I met Rachel Kambury in November at Historical Fiction Night at the KGB Bar in New York City, hosted by Monique Lewis, the founder of At The Inkwell. Rachel and I enjoyed each other’s readings and I knew then, I’d invite this talented writer to The Writing Life blog.
Born and raised in Oregon, Rachel Kambury developed a love for writing at the age of five. She decided to become a novelist after reading Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, when she was eleven.
Rachel self-published her first work of WWII historical fiction, GRAVEL, in 2009, two months before she graduated high school in her hometown of Ashland. Following a six-week battlefield tour of Western Europe that summer, she moved to New York City for college with her first novel in tow.
In September 2010, Rachel began her second work of WWII historical fiction, The War Bound, writing the entire first draft and part of the second while in school. The novel is currently in its third draft stage undergoing rewrites.
Rachel graduated from Eugene Lang College – The New School for Liberal Arts with a BA in Literary Studies in May 2013. She lives in New York City.
What is your book’s genre/category?
The War Bound is historical fiction.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Six days before the Allied invasion of France, Sebastian, a Nazi Lieutenant along with his young brother Jürgen attempt to escape Europe while their father Christoph, a Nazi Colonel, hunts them down for desertion.
As events unfold, the story’s more vulnerable underbelly becomes exposed, revealing what is at the heart of the novel: an intimate family drama about loyalty, trauma, free will, and sacrifice set within the horrendous conflict of World War II.
How did you come up with the title?
I knew I wanted the word ‘war’ in the title, for various reasons: it’s a word that people notice straight away and are drawn to; it’s also a very heavy word – when you see it, you have an almost instinctive understanding of its meaning, if only in a very general sense. I didn’t come up with the whole title on my own, though: I had a conversation over text with my dad and my sister where we bounced variations around to each other, things like “The Bonds of War” and “Bound by War” and things like that. Eventually we struck on “The War Bound,” and after a cursory Google search to make sure it wasn’t already taken as a novel title*, I decided that was it.
*The only other thing with a similar name is a group of MARVEL characters called “The Warbound,” which if anything is rather fitting given my love for MARVEL superheroes.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
There are so many, and frankly I could probably write a thesis paper about this.
I started writing the book because an idea came to me in class one day, but I’ve kept at it because in the four years since, I’ve discovered so many things about these characters and their interior lives and the world they live in and can’t give it up. I care so much about this history and the stories that have come out of it (and those that haven’t). As tasking as it is to write a long novel about Nazis, it’s also hugely rewarding.
It was important to me to delve into what it would mean to abandon the only life I’ve ever known for the sake of survival, which is a story that resonates with so many people but takes on an entirely new dynamic when it’s a story, however fictional, about the lives of Germans during WWII. I realized halfway through writing The War Bound that my groove, so to speak, is taking fictional characters and inserting them in very real historical contexts in order to get the audience – and myself – closer to the events and hopefully that much closer to a deeper level of understanding. Fact plays a very large role in my work, but so does the human aspect of what is a singularly human endeavor.
What is your favorite part of writing?
The buzz is nice; that creative high that keeps me coming back time and again. But more so it’s the characters themselves, especially after a good amount of time has passed and they’ve gone from being stick figures in the back of my head to fully realized people always hovering in my peripheral vision; they come to mean so much to me and writing the story they belong to feels like the only way to not let them down. I’m also a total sucker for that moment when a reader comes up to me and tells me how the story affected them. I’m seem to have a real knack for getting people’s tear ducts working…
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Sitting down and doing it. When I was in high school and college I had the luxury of having demands on my time that made me want to get around to writing as quickly as possible. As writing more and more becomes the center point of my life, I find it increasingly difficult to just do it. If we’re talking nuts and bolts, the hardest part for me is POV control. World building and detail? No problem. Dialogue? Sure! But hell if I can’t pick a POV and stick to it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
J.R.R. Tolkien and Kurt Vonnegut; William Shakespeare. Michael Chabon, Haruki Murakami, and Jane Austen; Jonathan Hickman and Frank McCourt. John Le Carré, Sebastian Junger, Herman Melville, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Brontë are also choice.
Can you tell I was a lit studies major in college?
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
This is one of those Pandora’s Box questions – I could go on for days. Kurt Vonnegut made me want to be a writer and Tolkien taught me how to write, and like most writers I’ve learned to create my own voice by reading novels by a lot of different writers, but the people I’m influenced by vary widely and change often. A lot of people in film and entertainment, definitely; Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Robert Downey Jr., Ruth Wilson, Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Jackson; George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard…
The men of Easy Company (of Band of Brothers) are hugely important to me, too. Perhaps most of all.
Favorite place to write?
The lobby of the Ace Hotel in NYC, or in my room with my cat snuggled on my lap; there are a number of other coffee shops I’ve come to love over the years, both in NYC and elsewhere. I like places with lots of activity, a warm atmosphere, good music, and spectacular coffee.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I have four tattoos (and have plans for many more)!
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
It’s amazing how important the little things are. It could be a missed comma here or too much white space there, but every time I flip through my first novel, I see something – a formatting mistake or a typo or a missing word – that pulls me up short. They’re the kinds of mistakes I know would make me put down a novel by another writer, and so I’m extremely aware of them now in my own work, especially since that kind of stuff can make or break me in the submissions process.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I listened to my mentors and readers. When a friend who works at a high profile literary agency told me “You need to work on your voice,” I took it to heart along with the line edits a former professor of mine sent along. Another friend mentioned that the manuscript was overly long and that one or two characters needed some fleshing out. I live for that kind of feedback, and it all makes each draft stronger than the last. Having people who provide unbiased constructive criticism as well as words of encouragement is absolutely invaluable, and I’ve only come as far as I have because of people who do those things for me. I am beyond lucky.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Be patient. Give the manuscript the time it needs to settle before you go around putting it in front of people’s faces. GRAVEL could have easily gone through another one or two rounds of edits before its publication, so now with The War Bound, I’m taking a lot more time to be diligent, to edit thoughtfully and carefully; the worst that can happen is that I start sending out queries later in the year instead of right at the beginning.
I’m also on all major social media channels as “rkambury”
Where can we find your book?
GRAVEL can be purchased online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu (for the ebook). Links are available on my website! And you can follow me on Twitter to get updates on my progress with The War Bound.
What’s next for you?
I’m gearing up for my first-ever crowdfunding campaign with Pubslush beginning January 1st! The goal is to raise enough money to give GRAVEL a second chance at life, so to speak, with a once-over for line edits, formatting, a new cover, a marketing campaign, and a whole slew of goodies for people who donate (signed copies, free ebook editions, posters, and more)! Be sure to check it out – click “Become a Fan” and be among the first to know when the campaign launches: www.gravel.pubslush.com
I’ll also continue working on rewrites for The War Bound, which is proving to be a rather daunting task considering I’m having to rewrite the first half, more or less. Just have to keep reminding myself that all good writing is rewriting, and each new page is a step in the right direction. Here’s to making some big strides in 2015!
Thank you for a great interview, Rachel. Best of luck with The War Bound and the crowdfunding campaign for Gravel!