Marriage, Memories, and 'The Morning News'

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Susie Post Rust

While researching the scientific background, what are some of the findings you came across that helped you delve into these themes? Was there any research in particular that colored your understanding?

The research I did was minimal. Mainly it was on Alzheimer's Disease, the current state of research and the progress made. I might have seen more stuff about grief and memory if I'd gone into memoirs about people who've had experiences with AD, but I deliberately avoided those books. First, I've had my own experience—my grandmother died from Alzheimer's. Second, there are plenty of terrific books along those lines, and I was worried I'd start cherry-picking other people's stories without realizing what I was doing.

I don't see grief and memory being very separate. Grief is memory. Memory is a big part of what makes grieving so painful and difficult, and also consoling.

You Lost Me There takes place on Mount Desert Island, in southern Maine, where you spent summers growing up. Did your choice of setting guide the story you were trying to tell? For example, the isolated, year-round community on the island seemed to mirror the small academic sphere of Victor's professional life.

Absolutely. For example, sometimes I'd have an idea of what I wanted to accomplish dramatically in a scene, but I wouldn't know where it should take place. Then a memory of a location would turn up and I'd try setting the scene there, and if it worked it might suggest to me another idea that came from a previous experience.

It helped that I love Mount Desert Island. It's been a favorite place of mine since I was a kid. When I was working on the book, I didn't exactly have a ton of faith that it would be published (I wrote two novels before it, both now buried deep in a drawer), so visiting the island on the page made writing the story more fun.

Given that this is your first novel, was the editing process what you expected?

I didn't know what to expect, and it actually went very well. I got lucky, I think. I had terrific people to rely on. My agent, PJ Mark, worked hard to find the right editor for the book, which ended up being Sean McDonald at Riverhead. Sean and I hit it off from the start, and he'd send me these long letters, we'd talk on the phone for hours, then I'd go hole up in Maine or North Carolina and knock it out.

What are your writing habits like? Do you have a daily schedule, or was this book more of a fits and starts sort of endeavor?

I write for a couple hours every morning, and every six months or so I disappear for a week, see what I've done, and tear it all up and rewrite the hell out of it. Then I do it again. I like routines and caffeine. I don't do well when I'm off routine or caffeine.

Before the book came out, you created a video book trailer, which is on your website, along with other music and images meant to evoke the book. How did you go about creating a trailer for a novel?

Well, there were a number of lucky events. We weren't sure quite what to do. Sean and I had a bunch of ideas. We wanted something a little mysterious, a little unsettling. Something that would that capture the book's atmosphere.

I knew of a photographer who I thought might "get it." Her name's Aya Padrón, she's a photographer based in Maine. She did a road-trip series that I liked, and it had an aesthetic that reminded me of some parts in You Lost Me There. So I just wrote her a note saying how much I admired her work, how I had this idea that she might enjoy my novel, and if she did, maybe we could see about collaborating on a project. And luckily, she really liked the book, and she volunteered to go to Mount Desert Island for a weekend and shoot pictures inspired by the story. Next I contacted a design firm in Chicago, Coudal Partners, about piecing the pictures together into some kind of video. The owner, Jim Coudal, is an old friend, and he's got this great video guy who works for him, Steve Delahoyde, and once they got excited about the project, one thing led to another.

I should point out that it was their idea, not mine, to have me narrate the video. Thankfully, Nathan Tarr, of the band Wood Ear, coached me during the recording on how not to sound like an uptight parakeet.

I read that you're now working on a nonfiction book about Paris? Has it been difficult to step away from the fictional realm to deal with facts?

For me, it's the same work. The nonfiction book, Paris, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down, is a travelogue about living and working in France, and the same challenges exist—creating characters, working out scenes. Of course, the trouble is that I can talk about You Lost Me There as a finished book, whereas the Paris book is currently very rough. Right now I'm in that early-draft period that makes me want to tear out my eyeballs.

So, is You Lost Me There an automatic entry into the Tournament of the Books?

Unfortunately not. Due to the amount of Morning News staffers publishing fiction--just this summer we had Jessica Francis Kane's The Report, Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall, Kevin Guilfoile's The Thousand—we've put a ban on TMN staffers' books being entered in the ToB. Considering this year's competition, though, that may be a blessing.

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Rachael Brown is a writer and analyst for Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. A former Atlantic editor, she has written for The Guardian and Smithsonian.com, among other outlets. She is also a former public high school teacher.

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