*This interview first appeared in SLO NightWriters Newsletter
Rachael Herron is the author of four novels in the Cypress Hollow series, and a memoir Wishes and Stitches. Rachael lives with her better half in Oakland, California, where they have four cats, three dogs, three spinning wheels, and more instruments than they can count. She has an MFA from Mills College, and she is a proud member of the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America. She is struggling to learn accordion and can probably play along on ukulele.
I met Rachael last September at the Central Coast Writers' Conference. Out of the four classes I took, hers was the most memorable, mainly thanks to her vibrant personality. Her enthusiasm was sincere and infectious and left a lasting impression. When I asked to interview her, she agreed without hesitation. Rachael is originally a Central Coast girl - she graduated from Arroyo Grande High School and got her undergrad degree at Cal Poly.
You have been knitting and writing since you were a little girl. Do these two hobbies always get along, or do they sometimes quarrel? How do they complement each other?
They complement each other incredibly well, actually. From knitting I learned that small actions, repeated over time, add up into something tangible. Knit a few rows every day and before you know it, you have a whole sweater. In the same way, write every day and soon enough, the novel is sitting in front of you. It never feels like you're making forward progress until you're almost at the end of the piece, and then you tear along at breakneck speed, barreling downhill to the finish line (whether that's joining a final seam or writing The End).
Your Mom taught you how to knit. She also pointed you to Elizabeth Zimmerman's book Knitting Without Tears. In your books from the Cypress Hollow series, each chapter starts with a quotation from a fictional knitting guru, Eliza Carpenter. I suspect the name is probably not coincidental. Are you the source of all the quotes?
Good eye, you. It's possible that Zimmerman means carpenter in German. Ahem. I love Elizabeth Zimmerman, and her writing voice has influenced me in many ways. She is my knitting idol, for sure, and Eliza is a partial tribute to her, but Eliza herself has become an idol for me, even though I invented her. It's a strange thing. All the quotes are mine and mine alone, though sometimes I wonder, when editing them, how they came from my fingers, because Eliza is smarter than I'll ever be.
I have come across the term "knit-chick lit". It almost sounds like a secret club or a spy agency with ninja knitters who use their needles to fight evil. Do knitting and romance come hand in hand?
I love the ninja idea! Knit one, take that. I wrote a combination of knitting and romance because I was approaching NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time, and knew I had to write something fun if I was going to write a novel in a month. What did I love? Love. And knitting. So I mashed them up. And in the process of writing faster than I'd ever written before, I also wrote better than I ever had. It was eye-opening and incredibly exciting. That ended up being the book I rewrote, polished, and used to find my agent, who got me my first book deal.
In your book How To Knit a Heart Back Home, your main female character likes to compare people to books. What genre do you see yourself as?
Oooh! I think I'd be light magical realism, Sarah Addison Allen-esque. Romantic, mostly real, with just a dusting of the fantastic.
You work full time as a 911 dispatcher. That sounds like an exhausting job to have. How do you find the time to write?
Yep, I average about 60 hours a week at my day job (which is an all-hours job, actually). But it works for me. I don't have kids, so I don't have to work around anything other than my pets which are usually on my table or under my desk. I work very long hours (my shifts at the fire house can be up to 72 hours long), but I have three or four days off a week because of those long hours, so I have plenty of time to write on my days off. I write first thing in the morning (usually at my favorite cafe) until I pound out my word count. Then, in my best-case scenario, I have the afternoon off for dog walks, lunches with writing pals, naps… It doesn't always work out that way but it's great when it does.
One of the reviews for How To Knit a Love Song calls your writing too intimate and too graphic. Frankly, I would consider that a compliment. With that said - how do you handle negative reviews?
Oh, that's a tough one, isn't it? I've been lucky enough to have great reviews in prestigious places. But my very first review was a mediocre one in Publisher's Weekly (I believe the word derivative was thrown about), and I was crushed. I think I cried for three days. A few writer friends kept me off the ledge and poured whiskey down my gullet until I stopped crying (very essential -- those trusted writer friends), and then I started to get over it. For the first book, each single negative review was painful. And could I stop looking? No way.
Do you have any advice for novice writers on how to best deal with criticism?
My advice is to know what you're capable of. If you're thick-skinned, read all the reviews. If you're thin-skinned and it will affect your writing to read bad reviews, enlist a friend to watch Google Alerts and do your best to stay away from Amazon and GoodReads. I can honestly say now that reviews don't phase me, good or bad. In fact, the one-star reviews usually end up making me laugh. I've been accused (for the same book) of being too sexually graphic and not explicit enough. I write too much about knitting, and not nearly enough. For my memoir, I've had people blast me for talking too much about myself and for keeping too much back. The important part: I get fan mail every day. Every damn day. This floors me and humbles me and makes me feel very grateful to my readers. I write for them, not for reviews. In the end, my goal is not to change the world, but to write a book that will distract a person who is waiting, worried, in a hospital. When I got the first email that said, you made my frightening time in the hospital bearable, I knew it was all worth it.
I know you love traveling and one of your favorite places in the world is Venice. Have you ever thought of sending one of your Cypress Hollow characters to Italy to knit and find love?
YES! I have! I'm actually working on completing a short story right now in which one of my couples goes on a dream trip to Venice and finds something completely unexpected. It's been a blast to write, and I hope I convey my love of that city successfully in it.
For more information about Rachael Herron and her writing, please visit her web-site http://www.yarnagogo.com/.