Rachel Hauck published her first novel in 2004. Since then she has become an award-winning (and best-selling) author of 11 more novels — with more to come. Her latest novel, co-written with country music superstar Sara Evans, is Love Lifted Me — the final novel in the duo's Songbird series.
I recently caught up with Rachel to talk about vintage clothing, Texas football and, of course, her latest book.
Serena: How did you and Sara Evans initially hook up to write the first Songbird novel?
Rachel: Our publisher, Allen Arnold at Thomas Nelson, approached us separately with the idea of writing together. First, Sara — to see if she was willing to take on a fiction project. Then me — to see if I wanted to work with her. I was at a place in my career where a partnership sounded fun and challenging so I gladly took on the project. Sara was working on a new album and gearing back up to be on radio, but had enough time to give initially to the book series.
Serena: The working relationships of co-writers look as different as the writers themselves. What does your co-writing relationship look like?
Rachel: Sara and I have a great partnership. From the beginning we knew our roles in this journey. She fed me ideas and I developed them. Sara has great story-telling instincts. It was my job all along to be the writer. It was, and is, hers to be the voice and the face of the series.
Serena: You've written about the costs of the writer's life, one of which is the necessity of leading a fairly solitary existence. Have you found the co-writing life to be more (or less) socially fulfilling?
Rachel: Writing is writing. With a co-writer or not, it's solitary. To develop characters with heart, the world has to be shut off. If I had questions or ideas that I needed Sara's input on, I'd e-mail her. We'd go back and forth for a bit and then settle on what we wanted to do. But most of the time it's me, in my office, backside in the chair, writing.
Serena: Solo vs. co-writing: Overall, which do you prefer?
Rachel: Great question. The lazy part of me says "co-writing." Why not have a constant partner to bounce ideas off of and get input? I'm envious of television writing teams who gather in a war room and hash out ideas together. I have a writing partner I call, Susan May Warren, when I need help. I'm blessed to have her. But we live many states apart!
The creator part of me says "solo." Novel writing is so much about pulling the emotions and creativity out of "you," the author, that it would really be hard to partner as a full-time process. Sara and I are blessed to have clicked from the beginning. A lot of partnerships don't fare as well as ours. We've been blessed.
Serena: Some reviewers are touting Love Lifted Me as a stand-alone member of the Songbird series. Do you see the novel that way, or do you think new readers could be confused if they haven't read the preceding two books?
Rachel: We wrote the novel to be stand-alone, but certainly readers will gain more of Jade and Max's perspective, and develop a deeper affection for them, if they've read the previous books. But readers will not be confused if they read Love Lifted Me first instead of third.
Serena: The Songbird series hits on a lot of touchy subjects for the inspirational genre, such as adultery, abortion, substance abuse and divorce. What made you want to tackle the relational fallout of these issues?
Rachel: Life. People deal with weighty topics every day — either in their own lives or of someone they know. Just because my characters may be Christians doesn't mean they don't have serious issues to face. So, instead of shying away from sin or shame, we jumped in so we could show the power of true hope in God.
I've experienced pain in my own life, much like my characters, and my faith and hope in Jesus rescued me. So that kind of inspiration and epiphany is a natural outcome of my writing.
Sara has also experienced God's grace in her life. She wants other women to know there is true and real hope.
Serena: Your books don't shy away from showing physical desire as part of a healthy (or unhealthy) romantic relationship. Have you taken any flack from more conservative readers? Or do you find that the inspy audience is becoming more open to this "edgier" content?
Rachel: No fallout that I know of, but I don't read all the reviews. If readers are upset, I'm unaware. I've had many readers write to say they appreciated real emotion and true desire shown in a palatable way. The reader gets what's going on sans the in-depth details.
The inspirational audience seems to be divided on the kind of content they expect in a CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) book. My goal is to write emotion and desire that's true to the story. Not every book will have the passion of Jade and Max. But for this story, a married couple reuniting, I felt that sexual tension was fitting.
Serena: Texas football plays a pretty big role in Love Lifted Me. Are you a football fan?
Rachel: Both Sara and I are football fans. She roots for the Crimson Tide, while I support my Ohio State Buckeyes.
Serena: Have you always been a football fan, or was that something that developed over the course of writing the novel?
Rachel: Longtime football fan. I was really excited to write a football kind of story.
Serena: Was any AstroTurf harmed in the writing of this book? LOL
Rachel: LOL. None whatsoever. All real grass and AstroTurf is safe!
Serena: You and Sara did a great job of making the football scenes come alive. My football vocabulary consists of about four words: touchdown, cheerleader and halftime show. I'm not much of a football fan (truth be told, I was something of a band geek back in my high school days), but I found myself engaged in the Warriors' fight for a win. How much high school football did you watch in order to write those scenes with such energy and still manage to make them accessible for the football-challenged readers like me?
Rachel: Football is a universal sport to me. It speaks to life: winning, losing, triumph, failure, working as a team to achieve the goal. Football is about growing up. It's about leadership and effort. We see in the character Tucker how wrecked his confidence was until he was forced by his coach to man-up and learn to kick the ball. We watched him fail. Then we finally watched him succeed and he started to change. I actually teared up at that scene when I was going over the final galley. Football is about "doing it" even on the hard days and staying true until results are achieved.
Don't we all want that kind of success? I apply this thinking to my own writing life. If you took those football scenes and made them about … riding, a spelling bee, the debate team, writing a novel, or even about being in the marching band, the truths and emotions of those characters would still apply. At least that was our goal! I hope it worked! Football was more of a setting than a "sport."
Serena: Jade, the main character of the Songbird series, operates a vintage clothing shop. Are you a fan of vintage duds? And, if so, what's your favorite piece?
Rachel: I am a fan of vintage, but I am a horrible shopper so I don't find as many pieces as I'd like. I loved the vintage thread in this story because it was really a reflection of Jade, her heart and character. It was her way of creating a past she could live with.
Serena: The moment Jade discovers that Chanel LBD is priceless. Do you have a cherished shopping memory you drew from to write that scene?
Rachel: I wanted to BE Jade in that scene. Are you kidding? Ha! I just imagined what it would be like to find a real, true Chanel Little Black Dress. The more I researched the history of the dress, the more Jade's scene came alive to me. I drew completely from Jade's point of view. What a find!
Serena: Will there be any more novels in the Songbird series?
Rachel: Love Lifted Me is our swan song in the Songbird series. We are working on a fourth book, though — and the premise is super fun!
Serena: Do you prefer writing series or stand-alone titles? What are the pros and cons?
Rachel: Every title is a stand-alone to me, but if I find a thread in a story that would make a sequel, then I go for it. We hear all the time "series don't sell well," yet readers seem to love visiting characters and settings over and over. It's like being with good friends.
What I loved about this series with a continuing character is the emotional attachment I had to the cast. I knew them so well it was easier than normal to write their story. The con to that is you must be consistent with the story across the novel series. You're locked in!
The pro of writing stand-alone is you can do whatever you want, and when the book is done, it's done. The author is free to create something completely new. That's exciting. But the story and character development start all over again.
Serena: What is the weirdest/oddest/coolest research you've attempted in the process of writing a novel? Was it a success?
Rachel: I believe in research, even for contemporary novels. I try to travel to my settings. I call people for the tiniest bit of information. For Softly and Tenderly, the second Songbird novel, I researched and researched old Cadillacs to find out where the convertible top release was positioned. I know, crazy. But the top played a role in the story and I wanted to know if Jade reached to the right side of the steering wheel or the left to release the top. And I found a guy in California who gave me my answer.
For one of my books, Love Starts with Elle, I had an artist friend help me paint a picture because Elle was an artist. I've sat in kitchens to learn the restaurant business. For Love Lifted Me, I called up a high school football coach for an interview. He was running PE classes so I followed him around asking questions.
It's fun …
Serena: The face of publishing and book promoting is changing. How much time do you allow yourself per (day/week/etc.) for promoting your work?
Rachel: I am online constantly with e-mail or social media. When a book comes out, I just make the required time needed to do promotion. I think the real question for me, and for some authors, is, "How much time do you allow yourself in a day to actually write!?" LOL.
Serena: With all the possible e-venues added to the standard physical book signing and personal appearance opportunities, do you find you are needing to spend more time promoting your work now — or has the increase of social media streamlined the process for you?
Rachel: Authors must be on social-media platforms. I'm not sure anyone can get away from it these days. I'm good friends with a very successful, nationally known author and this year she got on Facebook. Social media is about a dialogue. I can't just promote myself or I'll lose ground in the social-media arena. I have to join the conversations that are happening, as best I can, and gain readers or followers that way.
I use a promotional company in tandem with my publisher to promote my books when they come out. But on a day-to-day basis, with Facebook and Twitter, authors have to be "on" at least a few minutes each day. If I don't have anything worthy to share, I try to share the news of author friends.
Serena: What's your favorite part of writing and/or promoting a new novel?
Rachel: My favorite part of writing is having had written a book. It's done. Turned in! Finished. I love that feeling! My favorite part about promotion is connecting with readers, talking about the story and the characters, hearing what impacted them or not, discovering how they might have interpreted a situation in the story that I never even considered. I love talking about writing and books, so promotion is always fun!
Serena: How do you "get away from it all"?
Rachel: Is there a get-away-from-it-all? Just kidding … I ride my bike. Watch a movie with my husband. Read. Lunch with friends. I love a good prayer and worship meeting too!
Serena: Are you making any New Year's resolutions this year?
Rachel: Pursue love.
For more about Rachel Hauck and her books, visit her website, RachelHauck.com.
(This interview originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)