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A Little Miracle
The Body, Brain, & Books: Eleven Questions with Rachel Cantor
What are you reading now?
I’m reading novels by my future event moderators: first the astonishing GEORGIA, by Dawn Tripp, which fictionalizes the life of Georgia O’Keeffe, and then HOTEL CUBA, by Aaron Hamburger, which kept me reading into the night, chewing my nails out of concern for his protagonists. Up next, THE MAJORITY, a novel about a Supreme Court Justice who bears a strong resemblance to a certain Notorious One, just out from Elizabeth Silver; and THE DIG, by Anne Burt, family drama plus thriller, all in one!
2. What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
When you write a novel about the Brontë family, it doesn’t surprise anyone that JANE EYRE was my favorite childhood book. It had all the things a girl like me would love: injustice, adventure, drama, tragedy, suspense, romance, disguises, voices carried by the wind, unlikely reunions, more than one house fire, incredible twists, a madwoman in the attic, hard-won redemption, and one of the best child/young woman characters of all time!
I didn’t have to hide books: my mother gave me EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK when I was twelve (arguably too early for me to learn about ben wa balls …).
3. What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
My meditation practice is not strong (to put it mildly), but when I feel the need, I reread two meditation books: WHEN THINGS FALL APART: HEART ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES & Jack Kornfeld’s A PATH WITH HEART. Otherwise, I’m not much of a rereader: even after all these years of writing, I’m still a reader who really wants to be surprised by what happens next!
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
These days it’s ugly loungewear. And fuzzy socks. I bought a pair of leopard-print booties during the worst of the pandemic, but I may not be that person anymore.
5. What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
Wisdom encountered rarely makes an impression on me, sadly: I almost always have to learn my lessons the hard way! Right now I’m working on seeing glasses as half full, even when they’re plainly half empty (though probably, of course, every last one runneth over).
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
My sweet kitty Chocolate had forty kittens when I was a kid (not all at once, I’m glad to say), and I got to watch most of them being born. No idea why she was never fixed, but she would cry all over the house when they were given away. Once I decided to race one of her progeny down the stairs, with predictably tragic consequences, but she didn’t hold it against me: she continued bringing me dead things. I was sure I could communicate with her telepathically, and maybe I could.
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
My whole life, really. I zig-zagged all over creation, trying out different careers, pairing up with unsuitable men, and eventually ended up exactly where I was meant to be: writing books in Brooklyn. It’s a little miracle, really.
8. Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
I like to walk through the city, miles and miles, usually briskly, sometimes smelling the roses. Sometimes I think deep thoughts, sometimes I listen to football podcasts I can’t understand.
9. What are your hopes for yourself?
Honestly, I just hope to write good books and be a positive presence in people’s lives.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
The kindness of writers has changed my life again and again and again. Writers helped me place all three of my novels, they helped me find my agent(s), they wrote me letters of recommendation so I could go to the residencies at which I wrote so much of Half-Life of a Stolen Sister, they inspire me with their brilliance and persistence, and they cheer me on. When you’re in the habit of writing ten-year novels, you need cheering on!
What’s a guiding force in your life?
Awareness that time is passing very, very quickly—yes, I’ve reached that age! I’m working on a series of middle grade/young adult novels, and who knows how long that will take: will I have time to write another adult book? I’d really like to, but who knows! I’d like to walk the Santiago Pilgrimage and hike in Nepal and meditate in Dharamsala, but for how long will I be physically able? Now, yes, but what about a year from now? Two? Really, I can’t help thinking (several times a day) that I haven’t a moment to lose! Which doesn’t mean I don’t watch weird French detective shows, because I do.
Rachel Cantor is the author of the novels Half-Life of a Stolen Sister (Soho Press 2023), Good on Paper (Melville House 2016), and A Highly Unlikely Scenario (Melville House 2014). Two dozen of her stories have been published in the Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and elsewhere, and she has written about fiction for National Public Radio, the Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is writing a series of middle grade and young adult books set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
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To the comment section
Has your life zigged or zagged—if so, have you landed exactly where you’re meant to be? How’s your meditation practice these days? Do you stop and smell the roses? Any writers or other humans who’ve cheered you on when you most needed it? Did your parents ever give you any books at an inappropriately young age?
Tell me all about it.