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
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.
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!
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