An Interview with Kate Racculia, Author of Bellweather Rhapsody

On Wednesday, I reviewed Kate Racculia’s exuberant and delightful new novel, Bellweather Rhapsody. Ms. Racculia graciously agreed to be interviewed via email. 

How would you describe the inception of Bellweather Rhapsody? What was the writing process like?

Kate Racculia Author photo (c) Sage Brousseau

Kate Racculia
Author photo (c) Sage Brousseau

KR: I started writing Bellweather Rhapsody the summer my first novel, a coming-of-age-in-a-small-town story, was published, and I knew I wanted my second novel to be different: a mystery, one that paid homage to two of my favorite books of all time, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. There would be multiple twisty plots and multiple characters, and they’d all be trapped together in a pressure cooker situation.

The idea for Bellweather’s particular pressure cooker—Statewide, a weekend conference for teenage musicians, held in an enormous, decrepit hotel—was born in the late nineties, when I, a teenage musician, attended the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) All-State conference, which was held at the Concord, a once grand, then crumbling hotel that was surely haunted. Even at the age of seventeen, I remember thinking: this would make an incredible setting for a murder mystery.

The writing process was very different from my first novel: I wrote the majority of the (extremely messy) first draft very quickly, and the novel began to truly take shape during a methodical revision process. I spent a lot of time in the Bellweather, getting to know these characters–enough time to solve their mysteries, as it were.

Bellweather Rhapsody is full of delightful (and never gimmicky) 90s touches. What were your favorite books and albums in the late 90s?

Bellweather RhapsodyKR: I was completely obsessed with the Beatles in the 90s; the third CD I ever bought was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and that sealed my fate. But if we’re talking 90s culture that was actually of the 90s, I listened to a lot of Barenaked Ladies and REM, Fiona Apple and The Cranberries, Garbage and Radiohead, and I read every Michael Crichton and Stephen King book I could get my hands on.

Like Rabbit, you were a teenage bassoonist, and according to your website, your bassoon was called Nigel. Did you and Nigel get together for a reunion tour while you were writing Bellweather Rhapsody? What kinds of research did you do for the novel?

KR: Alas, we didn’t! Nigel and I haven’t seen each other since June 1998, when I left him behind in the band room; he belonged to my high school. I bought a bassoon of my own (partially with graduation money) and played it half-heartedly during my freshman year of college, but that bassoon only ever felt like a rebound. It is, however, still in my closet, and one day I know I’m going to pick it up again.

As far as research goes, I read books on psychopaths and child prodigies, consulted with some experts (like my best friend’s dad) about which motorcycles were the coolest; went to a few performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a rehearsal of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra; and, because I believe in experiential research (i.e., doing the same things my characters will), I went to a firing range and shot a .38 special.

If Bellweather Rhapsody were a movie, what would the track over the closing credits be?

KR: I love this question so much, I’m going to answer it twice. I’d go with either David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” (Bowie plays a key role in the book) or The New Pornographers’ “Moves,” which has a totally boss string intro. It depends on how you’d like your Bellweather movie to end: pensive and full of feelings, or with a driving beat?

What’s next on your writing horizon?

KR: I’m working on a big sprawling novel about diners and sea monsters and missing kids, stage mothers and office drones, tattooed ladies and rollerskating drag queens—and time travel—that’s most of all about family: the ones we’re born into, and the ones we find in the world.

My thanks again to Ms. Racculia for her time and thoughtful answers. You can read more about Ms. Racculia, and Bellweather Rhapsody, on Ms. Racculia’s website, Follow Kate Racculia on Twitter: @kateracculia

Recommended Reading: Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody

Bellweather RhapsodyIn Bellweather Rhapsody*, her second novel, Kate Racculia conjures up a tale of conductors, students, chaperones, guests, and hotel staff thrown together at a statewide high school music festival — at a very creepy hotel in 1997 upstate New York. Everyone has a secret, no-one’s being completely honest, and there’s a snowstorm coming.

Then a girl goes missing from Room 712 — the same room where a murder-suicide took place fifteen years earlier, and those secrets aren’t safe anymore.

Bellweather Rhapsody is a piquant mixture of genres and tones — mystery, comedy, bildungsroman, thriller — which together form a perfectly seasoned piece of literary fiction. It’s that rare kind of novel that captures not only what it’s like to be a teenager on the verge of adulthood, but also what it’s like to be an adult and wonder if you’re getting it all wrong.

The characters are unforgettable: Rabbit Hatmaker, a shy bassoonist; Alice, his diva-like twin sister; their chaperone Mrs. Wilson, who has a gun and might have used it once; Fisher Brodie, Scottish conductor who once was a piano virtuoso and now comes across as rather mad; Minnie, a young woman still reeling from the traumatic events she witnessed years before, comforted now only by her deaf dog and horror movies; Mr. Hastings, a genteel concierge who remembers the Bellweather in her glory days; and Viola Fabian, a Lady Macbeth-style sociopath — with a daughter.

As its title suggests, Bellweather Rhapsody is about not only the characters gathered under the hotel’s roof, but also about music itself, and its strange power. Ms. Racculia clearly loves music and understands it. Her descriptions of the experience of music — hearing it, playing it — are thrilling in their accuracy. If you’ve ever lost your breath listening to Holst or Beethoven or Debussy, this book is for you. And if you haven’t, read this book, and you will.

(Bonus: Delightful and sly 90s references!)

Friday: An interview with Kate Racculia, author of Bellweather Rhapsody

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.