Q&A With Rachel McRady
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Q&A With Rachel McRady
I have the pleasure of this latest Q&A with author Rachel McRady whose debut novel Sun Seekers comes out in January 2024.
Q: For the readers of the blog, would you please tell them a little about Sun Seekers and how you came up with the concept for the book? I read the synopsis and it sounds exciting!
A: Of course! So I’ve been writing fiction in my spare time since 2011, but I hadn’t ever tried to get anything published before Sun Seekers. When I moved abroad to live in London, England, in 2016, I was very isolated and lonely. I didn’t know anyone there, and I would finish work early in the afternoon while my husband wouldn’t get home until much later. I found that I called my grandfather, John Dozier, who was living in a nursing home back in Virginia almost every day. He had always been so loving and supportive to me, and that was a time period where we were probably the closest we’d ever been. He was suffering from dementia and some days he’d get angry or be particularly negative. One day, he said some very nasty things to me, things he never would have said before his diagnosis. And they hit at a time when I was feeling particularly fragile, so it really devastated me. I got off the call sobbing. I was feeling really nostalgic and remembering the happy childhood memories I’d had with my grandfather, when he was loving and doting, and not sick. And suddenly the idea of seeing this illness through the lens of a child popped into my head. Over the course of the next hour, I wrote a six-page short story about a little girl named Gracie, who helped her grandfather escape from his nursing home so they could have one final day together. In a way, I was writing out my own fantasy of a day I wished I could have with my grandfather, but knew I never would. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t necessarily intend for it to be a book. I just needed that release from how I’d been feeling, so I put it onto paper. I sent it to my mom, and she loved it, but I reasoned that she likely had some bias. So I sent it to a friend of mine, Brenda Janowitz, an author I’d met in a writing class and she told me that this was my book.
From there I spent the next six months or so fleshing out the story, adding in the perspectives of Gracie’s mother, LeeAnn, and her estranged father Dan. And that’s how Sun Seekers was born. Since then, the book has gone through many drafts and lots of tweaks, specifically at the beginning. It took me three years to find an agent, and, thanks to the pandemic and a variety of other factors, three more years to receive an offer. Along the way, so many people cited the child POV as the reason they didn’t want to sign on to the project. I try not to be too precious about my writing and am always open to edits and constructive criticism, but I knew that Gracie was the heart of the story and that having her voice in there was what made the book unique, so I refused to budge on that. And since the first reviewers have read it, they all unanimously seem to agree that Gracie is the best part of the book, so that’s made me very happy.
Q: When did you know that being an author was your calling? Who among your family and friends were your biggest supporters of your talent and goal?
A: I never really thought of it as a “calling.” I still have trouble acknowledging that I’m an author now, and I probably always will. I’m a full-time journalist and online writer, so I’ve always talked about that work openly, but writing fiction was something I kept pretty quiet. When I referenced it, I’d always say something like, “A project I’m working on,” never, “I’m writing a novel.” It’s so hard to feel legitimate when you’re faced with so much rejection, so I always try to feel grateful for the simple fact that I do have a novel that is being published that real readers will (and already have) get to consume. That concept alone is absolutely wild to me.
I did, however, let in a few friends to the process early on. One of my best friends, Mary Claire Williams, is the world’s fastest reader, so she’s the perfect person to read almost all of my drafts. She’s one of those people who is fiercely opinionated, and we have both mutual and differing interests, so she offers great edits that both pump me up and also let me know when things aren’t working.
As I mentioned before, Brenda Janowitz, who is the author of wonderful books like The Audrey Hepburn Estate and The Grace Kelly Dress, has been a close friend and mentor to me since 2015. She is such a good example of women supporting women. She had absolutely no reason to give me the time of day when we met, but she always encouraged me and always believed I would get published one day, which is still baffling to me. She also put me in touch with my agent, Liza Fleissig, and I very much credit her with helping to get this book published. Liza never stopped believing in me and my abilities, and I’m so grateful to her for that.
In my early life, my mom remained my biggest cheerleader. Before I could actually write or type, she used to type out stories I dictated to her on an ancient PC in the ’90s. Though I can’t stand to take her edits (I literally hide my face inside the hood of a sweatshirt to this day), I really appreciate how supportive she’s always been. Now that I can properly type, she comes over to my house to watch my daughters so I can get some time to write after finishing a full day of work. She never makes me feel bad about it, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
My dad has been a writer for my entire life as well and watching him focus so much on his craft was probably my first indication that writing was something a person could do.
And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a supportive partner like my husband, Caleb. From the moment we met as teenagers, he has always believed in my writing. He’s taken it seriously, encouraged me to continue, and held me when I cried after the one millionth rejection. He also constantly tells me not to be so self-deprecating and to own the fact that I’m going to be a published author, something I often struggle with.
Q: Are you currently writing your second book right now? If so, is it a sequel to Sun Seekers, or is it a standalone book?
A: I’m currently writing my third book, actually. The second book I wrote is (thus far) my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and completely different from Sun Seekers. It’s an adult adventure tale that goes all through the United Kingdom, where I lived for three years. Growing up, I was an obsessive fan of the Harry Potter series, like any other kid from the ’90s, so this book explores fandom and how a book series can impact people from all different walks of life. I’ve received some really positive feedback about it, and I hope to find it a home soon. My current work in progress explores adult female friendships. I’ve never been big into the romance genre, but friendships have always felt like a richer topic to explore to me than romantic love. I’m about two-thirds of the way done with this one, and it’s taught me so much about the writing process already.
I have no current plans for a sequel to Sun Seekers. I’ve always seen that book as its own standalone, but I could see a story in which Gracie is grown up and maybe struggling to help her own mother navigate aging. As I’ve gotten older and become a mother myself, seeing the changing dynamics between parent and child as we age has become of great interest to me.
Q: Where is your favorite spot to plot, write and edit your work? What is your plotting process like?
A: These days it’s in my office at home. I work from home and between my full-time job and parenting my two young daughters, I have to grab scraps of free time to write whenever I can, so I’m less adventurous than I used to be about where I write. I wrote about the majority of Sun Seekers in London, in local cafes and pubs, mostly to get out of the house and interact with humanity. I recently returned from a family vacation at the beach where I woke up each morning to watch the sunrise and wrote during that time and wish I could always do that.
In terms of plotting, I tend to know how my books will begin and end and find the middle to be the most challenging part. For example, I am currently working on a scene that I know has to end with two characters having a difficult conversation about what led to the end of their friendship. I always want to jump right to that conversation, but I know that’s not realistic, so I’m having to figure out how to flesh out the scene a bit more and work my characters up to that point. I almost always write chronologically and in the order I intend the book to go, even if I switch from POV to POV.
Readers can preorder The Sun Seekers on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon and can request a copy from Netgalley. Rachel is also active on Tiktok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook & Threads. Below are the links to her social media accounts.