I wanted to hear from Katie O’Rourke about how she came to write her first novel, Monsoon Season. Her book is a really different, layered look at a young relationship, one that feels very emotionally “real”. Below is a brief interview.
How did you come to write this novel?
For me, it always starts with the characters. Riley was someone I had in my head for about a year before I started writing. At first, I didn’t know what her story was. I was just getting to know her.
How did you go about getting it published?
I worked on my query letter and submitted to agents. I collected rejection letters, got a few requests for full reads followed by rejections. I developed a thick skin, wrote other books, edited this one. I participated in critique groups- in person and on line. My publisher ended up finding me when I posted Monsoon Season on authonomy.com.
Explain the significance of the title, Monsoon Season.
The title comes from a scene when Ben and Riley are arguing about their break up. He uses a memory about monsoon season to argue that most of their relationship was good. Riley says “Monsoon season is what makes you so dangerous to me” because there is a huge part of her that would like to dismiss his abusiveness and remember only the good times. I think this is the part of abusive relationships that society forgets: the reason women stay is because there is genuinely great stuff there complicating everything.
How is the setting important to the story?
Creatively, it is a perfect metaphor, but it was not part of the original concept. It just developed organically as I wrote it because I live in Tucson.
You’ve said that the relationship depicted in the book is not autobiographical. How did you go about developing Riley’s and Ben’s characters?
Every character I create is a composite of people I’ve known with a little dose of myself thrown in- so while the story is not directly autobiographical, in some ways it is.
I found your portrayal of Ben surprisingly sympathetic. How do you want readers to react to Ben?
This is an important aspect of the book for me. It’s too easy to dismiss abusers as monsters and that allows us to dismiss the women (or men) who are abused. I wanted readers to understand what Riley loves about Ben, to see his humanity in order to actually relate to how difficult the situation really is.
You tackled some really tough issues in this book. What did you find the most difficult to write about?
The Theresa chapter was probably the trickiest because she’s realized her beloved child, who she has this bottomless, unconditional love for, has abused a woman the way she was abused in the marriage she escaped. And she has to deal with the guilt of having put him through something in his childhood that has led to the current situation- mixed with flat out disgust for what he has done. And yet she still loves him. Her emotions may be more difficult to wrestle with than Riley’s because she can’t just walk away.
What authors or novels have influenced your writing?
Barbara Kingsolver and Sue Miller.
Your second novel is being released in January. Tell us about it.
My second book is about cousins who are close as children, then become separated because of a divorce in the family. When they reconnect as adults, they have spent the past decade living very different lives and it deals with the ways we are changed by our experiences as well as the ways we are unchangable.
It’s a story about sisters, one of whom has gone missing. It’s still unraveling so it isn’t clear to me yet what caused the disappearance. It’s early.
Katie O’Rourke was born and raised in New England, growing up along the seacoast of New Hampshire. She went to college in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in gender and sexuality. She lives in Tucson, Arizona where she writes, loves and is happy. Monsoon Season is her first novel and she has finished two more that will be following shortly. Her website is http://authorkatieorourke.blogspot.com/.