Friday, August 20, 2010

Fresh Voice: Rachel Colina!

"we do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit." - E.E. Cummings

Welcome to the latest edition of Fresh Voices. We are delighted to share with you the voice of Rachel Colina!

What is your ultimate writing goal?
This question is at once easy and scary. I think about writing. I talk about writing. And I certainly write about writing. A lot. But what is my ultimate writing goal?

“Only connect,” E.M. Forster said, and that’s it. That is all. Connect people, connect ideas, connect seemingly disparate times and places. Connect myself.

(Of course I hope that ultimately this results in publication and readers and long-term happiness…)

Why do you write?
I write in order to make sense of the world. If I’m confused about something or someone, I write about it. I try to understand and explore different points of view. But more than that, I love stories; it doesn’t matter if the story is about my family, myself, or someone I have made up. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “a story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in that story to say what the meaning is.” I relish telling that story, revealing that meaning.

Your writing is both sweet and smart. Have you worked to achieve that voice or is it just a natural style for you?
When I was a child—timid, shy, but oh-so interested in the world around me—I would replay in my head conversations I had listened to throughout the day. I couldn’t wait until I was alone so I could “hear” them again! I would add my own narration and think about what I would have said if I were a little braver.

My writing voice is the one I hear in my head; it’s optimistic and nudges me to be more compassionate and understanding. When I write fiction, I draw from those conversations I’ve been cataloging throughout my life. My writing and language are grounded in my experiences and observations.

Who are your favorite authors and why do you  like them?
I’ve read everything by Flannery O’Connor and love the ugly and flawed characters that populate her stories, from Hulga (born “Joy”), the one-legged woman who believes in “nothing” and who attempts to seduce a traveling bible salesman, to Mrs. Turpin, who gets a book thrown at her and is called an old warthog inside a doctor’s office. I enjoy the short stories of Amy Bloom, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Lee Smith, and too many others to count!

I also love Barbara Kingsolver and Jhumpa Lahiri, and I’m getting impatient for another book by Jeffery Eugenides. My favorite authors are ones who let their characters drive the action and not the other way around.

What most attracts you to the life of a writer?
I used to joke that I’d love to be a perpetual student; take classes, write papers, and learn tons and tons of stuff!  “If only I could get paid to be a student,” I’d say. But being a writer is even better. I direct my own learning, steer my own education.

Until last month, I taught Composition and Introduction to Literature to nursing students. There was so much I loved about being a teacher. I helped them find their voice and shape their own writing. But while I played an important role, their successes and failures were their own. I think today’s writers are more connected than ever; writing is a less solitary endeavor than twenty or even ten years ago. Still, our successes and failures are our own. My own.

If you couldn't be a writer but knew you were guaranteed success at a different career, what would you choose?
I’m sure I would be an educator of some sort, whether leading a creative writing workshop for older adults or teaching children how to make homemade paper in an afterschool program. My mom teaches third grade and my dad, formerly a principal, is building schools and resource centers in Kenya; education is in my blood.

If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
In the first writing class I took as a freshman, our assigned text was William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” Zinsser stresses the importance of clarity in writing; eliminate clutter, redundant words, the “thousand and one adulterants” that weaken our sentences. I carry that advice with me in all my writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, formal or informal, and I’ve passed it on to my own students.

Rachel currently resides in Cincinnati, OH, where she cheers on the Reds and cannot wait to see what happens when Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco line up together for the Bengals. She doesn’t have any pets, but she does have a giant stuffed penguin named Wally given to her during a stay in the hospital as a teenager. Rachel’s blog, Perfect Sand, is named after a holiday she and her best friend made up in 1989, wherein they meticulously filtered a neighbor’s sandbox (“Perfect Sand Day” remains November 3rd). She started the blog two years ago to post pictures from her trip to London and has since been using it to chronicle her journey as a daughter, teacher, and aspiring writer. For a sample of her personal, nonfiction writing, check out this post from January, Communities. (She’s currently building a wordpress site to house her fiction). Follow Rachel on twitter (perfectsand), but beware of tweets about the Reds, politics, and libraries in addition to ones about writing!

Check out:


  1. I, too, love the idea of being a perpetual student, especially now that I get to direct my own learning. What's the point of living without expanding your pool of knowledge? None that I can see -- stagnation holds no appeal for me.

    Best of luck with your writing career! :)

  2. "I think today’s writers are more connected than ever; writing is a less solitary endeavor than twenty or even ten years ago." I agree! The twitter community is filled with folks who share the same passion as we do for writing. It's comforting to connect with other serious writers. Nice interview!

  3. Rachel you are so awesome....I am really proud to call you a friend! Good Luck.....I promise to buy a dozen copies of your first novel =)

  4. Congrats, Rachel! And I love that you describe your writing as "wistful". That's the exact word I used to describe your writing in one of my earliest emails to you (when I first became a fan of yours!). "Wistful"--one of the most beautiful words in our language!