Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women or nonbinary. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Sara Rauch (she/her). Rauch is an editor and book reviewer; she interviews authors for Lambda Literary Review and teaches creative writing. Rauch lives in Massachusetts where she writes short stories, poetry, and essays. Learn more about Rauch and her work on her website.
Grab the Lapels: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?
Sara Rauch: The first thing I remember wanting to be was a veterinarian. I loved animals, especially cats, and thought that would be the perfect life — surrounded by them every day, caring for them, knowing them on this deep level. As I headed into my teen years, reality set in: the hard sciences weren’t my thing, but more than that, I couldn’t stand to witness any kind of animal suffering, so being in a field where sickness, injury, and death were part of the daily roster wouldn’t have been tolerable. So, at that point, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I liked writing, was good at it, though I had a sense that journalism wasn’t for me and I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher, so I did what any impractical, romantic teenage girl would do: I decided to major in poetry.
Eventually I made my way to prose (and teaching) but my love of animals and my love of language infuses everything I write. One theme that comes up again and again in my work is the divide (or lack thereof) between the wild world (of which even domestic animals are a part) and the domestic world (where humans spend much of their lives). I’m constantly investigating that “hidden fissure” as Rick Bass has called it in his story, “Swans.” My poetic interlude gave me the tools and confidence to write word by word; I still struggle with plot, but I trust the lines and the details — eventually, they get me where my writing wants to go.
GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
SR: According to my mom, I started reading very early, and before anyone could even begin to think I might be too young for it, I was determined to read every book in the Adult Fiction section of my small town library (I made it through the A’s before abandoning the mission). And I discovered early on that I love the physical act of writing — I still hand-write many of my early drafts; I guess at some point I put these two natural urges together and realized I too could write books! My earliest stories were about cats. Some stuff has changed, but the cats and the words remain constant.
GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?
SR: Well, I’m not sure I have! *laughs* Seriously though, I think of creativity as an ongoing process, fed consciously or not. As I mentioned, my undergrad concentration was in poetry; I spent six years in my late twenties, early thirties working for an independent publisher; I’ve been freelance editing and writing book reviews for over a decade now; I have an MFA in fiction and I teach adult writing classes — but that’s just the CV-worthy stuff. So much of my writing and creativity is informed by just being alive and aware: relationships, connections, patterns, the natural world, conversations, etc. There’s no real distinction for me between creativity and living — it’s all bound up together in the same continuum.
GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?
SR: Ooh, good question! I’ll preface what I’m about to say with the warning that I have latent perfectionist tendencies that I am constantly trying to keep at bay. It’s rare that I’m happy with my writing — I can almost always see ways to improve what I’ve done — and that can be both good and bad. On the one hand, I push myself pretty hard. On the other, when something does feel “finished,” it’s hugely rewarding. The entire writing process is me being unhappy with what I’m working on and figuring out how to make myself happy with it. Sometimes (okay, often) I abandon pieces; sometimes I just keep leaning in — at this point, I actually kind of enjoy drastic revisions — until I get that little tickle of intuition: it’s here, it’s close. I try to trust that as much as I can, otherwise I’d never get anything done.
GTL: Did you learn anything from writing your book, XO?
SR: I learned that spiders can “fly” hundreds of miles using electricity and that when you’re outside, you’re never more than six feet away from a spider. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. XO was a fairly research-heavy book, even though it’s also incredibly personal. I call it a book-length essay because its main narrative thread (the “memoir” aspect of the book) is constantly being interrupted by examinations and investigations of the world around the narrator’s experience. There are several threads holding the web of this book together, among them spiders, bears, resurrection, and maps — some of which I knew about going in, but most of which I spent time reading up on.
GTL: Why do you think your book would be a good choice for a book club pick?
SR: Something else I’ve learned in the process of writing and publishing XO is that though many editors/publishers will tell you they don’t want stories/books about infidelity, the reading public is hungry for this type of content. I’ll add the caveat that this book is NOT your traditional affair book: I’m coming at the topic from the perspective of bisexuality (my long-term partner was a woman; the person I had the affair with was a man) and with the intention of examining the experience from all angles — pleasure and pain, moral and sinful, accepting and questioning — and with the overarching desire to portray this affair as insular as well as part of a broader landscape. There are no easy answers in this book — because there are no easy answers in life — and because of that, I think the story makes for some interesting discussions.