Hey, everyone! Today, I’m thrilled to present an interview with Rachel, a dear friend and a gifted writer. I reviewed her newest book My Rock and My Refuge a couple days ago, so if you’re wondering what all the hype is about, go check out my review! And now, let’s get right into the interview.
Describe My Rock and My Refuge in five words.
Human beings don’t thrive alone.
What first inspired you to write My Rock and My Refuge?
Um. Well, I came up with the basic idea for it about the time I wrote Cloaked. I knew I wanted to do a series, and I kind of mapped out which six fairy tales I thought I could retell as westerns — and that was back in 2016. So the first germination, I don’t directly remember. I do know my idea from the start was to retell Beauty and the Beast with a heroine who wasn’t a starry-eyed teenager. And it all built from there.
What was the hardest part about writing My Rock and My Refuge? The easiest?
The length has been a new challenge — the second round of revisions bumped it up to 125,000 words, which is far and away the longest thing I’ve ever written. The whole writing and publishing process has just been so much longer because, even though the final version is only around 103,000 words, that’s twice as long as any of the previous books I’ve published, and so every step takes twice as long.
The easiest part was getting to know the characters while writing the first draft. I didn’t have one single stinker who didn’t want to open up, this time. Usually, I have at least one who just will not talk to me and share their motives or plans or desires, but everyone in this was really amenable!
What elements of Beauty and the Beast are included in My Rock and My Refuge?
BATB is tricky to retell, I found, because it doesn’t have as many recognizable outward elements as a lot of fairy tales. Like, there’s a rose and a painting of Beast before his transformation, and a beautiful person and a not-beautiful person. Not like Cinderella with her glass slipper and her fairy godmother and her beautiful ball gown and the coach, etc. I really had to dig into the story itself to find the core themes and story arcs, and go with those.
So, yes, there’s a rose that gets taken without permission. The ‘beast’ lives in a castle-like house. We do see a painting of him from before his scars. The main character is a beautiful woman. Instead of a magic mirror that lets her see her family, we have telegrams and letters. Also, the original version of BATB has lots of siblings for Beauty — sisters who are snide and selfish, and brothers who are just absolutely wonderful. They try to take their sister’s place as the Beast’s captive, they try to stop her from returning to him later — they’re super. So I gave my Beauty, Marta, a wonderful brother, Jakob, who goes on her journey with her, protects her when he can, guides and comforts her… but also causes a few problems. They have vain sisters back home, too.
But what I really leaned into was the themes of Beauty and the Beast, which I see as being 1) It’s not good to live alone — people need companionship, and 2) When you love someone, they become lovable, not the other way around. And I tried to work those into the story arcs for both Marta and Arthur — both of them have been really lonely, and both of them are not especially lovable in some ways, but when they start to love each other, then they each become more lovable.
Is there any special significance to the names of your main characters—Arthur Wendell and Marta Beckmann?
Of course there is! Arthur means “bear.” Wendell also means “bear.” Not only does Arthur’s backstory involve a significant encounter with a bear, but he even compares himself to a bear hiding in a cave, at one point.
Marta comes from the Bible account of Mary and Martha, two sisters who were friends with Jesus. Martha is described as an incredibly hardworking and hospitable woman who works and works to make a meal for Jesus and his disciples. Marta here has that same drive to serve and help and make and do. And she also needs to learn that she can’t and should not do everything — that listening to God and relying on him more than on herself is more important.
Beckmann means baker in German. The Beckmann family have been bakers for a long time, so that made sense to me for a family name. And it looks distinctly German, so I like that it tells you their ethnicity right away.
Can you share a few of your favorite, non-spoilery quotes to whet our appetite?
Try these for size:
We found ourselves surrounded by buildings that all leaned drunkenly to one side. Paint peeled from their wooden walls, and the roofs bowed and twisted at unnatural angles. The windows in those buildings had no glass, making me think of empty eye sockets. I shivered.
“We maybe all should have scars we can see, if they would help us remember the times when we have been hurt but He did not allow us to be destroyed. The scars can remind us of escaping too, can they not? Even the ones no one else is seeing.”
When he had closed the door behind himself, I groaned. This would not do. I should not be noticing how nice my employer looked when he walked. I should not be saying things to make him smile. Between us, there could be a small comfortableness, only that. No friendship. Certainly nothing beyond friendship. I must watch myself.
I closed my eyes. This, I thought, is how any woman would like to be kissed. As if she is a treasure that a man does not want to let go of.
Big Ben had the strangest response of them all: he placed one hand on my head and said, “Bless you for reminding us to be human, Marta Beckmann.” Then he turned away before I could pretend I had not seen the tears in his eyes.
Who’s your favorite secondary character?
Jakob, Marta’s brother. He’s a brick. But he’s also funny. And kind. And loyal. And protective. He’s how I’d want to be if I was an older brother instead of an older sister.
Which character do you relate to the most?
I see myself the most in Mrs. Craig. She’s sensible and hard-working, she’s kind and welcoming, and she sticks with her friends no matter what.
What music did you listen to while drafting My Rock and My Refuge?
Mostly, I listened to the soundtrack for Quigley Down Under by Basil Poledouris. That really seemed to hit this book’s cozy, hopeful, but also serious vibe really well. The first draft and the two rewrites were probably 99% that soundtrack. During polishing, though, I went more for Bobby Darin and Dean Martin because they keep me energized.
What’s coming next in the Once Upon a Western series?
Directly next, probably a short story follow-up to MRAMR. The next book, though, will be called Steadfast and is a retelling of the Steadfast Tin Soldier that is going to be… gritty. And dark. And somewhat violent — we’ll get an actual shoot-out or two, and definitely some brawling. So that will be very different!
What is something you hope readers take away from My Rock and My Refuge?
That isolation doesn’t help. Avoiding people, hiding from people — it never leads to good and healthy things. Did I write this book during the aftermath of a pandemic in which many people became afraid of being around other people? Yes, I did. Am I a very shy introvert who often has trouble wanting to be around people? Yes, I am. Do I write my books to preach to myself sometimes? No, not sometimes — always.
Also, pray first. That’s a huge thing I taught myself with this book. I even got myself a ring with that inscribed on it that I wear every day now because I am so bad about remembering to pray before I jump in and try to fix things myself.
Any writing and/or self-publishing advice to share?
Learn how to persevere. Writing for publication is a long haul. If you give up whenever you’re discouraged, then you’re going to have a lot of problems. Get stubborn and don’t let yourself give up.
Thanks so much for allowing me to interview you, Rachel!
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Do you enjoy fairytale retellings? Did those beautiful quotes inspire you to read My Rock and My Refuge? Do let me know your thoughts about Rachel’s answers!