Q: What inspired you to write Rachel to the Rescue, and to include Trump and his entourage in the novel?
A: I wanted to write a novel about someone fired by the Trump White House. I couldn’t help it.
I didn’t know what her position had been, and I experimented with a few different jobs until I read in Politico about a full-time staff Scotch-taping Trump’s documents back together. (It's a real job, and WHORM, White House Office of Records Management, is a real department and a real acronym.) That was it, my green light.
Q: In an article in Slate from last November, just after the 2020 election, Laura Miller wrote, "Only when it feels like there’s no chance of him ever regaining a position of power or otherwise continuing to stir up the forces of hatred and fear does it makes sense to portray him [Trump] as Lipman does, as not much worse than a coarse buffoon with a wandering eye." What would you say in response?
A: Boo-hoo. I had a lot of fun with that coarse buffoon.
That outlook reminds me of a review of my 1987 short-story collection that said, “Lipman’s characters are charming but charm is the blight of the Eighties. I don’t think her characters think about Latin America.”
Q: The book is set in 2019-20, and includes the pandemic. Did you add that into the book in a later draft, or did you start writing the book after the pandemic had already begun?
A: Neither. About 9/10ths of the way through, as I was sheltering in place, I found myself ending a chapter with, “It was our last social gathering in The Time Before the Plague.” It seemed too big to leave out, and going forward exactly the right feel for the last three chapters.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: My Significant Other thought of it when I put in a request for alliteration. I have the original Post-it on the refrigerator where he’d written three possible titles. As soon as I saw “Rachel to the Rescue,” that was it. As for who gets rescued, I think it's Rachel herself.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m halfway through what will be novel No. 14, in which my narrator is under house arrest.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Rachel to the Rescue was first published in the U.K. as practically an instant book on (our) election day. Upon hearing that news, biographer Stacy Schiff called it "The Trump book that could only be published abroad.” She also called it “a palliative.”
Happily, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt isn’t worried about Trump satire fatigue, and I’m so grateful for that.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elinor Lipman.