Rebecca Rotert is the author of the new novel Last Night at the Blue Angel. She is a singer and songwriter, and a teacher with the Nebraska Writers Collective. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
Q: Why do you tell the story in Last Night at the Blue Angel from the perspectives of both Naomi, a singer, and Sophia, her daughter?
A: Sophia is the central character and we first come to know Naomi solely from her point of view. In thinking about how children never really know their parents, I wanted Naomi to “talk,” I wanted the reader to see how Naomi was “constructed” emotionally, and to see the early seeds of her compulsions.
Q: What kind of research did you do to recreate Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s?
A: I spent a lot of time in Chicago, particularly in its research libraries. I read a lot, looked at a lot of photographs, talked to a lot of people. I learned far more than I was able to employ in the book. Research is beautiful. I found whole elements of the story accidentally, during research.
Q: You also are a singer and songwriter. What was it like to write about a character who’s a singer, and how did your own musical career affect the writing?
A: Well, I had the vocabulary of that world at hand, though my experience is very different from Naomi’s. There are certain aspects of performers’ lives that are universal, of artists altogether – that hungry return to the work no matter what it costs or how poorly it is going…I think writing music informs writing prose in terms of rhythm and pattern and certainly a deep love for music has informed my work across the board.
Q: Which authors have influenced you?
A: Michael Cunningham, Toni Morrison, Jim Crace, Jim Shepard, Zora Neale Hurston, so many poets from Emily Dickinson to Stephen Dunn, Amy Hempel, Marilynne Robinson, Mary Robison, Joyce, Ondaatje. I could go on and on.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The next book. It will be a continuation of the first. A darker continuation, hahaha.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Oh, just grateful to you for your interest.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb