Rain Village began as a story for a college writing class. I started writing about this made-up place, Rain Village, where the river was filled with pink fish and it rained all the time and the narrator sold rain bonnets—I was just imagining this misty, candy-colored place loosely set in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d spent some time. I had no story, just this setting I loved. I stuck in a line about how a carnival passed through Rain Village every year, and how everyone came to see the girl on the trapeze, to see if she’d fall. It was a random line I threw in because of the movie Wings of Desire—a German movie from 1987—because I’d loved the image of the girl with the white feathered wings swinging back and forth on the trapeze. It was such a beautiful image and, at the same time, incredibly melancholic, because it captured this dazzling, perfect moment that is about to end. The girl has to come down off the trapeze, take off her wings, return to the regular world. Much later, when I was trying to figure out how to turn that first short story into a novel, I made that trapeze girl a narrator (the first draft had five first person narrators). Eventually, the whole book became about her: how she got to be that girl on the trapeze, and what it meant to her.
A.B. How did you come up with the character of Tessa?
Tessa really just came out of that one line, though instead of imagining the woman from the movie I imagined this small, strange girl with hands shaped like starfish and as small as plums. I started reading about trapeze and circuses and learned about Lillian Leitzel, who was a fiery trapeze star from the 1920s. I bought a print of an old circus poster with her on it, and that sort of became how I imagined Tessa—girlish and tiny and sparkling. Everything else just emerged as I wrote and thought about this girl and the kind of world she would have come from.
A.B. Explain to readers the role of the librarian in Rain Village? She's more than a mentor.
Mary Finn is this beautiful, charismatic, gypsy-like librarian who comes to town and becomes Tessa’s first friend. Mary recognizes something of herself in Tessa and takes her under her wing, teaching her to read, telling her stories, and finally showing her how to fly on the trapeze. Before Mary befriends her, Tessa has a world so small she doesn’t even know how to dream about anything different. Mary Finn breaks everything open for her. The first time Mary meets Tessa, she says “what a perfect little girl you are” and tells Tessa how everything in our world was once part of a star. She is not only a mentor figure, but she also saves Tessa from the desolate life she would have otherwise lived, never realizing that within her lay the makings of a trapeze artist. That what makes her strange on the ground makes her magnificent and stunning in the air.
A.B. What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?
Mostly, I just hope that readers will read my novel and be transported by it, forget where they are and who they are and become immersed in this world. That is what I love most about reading, the sense that you’ve just gone somewhere completely new, and so I tried to create a very vivid, sensual world in the book. Beyond that, I feel like I just wrote about a girl whose life is changed completely because a woman came along and saw things in her that no one had thought to see before. So if anything, I think I’d like readers to leave with a heightened sense of how profoundly one person can affect another, and how much possibility exists—within us, and within the world—that we sometimes can’t see ourselves.
A.B. Is there anything about Rain Village you would have changed?
I don’t think so. I rewrote it so many times and over so long that by the time the final version was done and went to press, I felt like I had written the best book I could have written. I think you have to just work on something until you know you can’t do any better, and then let it go.
Thanks to Carolyn and you can also check out her blog right HERE.