I would like to introduce to you my featured author of the month, Rachael Hanel. Author of “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down” , which I have reviewed here: “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down“! Check out my amazing interview with her!
Rachael is a lifelong Minnesotan—she lives 25 miles from where she grew up. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history, and a master’s degree in history. She has worked several jobs over the years—newspaper reporter and copy editor, freelance writer, adjunct professor (of English, history, humanities, and journalism) and university curriculum manager. She now teach mass media at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Rachael: I wrote the first piece that appears in the book in 2000. I had a first draft by 2005. Then it took several revisions to get it into the form you see today. I did the last revisions in 2012 after it was accepted for publication by the University of Minnesota Press.
Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.
Rachael: My book, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, draws upon my experiences growing up with a dad who worked as a gravedigger. My dad and mom also mowed and maintained cemeteries, so I spent a great deal of time in graveyards. This upbringing helped to shape my perspective on mortality and death, and the book explores the stories of tragedies and accidents that echoed out of our cemeteries. I also write about the losses my grandparents endured. Toward the end of my book, I write about my father’s unexpected death when I was 15 years old. Only then did I realize that while I knew a lot about death and how people died, I knew very little about grief.
Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?
Rachael: The genre chose me! From a very young age I wanted to be a journalist, so I’ve always written in the nonfiction genre. Making up stories never appealed to me. I was always more fascinated by people’s real lives.
Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?
Rachael: Because of my journalism background, I was much more comfortable and more enjoyed writing the stories of others. My book is filled with stories of particular gravestones and also the stories of my grandparents. I’m not as comfortable writing about myself, so chapters that are closely focused on me and my immediate family were more difficult to write.
Sierra: Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Rachael: It’s all real! But you have to remember that memoir is one person’s version of the truth. We all see life in different ways. My book represents the way that I viewed my childhood and adolescence. I never made up anything or chose to represent something as happening differently just for story’s sake.
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Rachael: As a child, my favorite book was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I even write about this book in my own book. Even though it’s a work of fiction, the story of a young boy experiencing the death of a close friend felt very real to me. Now as an adult who is a writer fan of true stories, my favorite book is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I read a lot of memoir and I find Fun Home to be the most perfectly structured memoir I’ve ever read. The book was a great help to me as I was organizing my own memoir.
Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?
Rachael: My biggest challenge is not necessarily staring at a blank screen, but finding the time to write in the first place. Once I sit down at my computer the words generally flow. I attribute this to my journalism career; in journalism, you can’t use writer’s block as an excuse! You have to write something, anything, to meet deadline! But sometimes I feel like I have to be in just the “right mood” to write, and that’s a big mistake because if you wait for the right mood, it will never come! I need to get better about sitting down to write whether I feel like it or not.
Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
Rachael: I’m pretty good about meeting authors that I want to meet! I try to make that happen as often as possible by going to readings. But meeting the real “celebrity” authors is a challenge I would like to tackle! Someone like Stephen King comes to mind, or Chuck Klosterman.
Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?
Rachael: I do not have any new books planned for any time soon. I am still writing, mostly essays, so we’ll see if something comes of that!
Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?
Rachael: I’m actually so pleased the way that everything turned out. While I was working on the book, I wished that the process would move along more quickly. But in hindsight, everything worked out for a reason. I revised so many times to make the book as good as it could get. With memoir especially, it takes time. I was constantly growing and reflecting and learning as I was writing about myself. The book, had it been published three or five years ago, would be much, much different (and I think not as good) as the version you see now.
Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Rachael: Stick with it! If you feel like you have a story that needs to get out, it will find its way out into the world. There were times when I wanted to give up, but the story wouldn’t let me. I knew I had something to say, and I needed to stick with it to see it to fruition. Really listen to your gut and instinct and let that guide you.
Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Rachael: I so appreciate hearing from people! The best gift you can give an author is telling people about a book if you like it. This can occur through word-of-mouth, but it also can occur by posting a short review (or even a simple rating) on Goodreads, Amazon, or any site that accepts reviews. I try to do this in practice myself.
Thank you so much!!