Rachel Ann Nunes
What was the first story you ever wrote?
The first book I ever wrote was a science fiction novel called The Stone Holders. It first had about 50,000 words but grew to over 120,000. Then I wrote a nonfiction story about my mission. Both of these are unpublished.
These were followed by a book called In Your Place, which I call my “Saturday’s Warrior novel,” because Saturday’s Warrior was popular when I was growing up and it inspired the book. Eventually, In Your Place was published, faults and all, but only after I had a dozen other novels published. The next book I wrote was Ariana: The Making of a Queen, which was the first of my novels that was actually published.
Tell us the story behind publishing Ariana: The Making of a Queen.
The idea for Ariana: The Making of a Queen was inspired by a fellow sister missionary I met while I was serving in Portugal. I didn’t know much of her personal story, but what I heard inspired me when I eventually began to write. Ariana is in no way her story, of course, but the real-life events were definitely pivotal in pointing my imagination in the right direction. Other experiences on my mission, like teaching and working with members, were also necessary to writing that book, as was living in a foreign setting for so long.
In addition, my father was a college French professor for most of my growing up years, and my entire family went on a BYU study abroad to France for six months when I was eleven. In France I had personal experiences with my siblings that I put in my book, especially the scenes with Ariana and her brother wandering around Paris. My stay in France was where my love for languages and traveling began.
Tell us about Imprints, your newest book. What made you decide to write a story about the paranormal?
I cut my teeth on science fiction and fantasy. I remember when I was eleven reading one story that fascinated me long after I finished it. I wished there was a sequel, or at least that I could find the novel again at the bookmobile in Highland, Utah, where I lived.
I never did, but it was about then that I decided to become an author and write the book I wanted to read myself. That eventually became The Stone Holders, the first book I ever wrote but never published. At some point, I became aware of the few LDS novels being published, and after reading them, I decided to write some of my own. It’s been so successful that it was easy and fun to continue. Eventually, my love for sci-fi and fantasy, especially in a contemporary setting, resurfaced. As I read avidly in the national market, I realized there were no clean contemporary sci-fi and fantasy novels for adults, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to write something that gave people, especially our young people, a good read without having to skip pages due to content.
So I wrote Imprints, and Shadow Mountain (Deseret Book’s national imprint) took the plunge to publish it. I’m grateful for the chance they gave me to take Imprints to my readers and hope they’ll be open to similar books.
However, I should add that not every member of the Church believes these sci-fi/fantasy or “paranormal” books should be carried by Deseret Book. I argue vehemently that they need to be carried there. In fact, I wrote an open letter to readers outlining why I feel so strongly. You can see that letter on the blog for the Association for Mormon Letters.
Which book has been the most difficult to write? Which has been your favorite?
The most difficult book to write for me was A Heartbeat Away. As a mother, the idea of having my child kidnapped often kept me up during the long five months it took me to finish that novel.
The book that’s my favorite so far is always the current novel I’m working on. It’s going to be the best! Then I finish my baby, send it off to school, and start on my new best favorite. I’m fickle that way.
What projects do you have in the works?
I’m working on the sequel to Imprints, which is for the LDS audience but contains no overt LDS elements, as well as an LDS novel that came to me recently out of the blue. I’m really excited about both.
Describe a typical day. How do you manage to write while running a household of six children?
My typical day is busy. I’m always working or writing or doing something for the children. We get up at seven, get them scriptured, fed, and off to school, and then I head to the computer.
Since my youngest started first grade, I sometimes exercise first because it lifts my spirits and helps my brain create. I have to make a word goal and stick to it. Otherwise, I find myself answering fan mail, taking care of the business aspects, working on something for LDStorymakers, cleaning my desk—you get the picture. Which is odd because once I start writing, I usually want to write forever.
I work until I have to pick up the kids (a forty-minute drive), though many days I have a lot of interruptions from my teens or the younger kids forgetting something at school. I have to prepare lessons, run errands, take care of our endless remodeling projects, etc. It’s often difficult to make my goal. After the children are home, we work on homework, Scouts, dinner, getting the kids to bed. Some days we have time for swimming or a game, and some days I have to leave to speak somewhere (which I’ve had to limit to keep things running smoothly). It’s really crazy.
What is your writing process like?
Usually I get an idea long before I finish the previous novel. I mull it over in my mind, explore different opening scenes, and figure out the general direction I want the novel to go. When I begin writing, I just sit down and begin. I have a goal of 2,000 words a day for first drafts.
Do you outline?
I don’t outline. The only book I ever completely outlined, I ended up not writing.
I know where I’m going to begin each book, a few scenes in between, and generally how I want it to end, but for me the joy of writing is discovering where my characters will take me.
I do make little notes at the bottom of the screen about things I want to include, or at the top of the screen if it’s something earlier in the manuscript that I need to remember to add on the rewrite, but that’s as far as I go with planning. When the notes are all gone, I’m basically finished with the book.
What role does your family play in your writing?
My older daughters are my first readers, and they’re helpful.
My husband maintains my website, and he and my middle daughter often listen to me and ask questions as I talk about my current book. This helps me see any holes in my stories.
How has your writing evolved over the years?
I used to write very LDS, conversion-type stories, but as I matured, I found my tastes moving toward more common experiences for LDS women. I wanted to show strong women or women who became strong through their trials, because that is how I see women of the Church.
I am also firmly converted to the gospel, and sometimes I feel LDS authors preach too overtly in their books. I know I’ve done this myself, but I feel the most powerful messages come more from example than preaching. I find myself wanting to extend my readership to LDS people who don’t ordinarily choose LDS books because of that preaching aspect, and to good people who aren’t LDS. Themes and values can be just as strong in these types of novel. That’s not to say I won’t be writing LDS characters. I definitely will.
Which genre do you usually read?
I normally read contemporary national women’s novels, including general fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, science fiction, some contemporary urban fantasy, and paranormal. I also read a lot of youth and young adult novels with my children, but these are more fantasy because I really don’t enjoy books that take place in a high school setting.
I read primarily in the national market to keep my skills sharp and to make sure I’m always improving. I try new authors all the time, seeking to learn something from each of them. I don’t recommend these authors in a general manner, though, because too often I have to carefully pick and choose their novels. Far too often, I won’t even finish them because of the content, the grammar, or storyline. Life is too short to read something I’m not enjoying.
So far you’ve published about thirty books—including two award-winning picture books—each with different and distinct characters. Has it been difficult to keep them separate from one another?
It’s as easy to keep them distinct in my mind as it is to differentiate one neighbor from another. In fact, sometimes they are more real to me than my neighbors because I know them better. I also keep detailed character pages for each novel, which helps a great deal when writing sequels.
How do you come up with names of books and characters?
For character names, I look on baby name sites on the Internet or in the phone book. Sometimes I mix and match names of people I know, and sometimes I just make them up.
Titles are more difficult. Half the time they come to me with the first few scenes of a book, and the rest of the time they don’t. Then I simply give them a throwaway working title that may change several times as I write the book. After I finish the manuscript, I peruse Internet book sites for ideas, ask my writer friends for suggestions, or even post on Facebook. Without fail someone eventually throws out a title that I like, usually a twist on my working title. Occasionally, the working title feels right by the end of the book, so that’s how I submit it. Several times my publisher has asked me to adjust a title for one reason or another, but Shadow Mountain and Deseret Book are very good at letting me have input so that I feel the title is exactly right for the book.
What would you tell writers who are trying to get published?
Read, read, read. Study writing books, take classes on writing and other subjects, attend writing conferences, write and let people read it. Read, read, and read some more. Never, ever give up. It’s hard to become published, but those who learn the craft and persevere will make it.
What role do public speaking and self-marketing play for an author? What advice do you have for aspiring authors where these are concerned?
I believe that public speaking and self-marketing are vital, especially for new authors. Publishers are more and more depending on authors to do the footwork. Every little thing you do helps.
At the same time, you don’t want to be so involved in marketing that you lose the magic of writing or use time that you should be with your family. It’s a balance each author individually must decide for his or herself. To be successful, you must pay the price, but you decide how much to pay and that determines how long it will take to get there.
Tell us about creating the LDStorymakers group.
In creating LDStorymakers, I wanted a group that could offer support, help, and advice to published authors in any situation, as well as raise the quality of LDS genre fiction. I feel we have succeeded in doing these very well, though there is always room for improvement, especially in the quality of fiction.
I also hoped that we would become a powerful enough group that we could influence publishers with unfair contracts to adjust them to better help authors, as author guilds do nationally. We aren’t quite there yet. Though there seems to be a change in certain publishers, this may be related more to ownership and policy changes than anything else.
How do you become a member of LDStorymakers?
The full guidelines are posted at LDStorymakers.com, but essentially you have to have be LDS in good standing (of which you are the judge), have published a book with a traditional publisher within the past three years, and can have in no way contributed financially to the publishing of the book (vanity publishing, etc.). You fill out the membership form on the website and pay your dues, and you become a member.
Tell us about the LDStorymakers annual conference.
We’ve held an annual conference every year since 2004 to help current and aspiring authors improve their craft. It’s grown a great deal in the past seven years, and it has become a very valuable conference, offering a wide range of classes.
To attend, you simply visit LDStorymakers.com and sign up. We usually have the next year’s conference classes up by the first of the year. We draw upon Storymakers, other published authors, local and national editors, and national agents for our presenters.
How does being a member of the Church influence your writing?
Even when dealing with difficult scenes, I think about the long-term effects of choices my characters make, and that is likely part of my LDS upbringing. Many times when I read books, the consequences for actions don’t exist or don’t to the degree I feel they should.
Adultery, for instance, isn’t as painless as it appears in some fiction. People have a harder time forgiving. As a member of the Church, I have very solid views on what is right and what is wrong. There is less gray, and that is reflected in my work.
At the same time, I worry that in LDS fiction we aren’t yet showing what is out there in our neighborhoods. We have a tendency to gloss over some of the more difficult aspects of certain issues. I have to struggle against that when I write because I believe if we show the reality, or close to it, we will ultimately do our readers a favor. LDS authors as a group are making good headway on this, but we still have a long way to go.
Have you ever felt an impression to write a certain story?
Several times I’ve felt inspired to write a certain story. These include Ariana: The Making of a Queen, To Love and To Promise, A Heartbeat Away, Fields of Home, Saving Madeline, Imprints, and my picture book Daughter of a King. I’d go so far to say that in most of my stories there is at least one scene I’ve put in for no solid reason except that it had to be there. Sometimes I believe the inspiration was for me to learn something that would be helpful for myself or for others I meet. At other times, it was for certain readers (judging by the letters I received), and at other times it was to offer a better solution than what is available in the national market.
What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
Authors often talk about their deeper purposes, but I have the same goal now as when I began writing. I want people to be able to immerse themselves in my work, to be entertained, and uplifted. I want to give readers a glimpse into new worlds, show them new ideas, and maybe along the way lighten their burdens in some way. ❧