Meet the Writer: Sara Rauch

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.

photo by Lee Biase

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.

21 comments

  1. I’d be interested to see a study done on the intersection of children who are animal lovers and turn out to be writers. I feel like the two very often go together – sort of an opposing force to children who torture animals and then grow up to be serial killers!

    Liked by 1 person

      • This makes sense in my head!!! Like, writers are often sensitive people who observe the world around them and the kids who care about animals are more in tune with their surroundings. I see a huge variety in the way kids interact with other living creatures and I think a study about the future careers of those kids who love animals would be fascinating! I don’t think such a study will ever be done but I feel like there’s a correlation there! Possibly just in my own head…

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  2. Great interview! I would agree, I think the public is way hungrier for stories about affairs than publishers let people believe. I also think that those stories tend to come from the injured party more than the person involved in the affair, so that gives the book an interesting, uncommon perspective.

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    • I wonder what happens to people who try to read the whole library when new books get added. That would just trigger so much anxiety in me because it wouldn’t be true that I’d read the WHOLE library.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A crazy cat lady after my own heart! I love it. I also find it interesting that she says editors don’t want books about infidelity because the public clearly does! That stuff is spicy and keeps the pages turning LOL And so many thrillers these days are based on affairs it seems…

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    • OMG, so many thrillers are well-to-do white ladies who have everything together and yet she STILL can’t keep her man from straying. Where did she go wrong?! She did the stairmaster faithfully for years! The other woman must diiiiiie!

      Liked by 1 person

      • BHAHAHAAHAH the stairmaster reference is what really made me LOL at this comment b/c it’s how I feel about my Peleton bike. Although, I workout to make myself feel better, it really has nothing to do with my husband b/c he doesn’t really work out himself. I just find my mental health takes a nose dive when I’m not active for a few days

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  4. Excellent interview Melanie. I don’t know this writer or her work – not surprisingly – but the work sounds interesting. I like the idea of an interrupted essay, though whether I’d enjoy reading it is another thing, of course.

    And as a pretty irrelevant aside, I thought I’d like to be a physiotherapist when I was around 12 or 13, until I realised it needed hard science. That was not my thing either. I have this funny story about how in first year high school, I came first in science. I loved the relief science teacher we had that year. Several years later, going to university a thousand or so kilometres away, I ran into this science teacher again. He was an English lit lecturer. I often wonder whether somehow my love of English and his somehow combined for me to be able to do science well that year!

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    • I don’t see it often, but there are occasionally scientists who love literature and vice versa, and I think it makes all the difference. If we can’t humanize science, it won’t matter to non-science people. And if we can’t address science in literature, bookish folks might forget their own world and facts, in a way. Like, why invent a whole dystopian future when you can use and build on real science about the environment, for example.

      I’m definitely interested in Rauch’s book because I myself went through an MFA program and love to get other people’s perspectives on the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Luckily I was looking for something else, pages down in my inbox and came across this post with a guilty start. I did mean to read it. Really! Especially after being reminded on Sunday.
    Your interviews always get interesting responses (from the author) so don’t stop doing them – well that’s my vote anyway – it might even be our last link to your beginnings in ‘small’ authors from small publishers, which I always enjoyed.
    In Australia I don’t think we’re ever more than 6 inches from a spider, usually poisonous. Good thing they’re mostly shy.

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    • You Australians have this big, muppety spiders that are friendly and eat other things that are more dangerous, probably mosquitoes, so I know some folks just let them live in the corner in the kitchen. If it were me, I’d name the bugger and have conversations like, “Hey, Fred, just here to get coffee.”

      I hadn’t realized that my interviews are a last link to my origins, but you’re right. Way back in the beginning when I was on Weebly, all my books were sent from authors, and the interviews came shortly thereafter.

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  6. Great interview!! 😀
    Reading her answer to your question about what happens when you’re not happy with your writing was sooo relatable. Wanting everything to be worded just so and going back and changing it over and over again is a problem I really struggle with, but like she said, nothing will ever get finished like that.

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    • OMG! Would you like to do a Meet the Writer feature?? People don’t need to be published, I just care whether they write or not. I care about their journey as a writer. If you’re interested, shoot me an email at grabthelapels [at] gmail [dot] com.

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      • Oh, wow! That sounds amazing! 😀 Thanks! I’ll definitely shoot you an e-mail. I’m just a little fledgling writer who hasn’t tried to get anything published just yet, but I’d love to do a Meet the Writer feature with you! ❤ Thank you!

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        • I’m so excited! I was telling someone else recently that I used to interview a LOT of people who aren’t published yet, and those are some of my favorite interviews because I’ve caught people at a special time in their journey.

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