|Rebecca Rasmussen, photo by Kristen Papac|
Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the new novel Evergreen, as well as the novel The Bird Sisters. She teaches writing at UCLA, and she lives in Los Angeles.
Q: You tell the story in Evergreen from the viewpoint of several different characters over many years. How did you choose whose perspective to include, and how did you decide on the book’s structure?
A: Evergreen wasn’t always structured this way. In the first draft, there were only two different parts—Eveline’s and Hux’s—and I ended up feeling like something important was still missing. The story needed to open up. It needed to branch out. It needed to give me at least another year of grief.
Naamah, the character who drives much of the action in the novel, didn’t have a voice yet. Once I gave her one, there was no glass between us anymore. I kept hearing her calling for her mother. I kept praying she would find a little grace.
Q: Love in various manifestations plays a big role in the book. Did you begin the book with that as a major theme, or did it develop as you were writing?
A: All you need is love, right?
For me, the heart of the novel belongs to the women in Evergreen—almost everything that happens depends on them. It’s an enormous weight to have to bear and for the most part they bear it gracefully, with great love and compassion.
The women in Evergreen are survivors. They’ve learned, oftentimes through events beyond their control, when to hold on with all they’ve got and when to let go. They’ve taught me a great many lessons, one of which is this: the world is still a hard place for women, but we are its lifeblood, we keep not giving up.
Q: How did you choose the book’s setting?
A: I have been drawn to nature ever since I was a girl and spent eight wonderful summers at a rustic camp up in northern Wisconsin. The lake was full of leeches, the cabins were overrun with wolf spiders, and because nothing would ever dry there was a pervasive smell of mold. “L’eau de Camp,” my mother used to say.
But it was also a magical place with towering pines and climax forests, frosty mornings and northern lights, a place where for the first time in my life I felt truly free. I learned how to build fires and navigate canoes through narrow sloughs. I learned how to swim and sail and shoot a rifle. I learned what I could do with my hands. What I could do with my heart.
The northwoods is always with me when I sit down to write. That sense of wonder and freedom, those kumbayas.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, J.M. Coetzee, Mary Oliver…oh this list could get long!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now, I’m working on a novel about a small-town doctor in Wisconsin and a local fisherman who become implicated in an accident involving a young girl in the south fork of the Silver Birch River. The novel follows Dr. Fields and Everett Byrd as they try to navigate the fallout from this event in a town where people will bring you a cup of sugar if you need it or a gun if you don’t.
It's exciting to be working on something new, but I miss the troop from Evergreen, too, and find they still have a lot to say. The Bird Sisters still pipe up from time to time as well. Maybe one day I’ll have to get them all together and see what happens!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Oh let’s see – I like to run, bake, swim, garden, play with my daughter, read…the usual, I guess. The stuff of life!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb