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The Unvarnished Truth: Interview with Rachel Ann Nunes by GG Vandagriff

1. GG: Why did you choose to write this book? Does it represent a particular concern of yours?

Rachel: Several years ago, shock radiated throughout Utah when an infant was found dead after ingesting meth she had found in a plastic bag on the floor of her home. What made this tragic circumstance even more notable and horrific is that weeks earlier her father had forcibly taken her across state lines, hoping to protect her from her mother’s substance abuse.

Authorities found the child, placed her back with her mother, and sent the father to jail for assault and burglary. A little over a week later, the baby was dead and the mother was charged with desecration of a dead body for moving her daughter to cover up the mother’s drug abuse.

All charges against the father were eventually dropped. Sadly, this is not the only story of a child becoming the victim of a parent’s drug use. In my research, I found many more instances, some of which I’ve written under the Author Comments for the book on my website at Though these true-life experiences do not appear in my book, the events inspired me to explore what might have happened in a similar instance. Questions I asked myself include, "Can the ends justify the means in some circumstances?" and "How far would a parent go to save a child they love?"

2. GG: Are you taking your fiction in a different direction permanently? If so, what path are you pursuing now?

Rachel: Saving Madeline is very similar in style to other novels I've written--family drama with suspense and romance. However, my next novel Imprints, also contemporary suspense, does go in a different direction as it contains a paranormal element. I've always been interested in fantasy, and as a believer I feel that sometimes we are given certain gifts when we need them at different times in our lives. It was only natural that at some point I'd combine my love of women's fiction and my beliefs with my love of the supernatural. Yet at the same time the novel isn't so strange as to be considered high fantasy or anything. I think my current readers will be very pleased.

3. GG: You have literally thousands of fans who wonder how you can possibly publish as much as you do while raising six children. I have seen first hand what a hands-on, terrific mother you are. How do you balance such an intense inner life with your love for and the needs of your children?

Rachel: The kids always came first. Period. That's my rule. But they have learned not to run to me for every little thing. They learned to solve some problems themselves, and I learned to buy microwaveable snacks. I used to write more easily when they were little children under my desk and around my feet, but as they grew, they became involved in more things and I had less time at the computer. I'd have to tell them I was going into my office for a while and to watch this show, or play in the back yard for certain time. I'd say, "If you aren't bleeding and it's not really that important, then don't come to my office. If you give me time to work, I'll do x and x for you then." Sometimes that even worked. I'd often leave the computer on and steal into the office for any available second.

Teenagers are even more demanding, I've found. They always need rides or help with some incredibly important last-minute task. But finally for the first time all six are in school (my oldest is on a mission), so I anticipate having a bit easier time writing in the next few months.

One important thing is that I'm careful to tell my children often that I love them more than my writing and if they need me, I'm available to hear what they have to say. Often that means I don't get all the writing in that I want, but that is the life I chose when I decided to have children. They are the reward that makes not doing all I want with my writing okay. I wouldn't trade being their mother for all the success in the world.

4. GG: You seem to be an inexhaustible well of creativity. Where do your plots originate?

Rachel: They just come--out of thin air, from what I see, from research, from inspiration. The more I write, the more the ideas flow. I'm always compelled to write. It's as if I'm in a huge amphitheatre and sitting in the audience are all the thousands of story ideas and they are calling to me to write their them. The one that yells the loudest wins. Hmm, that's sort of like real life children, isn't it? :-) When I don't get regular writing time, I'm pretty unhappy.

5. GG: Do you ever have writer's block in the Serengeti Plains (the middle of the book)? If so, what technique do you use to unblock yourself?

Rachel: I never have had time for writer's block. There simply is too much else I have to do, so I must write when I have the time. On the occasions when I haven't felt the strong urge to write, it's been because I haven't researched enough, I don't know where the story is going, or because I'm under too much stress. These are solved respectively by doing the needed research, making a simple line-by-line list of what I have to include to finish the book, and locking myself in my bedroom for a few days to watch an entire season of 24.

6. GG: What do you think about the direction that LDS fiction is going? Do you think it is getting better? If so, why?

Rachel: Overall, I think LDS fiction is getting better. However, some of it isn't. I feel that many writers are still stuck on the conversion story, which is a great venue for the younger generation, but I personally feel converted and my reading tastes have changed. Now I want to read stories about LDS people in every day situations where they don't have to convert their neighbor or future spouse. The real life truth is that not everyone sees the light. Perhaps every LDS author goes though the conversion phase, I don't know. I certainly did, and I'm glad I wrote those novels. But I think it's time LDS authors explored the other issues our people need to read about. I'm not saying we shouldn't write about conversions at all, because when they are portrayed realistically they can be powerful and compelling, but for me, it's hard to see a plot in a suspense novel come to a screeching halt so that we can hear a missionary discussion or have a baptism. I would much rather see the quiet convictions of a character living her religion during personal trials. Or a family who has members struggling with their faith in the midst of some compelling plotline.

I was able to attempt this in several of my LDS novels, and now I'm also reaching out to a wider market where my characters are not overtly LDS. The plot doesn't focus at all around the Church and convincing the reader that it's true, but rather on the lives of the characters and what they are feeling and experiencing that may or may not involve their faith (depending on the genre).

I think a lot of LDS readers are ready for this, and I'm grateful my publisher has a national imprint where they can publish such stories. I think our market is growing up a bit, focusing deeper or perhaps even on simply creating more entertaining, believable genre stories that are every bit as good as what is being published in the national market. If we continue in this direction, I think we will eventually reach an entire new set of LDS readers who now don't read LDS novels because they are so focused on convincing rather than portraying.

7. GG: Many authors are forever indebted to you for founding LDStorymakers. How do you manage your duties as president and still manage to have time to write so many books and raise so many kids?

Rachel: Being the president of LDStorymakers does take a lot of time, but at this point, I feel I need to keep involved so that it will continue to go and expand. However, I have been fortunate to surround myself with talented and dedicated people. For most of the years, Brent Rowley and Josi Kilpack were right there, helping with everything. Josi stepped down almost a year ago, and since then Marsh Ward, Tristi Pinkston, and Annette Lyon have gone the extra mile to help Brent and me run things. As the business manager, Brent really is the backbone of Storymakers. We also have other great member volunteers who have run our conferences and pitch in wherever they can. I don't do it alone by a long shot. Writers are great people and for the large part very capable. All our members are important to the running of Storymakers.
8. GG: Do you take vitamins? I have never seen anyone with your energy. If so, what are they?
Rachel: I just take a multi-mineral--when I can remember. In the winter I'll take vitamin D. I have a type A personality, I suppose. I always have to be pushing and striving to better myself, my family, my work, and to help anyone I can. I have limits, of course, so I've had to learn to say no--a lot.

9. GG: What is the most special thing about Saving Madeline? Convince me to read it.

Rachel: Saving Madeline is about Caitlin McLoughlin, a public defender, who works hard freeing too many criminal for her peace of mind. When Parker Hathaway is arrested for kidnapping four-year-old Madeline, Caitlin thinks he is just one more criminal she must get through the system, but instead she finds a cause she can believe in. Soon she is in a race to uncover proof that will free Parker and save Madeline before it’s too late.
Saving Madeline really is the exploration of the meaning of love. Romantic love between the main characters, and the filial love between a father and his daughter. I believe people will be fascinated with how the justice system works--or doesn't. Does the end ever justify the means? I was raised to believe it didn't, yet, Nephi cut off Laban's head to assure that an entire generation could live in light. If you knew your child was in danger and the law told you to stay out of it, what could you do? Who would you turn to?

10: GG: Would you mind sharing your plans for the future of your writing?

Rachel: I plan to publish Imprints next year, which is a sequel to Eyes of a Stranger. In this novel, Autumn, on the day of her father's funeral, discovers she has a supernatural gift (sometimes she calls it a curse) that was previously only hinted at in Eyes of a Stranger. With this gift, she is able to help a lot of people--though often it puts her into a great deal of danger. I think this will develop into a series of at least three or four books, possibly more. I also see it as a movie someday or TV series. But we'll see. I'm really excited about it. It's a fun plotline. She'll have two love interests through most of the books, and I'm really not sure who she'll eventually end up with. Though it may occasionally seem obvious to the reader, love is not always what it appears.

Make a comment here to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Saving Madeline. To learn more about Rachel and her books, or to read the first chapter of Saving Madeline, visit her website:

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