“When you write a short story, it’s like painting a picture on the head of a pin to get everything in there. And when you write a novel, it’s like painting this giant mural; when you’re working on it, you’re too close to see the whole thing.”
[00:00:52] Laurie: Rebecca, welcome to the show. It is so great to have you here. I want to talk to you at greater length about your connection with Middlebury, because this is a show about Middlebury connections.
And before we do that, just thinking about the throughline in your work of this idea in The Hundred-Year Housethat there are hidden documents. In The Borrower, there is the smuggling books motif. And in The Great Believers, there is the disappeared daughter, that there’s some throughline of hiddenness and presence and presence and absence that is something that feels very much part of human relationships in some way or other throughout all of your work.
[00:01:42] Rebecca: That’s a great observation. Thank you. I mean, certainly, every book you write is a mystery, whether it’s a mystery about the past or about the present or about the future, and whether there’s a dead body involved is a different thing. But it’s always going to be about unanswered questions and the way that we might try to figure out what got us to where we are, what information are we missing; or we might be asking those questions about where we’re going next.
And so, I definitely am thinking also presences and absences along with that are certainly part of that. What characters are still there? Who is absent but being thought about is very important to me, what information we have, what information we don’t have.
So, themes are always things that other people point out to me later or that I think about maybe when I’m editing. It’s not something that I do or should think about as I enter into any writing project.
When I talk to my students, I’ve seen so many students almost inevitably get tripped up when they head into a project, thinking about theme or thinking about meaning. It’s a recipe for disaster. They either never start the book because they can’t work it all out. And how would you possibly work it out before you start to write? Or they get in there and they have certain points to prove, and they aren’t able to take their hands off the wheel. They aren’t able to let the book be what it is.
[00:03:06] Laurie: Absolutely. I was also thinking of the temptation, not only of elaborating upon meaning till there is only a thinness of meaning left as a writer, because I’m sure the temptation is there also for you as a writer of historical fiction to show off how much research you’ve done on a particular thing, and then the research takes over.
[00:03:27] Rebecca: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s very dangerous. And there are times when there’s something that you learn that you very much want to get in there, you feel like it’s essential, but is a danger, I think, of doing too much research too soon, honestly. Certain circumstances, that, for instance, with The Great Believers, I really needed to get the lay of the land on the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the ‘80s before I began, but in a very general way. And with my new novel, I Have Some Questions for You, about a lot of things about the legal system in New Hampshire I had to work out or I would’ve started writing a book that was not going to make any sense in the end.
But that lay of the land stuff needs to be very basic, very preliminary, because then you need to get in there and figure out what questions you need answers to. And if you try to figure that all out before you begin, you’re going to end up with pages and pages and pages of research that you try to shoehorn into a text that doesn’t need it. And when you research on a need-to-know basis, of course, a little beyond that, you find you have the information that is relevant to the story.
[00:04:33] Laurie: Yeah, and you’re not caught up in providing so much narrative description that you’re trying to make a film out of narrative description rather than just letting the characters drive the story.
[00:04:47] Rebecca: Exactly, right. I was telling my students that you want your characters to be windup toys, not puppets. Sit it in the right direction and then see what it does. You don’t want to be controlling it the whole time.
[00:04:59] Laurie: Right. Now, it’s a great, great comparison. I love those images. So, I’ve noticed in your responses, so far, you’ve talked about teaching a couple of times. And I’d love to hear you. You’re a teacher now. You were a teacher before you published your first book.
[00:05:16] Rebecca: Very different kind of teaching, yes.
[00:05:17] Laurie: So, tell me a little more about that journey, from you were writing your books as you were doing that very different kind of teaching. So, tell me about that. That must have been an incredible feat, a balancing act. And how did you manage it? What was your life like? And how does it feel now to be actually teaching your craft?
[00:05:36] Rebecca: Well, here’s what happened. I graduated from college, and I had heard about this amazing graduate program at Middlebury College that I really wanted to go to in the summers. And I was accepted at Bread Loaf School of English. And basically, coming out of college, my choice at that point I was thinking of doing a PhD in English literature. But I had a job offer teaching Montessori elementary school, and at the same time had been looking into Bread Loaf and realized that those two things could coexist, that I could get this master’s in the summer and I could teach during the year.
The very first person I met within seconds of arriving at Bread Loaf was the man I ended up marrying. So, then we ended up going back every summer on support staff. But the elementary school teaching that I did, it was wonderful. For most of my career, it was fourth, fifth, sixth grade. Montessori is mixed ages, and you teach every subject. So, you never get bored. Every day is different.
And then, I didn’t have children of my own yet, at least at the beginning of that time. So, I was able to do a lot more writing in the evenings. That worked pretty well. Summer vacation … well, didn’t have summer vacations at first because, at Bread Loaf, the times around that, spring break, things like that.
I taught until just a little bit after my first book came out. I was part time the next year. Then, pretty quickly started teaching grad students, undergrad, conferences. That has grown and grown in teaching creative writing. So, now, I teach grad students at Northwestern University and in a low-residency program out on Lake Tahoe. I teach at the Bread Loaf School of English in the summer.
My main gig is I’m the artistic director of StoryStudio Chicago, which is a nonprofit writing arts center here in the city. And then, I teach at a lot of conferences. I taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference last summer. So, it’s a lot.
It doesn’t feel … I mean, it’s of course different teaching kids. There’s a lot of classroom management. There’s a lot of, “Put that down. Come over here. Why don’t you sit by me,” that, fortunately, you don’t need to deal with, with grad students. But in terms of getting information across, in terms of making sure people understand, in terms of encouraging them, there’s a lot of similarity. There really is.
[00:07:52] Laurie: Well, and you’re doing an intellectual version of, “Put that down, come over here.”
[00:07:57] Rebecca: Well, yes, that’s true. That’s true. “Put that project down. Step away from the book.”
[00:08:02] Laurie: “Step away from that,” yeah, exactly.
So, I’m thinking about you as a student at Bread Loaf School of English, as well as of course now faculty member and also the writers’ conference and so on. And I’m thinking a lot these days about, when I talk to young alums or people who are achieving the kind of success that they want to be achieving in life, like you are at this moment in your career, and I always love asking them, what was the moment of obligation? When did you know that you wanted to do this work? I know you grew up with parents who were linguists. There might have been the moment of obligation when you said, “Hey, I’m not going to be a linguist,” or maybe you knew that from an early age.
[00:08:45] Rebecca: They would’ve died if I went into linguistics, oh, my God.
[00:08:49] Laurie: Your parents would’ve?
[00:08:50] Rebecca: Yes. No, they were …
[00:08:51] Laurie: Tell me why.
[00:08:52] Rebecca: Oh, they were fairly miserable in academia.
[00:08:55] Laurie: Oh, really?
[00:08:56] Rebecca: Well, I mean, yeah. Very large public university with a lot of red tape and lot of infighting. And I think, also, of course, I heard the worst parts of it, because I heard the things they would come home and complain about.
[00:09:12] Laurie: Of course.
[00:09:13] Rebecca: But they did not make it look too appealing.
[00:09:16] Laurie: So, you had a negative moment of obligation, your childhood, like, “No, I don’t want to do this.” But what about writing, was there a moment, either at Bread Loaf or other moments, when you knew that this was what you wanted to do with your life?
[00:09:31] Rebecca: Oh, seventh grade. I mean, this was very, very early. I was writing all through childhood, like a lot of kids do. At least they make up stories, even if they don’t write them down. Through grade school would often win the library writing contest, which I think there were probably three entries. But that was some really solid affirmation.
And then, towards middle school, I always joke it’s right at the same time that my writing got very bad, very self-obsessed. It’s the same era when you discover black-and-white photography and take photos of garbage in the gutter and decide that it’s art.
But at that point, really, decided that that’s what I wanted to be, and then never doubted that, never looked back, never doubted that I should, and honestly never doubted that I could, either. I don’t mean that I was sure that I could make a living as a writer, necessarily, but there were points early on when I felt like, if I’m the kind of writer who publishes a story in a journal every two or three years, and that’s my career, then that’s great and I’m going to keep doing that.
[00:10:38] Laurie: It was a thing that emerged. And that emerged with clarity.
[00:10:43] Rebecca: I think it’s a personality type, in a lot of ways, in the same way that someone just is an actor or just is a painter. And it certainly people can come to it later in life, but for some of us, it’s just baked in.
[00:10:56] Laurie: It’s so clear, yeah. How do you work with your students who are paralyzed somehow by self-doubt? I’m sure you get that a lot, and you have to work with it.
[00:11:10] Rebecca: I do. It’s hard because that’s something that it’s almost impossible to teach. And there’s, in some cases, if someone really does want to be a writer, but they are really self-sabotaging, which something that I see … even more than the doubt, I see the self-sabotage, the like, “Oh, I’m going to stop this project and start another one. Oh, I’m going to stop that project and start another one.”
I think one of the best skills any artist can have is the ability to distinguish between being stuck for reasons of craft and being stuck for psychological reasons. And we often misdiagnose ourselves. So, very often, people are … they are stuck psychologically. They’re doing that self-sabotage, but they’re telling themselves, “Oh, I need to rewrite this in the third person. Oh, no, actually, it needs to have seven narrators,” because they’re keeping themselves from ever finishing the book.
And, in contrast, you can quite often have someone who believes they have a psychological block. They go, “Oh, I can’t write. I have writer’s block. I have writer’s block.” And you sit down with them and you look at the book and you go, “No, you have a craft issue, which is that there’s no inherent momentum to your plot, or something like that. And if you could solve that, it would be very easy to write this book because you wouldn’t be sitting there trying to decide what happen next. You’d know what happen next. And this is a craft issue.”
That process of self-diagnosis, I think, is fundamental before you can go on and actually figure out how to fix it. And so, very often, that’s what I’m doing. And then, if it is psychological, if it is self-sabotage, there’s not a ton that I can do as an instructor, except to say, “Maybe talk to a therapist or maybe really dig down to the bottom of this, or at least acknowledge what you’re doing.”
[00:12:56] Laurie: What I love about your move pedagogically is that it focuses it back on the task at hand. My husband and I almost started a company/consulting thing because we seem to be always talking to people with writer’s block, as people who did not have writer’s block. And then, I realized about a third of the way into the people I wanted to work with that I was the excuse for them not writing because I was helping them with writer’s block. And I thought, the whole time I’m talking to you, you could be writing.
[00:13:29] Rebecca: Oh, my God. Yeah, yeah.
[00:13:32] Laurie: So, I really understand what you’re saying, because I think, once you are able to turn writerly attention back to craft, you have an entirely different project that you’re both looking at together, rather than it becoming, as you say, there’s a time and a place for a therapeutic engagement. But that’s not your work and that’s not the work of the novel or the short story.
[00:13:57] Rebecca: No. And people can really get hung up on this idea of writer’s block, which is … and I’m not the first person to point out that, for some reason, somehow, writing is the only one where we get blocked. It’s not artist’s block. It’s not dancer’s block. Why writers? It doesn’t make any sense. Except that, of course, I mean, it does in a way, because if it’s really the truest expression of yourself, then I can see how, yes, things can stand in your way. But we can get caught up in talking about it rather than in actually just moving ahead.
[00:14:29] Laurie: Absolutely. I think that’s right. So, were there moments during your summers at Bread Loaf that changed you as a writer?
[00:14:39] Rebecca: Oh, of course.
[00:14:39] Laurie: Were there things about the Bread Loaf experience that you remember now and say, “At Bread Loaf, this was the major thing that I learned?”
[00:14:46] Rebecca: Yes, definitely. Again, I did know that I wanted to be a writer. And so, I was taking literature classes, as well as some creative writing classes, which is something wonderful about that program, that those are available, but always with an eye on what I wanted to do with it.
Oskar Eustis, the director who taught there in the ‘90s and in the ‘00s, my first summer I studied with him, it was contemporary American theater. So, he was talking about Eugene O’Neill up through Angels in America, he taught me more about structure than any writing class I think could have. Basically, because it was object lessons, he wasn’t trying to teach us how to write. He was talking through the issues he had worked through with various playwrights, the way they’d solved things, the way that scenes work as building blocks. That was absolutely foundational.
And then, I had wonderful writing classes. I studied poetry with Paul Muldoon. I studied fiction with David Huddle. They were both wonderful. If I think back, it’s like, well, God, so much of … I spent almost all of my 20s learning, in part because my husband and I did come back on support staff, then I would always audit classes. So, it was as if I were enrolled for eight years, nine years, something like that, instead of five summers. It’s not necessarily some major “aha” moment, but just foundational texts that you don’t realize how deeply they sunk in until you find yourself thinking back on that and seeing echoes of that in your own work.
[00:16:25] Laurie: You sometimes don’t realize how foundational they are until 30 years later when they’ve clearly been the foundation that you almost didn’t know or know to acknowledge.
[00:16:36] Rebecca: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:16:38] Laurie: And so, Rebecca, one of the things that I was really struck with in what you just said was, you learned about structure from a playwright, and I’m particularly thinking these days about ways in which writers and creative folk, in general, tend to go to another genre sometimes to get back to theirs or to refresh theirs or to get insight into the work that they’re doing.
So, novelist and short story writer feels that, sometimes, plays can be as helpful to the structure of a plot, for instance, in the novel, as another novel writer might be. And I’m also noting that you have worked in two different genres, at least, both short stories and novels. And I’m wondering if you could describe a little bit about the differences and what it means to move between them.
I noted in an interview that you spoke about, there are certain topics that you take on that you couldn’t sustain for an entire novel, even though it’s awesome and you’re excited about it. And then, there are other topics that, as you think about maybe writing a short story about, that it becomes too big and that you really need to devote a novel to it.
I was really struck by that, and I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about that in the creative process.
[00:17:54] Rebecca: It’s not just topic, it is also modes of telling. So, for instance, I have a short story in my collection that it’s very short, and it’s written as just the answers to an interrogation. And pieces of them are blacked out and redacted. That mode of telling is not something that I would want to sustain for 300 pages, and I don’t think you’d want to read it for 300 pages.
It’s something that readers are really missing out on if they only ever read novels and they don’t read short stories. They’re missing out on very interesting modes of telling, very interesting angles of narration that would be very hard to do in a novel. They’re missing some of the most interesting things being done.
Another factor is, what world do I want to live in? Do I want to live in this world for five years? Because writing the novel and then publishing the novel and talking about the novel, I’m going to be in that world. I better really, really want to live there. And some places you just want to visit for a little bit. It’s like New York City, great to visit. There, certainly, are tremendous craft differences, too, just in the pacing, in the depth that you go into. And then, they have their own challenges.
I’ve said before, not really joking, it’s more something I say in despair that, when you write a short story, it’s like painting a picture on the head of a pin to get everything in there. And when you write a novel, it’s like painting this giant mural that, when you’re working on it, you’re too close to see the whole thing.
And those are both nearly impossible tasks because of their size. And there doesn’t seem to be much in between, because nobody like novellas.
[00:19:32] Laurie: No, nobody wants novellas these days. And novellas would be the perfect space at a certain level to challenge the attention span of the 21st-century reader, but not indulgent to the point where all you’re doing is writing memes.
So, the other thing related to that, I always laugh because scholars, when they finish a book, they just say, “Now, I have to go on the conference circuit. And I finished the book. I’m done with my area of inquiry. So, don’t ask me any more questions.” So, I love the way you frame that, which is you do have to still live in that world. There’s an afterlife. Many would argue the real life to any cultural artifact, whether it’s a novel or a scholarly book, etc., that actually starts when the book goes out there and has all of its readers.
So, I want to spend a little bit of time on character. I noticed Z. I noticed Fiona. There are these wonderful … you were talking earlier about things missing or searches, and so on. There are these really energetic women who are looking for something in your work, that their search opens up a larger public tragedy or a larger thing that creates more human empathy, particularly in its tragic dimensions. And Fiona’s tale is, perhaps, the most telling/moving to me. I think that’s among the many reasons why you’re so successful as a writer.
Could you share a little bit more about how you build character, how you think about, particularly, the women protagonists in your pieces?
[00:21:12] Rebecca: Yeah, I can. And, and interesting, I have some questions for you, my new novel, it is a literary novel, but it’s also a mystery, a real mystery, as in there’s a dead body and we need to know what happened. And there’s a female protagonist again who is the one really, honestly, really investigating her own past and interrogating that. You always want a protagonist who is looking for something, who needs something or wants something, that, those motivations, especially when they’re deep, when they’re desperate, those motivations are what’s going to give the plot its momentum.
For me, it’s interesting, I know a lot of writers who start with character. They start with just a vibe on a certain character. And then, the work, early on, that they have to do is figuring out how to push that character into action. What is this character going to do? What will they get up to?
For me, I start almost always with plot. I start with the main things that I want to have happen. I don’t have it all worked out necessarily. And then, I need to work backwards from there to reverse-engineer a character I need to think about who is the character who would be the most susceptible to these circumstances, who’d be the most vulnerable to this, or the most changed by the events of the novel. And what about that character can I use to destabilize them? I don’t want a character sailing through my novel. That’s not how anybody learns anything or changes and then evolve the times in their life that I write about. Why write about this if they didn’t emerge changed?
So, I really do need to think about who that person is going to be and what’s on the line for them. It feels like building your perfect victim or something in a terribly masochistic way or sadistic way, rather. It’s masochistic, also. But I meant sadistic. To figure out who this person is that you’re going to put through these fires.
And not all of my protagonists are women. Fiona in The Great Believers, she is a protagonist, but she’s secondary to Yale Tishman, my main character. And I don’t necessarily feel much different when I build characters of different genders, except that when I’m writing female characters, the era in which they are a woman, whatever that era is, that’s going to be a big part of the story, the pressures on them. In this new book, I have this character looking back at high school in the 1990s. And what did that mean coming of age as a woman in high school in the ‘90s? What does it mean now as a woman to look back on that time? Those are just going to be part of it.
[00:23:54] Laurie: It seems like in the changes that Bodhi goes through, right? In your most recent work, she begins by not being terribly interested in finding all this out, that there is a “Do I really have to go through this?” And I appreciate that as well, because I think part of what seems successful about your work is you’re writing about what some scholars call the recent past, which is an era. You’re not doing historical fiction from the 18th century. You’re doing something from an era that people could argue with, that have memories of, that would remember that someone said something different than what you reported it as being, etc.
And that’s an incredible challenge to do, because it’s both historical and contemporary at the same time, particularly because of the stuff that happens in boarding schools and high schools is now so front and center in the news. You went to one of the white-hot centers of issues of our times in this most recent book.
[00:25:02] Rebecca: Yeah, the recent past is a good way to describe it. I was laughing recently, I saw someone tag me because The Great Believers was on a list of best historical romance. I was like, really?
Historical, yes. It’s hard to say it’s not historical, but, within memory. And a big difference for me, I actually hadn’t thought about this really until now, but if, you don’t count my first novel and you don’t count the story collection, if I’m just looking at The Hundred-Year House, part of it takes place in 1999, but it also in the ‘50s and the ‘20s. And those are times that I did not live through.
This was a lot of research. I was ordering the Sears catalog from 1929 on eBay to get objects and things.
[00:25:53] Laurie: That’s great.
[00:25:53] Rebecca: It was fun. And then, with The Great Believers, this was a strange one because I did live through the ‘80s. I was born in the ‘70s, but I was a kid in the ‘80s. And I’m writing about adult gay men living through the AIDS crisis. This was not stuff that I knew from my own memory. I had pieces of culture in that way that kids are so absorbent to the decade. I think that we have a native decade in the same way that we have a native country.
I needed tremendous amounts of research from the people who were there. There was this strange thing of history that I lived through, but that’s not mine. But I have some questions for you. I really am talking about my lived history. I don’t have a lot in common with my main character in terms of personality or anything like that, but I did give her my high school graduation year of 1995 as a way that I could orient myself around the events of that time. And I know what it means. I got my first email account on my first day of college. And it’s a very specific moment, the fall of ‘95. And to make this person exactly that age allowed me to make, at least culturally, to feed my memories into hers, even though I’m not writing for real life.
[00:27:06] Laurie: I’m very struck by the way you begin with plot and think about the character going through the changes. I think that’s a really powerful way to flip some of the ways that one usually begins a long writing project, partly because you’ve automatically got character development, right, by doing it that way.
[00:27:30] Rebecca: Right.
[00:27:33] Laurie: And it’s a way, also, to think about the power and the forces of history. I was thinking about this in relationship to The Great Believers because I was in Chicago in the mid-’80s in a graduate school when all of the AIDS crisis was exploding. And I think the way you crafted that book, it seems that it’s the sense of loss and then loss and then loss for Yale, is such a powerful way of describing it and thinking about it for someone external to it. I was in Chicago. I heard about it. I saw it. But I wasn’t in it. I wasn’t part of that community. I was busy getting my degrees in ancient Indian culture and history. I was in my own bubble. But even I at that point knew it as a news story. I didn’t know that era as a series of personal losses. And that, I think, is a powerful thing.
I want to get back to a couple things, just as our final questions. It has been so fun to talk to you. The question of Bread Loaf and Middlebury and the way it played a role in your life, I noticed that you come back a lot to Vermont. I think you still hang out on Fern Lake, am I correct?
[00:28:50] Rebecca: Yeah, we have a house there. We live there in the summer, yeah.
[00:28:54] Laurie: So, tell me what brings you back to Vermont. And I also cannot do this interview without asking you exactly what the moment was when you met your husband. Both of those things are absolutely stories de rigueur.
[00:29:10] Rebecca: Well, I’ll tell you something funny. This is a little bit woo-woo, but I found Bread Loaf, actually, I found it in the strangest way. I had to back up a little bit here. I was in high school, and there was a college fair. And I was going along and I stopped at the Middlebury table. And for some reason, they had a bunch of Bread Loaf catalogs there, too, maybe to appeal to the teachers, I think, probably. Like, “Hey, if you teach, you should see this.”
And I picked one of those up, and then I did look at Middlebury for undergrad, didn’t end up going there. But I kept this catalog from 1993, ‘4, I don’t know, this Bread Loaf catalog. I kept it all through college and went, “This place looks really great. I’m going to do this after I graduate.”
I’ll go chronologically here. I got literally flew into Burlington, got the cab up the mountain, and got out, went into the inn, the front desk. And Victoria Brown, who still works at the front desk in the summers, was the person behind the desk. And she goes, “Oh, this is John. He’ll be your tour guide, take you on campus.”
And I turned around and I thought, “Oh, he’s cute.” And then, I thought, oh, come on, he’s the first person you saw here. And then, we’ve been married for 21 years. And I’m sorry, my dog is chiming in the background here. I don’t know if you can hear her.
[00:30:33] Laurie: Dogs are totally good. I’m [crosstalk 00:30:34].
[00:30:34] Rebecca: Oh, good. Oh, good. She loves Vermont, so maybe that’s why she’s getting excited.
[00:30:39] Laurie: Must be that, yeah.
[00:30:41] Rebecca: But the weirder part is that I found my way to Bread Loaf. And then, we loved Vermont so much. We had kids. We couldn’t be on support staff, but my husband is a high school English teacher. We have the summers. Let’s get a cabin here.
My mom is really into genealogy and her own family story. And I knew we had ancestors from Vermont, but it turns out that they’re from five miles, 10 miles from where we ended up buying this house.
[00:31:09] Laurie: Wow.
[00:31:09] Rebecca: So, I’m thinking …
[00:31:10] Laurie: In Addison County?
[00:31:11] Rebecca: Yep, Addison County. So, a lot of them were from Monkton, but then from Rutland and in that whole area. I’m like, well, that’s ridiculous, of course. And then I’m like, well, but salmon can do that? They can return to ancestral without knowing why. Just salmon can do it. Why can’t I?
[00:31:30] Laurie: Yeah, absolutely. It’s partly conscious and partly not so conscious.
[00:31:35] Rebecca: Right.
[00:31:36] Laurie: Who were your relatives? Can you name some of them? And have you gone back to the homesteads?
[00:31:41] Rebecca: Oh, God, yeah. Well, this is the impossible part because their last name was Smith. But there were some Green Mountain boys in there. And there’s a giant—giant because it’s been added onto in a very janky manner—farmhouse in Monkton on, and I kid you not, Hardscrabble Road that is still there.
And so, we’ve driven past it. And I would feel very odd knocking on the door and asking if these people happen to know their ancestry going back to the 1850s or whatever, but who might very well be the same family.
[00:32:18] Laurie: Wow, long lost cousins?
[00:32:19] Rebecca: Yeah.
[00:32:22] Laurie: I just discovered someone through a deep Vermont connection was my 11th cousin. And we can prove it genealogically.
[00:32:31] Rebecca: Oh, my gosh.
[00:32:32] Laurie: I would encourage you very much to knock on that door.
[00:32:35] Rebecca: Oh, boy.
[00:32:36] Laurie: And I will go with you. I’m very good at cold calling. It’s part of my job.
[00:32:40] Rebecca: Oh, fantastic.
[00:32:41] Laurie: So, you just have to … you were very truncated on the story of you and Tom Freeman. So, you got to tell me what happened at the tour. Was it during the tour where you knew you were …
[00:32:50] Rebecca: Oh, no, no, no. No, he was leading. Then, there was just a singing group on the mountain. I’m a singer, I sang in college, but I wasn’t even going to join it. And then, I had been walking with a friend, and we ended up in the barn, the big barn up there.
And she said, “You should join the singing group.” And I was like, “No, I’m just going to stay here for a minute, and then I’m going to leave.” And it started pouring rain outside, just sheets of rain. And I didn’t have an umbrella. And I was like, “Ah, I’m stuck here.” And so, then they started warming up. And she was like, “Come on.” I was like, “Oh, fine.” So, I joined the singing group. And then, we got to know each other and became friends. And, by the end of the summer, we’re deeply involved. So, it took a lot of strange chains of events and an act of God, but it worked out.
[00:33:44] Laurie: And a little music —
[00:33:44] Rebecca: Yeah.
[00:33:45] Laurie: … as you say in your short story collection, among other things.
[00:33:49] Rebecca: Totally.
[00:33:51] Laurie: Well, listen, Rebecca, it’s been an absolute delight talking to you. I’m so excited about your new book. Congratulations on all the success that that has had, as well as the real Middlebury legacy that you’ve continued, I think both in your work, as well as in your teaching, and the way that you integrate the two. You really are a model for so many people at Middlebury. And thank you so much for being that model and being a fellow traveler with us. And I’ll see you at Bread Loaf.
[00:34:20] Rebecca: I hope so. Thank you so much.