Lawrence writer’s first novel spins into book deal, success
An unfamiliar face sits at your kitchen table. It’s got grayed skin and large yellow eyes. Its bony fingers grip the newspaper and as it sips coffee, waiting for you. It’s the monster that lived in your closet and terrified you as a child.
And that book was her first project for National Novel Writing Month; her first novel ever, in fact.
Rachel Wohler, who goes by her maiden name R. L. Naquin, is from everywhere: Philadelphia, Memphis, England, Florida, Lee’s Summit, Mo., and finally Lawrence, where she’s stayed for the past nine years.
Prior to author-dom, her professions were all over the map, mostly office jobs as she juggled work and school. She moved so much that she spent her college career collecting credits from five universities, never resulting in a degree.
But after she got married and settled in Lawrence, she studied creative writing at Washburn University and her professor gave her an emphatic push. At Washburn, she wrote short stories and went to a week-long workshop titled “Writing Your First Novel” at the University of Iowa.
“And that one’s not completed,” Naquin laughed. “All they wanted was the first chapter.”
It wasn’t until she joined Lawrence’s NaNoWriMo group in 2010 that she gained momentum.
“I hadn’t finished a novel ever,” Naquin said, “and I had no idea how to push myself.”
She first heard about NaNoWriMo late October 2010. With about 20,000 words under her belt already, she hoped the group setting might help her finally wrap up a novel. After another 50,000 words, weeks of editing and 31 rejections from book agents, Naquin put away the book.
“Well, it’s not ready. The book’s not ready. I’m not ready,” she said.
That lasted a week. Bypassing agents this time, she submitted her book directly to Carina Press. Four months later, Naquin’s first NaNoWriMo novel sprouted a six-book series contract.
There’s a monster in my closet
Remember the monster reading the newspaper? He actually appears in the kitchen of Zoey, an “empathetic woman who ends up being a kind of caretaker for monsters,” Naquin said.
The books follow Zoey as she problem solves for these monsters.
“It’s serious stuff in this wacky, you-gotta-be-kidding-me kind of world,” Naquin said.
The monster problems are like our problems: This particular closet monster is divorcing his monster wife who cheated on him, then kicked him out of the house.
“The more remarkable and strange your characters are, the more normal their problems should be,” Naquin said. It doesn’t get more believable than the common cold, even if it’s a dragon that’s sick.
Life of a digital-first author
Naquin’s life as an author is purely digital. She’s hoping for hard copies soon, but for now, it’s strictly e-books. And she churns them out at breakneck speed.
“If you’re a ‘traditional writer,’ you can write a literary masterpiece and have something come out every two to five years,” Naquin said. “But now, publishers want you to put out at least two books a year.”
Naquin wrote her first book during November 2010, which published July 2012. The second and third published in 2013. Her fourth book is available for pre-order, slated for April 2014 and she’s currently working on the fifth, which will come out later in 2014. The sixth is set for 2015.
“If I hadn’t started out with NaNo, I don’t think I could have handled it,” she said.
The group helped her set the pace that dictates her writing now as she works from home.
“I’m sitting there, in pajamas on the couch… and maybe I don’t get dressed that day because I don’t have time sometimes,” she said. “I’m still working and in a manic hurry to meet a deadline.”
In between Novembers, she had her friends to help push her through it. But in a bittersweet twist, Naquin has admitted defeat in NaNoWriMo this November.
“I got what I wished for, got all my dreams, and that means I can’t do NaNo anymore,” Naquin said.
She aimed to finish her fifth book, due Feb. 1, in NaNoWriMo. But with the release of the third book and edits on the fourth, she fell too far behind on her word count for the month.
But when she gets overwhelmed, she gives herself a good look in the mirror and gives herself some tough love: “This was my dream, and I say, ‘Shut up, this is what you wanted… and maybe put on some damn pants.'”