Sunday, January 1, 2023

Q&A with Rebecca Kelley




Rebecca Kelley is the author of the new novel No One Knows Us Here. She also has written the novel Broken Homes and Gardens, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Bustle and The Rumpus. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Q: How did Dostoevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment inspire you to write No One Knows Us Here, and how did you create your character Rosemary?


A: In 2014 I wrote a little list for Bustle called 11 Classic Novels that Should’ve Had Female Main Characters. One of them was Crime and Punishment. The idea stuck in my head, and I ended up re-reading it shortly after that, trying to figure out how I might pull off a modern-day retelling of the story with a female Raskolnikov.


I came up with Rosemary, who, like Raskolnikov, wonders if sometimes killing a person—a very bad person—could be a moral act. I then created Sam as a stand-in for Sonia, the faithful girlfriend. My book ended up veering off in a few different directions, so I don’t consider it a contemporary retelling of Crime and Punishment, but that was how it all began.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Rosemary and her sister Wendy?


A: In one word, I’d describe it as fraught. Rosemary is 23 and Wendy 14 when the story begins, and Rosemary is experiencing a lot of guilt for having left Wendy in an abusive household.


When their mother and Wendy’s father die in a car crash, Rosemary hesitates to take her in, almost feeling like she might do her little sister more harm than good. After everything Rosemary’s been through, she has trouble connecting with Wendy at first, but their bond deepens as the story goes on, and she goes to desperate measures to preserve it.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew how I wanted the novel to end, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. I did a lot of writing and rewriting before the book was finished. My first full draft was 135,000 words, and I cut at least 40,000 of those (about 140 pages!) before submitting it to my agent. It was a very messy process.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: My favorite novels are the ones that leave me with a distinctive mood—like I’ve been transported to a very specific time and place, a whole world with its own sights and sounds and smells. That’s what I hope readers get from No One Knows Us Here—not so much a moral or a message but an immersive experience.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Once again I looked for inspiration from the classics. This time I’m riffing off of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, one of my favorite books. He got the story from a real-life crime that was committed in 1906. The movie A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor told the same story.


I’ll see what happens with a female protagonist and a contemporary setting—in this case, an old National Parks lodge up in the Rocky Mountains.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The high-end kitchen shop where Rosemary works in No One Knows Us Here was based on a local store here in Portland where I worked in the 1990s and early 2000s. That’s how I know so much about knives….


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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