Today Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog shares her story with 1st Books. Her new novel, No One You Know, was just released yesterday. It’s the best literary mystery I’ve read since Snow Falling on Cedars – thirteen years ago! I’m recommending it to every reader I know. – Meg
I began writing the stories that would appear in my first book, a story collection entitled The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, one winter while living alone in a shabby duplex with no heat in a dodgy part of Knoxville, Tennessee. During the day I went to my job as a copywriter at an ad agency, and at night in my scruffy little apartment I bundled up in coat and scarf and typed away on my Mac duo-doc, while the couple next door fought so loudly I came to know the intimate nature of their marital troubles. I was 23 years old, and the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was to become a writer.
Two years later I went to grad school—one year in Arkansas, which I quit, another in Miami, which I finished—and during that time I continued writing stories on the duo-doc, although in much better apartments. One was a seventh-floor studio on Miami Beach. This was 1996, and the $700/month studio was hard on my budget, but I paid for it with my teaching stipend from the University of Miami and considered it my own writing retreat. Those were solitary years, and the solitude suited me. I had a feverish work ethic in those days when it came to writing, and it was in graduate school that I began publishing short stories in literary magazines. That little taste of getting my stories out in the world was all it took to keep me going.
On to New York City in 1998. More jobs, more writing of stories, publications here and there, and rejections galore. Then, in 2000, on the cusp of turning thirty, living in San Francisco with my fiancé and teaching composition at City College, a phone call from the Associated Writing Programs to say that The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress had won the AWP Award for Fiction and would be published by University of Massachusetts Press. Bliss and more bliss. That book was my most exciting publication to date, because it was my first. To this day, that collection of linked stories, which probably sold no more than a couple thousand copies, is closer to my heart than any of my subsequent books.
Yesterday, my third novel, No One You Know, hit the shelves. It’s a book about the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories others tell about us. It’s also a book about sisters, and obsession. And I didn’t realize until I was halfway into it that it’s the book I’ve been wanting to write, in many ways, for the last ten years. And in this vein a character from my very first published story makes an appearance, however brief, in the final chapter of No One You Know. In the final chapter of the book, the narrator, Ellie Enderlin, is walking through the streets of San Francisco late at night and finds herself on an unfamiliar block. “In a second-floor apartment, a girl in a yellow nightgown walked slowly past the window. A tall figure moved toward her. A slender arm reached out to turn off a lamp, and the room went dark. Everything about the moment was startlingly familiar. Had I been here before? Had someone described this very scene to me? Or maybe, I had simply read it all in a book. Sometimes it felt as if books and life formed a strange origami, the intricate folds and secret shadows so inextricably connected, it was impossible to tell one from the other.”