Rachel Marks is an award-winning writer and professional artist who has been on Book Country since 2012. Her dystopian YA book about a teen assassin, GOLDEN, is currently features as an editor’s pick. It also won the winner of the CODEX novel contest. Rachel is the illustrator of the upcoming How to Draw Grimm’s Dark Tales, Fables & Folklore artist guide. On top of all that, Rachel has been voted “Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse!”.
Nevena: We really loved GOLDEN. Tell us more about the book and how you came up with the idea for it—the concept is so fascinating.
Rachel: GOLDEN has had a very long road. I started writing it during a time when I wasn’t feeling at all well physically. When I was half way through the first version of the manuscript, I was diagnosed with cancer: Large B-Cell Lymphoma. And after a whole lot of poking and scanning, and a year of chemo, I was released with a bill of health they titled “remission.” And there was GOLDEN, just sitting there. Waiting. But when I went back to it, the book didn’t feel right—Aryana, my heroine, wasn’t the same anymore, in my mind. I wasn’t the same anymore.
So, I threw away what I had and set to rewriting it from word one. I wanted to weave something into the story that had become very important to me through my cancer journey—seeing that fine line between Life and Death. I wanted to ask: when we know we’re doomed to die, how will we decide to live? Will we take ownership of the days we have, or wallow in self-pity? Aryana was just the girl to ask that question.
Nevena: This depth of emotion definitely comes through in her characterization. I found Aryana’s voice very compelling. How did you craft it?
Rachel: Aryana’s voice came to me one day when I was in the middle of writing a completely different manuscript. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. So I sat down and wrote ten thousand words that day. I knew she was an assassin and I knew she was a slave. She killed others in order to survive—not the most noble of characters. But it’s what I had, so I went with it and it helped me create her world. After the chemo, I dove back in and realized there was so much more to this strange girl than was on the surface. She was strong as nails. And a faithful friend. She loved a young man who she knew she could never have, and wanted only one thing, above all things—even above the power to control her tormentors—she wanted love. To love someone, and to be loved. So simple, and something we all want, really. But for Aryana, a girl who knew nothing but death and pain since the moment of her birth, love was like a light, leading her to freedom.
Nevena: You have another young adult piece on Book Country, WINTER ROSE. Why do you write about young adult protagonists? What’s the appeal of YA fiction for you?
Rachel: I think I’m just more fascinated with the teen state of being—that place where we decide who we’re going to be. There’s so much in us when we come to that crossroads. So much for a writer to explore. And as a writer who loves character, I want to delve into a soul with spark and bite, someone I can see flaws in but also someone who has a desire to change. I had a painful teen existence, and I know a lot of kids struggle out there with identity like I did. They need someone to be their voice and to say: “See, you’re not alone.”
Nevena: So what are the young adult books that have had a lasting influence on your writing?
Rachel: The books for young people that had the most lasting effect on me were actually mostly Middle Grade novels. The Giver and The Messenger by Lois Lowry. Holes by Louis Sachar and The Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Harry Potter, of course. But recently in the YA category: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness—such amazing books!
Nevena: Sounds like a great YA foundation. Your book covers are absolutely stunning! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since you’re a professional artist. Does your artistic talent help you to imagine and paint your books’ worlds with words?
Rachel: What a lovely compliment. Thank you! My art is just another venue I use to process my fascination with the world and how people interact with it. Faces and emotions captivate me, the emotion of love, and the loss of it, most of all, so that’s what I draw; yearning and passion. But it’s also what informs how I choose a character or a story as I try exploring those same things through my writing.
Nevena: You have several writing awards to your name. What was it like to get recognized for your talent?
Rachel: It’s always surprising and fulfilling to know your work speaks to someone. As writers we live so much in our own little world and I find it almost startling when others connect with my vision. Startling but wonderful, of course.
Nevena: How do you spend your time when you’re not slaving at the keyboard?
Rachel: Well, I have four children so most of my “non-writing” time is spent being a mom, and all that entails—mostly indoctrinating young minds with Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, and Harry Potter. As they’re now entering their teen years and I see the fruit of my labor spring forth, it’s become apparent that I’ve created four fellow nerds, and I am a very proud mommy.
Nevena: The Book Country nerds applaud you. And I have to ask, why are you on Book Country?
Rachel: I started on the site after one of the guys in my writer’s group, Michael R. Underwood, told me about it. He was picked up by Simon and Schuster and has a wonderful success story with the site now! His book Geekomancy came out last summer and Celebromancy this July. Since I’ve joined I’ve gotten a lot out of the feedback and really enjoyed reading other people’s work. You can never have enough places to go for support in this long journey of The Writer.
Nevena: We’re on the sidelines, always cheering you on! Don’t forget that! What’s something fun that we don’t know about you?
Rachel: As a child I believed with my whole heart that I’d been born a water faerie and was stolen away from my world deep in the sea as a baby… I’m still investigating. 😉
Nevena: Wow! Thank you for being our guest. Good luck with all of your projects.
Connect with Rachel on Book Country and follow her on Twitter @RachekAnneMarks. Find more about her art on her DeviantArt profile, thepix.deviantart.com. Visit her on her website: www.RachelAnneMarks.com.