Emmeline MacArthur is in the eye of the storm, a period of calm in the unstable life of political intrigue. As soon as the future looks clear, three shots from an old revolver shatter her precarious peace. In minutes Emmeline is plucked from picking dandelions with her daughter, Sophie, to standing next to the steel grave of her husband and his bullet ridden body.
In the months that pass, the assassin’s trail goes cold. Emmeline founders in a quiet depression, paralyzed by guilt and tormented by hazy nightmares. Grief leaves Emmeline adrift, barely able to be a mother. Tensions rise within the family and from without, culminating in Emmeline fleeing to Scotland, clinging to what she believes to be her husband’s last wish.
In the wilds of Scotland, Emmeline is confronted by more than she bargained for. The distance does nothing to alleviate her pain and Sophie becomes ever more distant and petulant. Emmeline stumbles through the process of grief, juggling work, motherhood, in-laws, and the notion of loving another man.
Emmeline MacArthur’s story is about love, the love which bonds a family, that compels a mother’s sacrifice, and the love which creates the framework of grief. The Clouds Aren’t White forces the question, what if the worst were to happen?
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And now for a little Q&A session with Rachel
Tell us a little about yourself?
I am a Colorado resident. I am a mother to a fantastic little girl who loves owls and ballet. I also have one of the most supportive husbands in the world. As I’m doing publicity for The Clouds Aren’t White, he’s more than once expressed his concern that I’m not finishing the draft for my second novel, due out in December.
Tell us your latest news
My latest news has to be the upcoming release of my debut novel, February 1st. I’m immensely proud of this project. It’s incredible to see it online. I’m waiting for the proof copy of the paperback edition which is incredibly exciting.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was taught how to hold a pencil. I have little stories from first grade (for all non US citizens-age 6). I was a voracious reader. I have clear memories (because it still happens) of picking up the condiment bottles when my parents would take us out to dinner to read the labels. I also read the menus, where the place little bios, everything. I began writing because so many wonderful books transported me to such fantastic places that I could not keep in my love for them. Writing stories was an escape for me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was halfway through the first draft of The Clouds Aren’t White. I have probably twenty stories sitting in the dark corners of my laptop, comprised of about 20 pages each, that I threw away because they just weren’t “the one.” With The Clouds Aren’t White I finally found a story that I wanted to tell, that I thought needed to be told.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My husband. I’m actually serious. Every story I started and then proceeded to scrap he would get disappointed because I wasn’t happy with it. Through every little step he encouraged me to keep writing, to keep working. So I wrote it because of him.
How did you come up with the title?
The title came about in a weird way. I was actually painting, I’m not very talented but its fun, and I was trying to get the sky just right and I kept looking at the photo that I was painting from at the sky is this mass of colors. Because white isn’t really white. There are yellow-whites, blue-whites, green-whites…just ask anyone who has painted the interior of a house, they’ll tell you. And the novel is so wound around terrible events in Emmeline’s life that I wanted to capture the depth of her experience and also that light can be found even in the darkest of times (oh gosh, I’m quoting Rowling).
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I really want my readers to grasp the amount of dedication that Emmeline has to her family, particularly her husband and daughter. As mothers and wives, our worth is so often (how do I say this delicately?) overlooked. I want readers to see the worth of such a strong woman, the necessity of a support network, the love we bear our children. Emmeline is the definition of a feminist, she chooses her own path, not letting even her parents dictate to her, and follows through.
What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Probably all the fantasy books I’ve read. One of my favorite memories is when I went to my dad, age 11-I think, and told him I had exhausted my reading material and I needed more. We weren’t well off so there was no going to B&N for me. He sent me out to our “freezer room” (Just an outbuilding with two freezers for meat and piles and piles of everything else) I was told to look for a box set of books, white, called Lord of the Rings and another called The Hobbit. I stayed in that room for three hours until my mother came out, livid, that she was calling me for dinner and hadn’t gotten a reply. Lord of the Rings exposed me to true stories. I don’t write fantasy, but Tolkien so clearly enunciates the friendship between his characters and how those friendships change the course of Middle Earth. It has stuck with me and definitely altered who I am as a writer.
What book are you reading now?
A Picture of Dorian Grey, which is done really well. For some reason I haven’t read it before. I also just finished A Monk of Fife, which is about a Scot who is with Joan of Arc in her last moments. Its a fantastic read, I encourage everyone to read it who is remotely interested in France or history or Joan of Arc. Also The Hobbit. Because those books are like old friends.
What are your current projects?
I am incredibly excited about my current project. It has no name yet. I’ve written down almost thirty titles and none of them convey what I want to convey. Quite the opposite of my first book. This novel is set in Paris and spans the years from 1960-1988. At the beginning of the book you meet, in Dallas, Texas, a man on his death bed who gives a sort of death-bed confession to his doctor. He’s dying of cancer at age 55. Before he has a chance to tell his deepest and longest kept secret, he passes, leaving his family completely unaware of his life in Paris. The book then flashes back to 1960 when David leave his home in Illinois for Paris. The book is based on a true story, and one I think that an author would have a hard time coming up with themselves.
This book will be better than my first. The story is just fantastic.
Do you see writing as a career?
I have so many things I’d like to do with my life, but yes, I do see it as a career. I’m not sure I’ll ever make a living off of it, but I will continue to write. Its in my DNA.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I didn’t get scrivener until after I had finished the first draft. I would change that. Writing a book in microsoft word is a terrible experience. I’m a scrivener fanatic now.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Is it weird if I say JK Rowling? No. She made reading fun for a whole generation of kids. She gave us one of the best stories and created a whole new world. She is the Tolkien of our time. But again its the relationships and the love and how friendship is so incredibly powerful and that it lasts beyond a person’s lifetime.
Who designed the covers?
Dave Hansow. He has an amazing non-profit called Light Gives Heat that works with women in Uganda to give them a livelihood making and selling jewelry. He also has created a tv show called The Find which tells the stories of people who are making a difference in the world, creating jobs and changing people’s lives. He’s a great designer and really captured the book and my ideas about the cover.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
You’re going to want to give up. After your first draft. After the first edit. After the 20th edit. After getting rejected by agents and websites and bookstores. Don’t give up. If writing makes you happy, keep writing. I’ve wanted to give up, many times. But not today.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
What else would I have to say, but thank you. This book is a piece of me, thank you for letting it see the light of day.
What makes you laugh/cry?
My daughter. Everyday. My grandmother passed away late last year and she was closer to me than my mother. I mourn her light in my life and our conversations.
Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
The Queen. Of England. She’s phenomenal and she’s seen so much of history. It would be amazing to talk with her about what she’s witnessed.
Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading. I do a little embroidery and dabble in painting.
What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I just started Madam Secretary which is wonderful. Oh the English and Swedish, Wallander, then Doc Martin. My husband and I watch a lot of BBC shows.
If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
A historian. At one point I really wanted to go work at the Vatican.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure, here’s an excerpt:
Paris isn’t Paris. Paris is a hundred different cities thrown into a pot and then cast out into the wind. It was this Paris that David found when he was looking for ancient Roman ruins and the Viking invasion of the Ile de la Cite and the labyrinth of revolutionary era streets. Paris is grey in January. Dirty grey marble, grey trees, grey mist burrowing into the alleys and settling down to rain for several days. Anyone who is anyone leaves Paris during January, just as they do when the summer sun beats down on the pavement.
It was this grey Paris that David found on January 11th, 1960. A Paris darkened by soot and the grime of centuries. It was into this less than sparkling city that David traveled by bus from Orly airport, but he saw nothing of the soot or grime. He hardly saw people. David who knew so much of the city’s history, saw Napoleon, the celts, the early Franks on the Ile de la Cité, even Hitler posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. David’s eyes shone with childlike joy.
Everywhere he looked, Parisians bustled about, oblivious to the fact that above them, a man drunk in their every movement as though he were dying of thirst and they the only water.
The grimy bus disgorged David in the fifth arrondissement, the corner of Rue Jussieu and Rue Saint-Jacques, in the middle of the Sorbonne’s campus. David remained where he dropped his bags, his gaze bent down Rue Saint-Jacques. Paris wasn’t meant to be stopped, not for an enraptured American. David was jostled this way and that until he picked up his two suitcases and set off down the street. David passed more classical architecture, barren walnut trees, and ornate metal scrollwork on balconies until he stopped in front of an unassuming front with only the world ‘hotel’, on a small sign, designating it as such.
After checking in, using his most polite French, he unpacked his few possessions in room 49, and rereading his letter regarding the grant, David felt almost deflated. He had left backwater Illinois, left all the places that held so many frightful memories, and yet peace failed to come. He felt as uncomfortable as he had in the train station in Chicago sitting across from Bertie Phillips.
Within ten minutes the door to room 49 shut with a rattle of the windowpane. David retraced his steps and soon found a quiet, unassuming café where he could sit in peace; in comfortable silence. The café that was delivered came at the end of an impeccably tailored waiter, all back and white perfection. It was delicious, it was metropolitan, it was Paris. Geography had done nothing to change David. He began to regret his hasty departure, the pain, the secrets that lay buried underneath his calm exterior. Life had become a farce. And so, before the coffee had even cooled, David left two francs on the table and walked in the opposite direction of his hotel. The rain began slowly, one drop at a time creating small dots of darker grey on the concrete until those dots began to merge into larger puddles. David couldn’t place when the downpour started, only that it had. Parisians fled in every direction, towards covered doorways or fabric awnings or onto buses. Meanwhile David walked, on and on through the drizzle, through the halos of gold cast by the streetlights and the reflection of the classical architecture on the streets. David saw the whole of Paris that day, while others fled the deluge, he alone saw the magic poured out on the pavement.