Rachel Coyne is a collector of vintage editions of Jane Eyre, a devotee of Pablo Neruda and a lover of Don Williams songs. She is a graduate of the Perpich Center for Arts, a public arts high school in Golden Valley, Minnesota and Macalester College.
Whiskey Heart, Coyne’s debut novel, is the heart felt, sometimes uncomfortably truthful story of Kat Lovely. Kat returns to her Minnesota roots and her dysfunctional extended family to find both recovery and redemption. She has to hit bottom and find a way to grieve for everything that’s been lost before she can live again.
“Coyne understands the human heart – she knows all the dark corners, twisted by the heat and hurt of love, and she knows the odd paths back from ruin. I couldn’t put it down.” -Jonis Agee
“Whiskey Heart lays bare the destructive power of family love, and yet Coyne’s voice – as clear and sweet as water – charges the novel with a visionary light. Rich in character, place and incident, the story moves like fate towards its final chapter.” -Lin Enger
Imagine the movie poster for your novel, WHISKEY HEART. What’s the logline?
Love is a familiar stranger.
Expand on that logline by pitching us WHISKEY HEART.
Arriving home after years apart from her family, Kat Lovely tries to piece her life together by finally putting to rest her beloved cousin Tea. Charged with cleaning Tea’s rooms, giving away her possessions and finalizing her tragically incomplete life is almost more than Kat can bear – even years after her cousins death. Haunting Kat most are the stories her family tells, that resurrect Tea’s last days, even as she dismantles her life.
What was the spark that initiated the idea behind WHISKEY HEART?
All my works usually start with a clear “flash” of insight into my main character. I hear their voice and I love them deeply and I go from there, usually writing out all of the conversations first.
Talk to us about the writing process for WHISKEY HEART. Was it a fast write? Did you outline first or just sit and crank out the story?
I started this novel when I was fifteen and still in high school. I’m not a fast writer – my recent projects are going faster, but I still take a lot of time. What I typically do is write whatever I want in whatever order I want. I write the scenes that really grab me first. I don’t usually outline, except for reminders of the next few scenes, if I don’t have time to get everything done at once. I generate a lot of conversations, then I add action scenes. Then I usually put everything in chronological order and start typing from there. I stay pretty sequential after that – from page one to page 200. The process of typing out the conversations and the scenes usually reveals I’m light on descriptions or need a few extra scenes. So I add those. Once I have a typed draft things get easy again – I read everything aloud dozens of times and change things to flow nicely to the ear. At heart I’m a poet, so the language itself remains critically important.
If you were asked to describe your writing philosophy, how would you answer?
Find ways to make it easy on yourself. I don’t believe the process needs to be painful. It is work yes, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming work. If you feel overwhelmed, try a new approach until you find something that works for you.
What are you doing to promote WHISKEY HEART?
All through college I worked at a well-known independent bookstore called the Hungry Mind. This was the place for big names promoting books in Minnesota to give readings from Rick Bragg to Hilary Clinton to Isabelle Allende. I attended hundreds of readings of all sorts while I worked there and I still love them. So I’m trying to do as many readings as possible. I know this isn’t the most favored approach these days – and I do use social media. But I try to use the social media to encourage people to attend the readings, to meet me and hear me read aloud.
What are three pieces of advice you would offer writers wanting to get published?
- Expect a lot of rejection and don’t take it personally.
- Prepare for a long haul and have a day job you love (because life is too short).
- When you do get an editor or agent, be open to what they have to say about your work. Selling a first book is not an instant ticket to fame – you need to be easy to work with if you want to keep selling books.
Who is one of your favorite writers, and how does he/she inspire you as a writer?
Charlotte Bronte is an easy choice for me. I have loved her since I was a child. There is such a singular richness to her characters – I am always striving for that clarity of voice when I write.
Word Association. What comes to mind when you see the following words:
WHISKEY HEART: Family
FAMILY: Brothers and sisters
RACHEL L. COYNE: Voice
What projects are you currently working on?
My first published work was a children’s book – a poem. These days I write exclusively in the long form (but I still try to make the text read lyrically like a poem). I am just finishing the first typed draft of a new novel called The Patron Saint of Lost Comfort Lake. It is set in the same part of Minnesota as Whiskey Heart with some of the same themes related to family and alcoholism.