Posts Tagged ‘The Altamont School’

Rachel Wilson’s Debut YA Don’t Touch

Posted in The Writing Life on December 30th, 2014 by Lanier Isom – Be the first to comment


Debut author Rachel Wilson.

Debut author Rachel Wilson.

I first met Rachel Wilson when she was a student at The Altamont School where I was teaching at the time. When she graduated, she studied theater at Northwestern and received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Don’t Touch is her first novel, and her short story “The Game of Boys and Monsters” is now available as a digital short from HarperTeen Impulse. Originally from Alabama, she now writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, Illinois.

How did growing up in the South, in Birmingham, influence your choice to become a writer and your novel, Don’t Touch, in particular?

I’ve never thought much about that before, but the South is really proud of its literary tradition, and I’m sure some of that pride sneaked its way into my brain, the idea that being an author was special and that maybe there was something in the water giving southerners some extra literary leg up. I spent a lot of time reading outdoors as a kid—I was literally the dreamy kid who would climb a tree for the purpose of reading. As you know, I attended the Altamont School in Birmingham, which really fed my love of reading. Nothing makes me want to write like reading something excellent.

And as far as Don’t Touch in particular is concerned, setting it in Birmingham was a shortcut in some ways because I know that place so well, but even writing about a place you know well requires research. As I explored what makes Birmingham unique with an outsider’s point of view, some of its features—its place in the rust belt, Irondale’s train tracks, our hillsides covered in kudzu—all began to inform my story in a more metaphorical way.

What is your writing routine?

*laughs maniacally*

I wish I had a better writing routine, but mine shifts by the week depending on my schedule. I don’t write everyday, but I often write for stretches of days in a row when I’m in a groove. My preference is to write first thing in the morning before I’ve had a chance to get sucked into the real world, and on days when I have to be up too early to allow for that, I try to take a nap and trick myself into having a second morning in the afternoon.

securedownloadHow long did it take you to write and revise this novel, and how did you find an agent? 

It’s a tricky question because Don’t Touch came out of a ton of pre-writing. I wrote an entire other novel about a girl OCD. Some of the characters were the same, but the plot revolved around a manatee. I had about 30 pages when I went into grad school, wrote the rest, and then violently rewrote it over those two years. I revised it off and on for another couple years before actually trying to sell it, and then revised more with my editors after it sold.

I found my agent, Sara Crowe, through recommendations from friends. I met her at an alumni mini-residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she heard me read from my novel, and when I finally felt ready to submit the book, I reached out to her.

What inspired the idea behind Don’t Touch?

I had OCD as a kid and was still dealing with it in high school. My symptoms weren’t just like Caddie’s, but magical thinking was a big part of my experience—almost like a superstition that taking an action or failing to do it right will cause some horrible consequence. The acting and the fear of touch worked as great metaphors for the story I wanted to tell—it captures the fear of letting people see your strangeness.

Why did you choose to write a young adult novel? 

I think YA chose me. I find that a lot of authors who write for young people have had some formative experience during youth, and they tend to write to that age. I don’t know that I’ll always be drawn to YA, but the fear that I wanted to write about was at its height in that pressure cooker of high school, so that made sense for this story.

Who are some of your favorite YA authors?

Too many too count. I’m a big fan of Jaclyn Moriarty, Libba Bray, M.T. Anderson … my list is long.

Who did you read and love as a teenager?

As a preteen, I remember reading what YA we had then. I loved Christopher Pike and a series of books about young women who had fantasy jobs in the daytime as a cover for being international spies. By high school, I was eating up every reading assignment I was given—I remember falling all over myself about The Sound and the Fury and Beloved, and I loved when we read plays for class—lots of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. In my “free reading” time, I was really into Stephen King.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received? The worst?

Well, the best is a classic, that writing is rewriting or revision. It took me forever to get that through my head. I can be a perfectionist, and for a long time, I couldn’t allow myself to finish a rough and ugly draft.

The worst advice (for me) is the suggestion that you’re only a “real writer” if you write everyday and also that romantic idea that writing is supposed to be painful and hard. I’ve never been that kind of writer. I write because I love it. I make a point to work it into my life, but I don’t fret if I go a few days without writing. You can’t wait for inspiration forever, and there’s definitely something to be said for sitting down to write and seeing what happens, but I don’t think any kind of art-making should be approached like a forced march.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a kind of ghost story. It has a tone somewhat similar to my digital short with HarperTeen Impulse, The Game of Boys and Monsters. It’s not under contract, so who knows whether that will be my next book, but I’m into it.

WP Facebook Auto Publish Powered By :