Categorized | Interviews

Interview with NYT Bestselling Author Rachel Caine

Posted on March 13, 2020 by Flames

Today, is thrilled to present an interview with NYT-bestselling author and all around wonderful human being Rachel Caine. Here, on the heels of two new releases, Flames Rising veteran Monica Valentinelli sits down to talk about writing processes and the author’s many books.

The name “Rachel Caine” has graced dozens of best-selling novel covers. With over fifty books in multiple genres for teen and adult audiences, we have to ask: What does a typical day look like for you? And, how do you keep writing such amazing books?

Well…to be honest, my typical day now is not my typical day a year ago. So I’ll tell you first what it was a year ago!

Generally, I liked to get up at about 5 am, shower and dress, make coffee, and hit the words. I usually wrote pretty steadily from about 5:30 to noon (with 15 minute breaks every two hours), then took a long break and answered emails, did social media, etc. Sometimes I did it at my house, sometimes in a coffee shop, sometimes sitting in a waiting room for car repair, etc. Just wherever I was, I wrote. (Headphones help.)

Normally my afternoons were reserved for errands, lunch, time with my husband, friends, etc. Then I’d reply to more emails in the evening while watching TV with him.

BUT, a year ago I was also doing a heck of a lot of appearances and travel—about once a month I was on the road for something. So I had to discipline myself to keep the same schedule on the road, too, whenever possible.

Now…it’s just different. I was diagnosed in 2019 with an aggressive, rare cancer called soft tissue sarcoma, and that upended my whole life. By September 2019 I was in very harsh and aggressive chemotherapy (ask me about my experience with Red Devil plus Ifosfamide!), followed by emergency surgery to remove about 5 lbs of muscle and tissue from my left side torso. Then recovery, including extensive physical therapy to learn how to lift my left arm again.

I’d like to say I’m out from under it, but…I’m not. My sarcoma only paused for about a month after all that effort, then came right back, more aggressive than ever. Because it’s so tenacious, we’re trying to find a cutting-edge drug solution of PARP inhibitors and immunotherapy infusions to slow it down or stop it completely before we try another surgery.

So while I’m working again, you can say there’s a lot weighing on me at the moment, and writing is slower than before, and more difficult. I can’t get up at 5 am anymore; I absolutely need at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep to let my body continue to fight. I’m not traveling anymore or doing personal appearances because of the risk to my health from a suppressed immune system. My whole life is different, and trying to bring order to this mental and physical and emotional chaos is … challenging.

But I’m up and working daily, even if the work isn’t coming as fast as I’d like.

Just to be clear: I really am okay for now. I’ve got great doctors, a good plan, a last-ditch surgical effort if the PARP inhibitor program fails. I don’t know if I’ll ultimately be victorious; the odds are cloudy, to be sure. But I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t stubborn as hell.

Of all the genres you’ve written in, which one is your favorite and why? Do your personal preferences ever change?

Oooh, I love them all (or I wouldn’t write them!) but I have to say that YA will always have a special joy for me. I love thriller for the intellectual and emotional challenge, but YA is just pure fun.

You have a new book coming out called Honor Lost that you co-wrote with another stellar author, Ann Aguirre. Can you tell us about it? Is it part of a series or a stand-alone book?

Honor Lost is the last in a 3-book series we’ve written together, and we’ve had SUCH a good time with it! Funny story…this all started on Twitter.

I had an idea that I’d noodled around with but never made much progress on; it was a partially completed synopsis for a book I wanted to write, but I hadn’t figured it out completely.

Then one day on Twitter, Ann Aguirre (whom I’ve known for years, in both Urban Fantasy and YA) wrote that she wanted to write an action/adventure love story about a girl in love with a spaceship … and I was *shocked* because that was my synopsis! So I immediately emailed her, and she said, “Oh, well, you’re already writing it, so go ahead,” and I asked if I could send her the synopsis and see what she thought. She kindly agreed, and loved the idea, and I asked her if she wanted to write it together. We just clicked! We agreed on everything about the series, including the diversity of characters and an unconventional kind of relationship.

So we set aside time to write the first 3 chapters together in a Google doc; it took less than a week to finish and get it to our agents. We wrote the whole first book in about a month. It was SO fun!

If you’re a fan of sweet romance and space opera and interesting, non-traditional relationships, this is the book for you. Sentient space whales and a galactic ecosystem that runs on music! The first book is Honor Among Thieves, then Honor Bound, and finally Honor Lost.

A lot of authors write books for Young Adults. What is it about this audience that excites you as a storyteller?

There’s a pure joy in telling stories for this audience for me. There’s no audience so passionate in their love for a story, for one thing, and the amount of love and excitement I get back from young adults is so wonderful.

And as rewarding as it is to write for adults…there’s also no honor like being someone’s first well-loved book. All the awards in the world can’t substitute for that.

How does your writing process change when you tell stories like Honor Lost with another author?

Honestly, it gets easier! Ann and I work really well together—so well it’s almost scary. We don’t separate the writing up by chapters or characters, we just jump in and write as we can, and it’s just such fun to log in and find that your writing partner has upped the ante on you. If I run into trouble (as I did, last year, see my first response!) then Ann helps me take up the slack, which makes me feel a lot less alone and pressured. But ultimately, because we have the same vision and the same feeling for the book, we’re in sync the whole way.

You’ve also got a new adult thriller out called Bitter Falls. What can we expect to fear in this novel?

So, Bitter Falls is the fourth in this thriller series (Stillhouse Lake). In it, Gwen Proctor is the ex-wife of a serial killer determined to protect herself and her family from all the threats coming at them, whether that’s from the grieving relatives of her ex’s victims, Internet armchair detectives, or very real stalkers.

In Bitter Falls, Gwen’s search for a missing young man leads her into an ever-increasing darkness where no one is who they seem, and exposes her children and lover Sam Cade to more danger than they’ve ever faced before. There’s a remote lake, in particular, that I found very frightening!

A lot of writers talk about how storytelling has changed in the past twenty-or-thirty years. Are there narrative techniques you explore for audiences now that you wouldn’t have when you first started?

Hmm. Great question, but I’m not sure how to separate craft from culture on this one. I started out writing third person point of view; I switched to first person on some projects where I felt it was appropriate. I’ve always written more with a focus on action than on elegant prose, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a technique.

I guess the biggest departure, stylistically, are my thrillers, which I write first person, present tense (everything else I’ve written has been either third or first person, past tense). That was a very deliberate choice, in that I didn’t want the reader to have that underlying sense of security that past tense imparts—after all, if it’s in first person, the narrator must have survived to tell the story in past tense (normally). So I felt it really brought an immediacy and tension to Gwen’s story that I loved.

I don’t know if that’s a change in overall narrative writing, though; it seems more of a craft development for me, personally. I do think the speed of storytelling has changed pretty dramatically, though. We live in a media-influenced world, and storytelling can’t be nearly as leisurely paced now as it was fifty years ago without alienating a lot of readers.

How important is research to your storytelling? Do you find that changes from book to book?

Absolutely! I need research of some kind on every book I do (I don’t even want to confess how many True Crime documentaries I’ve watched and books I’ve read on serial killers for these thrillers) but it does vary a lot. For instance: my Great Library Series in YA (which starts with Ash and Quill). That’s an alternate history story in which the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed. Going into the research, all I knew was that there was a library, it was huge, and somehow it burned.

But the research really shaped that book completely, because “library” is kind of a misnomer … it wasn’t a public library as we think of it today. More of a storehouse of political and intellectual power, controlled directly by the Pharaoh of Egypt. Built from intimidation and outright theft (because, after all, manuscripts were handwritten and rare and expensive). Only select few could use the Great Library in full; most scholars were restricted to specific areas of study. And the general public couldn’t enter at all. Censorship was a matter of course. So was bribery and corruption.

So…if you build a world where that remains the norm, that politics and knowledge are completely intertwined, that knowledge really is power in a very real sense…you get a very different kind of world than what we have now.

Research is cool.

Since you’ve written several series, including Morganville, Athena Force, and Revivalist, do you find yourself automatically plotting series even when you’re focusing on one book? Why or why not?

I do write stand-alone novels like Prince of Shadows, but I find I really gravitate to writing series. They can be as short as two books (Red Letter Days) or as long as the Morganville Vampires Series (15 books) but I love exploring and developing characters. That’s harder to do in a single book. But I don’t automatically plot them that way. Generally, if I’m proposing a series book, I do it in increments of three, so there are usually mini-arcs through three books at a time.

The exception is the Stillhouse Lake series, which I initially meant to be a stand-alone, but changed my mind in the writing to be a two-book series, and then I just kept expanding (and, luckily, my publisher was very happy with that). So now I’m working on book five (Heartbreak Bay) and plan to do six.

If you could recommend one book you’ve written to help new readers get to know you, which one would it be and why?

It so depends on the reader! I’d say, broadly, that if they love fun action/adventure, try the first book of the Morganville Vampires series—Glass Houses. If they like action/adventure with a sexier twist, try Ill Wind, the first book of my Weather Warden series. If sprawling epics with immersive worlds, how about Ink and Bone, the first book of the Great Library series, or Honor Among Thieves from the Honors series. And finally, if horror adventure is your jam, try Working Stiff from the Revivalist series, or Devil’s Bargain from Red Letter Days! Thrillers? Stillhouse Lake.

With all these novels, do you find it more challenging to pen short stories for anthologies like Unbound and Hex Appeal?

No, I really enjoy doing short fiction! I especially love doing stories for themed anthologies. I find short fiction is something of a palate cleanser for me, and I like short form a lot.

I’m sure all your fans are dying to know: pick three of your favorite protagonists. Which one would win in a battle of wits? A straight-up fight?

Oooh, good question! Never bet against Gwen Proctor in a straight-up fight (from the Stillhouse Lake series). Claire Danvers from the Morganville Vampires series can think her way out of a problem and fight. Finally, Jess from The Great Library has a special place in my heart because he’s as tenacious and committed as they come. I wouldn’t bet against any of them, actually.

Vampires, witches, or zombies?

Why choose? I’ve written them all! 🙂

If you could go anywhere in the world for a fabulous, all-expenses paid writing retreat, where would you go? Why?

I’d love to go back to the UK for my writing retreat, to London. I feel very at home there, and I really love the energy of the city. Though Barcelona, Spain is a close second!

What’s the best way for fans to keep up with you, your work, and new announcements?

Join my mailing list at my website (bottom of the home page) for updates and new releases at! Also, follow me on Twitter @rachelcaine, and like my Facebook fan page, and we’re also on Instagram @rachelcaine.

Interested in Rachel Caine’s books? Visit your favorite bookseller or library and lose yourself in adventure.

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