Rachael Herron On Clawing Yourself Desperately Toward Revision

An interview with Rachael Herron, from The Write Stuff series:

Rachael Herron is the internationally bestselling author of three literary novels from Penguin (most recently, Splinters of Light, March 2015), the five book Cypress Hollow romance series, and the memoir, A Life in Stitches. She received her MFA in writing from Mills College and will be teaching writing workshops at both Stanford and UC Berkeley Extension in the spring. Find her online at RachaelHerron.com and at Twitter.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I usually say I’m a writer. There’s always a confused silence as people try to figure out if I said “rider” or “writer” while unsuccessfully picturing me on a horse, so I clarify by saying, “I’m a novelist and a memoirist.” If I don’t really feel like talking to someone (tired in a taxi, say), I’ll just answer, “I’m a project manager” (which is true—I’m constantly managing my writing projects). That makes whatever the other person does sound fascinating in comparison, and the spotlight on me shuts off.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

First drafts. I hate almost every second of a first draft. Even if my book needs a complete tear down and rebuild, I’m happier on my worst revisions days than I am on my best first draft days. They’re completely agony. I claw myself desperately toward revision, always.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Read everything, all the time. Read what you love, and read what you hate—figure out what the difference is between the two. Then write a book. Finish it. Write another one. By the time you’re done with your second or third novel, you’ll be eternally grateful you never published your first attempts. The more you write, the better you get.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Hell, yes. When I was five, I figured out there was a person behind each of the books I loved, and I wanted to be the one wielding the pen. When I held my first advance copy of my first novel in my hands six years ago, I was a little overcome (why I felt like I literally had to powder my nose before touching the book, I’ll never know).

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Adriano Celetano’s gibberish song Prisencolinensinainciusol, done in 1973 to sound like English. There is nothing I don’t love about the ridiculousness of it.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My great-great-great uncle was Joel Chandler Harris, the folklorist who wrote the Uncle Remus stories (to huge acclaim—it was the Harry Potter of its time—and to later warrant criticism for its cultural appropriation). Mainly I think about him when I’m on Splash Mountain, the Song of the South Disney water ride. I stare at Brer Bear and think, “What the hell kind of weird world IS this?”

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Madeleine L’Engle. I wrote her my first fan letter, and she wrote back.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

If by wilderness you mean a cabin with a hot tub on the rugged northern coast of California, my week would consist of reading in bed, watching the waves from the hot tub, and going back to bed again.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Absolutely. It looks exactly like this, only I don’t have a British accent so use your imagination.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

More than I did last year, you cheeky bastard. (Oh! Maybe I do have an English accent!)

What’s wrong with society today?

What’s wrong with American society: The War on Black People has to stop. #BlackLivesMatter

What’s wrong with New Zealand society (I have dual citizenship): There’s a guy named Nigel in Auckland who doesn’t always come to a full stop before turning left.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

I’m a big proponent of recreational Ambien use. Everyone gets sleep! And exciting sleep-eating! Bonus points if you wake up naked in a forest you don’t remember entering!

What is your fondest memory?

I can’t remember but I know it was fond. Well, fondish.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

At least three or four hundred times. I get very excited and enthusiastic about everything. I’m basically Kenneth on 30 Rock.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Gender and racial equality. Insert joke that lightens the moment here. Wait. Screw that. Gender and racial equality. Why is that so damn difficult?

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is seeing the world differently than your neighbor does, and noticing the fact. Art is inevitable.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Give consent.

What are you working on right now?

This week I turned in copyedits for my tenth book, a mainstream literary novel for Penguin and I have page proofs due this week to Random House Australia on my ninth. Hand to god, I’ll never write two books at the same time again.

What kind of work would you like to do?

I always thought I’d make a good truck driver. I’d wear a bandana and my dog would ride shotgun as I hurtled cross country, strung out on whatever upper I could buy over the counter at truck stops. I like stress.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

The fact that my house is still several hundred thousand dollars upside down (let’s hear it for buying a house in 2006!).

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

UPS boat (big, boxy, brown) floating down a Venetian canal.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Speaking of Venice, I honestly love the smell of canal water: a mix of diesel and brine and rot.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I’d go see the northern lights from a glass igloo in Finland’s Arctic Snow Hotel. I’d stay long enough that I’d be so bored with them that I’d pull the covers over my head to block the light when they started.

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