Kate Racculia Author Interview

Debut author Kate Racculia is the recipient of RT's July Seal of Excellence for her novel, This Must Be The Place. Now the author sits down with RT's Whitney Sullivan to discuss the novel that begins as a tale about a grieving widower but becomes something entirely more complex. The pair chat about Racculia's background in art, the parent-child relationship she found most challenging to write, what we can expect next from this bright new talent and much more!


Whitney Sullivan: This Must Be The Place begins from Arthur's perspective but by the middle of the story it is clear that he shares the story with three other equally "main" characters, Mona, Oneida and Eugene. How did you balance having four protagonists all vying for attention?

Kate Racculia: I set out to write a novel like a collage, with characters and plots and mysteries all overlapping—but I’m a compulsive organizer, so there had to be method to the madness. For the most part, there are an equal, alternating number of chapters from each main character’s perspective: Oneida and Arthur in the first and third sections of the book, Eugene and Mona in the middle. Outlining the book with such an even structure was also a helpful first-time novelist trick. I always knew whose point of view was coming up and which immediate direction the story was heading.

WS: Throughout the story your characters do a lot of "unpacking" sharing a single part of themselves at a time. What did you do to reinforce this idea that each character was a collection of stories and aspects?

KR: It all comes back to the idea of novel as collage. I have a degree in art and illustration and work mostly in mixed-media collage; it’s one of my favorite mediums, and the found-object collagist Joseph Cornell (a chief inspiration for the novel) is one of my favorite artists. I created each character as his or her own collection of memories and artifacts and then let them peel the layers (their own and each other’s) back a little at a time.

WS: When you started writing This Must Be The Place, did you know where the story was going to end? And a follow up, which of the characters came to you first?

KR: I did! I knew it would end with a kind of scattered convergence (if that’s not a contradiction in terms)—with each character finding out what it means to let go and to grow up. Arthur was technically the first character I wrote, though they’re all so interconnected I feel they rushed at me in a group.

WS: Despite her death in the first chapter, Amy is very much part of the entire novel. What type of research did you do to bring that same vibrancy she is known for to her obsession with movie-monsters?

KR: I didn’t do research so much as bank off my own fascination with movies and monsters. I grew up in the 1980s on a steady diet of sci-fi and fantasy movies and loved everything from unicorns to dragons to Muppets. Amy’s philosophy about practical special effects, including puppetry, is my own. With computer graphics, you gain incredible scope and possibility, but you lose something, too: tactility, believability. There’s something true about an imaginary creature that’s been built in three dimensions, that has mass and texture. Movies like Ray Harryhausen’s, the original Star Wars trilogy, and the great fantasy films from the Jim Henson Company look and feel different than most CGI-heavy movies made today: you can tell they were made with hands. You can see the people behind them. 

WS: This Must Be The Place is very much a story about parents and children. Which of these relationships was the most challenging to create? Did any of them take you by surprise as you were writing them?

 

KR: The scenes between Oneida and Mona when mother and daughter are fighting were the most challenging. I’m incredibly close with my own mother (hi, Mom!), and—swear to God—we never fought. The first drafts of those interactions were pretty After School Special-ish, with even more slammed doors and huffy about-faces than there are now. I looked to Gilmore Girls and My So-Called Life as examples of fraught but uniquely erudite mom-daughter tension. 


WS: You grew up in Syracuse (and have settled in Boston) do you think that your own familiarity with the area played a part in Arthur's return to the North East? Do you recognize aspects of This Must Be The Place as being "New England-y", and if so, what are they?

KR: The northeast will always be my first home, which is absolutely why Arthur ends up there! Small, insular towns that time forgot, secrets moldering in the attics, and the feeling that autumn is both an end and a beginning—to me, that’s the upstate New York state of mind. 

WS: Music plays a large part in This Must Be The Place. If you had to sum up the feel of the story in three songs, which would they be and why?

KR: Foreigner’s “Urgent” perfectly captures the heedless cheese-ball angst of teenage lust that drives Eugene and Oneida’s story, and the mood and lyrics of The New Pornographers’ “Go Places” speak to a lot of the novel’s themes. And of course the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place,” which loaned me a title, is an enigmatic rumination on what it means to find (or make) a home of your own.

WS: Arthur travels to the Darby-Jones because of a postcard Amy writes but never sends. Can you share what would be on the back of an unsent postcard from one of the other characters in This Must Be The Place?

KR: I don’t think I can without giving too much away! Though Arthur, right at the beginning, should have sent a postcard to his friend Max back in Los Angeles: Had to go. Took the cat. 

WS: If we promise not to tell, which one of the story's characters would you most like to spend an afternoon with?

 

KR: In about ten years, once he’s gotten his hormones under control, I would love to tear around New York City with Eugene. He’d know the funkiest places and the strangest people, and if the day ended with the two of us having to post bail, so much the better.

 

WS: In honor of Amy and Arthur's Hollywood-based relationship, what is the last movie that you saw and loved?

KR: Toy Story 3 knocked my socks off. I’m a huge fan of the other Toy Story movies (I definitely thought my childhood toys had lives of their own), so I expected it to be a great story with beautiful animation, and I even expected to cry. I was not prepared, however, to weep shamelessly behind my 3-D glasses and then tear up AGAIN the next day while rehashing it with my family. Welcome to the Great American Trilogies club, Toys. You’ve earned it. 

WS: Can you share a detail that RT Readers can keep their eyes open for in an upcoming project?

KR: I’m working on a murder mystery that’s heavily indebted to Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Heathers, and my own experiences as a high school musician. There will be blood, Beethoven, and band geeks.