About Me

My photo
I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Few Moments with Rachel Ann Nunes

Rachel Nunes is a prolific, best-selling author, the founder and president of LDStorymakers, and an all around awesome lady. I had to include the picture, ‘cause, isn’t she just so cute? I could never even hold that pose much less look elegant doing it. ;)

When Rachel decided to do a blog tour to promote her newest title, Saving Madeline, of course I was happy to jump on board. But, when I began to read the story behind the story, I thought it was compelling enough that it needed to be shared as well.

So this week you get a prequel to a book review. You can read Rachel's thoughts on the Saving Madeline, those she's shared with others and a few she graciously shared with me. You'll have to pop back in on the 25th to see what I thought about the actual book.

In the cases where I've pulled information from other interviews, you'll find a link back to the source. This is both to give the original author credit and to give you someplace else to look if that particular topic catches your eye. So, please spend a few moments with Rachel Nunes.

Alison: So, tell us why writing Saving Madeline was important to you.

Rachel: Several years ago, shock radiated throughout Utah when an infant was found dead after ingesting meth she had found in a plastic bag on the floor of her home. What made this tragic circumstance even more notable and horrific is that weeks earlier her father had forcibly taken her across state lines, hoping to protect her from her mother’s substance abuse. Authorities found the child, placed her back with her mother, and sent the father to jail for assault and burglary. A little over a week later, the baby was dead and the mother was charged with desecration of a dead body for moving her daughter to cover up the mother’s drug abuse. All charges against the father were eventually dropped.

. . . In meth homes throughout the country, baby bottles share sinks and refrigerators with meth containers, and the drug is often made in the same kitchen where food is prepared. Poison is only inches away from dinner plates and glasses of milk. Law enforcement officers wear protective gear when dismantling these meth labs, but the children who live there on a daily basis are unprotected from the toxic fumes that saturate their bodies, clothing, and toys—if they are lucky to have such things. Often these houses have no food, no toilet paper, and no sheets on the beds. The children are completely neglected, and the houses are filthy. Many of these children show developmental delays, organ injuries from the fumes, heart problems, seizures, and violent behavior.

. . .States seem to be losing the battle against methamphetamine addiction. Child welfare, law enforcement, substance abuse, and treatment systems are overloaded. Some estimate that over 8.3 million children in the United States live with a parent who has a substance abuse issue. Nearly 2 million child abuse cases each year are investigated, and a half million of those have enough evidence to act on. Some 200,000 children are removed from their homes each year.

But what about the cases that aren’t proven? What about the children who fall through the cracks, but are still at risk? To what lengths might a non-custodial parent be compelled to go in order to protect a child from danger?

These were the questions I thought about as I began writing Saving Madeline. I wanted to show one man’s dilemma in balancing his need to protect his daughter with his duty to obey the law, to detail his struggle in an overloaded system where there are no second chances for the innocent victims. Please keep in mind that though the idea for this novel was inspired by the numerous true-life stories I researched, the plot, characters, and resolution in Saving Madeline are completely fictional. No actual experiences or interviews of real -life people were used in the text itself. (Neither does this story in any way reflect the life of the sweet Madeline I dedicated this book to. Though challenged with Muscular Dystrophy, that Madeline has the great fortune to have been born to loving and responsible parents.)

Could such a story actually happen? I believe so. Trust me about the outcome of my story, though, okay? My young character has a lot of people fighting for her. But keep in mind as you read my story all the children who have no one to fight for them and who do not survive.

Anne Bradshaw: So is the book a tragedy? Are people going to be sad when they’re through reading it?

Rachel: My work has always been about touching on tough issues in a positive light. I believe in happy endings, though maybe not perfect ones. My young character has a lot of people fighting for her, and I have a few twists in store for all the characters. I think my readers will be content when they finished reading but also very much aware of all the children who have no one to fight for them and who do not survive.

Anne Bradshaw: On your website, Saving Madeline is listed as a romance. Why is that?

Rachel: Good question. The story has heavy suspense elements, and it is certainly a family drama, but it also is a great romance. I had so much fun with the interaction between Caitlin, Parker, and two other love interests. The back and forth dialogue, the misdirection, the teasing—all so much fun! In the end I just couldn’t put the novel under any other category.

GG Vandagriff: You seem to be an inexhaustible well of creativity. Where do your plots originate?

Rachel: They just come–out of thin air, from what I see, from research, from inspiration. The more I write, the more the ideas flow. I’m always compelled to write. It’s as if I’m in a huge amphitheatre and sitting in the audience are all the thousands of story ideas and they are calling to me to write them. The one that yells the loudest wins. Hmm, that’s sort of like real life children, isn’t it? :-) When I don’t get regular writing time, I’m pretty unhappy.

Teri Rodeman: Do you create stories or scenes from dreams you have?

Rachel: Sometimes I will receive inspiration in dreams, but more often than not they are day dreams that I'm purposefully pursuing rather than night dreams. There have been notable times, however, when I've gone to bed thinking about my characters and then dreamed about the plot and it worked perfectly into my story.

Alison: Was there a scene or character from Saving Madeline that really kept you awake at night while you were writing?

Rachel: I was haunted by the real life stories I'd researched about children who didn't survive the similar situations my characters were facing. And I kept seeing a man sneaking into a child's bedroom, a man who wasn't perfect and had done a lot of dumb things in his life, but who was now trying to right those wrong and protect a child he loved. I enjoyed the feel of him appearing to be the bad guy, when in reality he was doing the only thing he felt he could to help Madeline. This scene, now in the second chapter, was the first I wrote. Toward the end of the book, there was a scene I really worried over, and it might bring tears to some readers, but ultimately, I knew I had to show some very real consequences.

Alison: Tell me about the real Madeline that you dedicated the book to.

Rachel: Ah, not a question I've ever been asked thus far, though in my author's note at the very end of the novel, I do explain a little more about her. Madeline is a six-year-old girl whose family we lived next door to for ten years. She has very blonde hair, an adventuresome nature, and loves to talk. She and my youngest daughter were best friends for most of their lives and still adore spending time together now that we've moved. Madeline has Muscular Dystrophy and speeds around in a motorized wheelchair. This year we discovered she can also swim, bouncing up and down in water over her head, barely coming up for a breath and then going back under again. A very frightening event for those watching, but to her it's ultimate freedom. So far, she's always come back up, though someone's always watching to make sure. Madeline is the youngest of six children. Her older sister and brother, the first two children born to the family, also had MD and died before Madeline was born. Madeline's strong spirit, and the example of her wonderful parents have inspired me for many years. Though my character is younger than the real life Madeline and doesn't share the challenge of MD, she was definitely patterned after her.

GG Vandagriff: What do you think about the direction that LDS fiction is going? Do you think it is getting better? If so, why?

Rachel: Overall, I think LDS fiction is getting better. However, some of it isn’t. I feel that many writers are still stuck on the conversion story, which is a great venue for the younger generation, but I personally feel converted and my reading tastes have changed. Now I want to read stories about LDS people in every day situations where they don’t have to convert their neighbor or future spouse. The real life truth is that not everyone sees the light. Perhaps every LDS author goes though the conversion phase, I don’t know. I certainly did, and I’m glad I wrote those novels. But I think it’s time LDS authors explored the other issues our people need to read about. I’m not saying we shouldn’t write about conversions at all, because when they are portrayed realistically they can be powerful and compelling, but for me, it’s hard to see a plot in a suspense novel come to a screeching halt so that we can hear a missionary discussion or have a baptism. I would much rather see the quiet convictions of a character living her religion during personal trials. Or a family who has members struggling with their faith in the midst of some compelling plotline.

I was able to attempt this in several of my LDS novels, and now I’m also reaching out to a wider market where my characters are not overtly LDS. The plot doesn’t focus at all around the Church and convincing the reader that it’s true, but rather on the lives of the characters and what they are feeling and experiencing that may or may not involve their faith (depending on the genre).

I think a lot of LDS readers are ready for this, and I’m grateful my publisher has a national imprint where they can publish such stories. I think our market is growing up a bit, focusing deeper or perhaps even on simply creating more entertaining, believable genre stories that are every bit as good as what is being published in the national market. If we continue in this direction, I think we will eventually reach an entire new set of LDS readers who now don’t read LDS novels because they are so focused on convincing rather than portraying.

Alison: Is this what you envisioned when you first sat down to be a writer? How have your aspirations and interests evolved during the process and where do you see yourself going in the future?

Rachel: I think I am heading in the right direction of what I've always dreamed of doing. For many years, I strictly wrote LDS novels, but I've also wanted to write novels that could reach anyone anywhere, regardless of religious affiliation. There are so many experiences shared by the human family, and there are good people everywhere. I want to portray these people and their trials.

I also aim to write stories that allow people to take time out from the stress of their busy lives and relax in another world for a while. Good, page-turning literature meant to thrill and entertain. I'm grateful my publisher has different imprints that have allowed me to explore my various plotlines and audiences.

My next book, Imprints, takes another different direction as I'm jumping on the national bandwagon by including a paranormal element. On the day of her father's funeral, Autumn discovers a paranormal gift that allows her to find clues about missing people. Nothing so weird as to put off my regular readers, though. In fact, I'm sure they will enjoy what I have planned. I hope to have four or more books in the series.

GG Vandagriff: Are you taking your fiction in a different direction permanently? If so, what path are you pursuing now?

Rachel: Saving Madeline is very similar in style to other novels I’ve written–family drama with suspense and romance. However, my next novel Imprints, also contemporary suspense, does go in a different direction as it contains a paranormal element. I’ve always been interested in fantasy, and as a believer I feel that sometimes we are given certain gifts when we need them at different times in our lives. It was only natural that at some point I’d combine my love of women’s fiction and my beliefs with my love of the supernatural. Yet at the same time the novel isn’t so strange as to be considered high fantasy or anything. I think my current readers will be very pleased.

Teri Rodeman: What does Rachel do in her spare moments when she's not writing? . . . Do you have other interests and also Church callings and how many children you have and any grandchildren?

Rachel: TJ and I have six children. No grandchildren yet, though I'm looking forward to having them. My oldest son (19) is on a mission to Japan and my oldest daughter is 17 and just started college at SUU. My other children are 15, 13, 10, and 6.

As for what I do in my free time. Well, there isn't much of that because usually someone wants me to do something--correct homework, make food, run an errand. You get the idea. But what I love to do when I have a moment is to read, go for walks, swim with my kids. I enjoy exercising while I watch a video. I love traveling, always taking the whole family at this point. I enjoy going out on dates with my husband.

I teach Relief Society once a month, I'm a visiting teacher, and I'm the chairman of the activities committee (which, BTW, is a feast or famine calling, and we have an activity this week so I'm pretty stressed). I love my ward and my neighbors. I feel really fortunate in that.

GG Vandagriff: You have literally thousands of fans who wonder how you can possibly publish as much as you do while raising six children. I have seen first hand what a hands-on, terrific mother you are. How do you balance such an intense inner life with your love for and the needs of your children?

Rachel: The kids always came first. Period. That’s my rule. But they have learned not to run to me for every little thing. They learned to solve some problems themselves, and I learned to buy microwaveable snacks. I used to write more easily when they were little children under my desk and around my feet, but as they grew, they became involved in more things and I had less time at the computer. I’d have to tell them I was going into my office for a while and to watch this show, or play in the back yard for certain time. I’d say, “If you aren’t bleeding and it’s not really that important, then don’t come to my office. If you give me time to work, I’ll do x and x for you then.” Sometimes that even worked. I’d often leave the computer on and steal into the office for any available second.

Teenagers are even more demanding, I’ve found. They always need rides or help with some incredibly important last-minute task. But finally for the first time all six are in school (my oldest is on a mission), so I anticipate having a bit easier time writing in the next few months.

One important thing is that I’m careful to tell my children often that I love them more than my writing and if they need me, I’m available to hear what they have to say. Often that means I don’t get all the writing in that I want, but that is the life I chose when I decided to have children. They are the reward that makes not doing all I want with my writing okay. I wouldn’t trade being their mother for all the success in the world.

See? I told you she was an awesome lady. ;)

Rachel is also doing a book give away with this blog tour. Leave a comment here, and track down other blogs from Rachel’s site to leave comments on. Each comment gives you and entry for the drawing to win a copy of Saving Madeline. Yippeee!


D'ann said...

she does sound like an AWESOME lady - i've read quite a few things by Rachel, please sign me up for the book give-away!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Great interview! I would love this book!

Becki said...

Love the interview!! Would seriously love to read this book!!

Robin said...

This was a great review. Looking forward to the book.

Wendy said...

I've been a member of Rachel's blog/email list for a couple years now and I agree she is an awesome lady!

Suze said...

I hope I win!!!

nightowlmommy said...

I would love to win a free book! I LOVE the books written by Rachel Nunes. She is an awesome author. here are several that I could read over and over again.