Rebecca Kauffman is the author of the new novel The House on Fripp Island. She also has written The Gunners and Another Place You've Never Been.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The House on Fripp Island, and for your cast of characters?
A: The idea for the book rose out of a desire to try something I hadn't done in either of my previous books. Instead of starting with a protagonist, I started with a plot puzzle, and set out to solve the puzzle in the course of writing the first draft.
So, I devised the mystery which is introduced in the prologue, then created the cast. When assembling a cast, I always work in contrasts so that I have a variety of voices and perspectives to knock up against one another.
Q: Why did you choose this South Carolina island setting for the book?
A: I had the opportunity to visit Fripp Island several years ago on a family trip, and was instantly struck by its beauty and intrigue, a wonderful mix of Southern Gothic and lush tropical paradise.
I think a small island offers an inherently good setting for a mystery, because of the way that physical boundaries create a sense of peril, and the potential for tense relations between locals and vacationers.
Q: In a review in the Post and Courier, Jonathan Haupt writes, "Indeed, children, teens and adults alike, the Dalys and Fords are all precariously teetering between risks and rewards against the serene backdrop of an island paradise." What do you think of that description?
A: I love that description! It is true that every character in the book is teetering, or "on the brink" in some way. It was interesting to construct the precarious parts of everyone's life and then look for points of potential intersection with another's precarious point(s), because the areas of overlap are where real danger lies in wait.
Q: The book begins with a ghost narrator. Why did you decide to start the novel that way?
A: It seemed effective to me to work with a voice that is both prophetic and also fixated on the past. The ghost expresses later in the book that it is a relief, upon death, to be freed from the burden of feelings and the belief that everything that originates from within you is true and must therefore be acted upon.
It interested me to explore that distinction - and the inherent deceptiveness of our emotions - in both the prologue and other areas where the ghost appears, since so many characters in the book suffer the consequences of having mistakenly drawn assumptions driven by emotion.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on two novels. I'm much happier when I have several projects going at once and can set something aside for a while instead of trying to force or rush a decision.
One of the novels I'm working on takes place in the early 2000s and explores the fall-out from a small-town hoax gone terribly awry, and the other takes place in the early 20th century and chronicles the lives of seven tight-knit siblings as they navigate a teenage pregnancy that reverberates in a variety of ways.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'll just happily add some quarantine recommendations! I've recently really enjoyed these books: Improvement by Joan Silber, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi, and The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami, and these movies: P’tit Quinquin, Good Time, The Favourite, and I’ve been on a real Nic Cage kick; favorites are the absolutely bonkers and unhinged Vampire’s Kiss, and Face/Off.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman.