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Interview: Romance Novelist Rachel Van Dyken on Writing for a Cause

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Rachel Van Dyken, romance novelist

Novelist Rachel Van Dyken/Photo: Greg Hoskins

By Diane Mannino (@Diane Mannino23)/Author of Running from Romeo and the sequel, Waiting for Romeo/October 23, 2013


Can you imagine being 28-years-old and having written over twenty-four books in just three years including several bestsellers? A dream come true for many, but it’s a reality for Rachel Van Dyken. She’s reached the number one spot on the New York Times list with her popular romance novel, The Bet, but it’s her recent release, Ruin, that has people talking.

“…every month we’re donating to ‘Make a Wish’ or another organization for people who need help to pay their medical bills. I really want to use ‘Ruin’ as one of those platforms to help people.”… Rachel Van Dyken

With Ruin, Rachel has not only captured the hearts of readers, she’s also helping to support causes that are close to her own heart.

As a self-published author, I was curious to find out more about the prolific Rachel, her self-publishing exploits, her writing process and her passion for helping others through various means. I had the pleasure of chatting with her and discovered she’s just as lovely as one of her female protagonists from her many books….

EYE: When did you first realize you had a passion for writing?

Rachel Van Dyken's book The Wager

This sequel to The Bet recently debuted on the New York Times bestseller list.

RACHEL: I started writing about three years ago when I was a school counselor. I saw around five hundred to eight hundred kids on a yearly basis. I worked for the state and during that time it got pretty stressful and emotionally draining.

When you’re dealing with kids that are that young and with serious issues, it was really hard not to take that home with you, and so I started writing as a way to release all that stress.

That’s when writing turned into a passion for me. I would meet with kids and then I’d have about twenty minutes in between appointments. During those minutes I would grab my Starbucks, close and lock my door, and I would sit at my computer and just write.

My way to release ended up turning into an addiction to writing, and I felt like I had to write all the time.

EYE:  Since you just started writing three years ago, being a bestselling author wasn’t something you dreamed of when you were little?

RACHEL:  I always loved doing creative writing, but really my biggest thing was making up stories when I was little, and I would daydream like crazy.

“I was that kid who got in trouble in class because I was staring out the window and daydreaming about someone rescuing me.”

I always had that passion for daydreaming and it never really occurred to me that it could transform into a passion for writing. But when I started writing, I realized it was how I lived my childhood…always living in this dream world that didn’t exist, but it existed in my mind.

The great thing about writing is that you can bring that nonexistent world into someone else’s reality by writing about it.

Rachel Van Dyken signing books

EYE: Today, so many authors are self-publishing. You have a publisher for some of your books, but you’ve also self-published. Could you describe some of the challenges you faced?

RACHEL: Self-publishing is like one of those things where someone drops you in the middle of the ocean and says, ‘Okay, swim…find land.’ It’s really hard because you have so many factors that you don’t realize until you’ve released a book through a traditional publisher.

When you self-publish you’re in charge of everything. You can’t just write the book and be done. You need to find a good editor and you need to find a great cover artist. You need a cover that will help it sell.

Rachel Van Dyken's book, The BetEYE:  How important is branding and knowing how to get the word out about your book?

RACHEL: You really have to learn how to brand yourself and put yourself out there so people see your name and become interested in you and your book. You also want to get your book into bloggers’ hands and people who will review it.

EYE:  Did you ever have any self-doubts when you published your first book?

RACHEL: No matter how good I think the book is or even when I have readers tell me that it’s going to do great, I still spend days, weeks, just stressed that it isn’t going to do well or it won’t be received well.

It’s such an emotional thing and I think even ten years from now I’ll still get stressed out over my releases. When you put your book out there, people don’t realize how much a book is a part of that author. The emotions you put into the characters you develop are very real so when someone doesn’t receive that well it feels like a personal attack, but really it’s not. Readers don’t look at it that way.

They look at a book as entertainment and either they like it or they don’t. At the end of the day, you have to come to terms with being happy with your book, and if you’ve affected one person, you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Rachel Van Dyken, husband and dogs in Idaho

Rachel lives with husband Nathan and pups, Winston Churchill and Maximus, in Idaho.

EYE:  Could you tell us about your average day and your writing process?

RACHEL: My goal every day is to write all day. It’s my full-time job so I treat it like one. I get up in the morning and sometimes I work out. I start writing at eight and then I take a short lunch break.

I continue writing until four or five. But this also includes checking all my emails and I try to personally respond to every email.

Then I check twitter and everything else. Once I finish all of that I start writing. Since I have so many deadlines, I often work on eight manuscripts at a time.

EYE: Your recent book, Ruin, is a huge success. Congratulations! The story is a very personal one for you. Could you explain why you wanted to tell this particular story?

RACHEL: There was a lot of stuff going on with my family because my uncle found out he was terminally ill with cancer, and I really wanted to write a book about that struggle and the grief that a family goes through when dealing with it.

I wanted to make it both humorous because it’s such a heavy subject, but also sad at the same time. I think that’s how it is in life because you go through the sadness of cancer, but at the end of the day you’re still laughing with your family and life still moves on.

Ruin by Rachel Van DykenEYE:  Did you have any other message that you wanted to get across in your story?

RACHEL: I wanted to bring more cancer awareness, but I also wanted to focus on the life behind all of that. Ruin is really just about at the end of your life you really learn how to live your life. When you have no time left you start thinking about all those little things you wish you had done and all those things you’ve taken for granted.

You realize that just waking up in the morning is a blessing and that using your legs to take a walk is…it’s about just the simple things in life.

We live in such a selfish world. I’m guilty of it. We’re all guilty of it. Poor me, poor me, but there’s always someone else who is worse off, and we need to just appreciate what we have because one day it’ll be over.

I really wanted to shine light on that and hope people would realize if you focus on the positive, good things in your life, you’d be a happier person.

EYE:  I love the way you look at this struggle with hope and positivity, but it’s obviously a difficult time for you and your family.

RACHEL: When it hits close to home it really affects you. My uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer around four years ago. The doctors thought they got it all, but they didn’t. It spread to his liver and after chemo and after exhausting every resource, we’ve come to terms with it. It’s hard when you watch someone you love go through that.

Rachel Van Dyken, romance novelist, with her family

Rachel with her Uncle Jobob and Aunt Sandy

I don’t do well sitting on the sidelines. I decided I would help with their medical bills. It doesn’t matter how great your insurance is, cancer is ridiculously expensive. The hospital bills, hospice…it’s a lot of money. I know my uncle was more worried about leaving his wife in this world.

(Sadly, Rachel’s uncle lost his battle to cancer recently. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rachel and her family.)

EYE: Did the sales of your book make enough of a profit to help them?

RACHEL: I never knew how much they needed, and I just hoped the book would sell well, but in the end, after the first two weeks, we ended up making enough to basically pay everything off. It was incredible.

On top of that because Ruin has been so successful every month we’re donating to “Make a Wish” or another organization for people who need help to pay their medical bills. I really want to use Ruin as one of those platforms to help people.

EYE: As an author, you have the ability to reach so many people. Are you planning on doing other books in the future to help others?

RACHEL: I’m in the planning process with my publisher, and we’re creating a marketing plan for future books where we’ll come up with non-profit organizations and other causes that we can donate to because it’s something we’re both passionate about.

I feel like it’s something the readers respond to and it makes the books come to life even more. People read to escape but they also are more willing to spend the money if they feel like they’re supporting a good cause.

“I had one girl message me that her dad or her grandpa had just died that week of cancer when she picked up the book.”

EYE:  I’ve been touched by the response to my book with readers sharing their similar stories…one in particular made me cry. Have you received many responses from readers who share their similar stories of a loved one with cancer?

RACHEL: I feel the same way. I’ve received emails or messages on Facebook…I had one girl message me that her dad or her grandpa had just died that week of cancer when she picked up the book.

It’s hard because I hear from people and I want to be encouraging, but at the same time it just breaks your heart when you hear some of those stories of what people are going through. When someone has actually lived it and gone through it and fought that battle…it gives that person hope.

I’m not the only one. It’s okay to mourn and it’s okay to feel sad and it’s okay to move on. I think that’s part of the grieving and part of the healing process.

Rachel Van Dyken, bestselling author of romance novelsEYE: In your next book will you be dealing with another topic that you’d like to bring more awareness to?

RACHEL: I’m writing the story of Gabe, a secondary character from Ruin. His story will focus on bad choices, but also having to leave people that you love behind. It’ll be sad like Ruin but there will have lots of humor.

My cousin is mentally handicapped and so I’m actually using some of her life in this story. She’s the daughter of my uncle who has cancer. She’s hilarious and in her forties, so sweet and precious. I really want to shed light on people who have this totally different way of living.

EYE: I have to say I loved Ruin and the character of Gabe intrigued me. I’ll definitely be one of the first to buy your next book, Elect, the second book in your Eagle Elite series, out December 10.  Please keep us posted on your future books and worthy causes! Thanks, Rachel.


Diane Mannino, romance novelistAbout the author, Diane Mannino:

I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a degree in English Literature. I’m a former writer for Museum and Arts Washington as well as for several television shows, including Inside Edition, American Journal and E! News Daily. I live in Los Angeles with my husband and two beautiful daughters. My first novel is Running from Romeo, and my next book, Waiting for Romeo, will be available on Amazon, November, 8.

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