Does your student dream of publishing a novel someday? Then tune in now to Home School Heartbeat, as your host Mike Smith talks with author Rachel Coker—a homeschooler who published her first novel when she was just 16!
Mike Smith: Our guest this week is Rachel Coker, a recent homeschool graduate and a writer. Her first novel was published by Zondervan—when she was only 16 years old! Rachel, welcome to the program!
Rachel Coker: Thank you so much for having me; I’m so pleased to be here today.
Mike: Well, Rachel, can you tell us a little bit about your family and your homeschool experience? In other words, why did your parents decide to homeschool you?
Rachel: Oh yeah, sure; it’s actually a really funny story. When my mom first started homeschooling me, I guess it was like 13 thirteen years ago, she had never met any homeschoolers before, and it was my dad’s idea. He thought it would be great for academic purposes, but they homeschooled me, and I have two younger sisters, and we went all the way through, K through graduate, and it was just a really amazing experience. My mom and dad both learned so much, and we have a really tight family because of it. So it’s been great for us!
Mike: Rachel, what did you like best about homeschooling?
Rachel: I don’t know; there are so many great things about homeschooling. Like, you get to go on field trips, and, you know, you get to just go in your pajamas, but I guess my favorite thing about homeschooling was the flexibility that it allowed, especially my high school years when I was trying to travel and do different things. I could always take my school with me, and my mom was always there to help me out, and it just really opened up a lot of doors for me.
Mike Smith: Rachel, when were you first interested in writing, and how did you pursue that interest?
Rachel Coker: Well, it’s kind of funny, my first-ever story that I wrote was for a school assignment. When I was in 6th grade, my mom made me write a fiction story, and I just—she just sort of realized that I had a gift, and she didn’t really know how to help me, so she actually hired a creative fiction writing coach, who I worked with for about a year and just learned the basics of writing. And I actually do that now for other students, which is great, but it’s a really good opportunity for talented kids who want to be able to pursue their gifts in creative writing.
Mike: Rachel, what did you find the most challenging to be able to write?
Rachel: Oh, there are so many hard things that come with writing. I guess as a teenager I realized that I haven’t experienced, you know, everything in life, and there are so many things that I haven’t learned about, so it’s hard to strike a balance between writing about things that I know and that I can relate to, and sort of trying to tap into emotions and feelings that I haven’t necessarily felt yet. But it’s still, you know, a really cool experience to be able to write about life as I know it, in a way that other teens can really relate to and can see themselves in.
Mike Smith: Rachel, what is your second novel, Chasing Jupiter, about, and what inspired you to write it?
Rachel Coker: Oh, thanks for asking. Chasing Jupiter is actually set in the 1960s. It’s about a girl named Scarlett, whose younger brother has autism. Nobody really understood what that was back then, so their whole family is kind of thought of as being crazy and weird and kind of out there, and she really has to learn to how to sort of look out for her younger brother and hold her family together, and this is just a story that I think will reach to a lot of people. You know, I always think about my family, my relationship to my sisters when I was writing it, and I think it’s encouraging for anybody who wants to get to know their siblings better, or just understand themselves and their place in this world.
Mike: Well, why did you have an interest in this autism?
Rachel: There was actually an autistic boy who went to our church who I helped teach in Sunday school one day, and he was just the sweetest thing, and as I went home and was thinking about it, the idea for the story just started coming together in my head as, you know, this family who’s trying to stick together, and everyone thinks that they’re different but they’re really just incredibly intelligent and, you know, they see the world in a really beautiful and unique way that we can learn a lot from.
Mike Smith: Rachel, your first book was published by Zondervan when you were only 16 years old. How did you get a publisher to do that so early?
Rachel Coker: Oh, it’s definitely a God story because there is no way that I ever should have gotten, you know, that big of a publisher. But I started writing out letters to different agents (because I realized you had to get an agent if you wanted to get a publisher); and every single agent wrote me back and said they were not interested, that I was too young, that I didn’t have enough experience; and really all it took was one man, my agent, Bill Jensen, who wanted to take a chance on me. And he loved the story, and he sent it to some of his contacts at Zondervan, and, for some reason, they liked it too! And I had an offer on it within just a couple weeks; it was really amazing and surreal.
Mike: Rachel, other than getting an agent, do you have any other advice for other young writers out there?
Rachel: I would definitely say, for young writers who want to become published authors, keep reading! Definitely, just keep expanding your horizons and trying out new things. Write all the time. Give your writing to others to get feedback on it, and just remember to always keep enjoying yourself. And don’t ever let it feel like work, or something that you have to do, you know. Have fun with it! It should be something that’s enjoyable.
Mike Smith: Homeschooling can help prepare students for any vocation they might feel led to pursue. Rachel, how do you feel that homeschooling actually prepared you to be an author?
Rachel Coker: Homeschooling definitely encouraged me to be thinking on my own and to be trying new things. I know that all my years, my parents just pushed me to, you know, “try this and try that and see how far you can go,” and I think that a lot of that just really made me open to doing something crazy like trying to get a book published. And I definitely had the academic background that I needed in order to be a great writer, and my parents’ support! That was just a really amazing and encouraging thing for me.
Mike: Well, Rachel, do you think you’re going to be a writer for your whole life?
Rachel: You know what, I really just want to do whatever God calls me to do. I always tell people, “You should be doing whatever makes you happy.” So for right now, writing is what makes me happy; it’s what brings me joy. But, you know, who knows what’ll happen 5, 10, 15 years from now; I’m open to different possibilities!
Mike: Well, thanks again for being with us this week, and until next time, I’m Mike Smith.