In Tell Me Everything, Elizabeth Strout brings together characters from her previous novels for a story centered on a Maine woman’s disappearance.

This novel features characters from your prior work. How did you manage to make it accessible for new readers?

I know these characters so well. If somebody hasn’t read any of my earlier work, I slipped in a phrase between a couple of commas to give them enough to go on without knowing anything. A few little things about Lucy Barton, who had come up the coast with her ex-husband in the pandemic. And attorney Bob Burgess, who had a tragedy in his childhood. Just details to let the reader know who they are in the scheme of things.

Bob and Lucy become friends, as do Lucy and Olive Kitteridge. Was it difficult to pair these personalities, or did it all come naturally?

I never intend to rewrite characters, but I seem to keep doing it, and I think it’s because I love them so much. They’re in my head so clearly that I found it quite doable to have Olive and Lucy together. Olive would want to tell Lucy her stories. And then I thought, let’s have a trope throughout the book of them telling each other stories, because Lucy’s a storyteller and Olive loves stories. And then Bob and Lucy, I’d already worked a little bit on their relationship in the pandemic novel Lucy by the Sea, so I knew they were friendly.

Much of the novel deals with emotional realizations and struggles, but there’s also the disappearance of octogenarian town resident Gloria Beach.

Gloria Beach’s disappearance was the kernel, and I thought it would be the main story of the book. Then I sort of kept expanding. It worked to hang Bob’s hat on that story because it’s fundamentally about him, in a way—the fact that when Gloria’s son becomes a suspect in her murder, Bob takes the case and absorbs its tragedy.

Your omniscient narrator almost feels like a character, especially when addressing the reader with phrases like “as we mentioned earlier.”

I had to find a voice that would keep the reader going through everything, a quiet but firm voice that would take hold of the reader and say, “Come on, it’ll be okay, but just keep going with me.” I realized I couldn’t do this with so many characters unless I had a narrator who also included the reader as the story goes along.

By the end of the novel, Olive is 91. Will she appear again in another story?

I don’t know, but I cannot see Olive dying on my watch.