On the Road to Find Out Blog Tour: Q&A with Rachel Toor

Posted on 06/06/2014 in Blog Tour / 0 Comments

Today I am very excited to be a part of the blog tour for On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor! I found a lot of inspiration in this book (review coming soon), and I would like to send a big thank you to Rachel for taking the time to answer some questions for us. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading your answers, and yes, I really did love Walter! On the Road to Find Out Blog Tour: Q&A with Rachel ToorOn the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, MacMillan on June 10, 2014
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 320

On New Year’s Day, Alice Davis goes for a run. Her first ever. It’s painful and embarrassing, but so was getting denied by the only college she cares about. Alice knows she has to stop sitting around and complaining to her best friend, Jenni, and her pet rat, Walter, about what a loser she is. But what doesn’t know is that by taking those first steps out the door, she is setting off down a road filled with new challenges—including vicious side stitches, chafing in unmentionable places, and race-paced first love—and strengthening herself to endure when the going suddenly gets tougher than she ever imagined.

As a fairly new runner (currently training for my first half marathon!), I appreciated all the encouragement and positivity regarding running and how runners come in every shape and size. What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is a beginner? First, welcome to the club! I think the most important thing to remember is that this is what we do for fun. At around mile eleven, you might start to feel a little tired. It might begin to hurt. Remember: that isn’t real suffering. This is what we do for fun. Many people hate running because they start out too fast and then want to die. It hurts so much they never want to put on their shoes again. If you go slow, you can run farther, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Start off super easy and then, if you can, speed up. (And please let me know how your half marathon goes—I can’t say how happy it makes me to hear from people who join this big and welcoming club of ours.) I loved the wall of race bibs at Joan’s store, and how they each represented someone’s story. As an accomplished runner, what bib would you hang on the wall, and why? What a great question, and one I hadn’t thought about. When I read applications to Duke University I used to boil down some of the essays to baseball=life, or violin=life. This is going to sound horrendously corny, but for me, my bib might say something as embarrassing as “running=love.” I only started running because a man I was dating would take my dog for runs and eventually I decided I didn’t want to be left behind. We had all our hard relationships talks during runs. The races I care most about are not those where I won or ran well, but where I made a connection: had a great conversation with another person, figured something out in my head, or was in a beautiful place and felt at home in the world. My most profound experiences have always come from serving as a pacer; I’ve led pace groups at marathons, accompanied other runners for the last 40 miles of a 100 mile race, and have jogged beside a friend in her first race. Those are the times when I cry after crossing the finish line. Often when I’m running my heart gets full of love. It’s that simple, and that corny. Alice is a self-proclaimed “rodentiaphile”, and the way you wrote about her pet rat Walter completely humanized him (and made me feel so much more for Alice!).  I know that you have had several unusual pets. Was there a special pet that inspired you to create Walter? Oh yeah. Walter was based on my darling Iris. She died five years ago and I still miss her, even though I now have a great dog, Helen. Iris was so loving, so funny, so smart, and so very wise. When my mother was sick with cancer, Iris and I drove across the country to stay with her. She called her grandrat “my healer.” In the mornings I’d let Iris out of her cage and she’d patrol the house. Then she would run along one couch, leap onto the arm of the other one, and then pounce onto my mother’s neck. I’d shout, “Incoming!” as a warning. Iris spent much of that summer nestled on my mother’s chest while my mom read or slept. Iris was very bonded to me, but she seemed to know that my mother needed her. They died within two months of each other. On the Road to Find Out is your first novel. How was that writing process different than with your previous books? For one, it was fun. I usually find writing excruciating, especially having to do the kind of hard thinking and emotional archeology required to write a memoir. My editor suggested the idea for the novel to me—which in itself was a different and unique experience—and what surprised me most was how collaborative the process was. I fed him pages as I went along. He had to read a lot of really bad writing, but he just kept encouraging me and made me believe I could do it. He was the perfect coach. And all the weird things that my novelist friends would say about writing turned out to be true. I really did want to know what happened to my characters because, while I had some ideas, I had to learn to listen to them. (That’s sounds so weird.) The plot twisted and turned in ways I hadn’t planned and became something outside of my control. (That sounds so weird.) And it’s funny that after writing three pretty revealing books about myself, there’s more of me in the novel than in anything I’ve ever written. I feel exposed and vulnerable, and protective of my characters. (So I’m really glad you liked Walter. I’m worried that people will make mean comments about rats because they don’t know any better.) I loved the themes of finding your own path and turning something that is initially perceived as a failure into something positive. As a Yale graduate and college professor, was it difficult to relate to – and write about – someone in Alice’s situation? I like to say that the only test I’ve ever failed in my entire life was the written portion of the motorcycle driver’s license—and I failed it twice!—but that’s not true. Well, it’s true I failed it twice and passed on the third attempt, but I’ve failed at so many things, including relationships and friendships. My life and career path have been a series of zigs and zags. Three times I’ve quit a job without having another one lined up and with no idea what I would do next. In my late thirties I spent three years eating popcorn for dinner because that was what I could afford. What I’ve learned, and it’s taken a long time, is to expect to fail and to know that it won’t be the end of the world. Running has helped with this. I fall a lot when I’m doing trail runs. Other people freak out when they trip. I just say, “Oh, right, I fell again,” pick myself off, brush off the blood, and keep going.  There’s a quote that’s attributed to Olympic marathoner Don Kardong about long races: “It never always gets worse.” That’s what I tell myself when I screw up. I still screw up a lot, but I’ve learned to embrace making mistakes and owning up to them. The fact is, by the end of the book Alice is a lot more together than I was at her age, and maybe even at my own age. On the Road to Find Out is the perfect title for Alice’s journey. It’s also a Cat Stevens song that is mentioned in the book, and those lyrics are a perfect fit. Does that song have special significance for you? Thank you for noticing that.  I saw the movie Harold and Maude freshman year at college and have watched it every few years since then. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry and I love the way the soundtrack feels like another character. My BFF Candace suggested I use OTRTFO as the title and, as is so often the case when you have a best friend, she knew better than I did what I needed. It’s a mouthful, but I’m so glad you agree that it’s fitting. I also like it that when you say OTRTFO out loud it kind of sounds like a song.

About Rachel Toor

Rachel is currently associate professor of Creative Writing at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, the graduate writing program of Eastern Washington University. She lives with her dog, Helen, who raced in her first half marathon in February. She was 4th dog (out of 42).

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Jessica’s addiction to books began at age 4, going on weekly trips to the library with her mom. After being a young fan of Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitters Club, she discovered the thrill of reading a book that made her want to leave the light on and check under the bed. Her all-time favorite author is Stephen King, but she will read just about anything! Jessica never leaves home without her e-reader, and considers it the best gift she ever received. Her other hobbies include running and going to Disney World as often as possible.

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