It’s no great secret. Everyone who knows me well knows I love pink hair, Pearl Jam, the movie Singles, and that I still maintain that Strawberry Shortcake was the first Grunge Girl ever (striped tights with combat boots and dresses? yeah, I had that outfit too), so when I met Rachael Richey in a writers group recently, I immediately looked up her books. The blurb for the first one in her Nighthawk series, Storm Rising, starts, “Frontman of the grunge rock band NightHawk…” and SOLD! I downloaded the Kindle version before I even read another word.
I loved the book (but more about that in a later review) and felt I had so much in common with her, I wanted to know more. So here it is, folks, my conversation about writing, music, publishing and yearning for the 90s-with author Rachael Richey. Read all the way to bottom- there’s a Give-Away!
CRISTEL: How do you balance working a regular job with writing, and do you find yourself playing tug of war to get more writing time?
RACHAEL: I’ve actually got pretty good at writing late at night. Luckily! I’ve even been known to get a few words down in the car. Some days I realize that writing is just not going to fitted in, and I do most at the weekend. I did write the most emotional scene of Storm Rising between about 1 am and 4 am though.
CRISTEL: I know what you mean. Most of my writing happens on the weekends, and very late weeknights. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have a totally different book of completely different characters if I wrote in the mornings!
CRISTEL: The male protagonist in the NightHawk series is the front man for a grunge band. Were you into the grunge scene at the time, or did it only come to you later or as part of this book? What drew you to this period of music?
RACHAEL: I was always quite into the grunge scene in the nineties (especially the clothes), but since writing the books I’ve got even more into it. I wanted a time that was different from now, but still modern – if you know what I mean? Not too long ago. Something that would probably bring back memories for a large proportion of my target audience.
CRISTEL: It’s definitely evocative for me. I came of age in that scene and I still wear my first pair of Doc Marten boots. Of all the senses we explore as writers, it seems like music is loudly missing from most books. We hear the birds and babbling brooks, but music is such a huge presence in my life that it seems strange not to “hear” it in fiction.
RACHAEL: Yeah I think music is very important to setting a scene.
CRISTEL: You’ve said you originally thought Storm Rising was a single book, but couldn’t bear to let the characters go, and consequently the series was born. How do you think you’ll know when the series is complete (will you be done the characters or will they be done talking to you)?
RACHAEL: Hmm.. that’s a hard one. I’ve done four books so far and I’m going to give them a break for a while, but I’ve not finished with them yet! I have an idea for a fifth book but think I’ll leave it a year or so. I have a feeling they will keep talking to me for years to come actually – they all live in my head so it’s difficult to ignore them! We’re pretty close.
CRISTEL: All writers have some relationship with their characters, whether they be partly autobiographical, or just from spending so much time with them. Do you ever find yourself wishing or thinking they’re real or missing them?
RACHAEL: All the time! I love them all, even the baddies.
CRISTEL: Right? It feels like your friends moved far away sometimes, but you still want to hang out, tell them something crazy that happened that day.
RACHAEL: Definitely. I found I was basically living in Abi’s head when I was writing the first two books certainly!
CRISTEL: If Abi were real, what do you think she’d think of the series she stars in?
RACHAEL: She’d love it. I think I can safely say that because she’s a lot like me. A friend who reads the books in their unedited and unpublished state told me she kept hearing my voice when Abi was speaking.
CRISTEL: I’ve gotten that feedback too but I honestly think Miri and Khayal would be a little irked with me at times, for showing them struggling. They’re both more private people than I am and generally work hard to appear “together”. But I think they’d be pretty happy with they way they are portrayed overall. Your books tend to have elements of several genres. What draws you to each?
RACHAEL: I suppose the main genres they cover are romance, suspense, contemporary women’s fiction and in the case of Rhythm of Deceit a bit of thriller. I never really set out to adhere to a genre so I guess that’s why they overlap a bit. I tend just to think of a story and see how it turns out. Both Rhythm of Deceit (book 2) and The Girl in the Painting (due out in July) have elements of historical too, in their flashback stories. Recently I’ve been writing some other books unconnected to the series and have had a go at sticking to one genre. I’ll have to see how that works out!
CRISTEL: My novels are the same way and it makes it hard to market them I think. There’s a lot of pressure to fit one genre neatly and stay there. I had one critic say it was strange to have a relationship in a thriller and literary fiction in a spy novel. I was really surprised by that. To me, it’d be unrealistic to have humans in any situation not have feelings or relationships, or not think about what the consequences of violence are.
RACHAEL: I had one publisher turn one of my books (unpublished so far) because it crossed genres. She seemed to think the love aspect wasn’t important, but to me, and I think to the story, it was equally as important as the suspense part.
CRISTEL: The stigma and dismissiveness attached to “romance novels” have dramatically decreased in recent years. To what do you attribute that change? Have you encountered that prejudice against women’s fiction or somewhat escapist fiction?
RACHAEL: Well I haven’t really, but for some reason when people ask what I write I usually say women’s fiction with a slightly apologetic smile. Stupid really because anything that entertains the audience is good and just as important as anything else, and to be honest I love that sort of book. That’s why I write them I guess. I write what I like to read.
CRISTEL: Some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a book written by a woman, for women or everyone, about women doing all the things women do- from kicking ass to raising families. It’s important we don’t let ourselves become relegated to a subgenre- we’re 51% of the population! There are some really phenomenal female writers breaking those boundaries now- S.A Wolfe, Diana Gabaldon, Dana Stabenow all come to mind. Did you ever have a point where you thought you would (or should) give up writing? What got you through?
RACHAEL: Never. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about ten and although it’s taken me a while to get published I’ve never wanted to give up. I went a long time not writing much, but it was always there, and then when I got going on Storm Rising four years ago I just didn’t stop. I hate it when I haven’t got anything to write. I absolutely love it. It’s perfect escapism.
CRISTEL: It sounds like you’ve hit that truth with yourself- that you cannot stop writing. It’s a great place to be. As people, as women, we have so many demands on our time and it’s easy to listen to the “logic” that says to cut back, that spending hours alone with imaginary people is not the best use of time, that real people, maybe even in your house, need you more. That’s probably why I write most when everyone is asleep! But I can’t not write. I don’t even know what I think sometimes until I’ve written it down. It’s how I process. It’s as natural, or more, than thinking or speaking.
What do you wish you knew about writing and/or publishing before Storm Rising that might help other new authors?
RACHAEL: The main advice is don’t give up and don’t get disheartened. I think I must have had about twenty rejections for Storm Rising (possibly more) before I found my publisher. The other thing is edit the book as much as you can before you send it off. Really go through it again and again. Get other people to read it too because they’ll find things you miss. Read it aloud as well so you can see if the sentences really work. But honestly you can’t edit enough. I can still find things in my already published books I’d change if I read through them again. And have faith in yourself. You know your characters, don’t let anyone try to make you change them.
CRISTEL: It really is 90% perseverance, isn’t it? First you have to reject your own thoughts that you can’t do it, then that it’s not good enough, and then queries, etc. It sounds terrible, but what helped me most was actually reading a profoundly terrible book. I thought, “c’mon, I can do better than that!” It was the kick in the pants I needed to start. Now I tell people to read a lot- read great books and read awful ones- they can both teach you something. And for me- I edit 3 times. That’s it. Any more and I just make a mess of it second guessing, rearranging, etc.
RACHAEL: Yes. I think it’s really important to read, read and keep reading if you want to become a successful writer. I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was tiny, and I can’t imagine not having at least one book on the go.
CRISTEL: You’ve mentioned certain songs that you connect with the series. If you had a soundtrack to your life right now, what would be on it?
RACHAEL: Wow, that’s a difficult one. I have a hugely long playlist on Spotify that I listen to when I’m writing and it’s very varied. I have quite eclectic taste! Well, I listened to Nirvana a lot when I was writing Storm Rising and I particularly like Come As You Are. My latest book that I’ve just started writing is called Find the River, which is named after the R.E.M track. But right at the moment my absolute favourite song is The Sound of Silence by Disturbed.
CRISTEL: When I read the blurb about the Nighthawk series, you had me at “grunge band”. I really loved Nirvana’s Bleach and Insecticide. I didn’t care much for Alice in Chains until Mad Season came along, and the raw, poetic pain of that album is hauntingly beautiful to this day. I’ve been a die-hard Pearl Jam fan since ’91… But I have eclectic tastes too, exacerbated by marrying a musician. Yesterday the Scorpions were blaring, this morning it was the Boss’ Born in the USA. I never know if it’ll be the Beatles, or punk, 1960s country, 80s metal or Cuban jazz when I walk in the house. The soundtrack to my life would seriously be so mixed genre, it’d never sell.
RACHAEL: Yeah I know what you mean. I’m married to a musician too (lead guitarist J) and he likes all sorts. He’s very into Pink Floyd and other similar rock bands, but also jazz, blues, almost anything except Country and Western! My Spotify playlist spans from the 60s to the 90s. Not much from this century though.
CRISTEL: If you’re game, tell us a secret or insight about a current or upcoming book.
RACHAEL: Well as I mentioned earlier, The Girl in the Painting, the fourth book of the NightHawk Series is being published on 29th July, and to be honest it’s my favourite of the series. Maybe I shouldn’t say that but I’m very excited to see what other people think. It takes place mostly in Paris, both in the present day with Abi, and back in the 20s and 30s revealing a surprising love story. I won’t say any more so I don’t give too much away.
CRISTEL: OOH, I love Paris! There’s that kind of drama where even moments of complete nonchalance and banality seem profound. I remember being “severely affected” by simply seeing a man in a bar- his hands looked like he should be playing piano, not folding up cigarette pack foil. Those things strike me so hard sometimes that I can’t let them go until I’ve written them down somewhere. It was that way with Nur in The Amalgamist- he flips his hand over in this casual gesture of “it doesn’t matter”. In my mind I couldn’t stop seeing the copper bracelet strain on his turning wrist.
RACHAEL: I loved doing the Paris bits. I’ve only been there once but it was really amazing and I’d love to go back. I’d like to set another book there too.
CRISTEL: I hope you do! Thanks so much for spending some time with us!
Courtesy of Rachael, here’s the Give-Away for Storm Rising!
All you have to do is answer one question in the comments section (on the blog or FB) and one winner will receive a free Kindle/mobi/epub/pdf of Storm Rising- What was Abi eating when the doorbell rang?
Hint: go to Rachael’s website and check out the excerpt: http://rachaelricheybooks.weebly.com/
And if you’d like to skip the fun and games, check out Rachael’s books on Amazon-