Monday, November 25, 2013

Interview Feature: Rachel Starr Thomson

Dear Imps, I am pleased to introduce you to a speculative fiction author who has published SO many exciting novels, short stories, and novellas (seriously, check out her bookstore!), that I know she'll keep you stocked with fun reading for a long time to come. But she has come here today to specifically talk about her brand new series, The Oneness Cycle. And she is offering a giveaway of book 1 in that series, so be certain you check out the end of this post! But first, let us welcome . . .

Rachel Starr Thomson

Rachel is a writer, indie publisher, and editor. She's the author of the Seventh World Trilogy and multiple other books published by Little Dozen Press.
Rachel is a homeschool graduate, a dweller in southern Canada, a lover of long walks, good books, and hot tea, and a counter-cultural revolutionary who thinks we'd all be much better off if we pitched our television sets out the nearest window.
You can find out more about Rachel and her books on her website: www.rachelstarrthomson.com

Interview

Welcome to the Tales of Goldstone Wood blog, Rachel! Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality . . . tea or coffee? 

 
Rachel: Both tea and coffee. Until five years ago I was a diehard tea-only Canadian snob, but then I felt I should enter adulthood—I was twenty-five—so I bought a car and started drinking coffee. I think it worked . . .
 
In my personality I’m really really typical for a writer—introverted and intellectual and very definitely ADD, though in the calm, dreamy way that doesn’t deserve an H. I like to tell myself that I can’t remember little details (like where I put my keys, or how to put a shirt on rightside-out the first time) because my mind is too full of more important things, but that’s probably not true.
 
Being this sort of person, I’m not sure I have hobbies. I like to read, think, listen to music, drive, and nap, but not sure those qualify. I love to spend time with my close friends, learn new things, and see the world (especially Disney World, which I have seen four times and hope to see again soon. Maybe going to Disney is my hobby).
 
Oh, and I also codirect a performing arts company and teach and speak and sing, but I don’t consider any of those things hobbies because they fall under the nebulously defined “ministry” category. (Look us up at www.solideoballet.com.)  
 
What led you into the writing life? Were you always a storyteller? What was your first published novel?
 
Rachel: I have been a writer since I was little, which I think, again, is typical. I wrote a series of self-illustrated books on scrap paper which I stapled together about a character called Jonathan Gorilla. I started writing more seriously in my teens and eventually (after moonlighting as a published nonfiction essay writer) started indie publishing my own work. The first title was actually nonfiction; it’s a little book called Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord’s Prayer. The first fiction title I put out was Worlds Unseen, which you can download free as an e-book. It’s the first installment in the Seventh World Trilogy. (Yes, I know, I wrote a trilogy … typical.)
 

Tell us a little about your series! What led you to start writing The Oneness Cycle? Can you give us a little summary of the series? Is it very different from your fantasy series, or do they share similarities?
 
Rachel: The Oneness Cycle is fantasy in its own right, but it’s very, very different from the Seventh World Trilogy and other fantasy books I’ve written. The setting is modern and American in style (more or less modern—as you can tell from the technology they don’t use, I’ve been setting it in the early ’90s). It’s about a “supernatural entity” called the Oneness—which essentially is a group of people spiritually connected to each other and pitted against the demonic realm in ongoing warfare to hold the universe together. (If you can’t tell, it’s a sort of reflection on the nature of the church.) The books center around a small Oneness cell in a fishing village on the west coast, as they are attacked by powerful forces that threaten their lives, try to break up their unity, and call their very nature into question.
 
Now tell us a little about Exile, Book 1 in The Oneness Cycle. How long have you been work on it? Did it present any unusual challenges?
 
Rachel: Exile is a very special book to me for one reason: it’s the first novel I wrote after 2+ years of severe writer’s block. It’s a relatively short novel, and I spent a couple of months on it. I had the idea for the opening scene (two young men pulling a young woman out of a bay, in a fishing net) and the Oneness itself, and I just ran with it. The book came together sentence by sentence, and at times was a fight to get out, but I’m proud of it and thrilled to say that it’s turned me into a writer again. (I’ve been working hard, and writing a lot, and at this point have two more Oneness books out, with a third coming this month—Hive, Attack, and Renegade.)
 
Can you pick a favorite character from this new novel?
 
Rachel: That’s a hard one because I am really fond of all these characters (and there are a bunch of them). Reese, the central character, is definitely a favourite. At the start of the novel, she’s been cut off—exiled—from the Oneness, a fate worse than dying for her. She’s just about blind with grief, but even in that dark place, she quickly learns to love the village cell and goes to battle for them when they’re threatened. Reese’s journey is at the heart of the entire Oneness series—the book I’m writing right now, Renegade, is all about her—so she’s pretty special to me.

 
What inspires your work? Where do you turn when you need a renewal of inspiration?
 
Rachel: I’m very inspired by aspects of theology and history. I don’t write straight allegory (readers will notice that God as we know Him does not actually exist in the world of the Oneness—they have the Spirit, but no concept of the Father or Christ), but I like to take aspects of my faith and turn them around in my mind and explore them through fiction. The Seventh World Trilogy, for example, was sparked by two things: the history of the Reformation and a viewpoint on the fall that I’d been mulling on, that God in a sense exiled Himself from Eden and Adam and Eve’s presence, because His holiness would destroy them in their sinful state. The Oneness Cycle, as I mentioned, is largely inspired by the concept of the church, different individuals both alive and “dead” who are one body in heaven and earth, all drinking from one Spirit. The conflict the characters face has much to do with concepts of truth, calling, power, and sacrifice. So theology as I find it in the Bible is probably my biggest source of inspiration.
 
Apart from that, I find coffee, tea, sour candy, and music really helpful. And if I’m running creatively dry, I will occasionally binge-watch something I find interesting. (But that’s difficult, because I’m honestly bored by most TV and movies.)
 
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?
 
Rachel: The writing. And the writing.
 
If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?
 
Rachel: Argh, that is the worst question in the history of author interviews because there are just SO many. And I like them for different reasons. I just … nope, I don’t think I can choose.
 
Here’s a random sampling of writers I’ve read in the past month, though: Dallas Willard, Lars Walker, Stephen Lawhead, Malcolm Gladwell, Shaine Claiborne, Jeff Kinney, and the guy who compiled my crossword puzzle book.
 
What are you actively writing right now?

Rachel: Renegade, Book 4 in The Oneness Cycle. On the run with a dangerous cult leader named Jacob, Reese must face the worst of her demons and break the cycle of bitterness before it destroys her.

Would you share a short snippet from Exile?

Rachel: Most certainly! Here you go—and thanks very much for having me on.



Excerpt from

Exile

 
Reese stood in the midst of the shattered glass, breathing hard and staring at the object in her hand. Behind her, first Tyler and then Chris tumbled into the side room.
“What is that?” Tyler blurted, pointing at the corpse on the floor, at the same time  that Chris demanded, “Why are you holding a sword?”
Why indeed? She’d not thought to hold one ever again.
“Didn’t think I . . . could,” she offered, aware that her trailing answer wouldn’t make sense to them. She nudged the thing on the floor with her toe and winced at the broken glass everywhere.
One more mess. The creature was only a renegade—thank God. But . . .
The sword disappeared, disintegrating into nothing, and she let her hand fall to her side. “I’m sorry about the mess.”
Tyler lurched forward and kicked at the body, turning it over. He blinked. “It’s a bat? But . . .”
Rain was blowing in through the broken window, spattering the piles of old books and quickly damping the carpet. Reese sprang into action, shuffling things aside and apologizing again. Night was falling, and it was dark. The wind through the window was cold.
Chris appeared at her side with a blue tarp, which he nailed over the windowsill with a few expert whacks of a hammer. With that little bit of a rain barrier in place, he stood back, regarded Reese with his arms folded over his chest, and said, “Who are you?”
She was still repositioning stacks of books, studiously avoiding looking at either of them. But she couldn’t just ignore the question. “My name is Reese,” she said.
“You have a last name?”
“No, we—I—we don’t use them,” she stammered. Why wouldn’t the words come out? His gaze was boring into her, and she dropped what she was doing and sat on the couch again, shoulders hunched, bone weary. Of course she needed a last name.
“Danby,” she let out in a whimper. “You can . . . Danby.”
She ventured a glance up. Chris was still staring at her, but although his gaze was stern, she could see now that it wasn’t angry. It was . . . protective, maybe.
The lump in her throat suddenly grew until all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch, cover herself with the flannel blanket, and give vent to all she felt until she had exhausted every tear and more, until every muscle ached and her skin burned with the emptiness inside.
His anger would have been hard to take. But protectiveness was a memory, too fresh and far, far too potent.
“A bat couldn’t have broken that window—and I could have sworn it was something else, something way bigger when I walked in here. So what was that?”
Tyler wasn’t paying attention to the exchange, and his question, to her relief, deflected the force of her grief. She considered lying, but she was too tired for that. She leaned back against the scratchy plaid upholstery.
“A renegade,” she said. “Just one . . . so you don’t need to worry that others will come.”
Outside, headlight beams came around a curve in the road just below the cottage, disappearing behind the tarp after only a brief flash.
“That’ll be Mum,” Chris said. He frowned. “I think I hung up on her.”
“A renegade?” Tyler pressed.
“Do you believe in demons?” Reese asked.
Chris shook his head. His forehead was creased with worry. “I’ll put tea on,” he said. “Wait this conversation. Until Mum’s in here.”
Tyler looked apologetically at Reese. “Diane is good for this kind of thing.”
Reese felt the slightest glimmer of humour. “For discerning crazy?”
Tyler gave her a wry smile. “For helping us know what to do.” He stood, leaving the bat he had been examining on the floor. “I don’t think it’s going to get any warmer and drier in here tonight. We’d better go to the living room.”
He escorted Reese through a cluttered laundry room and a small kitchen, equally cluttered but surprisingly clean, where Chris was putting another kettle on. On the other side of the kitchen counter was a tiny room almost entirely occupied by a couch and an easy chair. One wall was swallowed up by a fireplace, over which hung a massive sword—a claymore, Reese thought. A small fire was going, and the room was warm.
She closed her eyes for a second. That only two hours ago she had thrown herself off a cliff in a vain attempt to drown herself seemed about as far away and unreal as hope. Strange how life could hang on and continue even when she didn’t want it to—stranger that it could bring her somewhere like this, now.
And the sword. Why had the sword come to hand?
The rain nearly masked the sound of a car pulling up outside the cottage, and in a moment the front door pushed open and a woman stumbled in, wrapped in a sleek rain slicker and wearing a kerchief which she promptly pulled off and wrung out. She was short and comfortably built, and her pale hair was twisted in a French knot at the back of her head. Her sharp eyes fixed on Reese immediately.
“So you’re the girl,” she said. “I’m Diane. How are my boys treating you?”
Reese stammered something . . . even she wasn’t sure what words she was trying to say. Mercifully, Tyler and Chris both began to talk, telling this woman—Chris’s mother, Diane—what had happened, from the rescue right down to the demon that had turned into a bat and the sword that had appeared and then dematerialized in Reese’s hand. Getting out of her rain slicker and boots, Diane listened intently and nodded, without interrupting or appearing surprised at any point.
Finally she crossed the tiny room and took Reese’s arm. Her hands were weathered and heavy veined, older than the rest of her, and cold from the drive through the rain.
“Sit,” she said. “I think we should all sit.”
They did. Chris and Tyler looked uncomfortable, and after about half a second Chris stood up again and positioned himself in front of the fireplace. His mother didn’t chastise him.
“I saw it,” she said without any more preamble. “The demon. I see things sometimes—the boys know. That’s how I knew to get up here fast.”
She peered along her nose at Reese. Her eyes were blue. “And you,” she said. “You are a part of the Oneness.”
For an instant Reese thought she would not find her voice, or even the breath to say it. But she did—somehow she did.
“No,” she said. “No, I’m an exile.”


 ___________________
 
Thank you for a wonderful interview, Rachel. And for that intriguing snippet!
 
So tell me, imps . . . aren't you all eager to scoop up The Oneness Cycle now? And here's your chance to get started on that with a lovely giveaway of Exile. Be certain to enter your name, tell your friends about Rachel and her work, and thank Rachel for taking the time to chip away at a vicious case of writer's block in order to bring the her readers more of the fantastic stories we crave.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0cd52422/" rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway


 

19 comments:

Allison Ruvidich said...

How do you find the motivation to keep writing through writer's block? Do you have any techniques to help you overcome it?

Laura Pol said...

Wow this book sounds outside my usual genre that I read, but I am very interested in reading this! Fascinating how theology was your inspiration! What would you categorize the series as in genres?

Molly said...

I'm adding these to my book list! Do you hire someone to create your book covers? Are those people models?

Ryebrynn said...

Wow! These books sound really good!
If you don't mind me asking, Miss Thomson, what is you favorite book? Why is that book your favorite?

-Ryebrynn

Anonymous said...

I really liked your first trilogy although I've yet to get to the third. I'll be checking into these!

CajunHuntress said...

So is your Oneness series written so you have to read start to finish, like the Harvest Series by Tessa Afshar? Or is it more like Anne Elisabeth's where each story is kind of separate from the next, and are mixed up chronologically and focusing on different sets of characters?

Bethany said...

I always get excited to see new fantasy fiction writers!

Meredith said...

Congratulations, Ms. Thompson. Your books sound fantastic!
I love your thoughts on Eden and that God exiled Himself from Adam and Eve's presence so as not to destroy them. That is such a beautiful picture of His love and purity. Do you have a specific verse of Scripture that you base this theory upon? It makes sense to me in light of Jesus' question on the cross: "My God, why have you forsaken me"? God the Father exiled Himself from His son since He cannot stand in the presence of our sins. Thus, when Jesus bore our sins, the Father had to leave Him. Hope this makes sense.

God bless you.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Anne Elisabeth, thank you so much for having me on here! I enjoyed the interview and am excited about the questions too :).

So here we go ...

Allison: to be honest, my biggest motivation is that I WANT to write. I want to be able to write more, and more easily, and to do it as a career. And that will never happen if I don't press through. As far as techniques go, two things have really helped: One is that I stopped trying to write on my laptop (which is my editing machine, primarily) and started using an AlphaSmart NEO, which besides having no Internet access, is dedicated to writing. The other is that I committed to just writing one sentence at a time. I can't plan out a story right now--that's where my biggest block is--but I can write one if I just keep letting one sentence lead to the next.

Laura, I'm honoured that you're interested outside your genre! I'm calling these contemporary fantasy. Paranormal works too.

Molly, thank you! My covers are created by Mercy Hope; the people on the covers are models, but we got the pictures from stock photography sites. You can connect with Mercy (and my e-book formatter, Carolyn Currey) here: http://yourbookonline.wordpress.com

Ryebrynn: thanks, I'm glad you think so! I don't have a favourite book other than the Bible. I like so many and for many different reasons. But I'll take this opportunity to promote one of my favourite modern authors: Jeffrey Overstreet writes beautiful fantasy with gorgeous prose and deep meaning. Check out his AURALIA THREAD.

Anon: Thanks! I hope you enjoy COMING DAY as well :).

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

CajunHuntress (cool name), you definitely have to read these in order. Every book builds off the last one and it will be hard to keep track of who's who if you jump in the middle. Great question!

Bethany, thanks for commenting!

Meredith, I love your take on that. I hadn't thought about it in that context, but that Scripture does connect. The particular Scriptures that inspired this thought (and which actually come into play in RENEGADE too) are a number of verses during the Exodus era. Israel was walking very close to God at that time--his presence was literally in their midst. And a strange thing happens when the people fall into sin: fire will break out in the camp (or, in some cases, disease). For me those verses called to mind the statement in Hebrews that our God is a consuming fire, and I realized how dangerous God can actually be to those who are not clean before him. So that inspired the "exile from Eden" concept you'll find woven into the Seventh World Trilogy.

Elisabeth said...

I find the idea of a digital typewriter fascinating, Rachel, and can see how the lack of internet would be a big asset for the writer's blocked. I'm curious: Can you move back and forth in the text to see what you've already written? I'm thinking I'd miss the ability to move around chunks of text: Can you do that?

Mostly, though, I'm impressed and inspired by your determination to push through writer's block...and having read Exile, I'm grateful you did!

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Thanks, Elisabeth--and it's fun to see you here! Your comments about EXILE were so encouraging.

On the NEO screen, I have the type set slightly smaller than the default, so I can see about six lines at a time--a paragraph or so. You can scroll up to see more. It's definitely clunkier than a computer screen, and I do miss that, but in a way even that keeps me moving forward rather than constantly doubling back. I wrote the first three Oneness books almost exclusively on the NEO; at this point, I have pushed through the block enough that I can write on the laptop to some degree again. But I go back to the NEO anytime I get really stuck.

Meredith said...

Oh, thank you for the Scripture references. We've actually been studying about the construction of the Tabernacle and the Israelites journeying from Egypt in my congregation's Bible study. Your thoughts make sense, and I remember when the Israelites first reached Mount Sinai. Boundaries had to be erected, for God's presence was indeed a consuming fire which they could not safely approach. Moses was their mediator, and I think the Scriptures even describe how his appearance changed after meeting God face-to-face. I think we often forget how utterly pure God is, that He dwells in inapproachable light. Only He made it possible for us to come to Him, because we couldn't do it ourselves. Amazing!

God bless you.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

You're very welcome, Meredith! Thank YOU for the great discussion. Like I said, I ended using this concept again in RENEGADE. Our God is amazing, truly beyond what we can put into words or even really conceive of in thought. Stories like these from the Scripture are amazing glimpses into the reality of who He is.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... your books sound very intriguing, Rachel. I think I might just have to read them! :)
Can you tell me some about what inspired you to write this series? Christian fantasy/allegories are amazing, and they all have a different touch to them!

Thanks! -Shantelle

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Hey Shantelle!

Thanks, I hope you check them out! The body of Christ is really important to me, and in recent years I've really seen how significant unity is--in helping each other grow and in standing against the enemy. I've also seen the negative side; what happens when people who should love one another and act in loyalty turn on each other instead. That's what inspired the books to begin with. Since then they've taken on a life of their own, and if you're looking for allegorical(ish) connections, you'll find a lot here about topics like spiritual warfare, forgiveness, prayer, and identity.

Anonymous said...

Rachel,

Thanks! That is really cool. I definitely agree. I have also been seeing, more so than ever, how vital unity within the body of Christ is!
It's wonderful you're writing books about that. May God inspire more words! :)

-Shantelle

Galadriel said...

Are there any books you like even though you don't normally read the genre?8

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

That's a great question! It's actually hard for me to answer because I read in pretty much all genres. The only ones I don't touch, as a rule, are horror and romance. But I do like some books that are sorta kinda classified as horror--"The Resurrection" by Mike Duran and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," to give a contemporary and classic example--and I like stories with romance, just not romances. My two favourites of the latter are both by George MacDonald: "The Highlander's Last Song" and "The Shepherd's Castle" (original titles "What's Mine's Mine" and "Donal Grant.")