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Books, Etc. with Lynn Carey: Michelle Richmond

Lynn's in-person interview becomes a chance to really get to know this San Francisco author.

I had a fun lunch interview the other day with Year of Fog author Michelle Richmond. On the way home, I tried to figure out why it was so great. It could be because it was in person; usually I have to interview authors on the phone because they live in another state or another country. Or, it could be because Michelle is so incredibly nice and fun.

Almost every time I’ve met an author in person, it ends up feeling as if we are old friends by the time the interview is done. I wonder if it’s because being an author tends to be a little bit of a solitary profession. There’s a lot of time in front of a computer, staring at a screen that has maybe one sentence on it if it’s a bad day—they may just be grateful to be out with another human.

I interviewed Michelle because the Times Book Club is finishing up with her latest book, No One You Know. Michelle has lived in San Francisco for 10 years, and her books are very San Francisco-centric. We met at Alice’s restaurant, which is a location in No One You Know. We did the usual interviewy stuff, for the article. But there is so much more that won’t see print for length reasons.

For instance, we talked about being an only child. She has a little boy, Oscar, who is almost 5 years old, but who just the other day said seriously that he remembered when he was four-and-a-half. I’m an only child and I told her friends become like siblings. I told Michelle that when her son starts going to school, a completely new world will open up to them. I told her how we have Taco Night every Wednesday, and can have between eight and 20 teenagers show up; they sing around the piano and watch Glee (they are mostly choir kids). It becomes an extended family; I get weepy when some graduate and go off to college. Michelle liked that idea.

We were at a Chinese restaurant so we talked about how she lived in China for three months in 1998 as a personal English tutor for the head of a trading company. The employees at the McDonald’s across the street from her apartment spoke English, so whenever she had to go somewhere she asked them to write down her destinations in Chinese so she could show bus or taxi drivers.

We talked about her love for Eichler homes, which is why one ended up in No One You Know. She is appalled that people are adding on to Eichlers, ruining the lines and the light. I grew up in an Eichler and told her I remember the radiant heat.

We talked about how she met her husband Kevin in an MFA program in Arkansas and liked his boots. He wouldn’t hang out with her and her friends at first. So, late one night she crawled into his window and got in his bed. “Nothing happened! But the funny part is, my doing that made me seem like I was really adventurous, and here we are with a kid and a mortgage.”

We talked about when Kevin was in the FBI and how scared she was when he was just starting out in New York City. It was kind of like “Donnie Brasco,” she agreed. They have yet to see The Informant! with Matt Damon. I told her they have to go. It’s a very interesting portrait of the FBI!

We talked about how she reads to her son; they are on the third book of the Chronicles of Narnia series, one of her own childhood favorites. Oscar said, “The other two are better.” Already a critic.

Michelle also loved reading the Readers Digest condensed books at her grandparents’ house whenever she visited. She is now appalled that anyone would ever condense a book.

We spent about two hours over lunch, but it was so much more than lunch and it was more than an interview. Sometimes I really love my job.

For 12 years, Lynn Carey has run the Times Book Club, which now appears in the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune newspapers. For the past 17 years, she's lived in Lafayette with her husband, Lamorinda Sun columnist Mike Zampa, and their two teenagers.