An Interview with Rae Meadows
Author of No One Tells Everything
Rae Meadows is the author of two books: Calling Out and No One Tells Everything. No One Tells Everything is a marvelous novel, and I was so impressed, I asked the author for an interview with Mostlyfiction. (Interview conducted by Guy Savage.)
RAE: Grace is 35, a disaffected copyeditor who drinks alone in the same Brooklyn bar every night and observes life from a bitter distance. When a local co-ed is found dead, and Charles, a college student from Grace’s Ohio hometown, is arrested for the murder, something within her stirs. She senses deeper layers to the story about Charles and becomes consumed by discovering the truth behind the boy’s crime. As her investißgation progresses, dark parts of her own childhood resurface, including the details surrounding the death of her younger sister twenty-five years earlier. As she chases Charles’s mystery, she inadvertently chases her own.
I see No One Tells Everything as a novel about the inescapable longing for human connection, the slippery natures of truth and memory, and a friendship between two unlikely people.
MF: In the novel, Grace is drawn to the story of a suspected killer accused of murdering beautiful college freshman Sarah Shafer. In many ways the murder reminded me of stories that hit the headlines. Were you inspired by any real life events?
RAE: It’s strange because here in Madison, the book is coming out at a time when there have been a few unsolved murders, including the death of a pretty undergrad. Although the crime in the book is not specifically inspired by a real life event, when I lived in New York I was captivated by a murder case at a local college—a boy killed another boy—and I had a similar reaction to the one Grace has in the novel. The stories about the killer didn’t make sense to me. I had my own theory about what really happened.
MF: NO ONE TELLS EVERYTHING doesn’t take the expected paths. Without giving away too much here, there’s one point at which it seems as though Grace may set out to solve the crime or even break into journalism with an insider’s story about the murder. When you started the novel, was the direction set? Or did the story take you in directions you didn’t expect?
RAE: The direction was fairly set from the outset but there were a few unexpected turns along the way. I wrote the first draft of the novel in first person and had the bizarre experience of switching it to third person, which I think ended up working much better and made the narrative feel less claustrophobic. Although it’s a close third person, it still allows a little distance in the retelling. Another change was that I originally gave Grace writerly aspirations—you are a very perceptive reader!—but that seemed to short-change the Grace/Charles relationship a little bit and confuse the issues at stake.
MF: One of the very impressive things about the novel is its dialogue. It’s so real. How did you achieve this?
RAE: That is really nice of you to say. Dialogue can be so tricky. I especially had to refine the conversations between Grace and Charles to try to make them sound believable. One of the things I do is read dialogue out loud after I’ve written it—it’s much easier to diagnose a problem when you hear it spoken.
MF: There are two scenes in the novel in which Grace participates in family events: a dinner at her parent’s home and a dinner with her parents at a neighbor’s house. Both events illustrate family dynamics at work and end up in disaster. Once again, these scenes were perfect. Were they particularly difficult to create?
RAE: Thank you for the compliment. Although Grace’s parents are nothing like my parents, I did grow up in an upper-middle class Protestant suburb in the seventies, so some of the tight-lipped, unspoken aggression of these dinner scenes is familiar to me. Grace is such a volatile presence when she returns home. She can no longer play along, especially when the alcohol is flowing, which I think helps in giving the family dynamics a charge.
MF: Grace is a fascinating protagonist—disaffected, alienated, numbing herself with alcohol. Did you envision her this way from the book’s inception?
RAE: I set out to write a character who was more extreme than the protagonist of my first novel. I wanted someone not altogether likeable, a woman who from far away looks pretty normal but upon closer inspection is a hair away from falling into an emotional abyss. There is a little of me in Grace but she took on a life of her own. I think this story required a character who’s so divorced from her own life that she’s willing to take on someone else’s.
MF: Your first novel CALLING OUT is a book about the escort business in Utah. Did you get any flak for writing about this subject in a state not exactly known for its progressive attitudes?
RAE: You know, it’s funny, I was a little worried when I went to Salt Lake to do a reading that hecklers would show up. But they didn’t. I actually felt a lot of support from the Beehive State. Salt Lake City has a thriving progressive community these days, though outside the city, I don’t think they were reading Calling Out in too many book clubs.
MF: I understand you took calls at an escort agency as part of your research for CALLING OUT. Was any research involved in NO ONE TELLS EVERYTHING?
RAE: I did do research but long before I knew it would help in writing the novel. Before I wrote Calling Out, I thought I wanted to write a non-fiction book about the murder of a college boy by his classmate, the crime I mentioned earlier. I researched the case and eventually exchanged letters with the jailed young man who was later convicted.
But as I got more involved, it became clear to me that I didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility this type of project brings. The boy was mentally ill and I didn’t want to hurt him, his family, or the victim’s family by writing a book, so I let it go. Later, a friend of mine said that what he found compelling was not the story of the crime itself but why I had been so interested in the first place. And the idea for a novel was born. No One Tells Everything is not about the young man with whom I corresponded, or his crime, though it does take some elements from my experience with him as inspiration.
MF: There are potentially some extremely emotional issues at work in NO ONE TELLS EVERYTHING: guilt, rejection, and murder, for example, yet the novel is surprisingly unemotional. Was it your intention to create characters who refuse to display the emotional impact of tragedy in their lives? I would think that it’s much more difficult to create characters who bury their emotions. Any comments on that?
RAE: For me, it’s actually easier to write characters who are not overly emotive. (Perhaps because I am not much of an expresser myself.) With many of the characters in this novel, I liked exploring the subtleties of behavior and the oblique expressions of emotion that repression can bring about. As a reader, I often feel a bigger impact when there is less said but I can sense the miasma lurking beneath the surface.
MF: Are you working on a new novel? If so could you give us a hint?
RAE: I have begun working on a new novel called Orphan Train that is a bit of a departure for me. I see it following three narratives, two of which take place at the turn of the century. One of those threads is about a doctor at the Wisconsin Insane Asylum and another follows a young street urchin girl in New York who boards an orphan train heading to the Midwest in hopes of getting adopted by a farm family. I haven’t yet mastered getting down to work while my eight-month-old naps, but I’m getting close!
Read GUY SAVAGE'S review of NO ONE TELLS EVERYTHING at MostlyFiction.com