Monday, April 19, 2010

Meet the Author: Rachel Starr Thomson

Hey everyone! Last week I reviewed Worlds Unseen, a fantasy written by a homeschool graduate. This week, I'm doing something new--an interview with Worlds Unseen author Rachel Starr Thomson! Have fun!

Heather: How old were you when you first started writing? When you realized that it was God's calling for you?

Rachel: I've been making up stories all my life, but I didn't start experimenting with written stories and novels until I was 13 or 14. A long hiatus from writing followed, and I picked up writing seriously again in my late teens. Nowadays writing and editing are my full-time endeavour.

Heather: How did your family respond? Your friends?

Rachel: My dad is a songwriter and dabbles in most of the arts, so he was always very supportive of my writing. He critiqued my first novel (Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe), got me a subscription to Writer's Digest, and encouraged me to submit work for publication. My whole family is pretty artistic, and with Dad writing songs day and night, me writing novels didn't seem particularly unusual to anyone! Back then I didn't really talk about my writing with my friends; these days, all my friends know that's just what I do. They're tremendously supportive.

Heather: Why did you decide to write fantasy?

Rachel: I've always been drawn to fantasy; when I make up stories, those are the stories I most naturally make up. Hearing the Chronicles of Narnia at a very young age may have contributed to it. I love old-fashioned adventure, and the wonder and beauty in fantasy worlds appeals to me. I also like the underlying sadness found in a lot of fantasy, and the freedom to explore ideas that go beyond physical realities.

Heather: Your bio says that you're a "wannabe herbalist". What does that mean, and why does it fascinate you?

Rachel: It means that I would love to know more about herbs and be good at using them to treat illness and wounds. My bio probably doesn't have much right to say that; I wrote it in a flush of enthusiasm but haven't had the time to get into herbalism in any serious way ever since. I still intend to, though!

Heather: What do you suggest for someone who has a severe case of writer's block?

Rachel: It really depends on the cause of the block. Sometimes you just need to sit down and daily write something--anything--even if it's just a three-line poem or a page of rambling, until a strong idea breaks through. Other times you need to stop and fill up creatively. Read books, watch good movies, listen to music. But if you're going stop and take a break, put a time limit on it. If you're going to write, you have to be disciplined.

Heather: If you suddenly blurted out a random story idea at the dinner table, what would your family do?

Rachel: Possibly jump in and add their own ideas, but more likely the whole conversation would be sidetracked because someone would make a related literary or philosophical observation and we'd all go off on that. I don't share my ideas much, though. Like many writers, I'm very private about what I'm writing.

Heather: What are your other hobbies?

Rachel: I don't have time for hobbies ;). I love to take long walks. I love nature and wish I had more time to spend in it, study it, hike and camp and that kind of thing. I co-direct a Christian ballet/performing arts company called Soli Deo Gloria Ballet, for which I'm the active poet/storyteller/singer. I spend a lot of time helping put ballets together and touring with them.

Heather: Why did you decide to create your own publishing press instead of publish with one of the big houses (Thomas Nelson, Waterbrook, etc)?

Rachel: It's not an either/or decision, actually -- I'm still interested in pursuing traditional publishing. But I love the indie scene and all there is to learn from it. Initially I decided to publish some of my own work because I had so many manuscripts (over 14) "under my bed" and I couldn't pursue traditional publication for all of them. I wanted to get my books out to readers and start making some income from them. Both goals are being met, so I'm happy.

Heather: Most fantasy worlds have "good" magic in them, even Christian ones like Middle Earth and Narnia. What do you think about magic in Christian fantasy?

Rachel: It's a touchy subject. For the most part I avoid using magic in my fantasy, though I did use it in one of my unpublished books (Lady Moon). I think fantasy "magic" can be a good way to explore spiritual themes, but it has to be handled carefully because "magic" in OUR world is always bad, so you have to keep the lines clear. This blog post, which I came across recently, does a great job of exploring the two basic ways magic is handled in Christian fantasy: http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2010/03/fantasy-magic-and-christian-author.html

Heather: You write novels, articles, and monthly columns for magazines. You also provide editing services, have a large online presence, and write for and co-direct a dance ministry—and that's just the artistic stuff! How do you balance your life with so much going on?

Rachel: I'm not entirely certain that I do balance it ;). Seriously, the biggest thing is just discipline. Most people work eight hours a day and their lives don't get out of balance. I try to stick to an eight-hour-a-day, five-days-a-week work schedule, and I make a point of getting together with various people when I can. Things are trickier when Soli Deo Gloria Ballet is on tour, but at times we're able to coordinate that with weeks when I have less other work to do. It also helps to have clearly defined goals and objectives. I lay out goals for the year, month, week, and day, and that helps me ensure everything happens when it needs to. Of course, if I wasn't making a living from arts-related things, I couldn't devote so much time to them.

Heather: What is your favorite fantasy creature?

Rachel: Oooh, good question. I'm not sure I can name a favorite "creature." I love what Tolkien did with the various races--Elves, dwarves, hobbits, men.

Heather: What drives you to write?

Rachel: Having something to say! I have always loved stories, and there's a lot about walking with God that I want to share with people. I also just love words. I write sometimes just for the fun of playing with them.

Heather: How did you get the idea for the Seventh World Trilogy?

Rachel: I was reading about the Reformers John Huss and Jerome, and I got the idea to set elements of their story in some other world. Originally it had more of a sci-fi, techno feel. I wrote some preliminary scenes, and the setting turned more medieval. The other characters just came together on their own; I'm sure I'd been playing with elements of them for a long time. As I wrote the story took on significance as I saw this struggle to live out the truth--both the pleasant and unpleasant facets of it--often in the face of great opposition, playing out in the lives of people I knew. (There aren't many traces of that original Reformer story left.)

Heather: All authors know the irritation, however weird it may seem to outsiders, of "rebellious" characters who won't fit into the mold we're trying to shape for them. If one of your characters is rebellious, how do you get him back in line?

Rachel: Actually, I'm one of the few authors I know who doesn't struggle with this. My characters don't take over. Mind you, I don't always go in with a clear idea of who they're "supposed to be," so they have room to develop. But they don't overrun the plot. If something happens in the plot that isn't working, I just backtrack and rewrite.

Heather: Who has been your favorite character to date? Your most rebellious? The one that needed the most work?

Rachel: I'm not sure I could pick a favorite. I think Mirian (from Taerith, which you can read online - www.rachelstarrthomson.com/books/taerith-a-novel ) is one of my best characters to date. The whole cast of characters in Taerith is strong, and the plot hinges on the way they relate to each other more than anything else. In the Seventh World, I've always loved Nicolas and Virginia and Miracle (from Burning Light), and I've grown in appreciation for Maggie. In The Advent, which I'm finishing up right now, I really like Roland and Rehtse. And the Boy. But no one else has really met them properly yet!

Thanks for the interview, Rachel! To all my blog readers, be sure to check out Rachel's website. Her book Worlds Unseen is available for free download, as is Taerith (see link above).

4 responses:

Galadriel said...

I have the online one, but I haven't been able to sit down and read it yet. And your charries never disagree with you? Lucky!
Mine love to...maybe that's because I kill so many of them.

Colin + Rachel said...

I enjoyed reading this interview.

If my characters obeyed me, my book would have been finished years ago. But they don't, so I slogg (is that a word?) on, one rewrite after another.

I did want your advice on something, Thea. Aireana keeps getting out of hand. Should I try the story without her, or will this get me into more trouble?

R.

whateverstate said...

Isn't it exciting to hear from an accomplished author from the homeschool community. Thank you for this intriguing interview. I'll be linking it on my group page!

Lea Ann Garfias
facebook.com/HomeEducation

Heather said...

Thank you, Lea Ann!

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