Debra: Joining me today in the studio for this edition of Talk Radio with NO Radio, is author Rachel Beam, straight from beautiful Key West off the tip of Florida and probably a bit relieved by our cooler climate for a change?
Rachel: Relieved? Oh, hells no. I only ever feel truly alive when I’m on the verge of collapsing from heat stroke. It is nice to be wearing pants for a change though.
Debra: Oh lord, more power to you…I would melt and be completely miserable. We lived in FL when I was a kid for a few years and then I also lived in SC for a few years in my twenties…loved the beaches at that age, partied a lot, so glad to be home now, cooler climate, snow men and snowball fights in the winter…oh yes. Rachel, I was so thrilled you agreed to make the trip for this interview, I loved your book Hear Him Cry, obviously by the review I wrote for you. What’s next? And when?
Rachel: Thanks much for the invite. I was thrilled for an excuse to take a road trip. My husband, DJ, was equally thrilled to be able to hit up Sonic several times along the way, those limeades are addictive. Glad you liked HHC, but I’m sure you didn’t have nearly as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Then again, your review was positively kickass, so maybe I’m overestimating my sense of fun. I honestly don’t know what’s next or when. It took about thirty years for me to start writing HHC and then it just kind of happened on its own. I have, however, been kicking around the idea of trying my hand at writing erotic short stories.
Debra: I’m hooked on their new BLT sandwiches myself and the M&M Sonic Blasts! So those questions were more for me than our audience, sorry, but I am anxious to read more from you! Oh! I’m such a bad hostess, I forgot to grab us something to drink and some snacks before you got here, what would you like to drink and I have a delicious fruit and cheese tray for us? <has bounced up and is headed for the kitchen, Rachel is staring at the microphone and has this look of “what am I supposed to do now” that seems a bit devious, almost plotting>
Rachel: Feel free to open this dusty bottle of wine that I snuck out of the house. We’ve been saving it for five years, but I’m sure it’ll take DJ less time than that to forgive me. I think. <She gives DJ a chuckle and facial expression that says “we’ll talk about this later”, he smiles back knowingly. Rachel jumps up, grabs the mic in both hands, passionately, speaks in her best, sexy and husky tone of voice> I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve asked you all here tonight. Shhh…don’t speak. It’s so much better when you’re mute. I wanna tell you about Texas Radio and the Big Beat. Oh, look! Gouda!
Debra: <has come back to the sitting area with wine glasses and a tray of fruit and cheese, catches Rachel goofing on the microphone and busts out laughing> You are a trip, I love your sense of humor and so wish I was filming this instead, YouTube, can you picture it?! So, tell us about you, Rachel, tell us what kind of music you listen to? <is pouring three glasses of wine, all are enjoying the cheese and fruit tray>
Rachel: In no particular order of importance… Classic rock, Motown, disco, new wave, punk, metal, grunge, blues (Delta & Chicago), classic jazz, ragtime, big band, classic country, folk, 70’s pop, 80’s pop, Brit pop, funk, electronica, classical, anything that features a sitar…did I miss anything? I just dig the MUSIC, man. And, yes, I dig The Music Man.
Debra: Wow, that is a really wide variety of music, so let me guess, your mood drives your listening choice from one minute to the next?
Rachel: One might think that, but one would be wrong. The running stories in my head are what drives my listening choice. I can’t write without music. Not odd. The cool thing is that I always end up listening to songs that compliment whatever it is I happen to be writing in some form or another. Everything has a soundtrack. The soundtrack for HEAR HIM CRY can be found on my website, www.hearhimcry.com. There are 45 songs that I can no longer listen to without thinking about “Henry” and “Tessa”.
Debra: I also must have music while I write and I have to be careful what I listen to, it has to work with what I am writing, it definitely influences it. I love when authors do the playlist that goes with the book, I have thought about doing that, but that would require me writing it down and listening to a specific list of songs, I am more random with it…. Tell us about what influenced or inspired you writing this book?
Rachel: I’m not exactly sure. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who were victims of molestation and I’ve read a lot of books written by victims of molestation. I suppose I wanted to see if it was possible to turn the perpetrator into a multi-layered, sympathetic character; someone who could be both pitied and despised. I had a friend from high school who had decided to turn her experiences as a stripper into a novel. She was the one who pushed me to write HEAR HIM CRY when I told her what the idea was. The main character, “Henry”, was somewhat inspired by David Strathairn’s character in the film Blue Car. It was his face that was in my head throughout the entire writing process.
Debra: Interesting! I always associate characters with a movie face when I read and I had him as he looked in The River Wild for Henry. It was your description of the gray hair at his temples that made him click in mind. How very cool! How long did it take for you to write it, take us from the idea to the moment you published and share any quirks about it all that might be funny or interesting to our readers today?
Rachel: Before I answer that, I must say…Yes! The River Wild! Exactly! Was that automatic for you? If it was, I think you’re my new BFF. Okay, so back to your question. I wrote the first page of the second chapter before anything else and quickly gave up. I think that was somewhere around the end of 2005 or beginning of 2006. I sat down and got serious in September of 2006 and had the first draft completed by March of 2007. The entire process was completely nonsensical. I began with what I thought was going to be the most uncomfortable chapter to get through and worked my way out. Basically, I wrote the middle first, then the beginning, then went from the end of the middle to the beginning of the end, then back to the end of the beginning and wrote to the beginning of the middle and then, finally, the end. It’s difficult to say how many actual drafts there were. The original manuscript was fairly short, so it was more about adding stuff here and there, as opposed to making changes. Except for the ending, that is. I wrote at least four distinct endings for HEAR HIM CRY before I started querying agents around December of 2007. I don’t remember how long it was before I halted the process, but I was inspired to cut about 30,000 words and re-write the last third of the book, this is actually when I had the most fun. I started shopping it around again after that, but gave up after querying a total of fifty agents and publishers. I decided to self-publish in the summer of 2010. That December, the woman who convinced me to write it in the first place, by then we were no longer friends, reached out and suggested I hit up Solstice Publishing because they had taken an interest in her work. So I did. I was e-mailed a contract on February 15, 2011, the day after my brother-in-law passed away.
Debra: Yes, The River Wild was instant, movie stars in a specific role just seem to be a natural progression of the movie forming for me as I read. Yea, I have a new BFF! Woo hoo! <clink of the wine glasses and chug, chug, chug, we both need a refill!> Sorry for your loss, what a way to remember the date by. <pause> Rachel, I find it so surprising that you had such a garbled approach to the writing, it was so well written and very eloquent, like you’d expect from someone that studied writing for years and had several best sellers by now! Just goes to show, creativity is an individual thing and there is no formula, whatever works for you is what works. What do you think makes your book special, what’s the hook that will have readers not wanting to put it down?
Rachel: It’s a little subversive. From the very beginning, the reader knows that Henry did something horrible. I think they’ll keep reading to find out exactly what it was. I think they’ll continue reading after they find out what it was because people just love train wrecks. I do anyway.
Debra: Honestly, that’s half of why I kept reading, I had to know what the something was and you cleverly held it back as long as possible so that I couldn’t guess, I had a list of possibilities going on in my head and as I read on, the list narrowed down. The other half was just how well written it was, if I see a movie in my head while I read, you have me hooked, period. <both laugh>
Rachel: If I don’t see a movie in my head while I write, then I’m doing something very wrong. My educational background is in screenwriting, so it kind of goes with the territory. That’s why everything I write has a lot of dialogue in it. It actually makes me feel a little silly to admit that I have such a useless degree. The most valuable thing I took away from that program was my favorite instructor, the great Richard Wesley, saying that it’s okay to break the rules as long as we know what they are and how to work within them first.
Debra: Interesting point about those rules. While interviewing freelancers for my editing service, I was surprised at how many editors that are still so old school, with so much change in the industry, and they did not believe in breaking the rules, ever. Head hopping for example, if they said NO, you should never head hop no matter what, they were a no right off the bat! You have to break the rules sometimes, how can you truly be creative and develop a piece of literary art otherwise? You head hopped in your book but did so very skillfully and I thought it made it all more three dimensional. You allowed the reader to experience the scenes from Tessa’s and Henry’s POV and I never once wasn’t sure whose head I was and that is the whole point. If the book was made into a movie who would you want to play the main character and why?
Rachel: Making sure it was clear whose head the reader is in at all times was a challenge. Anyone who’s read the book and knows me personally, knows that both Henry and Tessa kinda sound like me. That’s just something I couldn’t avoid; the alternative wouldn’t have been organic. I think rule sticklers need to get over themselves. Like I said, the rules of writing, or storytelling, can be broken as long as the writer knows how to work within them first. I know how to work within them, so you can pretty much bet that I’ll always break them. If it works, it works and if it sucks, it sucks, but I’m not going to limit myself simply because someone said ‘no’ to me, especially when that someone didn’t come up with the rules in the first place. These people are lemmings and I have no respect for that kind of mentality. Switching POVs throughout was entirely necessary in this particular situation. Yes, it’s mainly Henry’s story, but it’s Tessa’s as well. That being said, it was entirely appropriate to give her the podium, so to speak. She was never meant to merely be some mysterious object, whose inner self was left up to the reader’s imagination. That would’ve been a cop-out. Well. That was long-winded, wasn’t it? I’ll keep my answer to the second part of your question short and sweet. David Strathairn, circa 2000. That’s just the way it is.
Debra: A little reader perspective on your point about Henry and Tessa sounding like you…I found their similarities made sense and emphasized their both being from the same northern area and ending up in the Keys. Especially, by the time he saw her and ran away…I knew there was a connection and they both were not from there and the similarities started to make sense and were, for me, key to the individual character development since they came from the same place and were finding their way back as the truth came out, so to speak. The fact that you imagined him as Henry while writing makes that a no brainer so not my smartest question today. Hey, this is my first NO Radio show ever, I am learning as I go!
Rachel: Oh, please, you know you practice in front of a mirror late at night when you think no one is watching. We all do it. It’s okay. I don’t really know how to expand on the Strathairn thing. I’ve been kind of obsessed with him for nearly a decade now. DJ thinks it’s hilarious and had a really good laugh at my expense when we finally met him and I was all star struck. I don’t get star struck. Ever. Cool as a cucumber when I met Keith Richards. Didn’t think it could happen with anyone if it didn’t happen with him. I think the big draw with David Strathairn, or “Dave”, as DJ refers to him, is his versatility. He’s one of those actors who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the broad range of characters he’s played over the last 33 years. There’s an indescribable depth to each one of his performances that most actors nowadays simply can’t produce. He’s also bloody gorgeous.
Debra: I am a fan of his work as well, he is a completely different person in each role and you just totally believe he is the character. I’d argue Sam Elliot is way hotter though! Without being too specific and without revealing too much about the plot, have you ever killed off a character who you felt particularly attached to and if so was it an emotional experience writing the relevant scene?
Rachel: I killed off two. The first death didn’t affect me at all. I still find myself in mourning over the second. It had to happen, though, so it was all too easy to write. Probably took me all of five minutes and I didn’t change a single word of it.
Debra: There ya have it folks and that will only make sense after you read the book. Then you will go OHHHHHH, wow, Really?? No way! <laughs, Rachel is patting herself on the back> Who are your favorite authors, who inspired you?
Rachel: For some bizarre reason, I always have difficulty answering this type of question. I suppose it always comes back to Nicholson Baker, author of The Fermata, one of my favorites, and Vox. I don’t know if I’d call myself a fan of John Irving, but I always found the density of his work to be breathtaking. I can’t cite Cathy Coote as an inspiration because I’d never even heard of her until about a year ago, but her novel, Innocents, is definitely one of my top three favorite books of all time. I was blown away not only by the story, but by the fact that she wrote it when she was just 19 years old.
Debra: Oh wow, I’ll have to check that one out myself! What are some of your favorite quotes from reviews that you’ve received?
Rachel: I’m just going to go ahead a quote both of my favorite reviews, just because I can.
“The reader of this book is inserted into the minds and souls of two lost people as they both weave through the debris of their shared catastrophic previous sexual encounter. In the end, they both reach a very different peace and closure. This is a dark, yet not depressing novel. I couldn’t put it down. The writing is tense and compelling — a real page- turner. It is one part a road book — think Thelma and Louise, one part Victorian novel — think Pride and Prejudice, and one part horror story — think of the Pit and the Pendulum. A warning: it is not for the prudish.”
“Hear Him Cry is a titillating, fresh, and wonderfully disturbing novel that confronts, or shall I say assaults, the reader. In the Jungian sense, Beam’s character’s shadows are on full display: Henry, the middle-aged, mild-mannered sociopath, and Tessa, the youthful, sharp object of his illicit desire. Written in crisp prose, the plot is a feminist Nabokovian meditation: Henry violates and captures Tessa. Henry and Tessa wrestle with authority and domination, sadism and masochism. Tessa does not capitulate.”
Debra: Wow, I am impressed, not just by the reviews but by the fact that you were able to quote them, like you were reading them, and she’s not, I swear! I wouldn’t have made it past the first three words without notes! <laughs> What other book would you regard it the biggest compliment to have your own work compared to and why?
Rachel: I have read those two reviews so many times, the words are permanently inked on my brain. Actually, speaking of inked, it’s not the worst idea for a tattoo, but the six I already have are probably enough. But I digress. What was the question? Oh, yes, we were talking about me. A few people actually compared it to LOLITA. That blew my mind for obvious reasons. The book’s a freakin’ classic and a daring one at that.
Debra: That is a huge compliment! That novel is regarded as one of the best known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature and has been the inspiration for many writers, operas, plays and so on. Originally written in English by a Russian author and published in the mid-fifties but I can’t remember the author’s name actually right now. That’s terrible…getting old!
Rachel: Vladimir Nabokov. And was his son ever pissed at the author who thought she could re-write LOLITA from Lolita’s perspective. I won’t even honor her book by mentioning the title. It sucked.
Debra: Oh, interesting, do tell me later, I like trivia like that. That’s all we have time for today, Rachel, thanks again for coming and for doing this interview with me. I want to share some information with our audience for you, links and such to find your book and learn more about you and then I’ll see you off, unless you want to stay and shoot a game of pool and finish a bottle of red, red wine with me?
Rachel: Unless I want to stay? DJ and I ain’t sleeping in the car, woman. You’re pretty much stuck with us for the night and I feel bad for you because we are not quiet people. If you think you like me now, you’ll absolutely hate me in the morning.
Debra: Well, you’ll be delighted to know, this studio doubles as a guest room with all the amenities and you must let my husband and I take you folks out for dinner and show you downtown Asheville. And, my house is several hundred feet away so you won’t be bothering us! Thrilled to have you both stay over, well, you have to what with us being new BFF’s and all!
Be sure to visit Rachel’s links and let her know what you thought of her interview! A special thank you to Rachel Beam for all her help in writing this skit – everything is fiction remember – though we captured how funny and witty Rachel really is and her dialogue is all her own. It may be on the screen in front of you and never happened in the studio, but we absolutely talked through all of this content to bring you the real Rachel Beam behind the book. Thanks so much for playing along Rachel!