My friend, the author Mary Ann Clarke Scott, interviewed me for our writing society’s newsletter earlier this fall. She has graciously said that I can reprint it here – thanks, Mary Ann!
Mary Ann: I first met Rachel when I was just a visitor to one of VIRA’s workshops years ago in Nanaimo, but I recognized her name because I’d interviewed her father, an architect, while doing some case studies research on housing for seniors in my previous life. What a small world! We’ve come full circle as I now get to ask Rachel some questions about her own work.
With her writing partners, Rachel has released two series – the Chocolate Shop and the Orchard – along with the short stories Good Spirits and Green Spirits, which are all set in the delightful small town of Corsair’s Cove.
Mary Ann: Tell me Rachel, how long you’ve been a VIRA member, how long you’ve been a writer, and how you got into this field.
Rachel: I joined the Vancouver Island Chapter of RWA more than 15 years ago (maybe more!), several years after I started trying to write fiction. The group was a revelation to me – I loved hanging out with so many kind and interesting people and I learned an astonishing amount about storytelling and the world of publishing. I was very engaged for a long time and developed strong friendships, but eventually I became disillusioned about my own writing skills and the possibility of getting published, so I let my membership lapse. I still noodled away from time to time, but I didn’t have that fire in the belly that makes us face the laptop regularly. Until…but more on that later.
Mary Ann: You studied communications, was it, and were a magazine and newspaper journalist for awhile, if I’m not mistaken? Tell us about that stage of your writing career and if you still write non-fiction articles. Why did you switch to writing fiction?
Rachel: Like many other writers, I’ve travelled a wandering path to get here. I think I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how to start or even admit it out loud. I certainly didn’t know what “story” was.
So I went to university, got a science degree and sort of sidled into freelance writing. I wrote for magazines and newspapers for almost 20 years and I loved it. I got to talk to all sorts of people, which otherwise is difficult for an introvert, and I learned a lot about a lot of things, including storytelling. Eventually, I taught writing courses to photo- journalism students too, so then I really had to figure out what story is.
At the same time that I was writing about other people, I also wrote some personal essays. I wrote them for myself and my family but I discovered that magazines were interested in them too so I sold quite a few of them.
Because I was always looking for article ideas to sell to magazines, everything was a possible story. Every family occasion, every trip, every quirky turn of phrase I learned as I was writing about construction or business or gardening…it was all potential fodder. I just kept sidling until I could admit that what I really wanted to tackle was fiction.
Mary Ann: You write romance with a touch of magic, and a strong link to history. Can you tell us why you like that particular genre, and what other kinds of stories you write as well? What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
Rachel: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” is one of my favourite quotes. To me, the world is full of wonders and miracles, and the fact that there might be a basis for them in chemistry and physics doesn’t make them less magical.
When we started to brainstorm the Corsair’s Cove stories, all kinds of amazing things seemed not only possible but downright natural. A swashbuckling pirate ghost? Sure! A talking parrot? Of course! Is the parrot mimicking Great-Aunt Ruby? Or, which seemed to be more likely, channelling her?
It was so much fun taking these outrageous ideas and figuring out how to make them work. And I think it was the fun and the creative sparks that has made it so inspiring.
Mary Ann: Can you tell us what the Corsair Cove books are all about, and how you and your partners work together? What’s your WIP?
Rachel: Corsair’s Cove is a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It was founded by some pirates in the mid 19th century – and how that unlikely event came to pass is part of the improbable, magical history of that place. (You can read about it.)
It’s a tight knit-town with a very strong community spirit – and spirits – although that doesn’t mean that everyone gets along all the time. It’s also the kind of place that draws you back when you need it the most.
Whether you need to find your family or true love, a respite or a bolt-hole to hide from the rest of the world, it’s there in Corsair’s Cove.
And that’s kind of how it works for us collaborators too. Shelley Adina, Sharon Ashwood, Lee McKenzie and I wanted to have some fun writing, and writing together. And, what better way is there than to invent a town that offers the things we love?
Mary Ann: Did you do any research for your books? What resources did you use?
Rachel: For Kiss in the Wind, my character was a food chemist who developed recipes for Red Gems, the family chocolate shop. So of course I had to research chocolate! There was a lot of hands-on work involved.
When it came time to write Secret Vintage, I discovered that one of my characters wanted to make cider so of course I had to try a lot of ciders made from different apples. Also cider brandy. And apple fritters made with cider and brandy…The work was endless.
Mary Ann: (laughing) Independent publishing isn’t for everyone. Can you share a little about your road to publication and how you made that choice? What are your publishing plans going forward?
Rachel: I decided to try indie publishing because the Corsettes – me and my Corsair’s Cove collaborators – loved the stories and we wanted to get them out in the world. The traditional publishing houses weren’t likely to take such a quirky anthology written by four authors, so indie was the most accessible route.
Luckily for me, Shelley and Sharon had experience with independent publishing so they led the way. They did an awful lot of handholding, for which I’m so very grateful!
My story Green Spirits, which is a short story set in Corsair’s Cove, came out this summer, and we’re thinking about what our third series might be.
Mary Ann: They sound very entertaining! I can’t wait to read them. Can you tell us about a typical writing day? Do you have a special place that you work? Tools you depend upon? Any rituals?
Rachel: I’m very lucky to have an office at home, and I also have what I call my satellite offices: one’s a comfortable chair with an ottoman in the living room and the other is a cushioned wicker chair in the kitchen.
My writing routine is to switch on my laptop first thing on Saturday and Sunday mornings and then make tea, check email, scroll through Facebook. When I can’t find a single new or interesting thing on the Internet, I open up the story in progress.
Right now I aim for 1,000 words a day. Sometimes when I’m really rolling I’ll set a target of 1500. I get up, wander around, make more tea, etc., but I don’t abandon my post entirely until I have my thousand or fifteen hundred words.
Only then do I get on with the rest of the weekend’s chores.
Mary Ann: Do you have a favourite author or authors who you buy sight unseen? Any authors who’ve been a particular inspiration for your own writing?
Rachel: I am a huge admirer of the other Corsettes; I’m beyond thrilled to be included in such an amazing team.
Shelley Adina’s and Emma Jane Holloway’s steampunk is delightfully inventive and fun. Adina Senft’s Amish women always inspire me and I’m smitten by Sharon Ashwood’s urban fantasy creatures – also her humour. Lee McKenzie’s gentle humour in her sweet romances always makes me laugh, too.
In line with those favourite authors, I generally like stories about women, by women, with some humour. Elinor Lipman, Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes. There are so many wonderful women telling important stories – many of them right here in VIRA!
Mary Ann: Thank you so much for chatting with us today Rachel. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your books.
Mary Ann Clarke is a Chatelaine Grand Prize winner and Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist for The Art of Enchantment, first in the Life is a Journey series about young women on journeys abroad who discover themselves and fall in love while getting embroiled in someone else’s problems.
Her Having it All series is about professional women struggling to balance the challenge and fulfillment of their careers with their search for identity, love, family and home.
Always eager to fill blank pages and empty canvases with ideas swirling in her head, MaryAnn set out to write emotionally engaging stories that walk a tight rope between intelligent women’s fiction and heart-warming romance.
This article was originally published in Tide Lines, the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Romance Authors, September 2019