It's time for our weekly chat about books and the writing life. Our guest today is Rachael Kosinski, the author of our featured book, The Christmas Lights.
Welcome, Rachael! How do you take your coffee?
RACHAEL: As dark as I can find, with just milk or maybe with creamer. It has to be strong. I’m a college student, so it’s really all about what’s on hand. I have enough money for Starbucks? Awesome! Hand me something complicated. But usually I make it in my dorm, in a white tin mug with the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” emblazoned across the front in red. It looks small but actually holds about three cups.
Ally: My magic pot will have no problem with that request. Besides being a student, tell us something about yourself.
Something unique not in my bio? I am extremely uncoordinated: there’s a scar on my knee from when I tripped over a puddle and sliced up my jeans, I stumbled over a shadow once because I thought it was my dog…if you can picture someone falling shamefully, that’s me. J
She can found playing with gifs or writing about her books at http://the-doodling-booktease.tumblr.com OR email her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Also she has an Instagram: rachael4elizabeth.
RACHAEL: All the stories I’ve written have had some kind of adventure involved. In The Christmas Lights, Louis has to travel all across Europe and figure out how to make enough money to please Emmy’s father. There’s a ticking clock somewhere and various objectives to achieve. However, there’s always some sort of relationship happening in the background. Louis is only running around Europe because he loves Emmy so much he can’t bear the thought of not being with her. If their love wasn’t so strong, he might just say, “Eh, I don’t need to marry her that badly.” But the thought doesn’t even cross his mind. I like books where there is a romance, but it’s not the sole focus. I guess that’s kind of the way I write. People have friendships tested or strengthened, people get together; but it’s not the only thing happening. I just can’t keep my attention when the sole thing going on in a story is, “Oh, does he/she love me?”
Ally: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
RACHAEL: I’m going to be really corny and say right where I am now. Well, not exactly where I am; I don’t want to live in a dorm for the rest of my life. I mean near my family. That might mean New York City, it might mean Boston—but definitely the East Coast of the US. I’m nineteen and I FaceTime my family every night to talk to them. On the other hand, I’m also dying of wanderlust. Paris, London, Dublin—they’re all on the wish list. I want to go all over the world, but I don’t want to live permanently anywhere else.
Ally: After the first draft, how much revision do you do before it goes to your editor? Do you have specific things you look for in self-editing?
RACHAEL: Hmm. Well, it depends on the book. The Christmas Lights is a novella, so it’s like a novel but half the size, which means less stuff to sift through. It was originally just a 2012 Christmas gift for my mom, and last Christmas I submitted it to a few publishers on a whim. In that case, I wrote it within four weeks and the super original copy—the printed one tied up with red ribbon that my mom has on her dresser—has a few spelling typos. When I got my first round of edits back from Nicole Zoltack (my editor from MuseItUp), it was more about varying the sentence structure in some paragraphs, or context issues. My novella is told in the first person and Louis is nearly blind. Once, I had him describe a door in perfect detail. Nicole gently reminded me that there was no way he could be descriptive like that. As for self-editing, I look at my sentence structure a lot. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to type “definitely” and had it autocorrected to “defiantly.” That makes the story gets a little weird sometimes!
Ally: Tell us about your next writing project: title, genre, tagline. Maybe why you chose it. Whatever you'd like to reveal.
RACHAEL: Ooooohhhh. Well, there’s this novel. A NOVEL, big and complex. It’s my pet project, and I’ve loved it and cried over it and even gave up writing once because of it. It’s titled Serpents and Flame. This story developed one day in the summer before ninth grade (yeah, this baby’s been in the works a long time), when my hair was all snarled from a shower. I must have been reading Greek mythology at the time, because the first thought that occurred to me was, "If this hurts me, imagine using a comb when you have snakes for hair!" The thought stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. What IF you had snakes for hair nowadays? How would you deal with that? That was truly the first time an idea came to me and wouldn’t let me go. The character of Celeste, daughter of one of the Gorgons and half mortal, came about. She’s easily grumpy and self-conscious but adventurous too. I figured a girl with snakes for hair nowadays would have quite a few problems, and, well, she’d have to have someone to help her, right? Then the idea of Andro (whose name changed QUITE a few times from the earliest MS until now), the purple-haired grandson of a god with a primal goddess for a best friend followed. Their story is the one I’d like the world to see next.
Ally: Let's finish up with a few quick answer questions:
- a. favorite kind of cake: No. Not cake. I’m not a big cake fan. Brownies! Cheesecake swirl brownies!
- b. last book or movie that made you cry: Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen. It was actually really hard to get into, but then I did and the ending stole a tear or two. You end up rooting really hard for Captain Hook.
- c. your typical breakfast: Aw, uh, okay. I’m that terrible college cliché where I don’t eat until noon most days. And that’s bad. NOBODY FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE. It’s not even that I roll out of bed late; I’m up by 7:15 or 8:30; I just have classes and no time. However, on a good day I’ll eat breakfast at around 10 am, and that’ll be an omelet loaded with ham, tomato, onion, mushrooms, peppers—the good stuff, mixed with home fries.
- d. an item on your bucket list: Go to Dublin! Ireland calls my name. If I get to explore ruined castles and sprint across the moor, I’ll die a happy girl. All the green, the pub music, tweed, and sheep fields…I’m a total dork about Ireland.
- e. favorite hobby: Drawing, definitely. There’s this thing on social media right now called Inktober, where you make an ink drawing for every day of the month. I’ve actually kept up with it too; it forces you to create new characters or find good references every day, and my style’s gotten stronger because of it. It’s also really cool to see how other people do ink. But, yeah. Drawing. I sketch, watercolor, use pens. It’s extremely relaxing after doing work all day.
“Where do Christmas lights come from?”
The tiny bulbs of color that burn on a Christmas tree, or outside a house to shine in the night; does anyone really know where they originate? What if someone told you they weren’t intended for Christmas at all, but really for a miracle? That they were for love, a desperate idea, to light a boy’s way home?
In that case, you must have some questions. What boy? What love?
In that case, allow me to tell you a story.
“No.” Emmy covered her mouth with a hand. “No, you aren’t going to London. How could you? No one loves you there. No one knows you there…”
Your father seems to think it is my home country.
“Emmy. Emmy Emmy Emmy.” I held her close, stroking her hair. “I don’t plan to work there.”
She sat back. “What?”
“I’ve heard Mr. Godfrey talk about them. A London factory is the last place I should work. Your father means well, but I can’t do that. They wouldn’t take a blind boy.”
“Wh—where will you go, then? How on earth will you make money?”
“I have family in Paris. Mother says they have wine vineyards. I’ll work for them.”
“That…” Emmy’s fingers traced the veins on the back of my hand. “That’s much safer.” She was silent for the longest time. “You’ll be safe? And come home quickly?”
I pulled her hands away and stood, playing with the ring on her finger. “I will. I love you.”
“Emmy. I don’t have a choice. You want to marry me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. But, Louis…”
“How long will you be gone?”
How long? How long to board a ship, to find a place I’d only heard about, to earn and save an impossible amount of money? How long, indeed.
I set my expression. “I’ll be home by Christmas.”