A French horn.
I swear, you can’t make it up.
RF: You really can't! You have such a background in so many facets of the arts—music, illustration, design, writing. What is one song/artwork/film/play/performance that you would most like your writing to emulate and why?
KR: Great question! And I honestly don’t think I could pick just one. Part of what I love to do in my writing is mix things—Bellweather is a stew of both King and Kubrick’s versions of The Shining, the classical music of Holst and Debussy, the pop of Whitney Houston and the Bangles, the mysteries of Agatha Christie and Ellen Raskin—and in the process discover what new things I can make from other works or experiences that were meaningful to me. When I was an art student, I loved anything that mixed media or used elements of collage—and I can see that I’m still doing that, only using words instead of paper and paint.
RF: For your novels—generally what comes first, the characters or the story?
KR: The characters, absolutely. I love a tightly plotted novel, but plot doesn’t come as easily to me as people. Plus I believe in using characters—their desires and fears, the particulars of their lives—to drive plot: because character A wants (x), he makes (y) choice, and (y) choice leads to a whole other world of (z) trouble. Once I know who all my people are, and I know where they are—geographically but also situationally, i.e., where are they in their lives, what year is it?—then I start to imagine where they might all end up. I write my characters toward the destinies they deserve, though it goes without saying that their endings need not necessarily be happy.
RF: How was your experience of writing the second novel different from the first?
KR: It was much harder, but ultimately more satisfying! Bellweather has more moving pieces that my first novel: there were eight main characters as opposed to four, more plots to balance and weave, more reveals to orchestrate. The only thing that was simpler was the setting: like Lost, it all takes place in one location (the Bellweather hotel and its surrounding area), with the occasional flashback to other places. The novel truly fell into place during a long, careful, and very enjoyable revision process.
RF: What is the strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
KR: It wasn’t something I learned so much as remembered—and what was strange about it was that I had ever forgotten. I went to a rehearsal of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra to get my head back into that young-musician space; I played in the Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestra in high school, but it’s been well over a decade since I sat on a stage with my bassoon. When the BYSO conductor took the podium, the players clapped for him. But not with their hands, which were too busy holding violins and flutes and tubas: they applauded with a rumble of their feet. Until that moment, I had completely forgotten I used to do that too. (And of course it went into the book.)
RF: When you were writing your book, what kept you up at night?
KR: After I wrote my first draft, and realized—thanks to some great advice from early readers—that it was kind of a mess, I worried that I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. But it was too late: I was already attached. The only way out of this book was through. RF: What is your greatest fear as a writer?
KR: The writing part of writing (as opposed to the going-out-in-the-world/publishing part of writing) is not a place where I’m particularly fearful: writing is where I can push and pull and fail and get back up again. It’s fun—hard work, yes, but also play. Sometimes I worry that this character is too flat; that plot point is too ridiculous; that, for whatever reason, a reader might be offended or feel betrayed or just plain disappointed. I do worry about being misunderstood or misread—there’s a natural mix of excitement and anxiety about sharing your work with the world. But fear and worry don’t do me much good, in life or in writing, so I try to keep them in check.