I am so super psyched to share my interview with Kate Brauning! Her amazing debut novel, How We Fall, is out this month, and she graciously gave me some time out of her busy schedule to talk about small town living. The reason I read How We Fall is the location, somewhere in rural northwest Missouri. My husband grew up in Maryville, about 45 minutes from St. Joseph, which is referred to in the book. His parents still live there, and we just visited in October. Manson could have been any number of tiny towns around Maryville. So I had been thinking about the differences between life in Maryville (and other small towns) and life in a bigger city.
Your bio says you grew up in rural Missouri. They always say write what you know. Is that why you chose to set How We Fall in a small town?
I set the story in a rural area partially because I knew the pros and cons of living in a place like that, but also because the situation fit the story. It would be much harder for the family to live like they do in a city or bigger town.
What was life like for you growing up in a small town?
It was interesting. Not only did everyone know everyone else, but they’d known each other forever—the gray-haired farmers who would congregate at the tiny gas station/deli for early-morning coffee had stories about each other from high school. Their histories stuck with them—which was sometimes good, but it also made it harder to move past things.
It was nice, too, though, to be able to wander around safely and ride my bike full-tilt down Main Street. I liked knowing everyone, and making friends with the local dogs, and to have the quiet and space of living in and then later near a very tiny town.
Is Manson a real town? I couldn’t find it on a map of Missouri.
No, it isn’t—but I did spend a few years near a similar town!
Why did you choose to use a fictional town for the setting (unlike books like Twilight, which takes place in a real small town)?
I used a fictional town so I could move pieces around and reinvent where I needed to. Also, hopefully that means no one in the area would mistakenly think anything I wrote reflected on them. It’s just a general, fictional area of northwest Missouri. It also makes research lighter—I don’t have to use exact details because it’s my own creation.
Setting is often a driver of a story. It seems to me that the small town setting is crucial to How We Fall. Do you think it could have been written to take place in a bigger city? How would the story have to change?
I love it when setting influences a book, and the setting definitely does in mine. You’re right, the small town and rural area plays a big part in the story. There are a lot of gravel roads, which limit speeds and can be dangerous or impassable in winter if the plow hasn’t been through, and there are a lot of asphalt highways with little to no shoulder and deep ditches on either side. The roads also twist and wind over hills. Deer, not being able to see over the hills or around the curves, and small bridges over creeks can be dangerous, especially in winter, in the rain, or at high speeds. In several scenes, these particular roads change what happens.
Another setting element is the reality of very rural life—because of where the family’s produce farm is, it takes a while for emergency services to reach them. Ambulances, police, and other support systems have slower response times. Cell phone service can be spotty in the hills. The simple lack of neighbors can change what happens—no one is around to see what happens. And since it’s a rural setting where everyone knows everyone, secrets and rumors follow Marcus and Jackie everywhere and put more pressure on them. Jackie, my main character, is adjusting to rural life after growing up in the city in California, and that adjustment plays a huge role—the setting and what that means for her life makes everything that much harder for her.
If this story were set in the city, I’d make the environment impact the story, too, but the different setting would change what happens. The family couldn’t have a produce farm, emergency services could arrive quicker, and the teens wouldn’t be so isolated.
Now that you live in a bigger city, do you miss anything about living in a small town?
The town I live in is much bigger than the town of 95 people (yep, population 95) I grew up near, but it’s still pretty small by city standards. I like living in a town with a good grocery store, parks, and a big library, and I love that the local private college and the good school systems have built a town environment that actively supports education and literacy. But it’s still a bit strange to look out my window and see another house right there. I miss the space, I think—having a huge yard and letting my husky run around off the leash. I travel a lot for work, so I’ve spent time in big cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York, and I definitely don’t think living there is for me. It’s fun to visit, though!
How We Fall by Kate Brauning
Merit Press/ F+W Media
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much and with her own cousin, Marcus.
Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus.
Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
Kate is an author of young adult fiction. As a child, she spent a lot of time in her local library, wandering the shelves and discovering all kinds of stories about all kinds of people. She grew up in the hills of Missouri on twenty acres with a big pear tree, cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, and bottle calves. An incurable love for seeing real life through the pages of a book drew her to writing fiction, and at fifteen she decided she wanted someone to find her own books by searching through the shelves of a library. She’s been writing ever since, and she’s not going to stop until she can no longer put one word after another.
Kate has taught high school English and fiction workshops at her library, and has worked with both a literary agency and publishing houses. She loves attending writing conferences and book fairs, and is an associate editor at Entangled Publishing, where she works with young adult fiction. She’s also an advocate for domestic abuse victims and poverty eradication, and she volunteers with a grassroots nonprofit, One Body One Hope, which creates community-to- community relationships in Monrovia, Liberia, for infrastructure redevelopment and education.
Currently Kate lives in Iowa with her husband and their Siberian husky. They do a lot of traveling to visit her husband’s family in the Dominican Republic, and to visit Kate’s family and friends, which against her advice, scattered all over the U.S. In her spare time, she makes three- tier cakes, hunts down new music, and reads just about everything.
Kate loves unusual people, good whiskey, dark chocolate, everything about autumn, bright colors, red maple trees, superstitions, ghost stories, anything Harry Potter, night skies, pie, and talking about books. She’s working hard on her next few novels, and if you see her, say hello, because she’d love to take you out for coffee and ask you what you’re reading.