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Harrisonburg Novelist Rebecca Kauffman On Writing

Author, Rebecca Kauffman
Rebecca Kauffman
Author, Rebecca Kauffman

Pre-order Rebecca's upcoming novel, "I'll Come To You," Here.

Award-winning Harrisonburg author Rebecca Kaufman tells her story through the eyes of ordinary people. After four successful novels, Rebecca's newest book, I'll Come to You, will be released in January. WMRA's Chris Boros asked Rebecca about her passion for stories.

Rebecca Kauffman: I've always loved story, and that was sort of early childhood, being read to, reading myself eventually, and then writing little books was a passion of mine, and then sort of just gravitated away from that in middle school, high school. Violin took over as primary interests, and then did go to a music conservatory, which was an intensely competitive environment. However, the sort of solitary nature of practice room at the conservatory would prepare me for the writing life. So I graduated with my degree in violin performance, but then worked in public relations in New York City, where I was already living for several years. And recession hit, so about 2008, 2009, I found myself somewhat professionally adrift, and was sort of re -inspired to enter the writing life and wrote a bit, and use some of those early stories to apply for MFA programs, and was accepted at NYU, which is where I wrote a few stories that later became my first book.

WMRA: And then you got your degree then in creative writing?

RK: Yes, yeah, so I got my MFA in creative writing fiction.

WMRA: How long after you got the creative writing degree did you have your first novel published?

RK: Let's see, so I graduated in 2012. My first novel was published in 2016, so it would have sold in 2015.

WMRA: How did that whole process work for you? Were you querying literary agents, or how did that work for you?

RK: Yeah, a lot of my classmates sort of networked while they were in the program. Since we were in New York City, there were a lot of opportunities to meet agents, attend conferences, that sort of thing. I did very little of that. I didn't have a complete manuscript. I didn't have the sort of social wherewithal to attend such things. So I left. New York and moved down to Harrisonburg with the intention of finishing a book and living in a small town where I could live inexpensively, prioritize writing. I worked a restaurant job so I was working in the evenings and writing in the mornings which was my hope. And reconnecting with my sister who was down here already. So, when the time came then to start thinking about an agent after I had finished my novel down here after a year or two down here. I just did it the old-fashioned way sent out query letters so I didn't use any of that sort of New York life.

WMRA: And it worked, almost sounds like a success story if you ask me. Do you feel that way sometimes? Like, I mean you've written out you got a fifth one coming out next year right?

RK: Yeah, thank you. It is a thrill to do what truly deeply profoundly brings me joy. Yeah and to do it you know I've put a book out every other year-ish now since 2016 and it's incredible. It's what I love, yeah, to sort of return to the idea of storytelling. I've just always had this deep, abiding interest in other people's lives, the way that other people exist and live and think, and writing has just become my way of sort of Scratching that itching curiosity that I've always had. So, yeah, publishing is just sort of the income and career on top of what is deeply sustaining and interesting to me.

WMRA: And before you decided to go into violin, when you were growing up, you were writing stories as a kid, right? Yeah. Do you remember the first book or novel or author that just made you go, Oh, geez, this is why I love this more than anything.

RK: So Charlotte's Web is a book that made me cry and affected me deeply as a child. I just couldn't believe that this story was so impactful to me. I thought about it for days. Sort of the joy of fiction is to enter the consciousness of the writer and vice versa, that sort of exchange that happens and someone can create a heart in a character and in a narrative that's so real that you're inexplicably moved or changed or animated by it. In some way, as a reader, and, yeah.

WMRA: Does that happen when you're writing ever, where you'll get emotional when you're writing a scene? Or are you too into the language and the rhetoric to be influenced by emotion?

RK: At a certain point, I do usually become, have some sort of emotional attachment to a character. And I think the best case scenario when you're writing is that there is a certain point when you're following the character versus dictating their every move. And I think that's when I'm usually most emotional. When emotion is sort of what's guiding me is when a person has become real enough to me that they basically just stand up off the page and walk off on their own way and I just, my job then is to follow them and that's somewhat rare but for me that feels essential.

WMRA: You grew up in rural Ohio, and now you're in Harrisonburg. What brought you here?

RK: So, my sister was a student at EMU and she's several years older than me. And, after I graduated with my MFA, I wasn't quite sure what my next move would be, but, I moved down here to be close. to her and connect with my nephew who was very young at the time. And I didn't expect to stay here. I thought I would just work a restaurant job, try and, try and write a book, try and finish a book, and be here maybe a few years at most. But I fell in love with Harrisonburg, met my husband, have children now, and yeah, this is, Definitely home.

WMRA: Aw. And your last book, Chorus, you set it in Virginia, right?

RK: I did. I did.

WMRA: So was there a reason for that? I mean, like, living here, is that what prompted you to set that story in Virginia?

RK: Yeah. It did in the sense that the landscape was, you know, really at my fingertips, but yeah, it was historical, so it didn't, nowhere in the book resembled Harrisonburg in any way. And I fictionalized various aspects of the actual setting, but I was definitely drawing on, you know, the sort of the county in terms of, you Landscape writing. I actually, I should never say never, but I don't anticipate writing anything that's set in Harrisonburg because I have found that I'm sort of unable to write well about the place that I'm living at the time.

WMRA: And you have a new novel coming out next year. It's your fifth. How has each one been different for you, like process and have you learned new things with each novel?

"I'll Come to You" Cover
Penguin Random House
"I'll Come to You" Cover

RK: Overall, I would say each one gets easier in the sense that I have less. Anxiety about my ability to complete a novel, you know, yeah, you know each time I finish one It's further proof that I can finish another so I don't have the same, you know Sort of trepidation about my ability to see a novel through.

WMRA: You say you write about normal regular everyday people. So, let's pretend that your next book is a is a fantasy novel. What would your agent and your publishers say? They'd be like, Rebecca, you're crazy, you've never done anything like this before. Would they say no? Or how, how would that work if you handed something to them and they were like, "Oh my gosh, we can't believe you did this."

RK: That's a really good question. I don't know.

WMRA: You have to kind of be open for criticism in the work you do, not just people who read your book and then they. They write a review on Amazon, but also your agent and the editor and your other friends who might read it. What's that like to know I'm gonna get criticized for this?

RK: Um, Chris, it doesn't even faze me. No, I think this is where my conservatory experience comes in handy. Cause that was so tough. And that was you know, not only criticism, but in a room full of people, you know, masterclass, you're playing in front of 12 other violinists and being told everything that's wrong with what you're doing and in the moment trying to correct it, relying on your muscles and your mind and you know, everything to perform in the moment. So writing, at least there's distance from the critic typically. And yeah, I just, I think that's another thing that has. changed with each book is it. I'm not too rocked by.

WMRA: Your next book comes out in January. It's called "I'll come to you." What is it about?

RK: So I'll come to you is a novel about family. It spans one year 1995 in the life of one family. It's anchored by the anticipation and then arrival of a child. January, opens with news of the pregnancy and then it moves through the baby's first Christmas. Chapters are told according to month and from alternating perspectives. So you, you have chapters from the expectant parents, from the expectant grandparents and various others. So it's really about the reverberations of new life. And you know, the way that new life might transform, animate, intensify the life in its proximity.

WMRA: When you're writing a story like that, how much of that is based on a family, you know, or your own personal family, or is it a hundred percent fiction?

RK: It's all fictionalized. No one that I know would, I don't think, see them recognize themselves in a character of something that I've written. But, you know, undeniably one draws from their own life. Um, but the way that things appear on the page has always undergone some sort of muddling process, mutating process in my mind. So, yeah, the emotional landscape is true to my experience, but the people and scenarios themselves are not.

WMRA: Do you have another book in the wings that you're working on?

RK: So this one, I'm about halfway through a first draft on that. Yeah. And this one I thought about for a long time before starting, so that I would not spend two years on a bad book. This one I thought about. I didn't at all have, you know, the whole thing planned or outlined or anything like that, but enough of a semblance of ideas and I have mentally been immersed in that world long enough that I have good direction, good energy.

WMRA: If you could recommend one book for someone to read, like a book that changed your life.

RK: Man, what I'm reading right now, It's incredible. It's a novella. It's very short. It's called Last Night at the Lobster by Stuart O'Nan. It's about the final shift at a Red Lobster, which is going to be closed down. And it's just beautiful. It's beautiful. And what I'm writing now takes place in the restaurant world too. So that's sort of what brought this book into my life. It's despair and lovely.

WMRA: Harrisonburg novelist Rebecca Kaufman, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been great.

RK: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Chris Boros is WMRA’s Program Director and local host from 10am-4pm Monday-Friday.