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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Interview With Teen Novelist, Rachel Coker

Rachel Coker resides in Lanexa, Virginia with her parents, who’ve homeschooled her since she was a child, and two sisters. She has a passion for great books, and has been surrounded by them all her life. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven, at which time her parents, who owned a Christian bookstore,  signed her up for a year of lessons with a professional writing coach. Rachel also has a deep love for classical music and old black-and-white movies. When she is not writing or playing the piano, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and friends and serving God.


Rachel, I'm so happy you've found the time to do an interview here. I've been eager to find out a little about you and your work. Tell me about your recent release.

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.

Ah, yes, we are often so busy weeping about the past or waiting for the future that we fail to live in the present. What is your goal when you put Christian messages into your novels?

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!

When you started did you think you'd get the book published?

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.

But with God all things are possible! And it helps to have an agent. How did you find yours?

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.

Smart man. OK the question we all want answered…how in the world did you find a publisher? It's pretty incredible for a sixteen-year-old girl to be published. You are a great writer, but did you have to fight to be read? Do you think it was harder for publishers to take you seriously because of your age, or do you think your age helped you because you're unique?

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.

But they probably won't all be published quite as quickly as you've been. It's not easy to get published. I think you put a lot of work into this. You say you were fourteen when you started this book (I hope your parents eased some of the stress by letting you work on the book as part of your schooling!), but most authors don't get the first thing they write published. Did you write other things before you wrote Interrupted?

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.

What are your three favorite novels?

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.

What do you think is most important--conflict, characters, or voice? What should we work on first, or can they not be separated?

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.

What is your favorite part of writing novels?

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.

Ha! I remember the first time I had characters kiss and call each other silly pet names. I was embarrassed for them. I thought, "If they knew we were all watching them, they wouldn't be acting this way. They think they're alone." I felt bad for not giving them privacy.

OK, last question: Do you have a life verse or a Bible passage that shows the direction you want to go with your writing?

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.

Wonderful reminder! Thanks so much for answering my questions. I appreciate your time and I'm going to be watching your career expecting great things. It's wonderful to see young people committed to serving Christ through writing and committed to serving their readers by presenting Christ in a winsome manner. 

 is the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, Georgia. She has published short works in a number of places and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She can usually be found blogging about young adult novels at


  1. Interesting to learn about Rachel's journey to publication. Thank you for bringing us the interview, Sally.

    I love the humility and acknowledgment of God's hand in these events. He called Samuel as a boy and used Daniel from his teenage years on through his life as an older adult. God is simply not limited by the things we so often think ought to be barriers.

    Numbers didn't foil Gideon's army. Stature and experience didn't trip up young David. Blindness didn't stop Elisha. God is God, and He will do what will bring recognition to His good name. Our job is to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light."


  2. Thanks, Becky. Yes, God is often pleased to use people who are too young (or too old. yay!) in the sight of the world, to do his work. I'm always excited when I see young people committed to serving God.

  3. Thanks for this interview, Sally. I'm encouraged by it because God didn't call me to write until I was 47 years old. It's been four years now and I have some magazine articles published, a solid blog of devotional posts, and two manuscripts searching for a publisher and/or agent. No one is more surprised than I am about my writing. It's great to hear of God using people no matter what their age.
    I know (with God's backing) Rachel will go far in reaching people for the kingdom. To God be the glory!

  4. Great, Wade. Just think of the life experience you can bring to your writing, now that you've lived several decades. God calls us and he equips us. I'm glad you're encouraged. Thanks for letting me know. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Sally, it's so encouraging to me to see teen writers. Good for you, Rachel!!

  6. How inspiring! Rachel is one of God's annointed. What a blessing her writing will be to teens. Thanks for a fab interview with a lovely young woman.

  7. Congratulations, Rachel!! You are an inspiration!!

  8. Wow, Rachel, I'm so excited to read about you and your success! I edit a magazine for kids by kids, so I'm always looking for young writers. Would also like to talk to you about doing a review of your book. If you see this, contact me at Thanks!


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