Rachel Coker resides in
My debut YA novel, Interrupted: Life BeyondWords, just came out in March! It’s been so exciting to watch this book grow from just an idea in my head, to some words typed out on my computer, to an actual book that I can hold in my hands and read! It’s a story that’s really close to my heart and one that I love talking about and sharing. Interrupted revolves around the life of Allie Everly, a teenager growing up in the 1940’s. From a very young age, Allie has to cope with caring for her terminally ill mother and dealing with the grief that surrounds her death. After her mother passes away, Allie is sent to live with an adopted mother half-way across the country! Interrupted is really just the story of how Allie goes from a grief-stricken, bitter and angry girl into a woman who realizes that she can open her heart to love and family, even if she’s not experiencing the life she had originally planned on. Her eyes are opened to the love that surrounds her, and she comes to realize that the best way to deal with pain and sadness is not to cling on to the past, but to embrace what God has given you in the present. It’s a very sweet story.
Well, my goal is not to be preachy or judgmental. While my books do have a Christian message, I always try to work it in as a part of that character’s story, not a five-point sermon. When the reader gets to a passage in one of my books where a character learns about God’s Word or comes to salvation, I’d love for that person to feel inspired and encouraged, not angry or hostile. The message of the Gospel is one of hope. We realize that even though we have rejected Christ and gone our own way, we are still offered the gift of salvation and peace. Many of my characters find joy and peace in Christianity, and that’s what I hope my readers will find as well!
It never even crossed my mind, to tell the truth! I was a fourteen year old kid (I can say that now, with all the wisdom of my sixteen years), and I was just writing because it’s what I loved to do. It wasn’t until I finished writing Interrupted that I started thinking about getting it published. But even then, it wasn’t as much of a life-long desire and out-of-reach goal, as much as it was the extremely mature approach of: I spent a lot of time working on this and I might as well try to get it published. When you’re fourteen, you’re kind of ignorant about how difficult that might be.
Once again, this sounds so immature and silly, but I literally just Googled “Christian literary agents” on my computer. I checked out a book from the library on how to write cover letters, and sent a short email to about a dozen different agents. I can honestly say that it was by God’s grace alone that I ever got published, because only one man was even interested in reading a book written by a teenager, and that’s the agent who I ended up signing my book with.
I think that my age was both a stumbling block and a catalyst to my entrance into the publishing world, if that makes any sense. So maybe you could say that my age tripped me on my face and then picked me and carried me across the finish line. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s definitely true! Publishers were wary about signing a minor because of not only the legal implications, but the risk of immaturity. It’s hard to focus on working and writing when you have all the stress of school, growing up, and basically trying to be a normal teenager. On the other hand, I think that Zondervan realized that my story would appeal to a lot of teenagers all over the world. We all fit into the same basic mold. We’re trying to grow up and make our voices known and gain the respect of adults, but we don’t want to lose our individuality. So I think that it’s encouraging for teens to hear about my story because it lets them know that they can still do what they love and be successful at it, no matter what their age.
I wrote my first fiction story in sixth grade. It was a short story for a school assignment, and oozed of melodrama and sentimentalism. But it had good bones, and I guess my mom saw the potential. So she hired a fiction writing tutor to help me learn how to write, and I worked with him for about a year. After seventh grade, I was on my own. I just wrote all the time and tried to develop my own style and voice.
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell; Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, and Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Kind of an eclectic mix, but I love them all.
Characters. Books should always be focused on characters first, story second. The first thing I always think of when I’m coming up with a new book idea is my main character. Is she quiet, funny, sweet? What kind of background does she come from? What are her hopes and dreams for the future? And then the story sort of centers around that. As my characters grow, the story moves along with them. Just like in real life. What’s important isn’t what’s going on in the world around us, it’s how those changes impact our personal lives and journeys.
Getting to know my characters. I like to call it “meeting new people”. When you take the characters-first approach, you really view the individuals who make up your book as real people. You know their hopes and dreams and fears and all their innermost parts. And you really grow to love them because of it. You cry when you have to put them through something embarrassing or painful, and you get giddy with excitement when you give them a really great moment. You care about them as if they were your real friends.
Yes, absolutely! I sign all of my books with the verse Galatians 6:14, which says, “But may it never be that I would boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” That’s a really special verse to me, because it reminds me where I come from. I love sharing my special story with people and inspiring them to achieve their own goals and dreams, but I always try to remember that everything I do is not a result of my own abilities or talents, but because of the grace of God in my life.