I only know Rachel Wilson through the beauty of these online spaces, but I love her already because, well, Philip Pullman and her witches’ lair writing space. You’ll see what I mean.
Don’t Touch, my debut novel, came out September 2, 2014, from HarperTeen. It’s the story of a girl whose fear of touching other people’s skin threatens her dream of playing Ophelia, until the guy playing Hamlet gives her a reason to overcome her fears. It’s all about the journey toward openness and acceptance and letting go of fear.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
Oh, huge! I was a very serious little kid—as a preschooler I told my doctor that the other kids gave me headaches—and I always had a book in my hands, during carpool, at the lunch table … Adults would actually take books away from me to encourage me to socialize more. As I grew up, I found a better balance, but books were my best friends, and I began writing my own stories at a young age as well.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
For drafting, I prefer to write first thing in the morning, often in bed, though lately I’ve been working at a standing desk more often. I tend to listen to meditative music or nature sounds while I write—very much in the flow—and I hop between notebooks, storyboarding, and the computer. But when I revise, it’s much more workmanlike. I’m more likely to work from a desk, and the time of day doesn’t matter so much. I wish I had more of a routine, but my working life is so variable that I don’t write everyday—instead I’ll have stretches of high activity and weeks that aren’t great for writing at all.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m almost done with Dave Eggers’s The Circle, about a social media empire that’s growing to obscene global power. I love it, but it’s got me highly paranoid, so I’m ready to finish. On its way to me in the mail is an advance copy of Creed by fellow OneFour Kidlit author Trisha Leaver and her co-author Lindsay N. Currie. I hear it is highly creepy, and I cannot wait!
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
AHHH!!! It’s too hard! Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables are two that I find really comforting. I’m not much of one for re-reading, but I’ll reread those. I’ll always love Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics because it’s magical and because I adapted it for a project in college, and that was one of the first times I felt like a storyteller. I’m also a big fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, both because they give me that sense of being in a fully realized other world. That’s something I wish for the skill to achieve in my own writing.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Will someone who’s already figured this out please let me know? I’m told that writing the next book is the most important thing, and I believe that, and yet, it’s really hard to focus on it while promoting a book launch. I think it has to be okay to be distracted by that for a little while. The only helpful advice I have is to use a task management system (I use Trello) to organize all your platform-and-promotion-oriented tasks—that way it’s all in one place and you don’t have to think about it while you’re doing your actual writing work. I also find it helpful to divide those parts of the day—writing first thing, business-y work in the afternoon or evening.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
No such thing. Some days I’m at work by 7:00am pretending to be sick as a standardized patient (a part of medical training for doctors), other days I’m teaching in the afternoon or driving out to a suburb to work in a writing center or recording a voice over. When I’m not expected at work at an ungodly hour, I try to write first thing. And I often have theater rehearsals at night. It’s a nutty life, but it’s mine.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
Okay, imagine a teenage witch’s lair. I’ve been working on creating it, but my dream space would have a sitting/standing desk and a comfy chair, cushions, and beanbags. LOTS of options for lounging. I want a wall-long bulletin board for inspiration and story mapping. I’d like a highly organized filing system for all my drafts and odd notes and lots of invitations to play with ideas … colored pencils, Tarot cards, colorful post-its, etc. It would have bright, jewel-toned walls, a view of something green, fairy lights and colorful lampshades, and lots of fun art and toys scattered around. And it would need a magical self-cleaning enchantment because I am a slob!
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I won’t say “hard” because I tend to embrace critiques, but this is a major (and pretty funny) one . . . In an early draft, Don’t Touch was called Manatee and heavily featured one named Grace. But the plot was a jumble—I think of it as a conjoined twin book that was in need of surgical separation, a real ground-up rewrite. My creative thesis advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Martine Leavitt, generously read the whole thing, and in her first letter to me she suggested that I consider cutting the manatee. I chopped poor Grace into little pieces and changed the title.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Rachel M. Wilson received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel, Don’t Touch, released September 2nd from HarperTeen. Rachel’s short story, “The Game of Boys and Monsters” follows from HarperTeen Impulse in October. Originally from Alabama, Rachel now lives in Chicago, Illinois. You can read more about Rachel at her website, or find her on Twitter and Facebook.