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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Smarty Mom: Rachel Keener

By Katie M

Happy snow-filled Saturday! If you find yourself stuck inside this weekend without a good book to curl up with, then take note of today's Smarty Mom: Rachel Keener. Rachel is the author of The Killing Tree, and she is getting ready to release her second novel, The Memory Thief, which will be in stores on March 10. Despite the fact that she is a full-time mother to two young boys, Rachel was able to pen her second book in just 16-months.

Rachel comes highly recommended as a Smarty Mom by two loyal TSP readers who wrote to Triad Smarty Pants on separate occasions asking for us to please profile Rachel. They had met Rachel at their book club meetings where Rachel visited as a guest speaker. One reader wrote, "I don't actually know her but she came and spoke to our book club yesterday. She told us that she is a stay-at-home mom and that she writes when her boys go to bed. Several of us commented that we felt like we had accomplished a lot if we just got the kitchen cleaned up after the kids went to bed, much less write a book!"

Rachel and her husband Kip have two sons, Kiplan (age 6) and Abram (age 3). They've lived in the Triad nearly 10 years. I'm excited for all of us to get to know this smarty author and mom a little more.

I am in awe that you wrote and published a novel, especially as a mom! How did you do it?
My first novel, The Killing Tree, was written before I had children. I could write whenever I wanted---throw myself into the pages, stay up as late as I wanted, sleep in on the weekends. But with my second, I had two little boys and a tight deadline (16 months!) to meet. My husband and I stopped treating my writing like a hobby. We treated it like a business instead, with obligations that couldn’t be shrugged off. We kept to our normal daily routines. I took care of the boys and our home during the day while he worked. But once he came home, we’d have supper together and then I’d go to “work” with my laptop in some corner of the house. He handled the evening routines of bed and bath. Like any job, there were always times when this routine had to give way to the needs of my family. There were ear infections that could only be soothed by Mommy, cupcakes that needed to be baked for a class party, and nights when my husband had to work late or I was too exhausted to do anything creative. But for the most part, we stuck to the schedule. And we met that deadline with The Memory Thief.

How do you balance your work and home life?
My original commitment — the one I left my day job for — is to care for my family. I can’t stop cooking supper, reading Curious George books aloud, or attending playdates, just because I want to write. If I’m writing under deadline, we treat my writing like an evening business that begins after I’ve spent my day as a stay at home mom. But if I’m not under a deadline, writing is a sweet indulgence, as good as the end of day bubble bath. I find myself jotting down ideas or lines, whenever they occur, and saving them for a time I might want to sink into them and create something larger.

I’ve also had promotional work for The Killing Tree this past year. But most of the meetings have been either at night once my boys headed to bed, or on the weekends when my family can tag along and we can turn the trip into an adventure.

What Smarty tips do you have for moms in your position?
My biggest advice for aspiring mommy-writers is don’t demand a clean start. Don’t wait for the big idea, the full outline, or the whole plot revealed. Start scribbling, find a voice you like, and ask questions about it. Allow your characters to answer you. If I had waited for the entire concept of The Killing Tree or The Memory Thief before starting, I wouldn’t have written them. Instead, The Killing Tree began with a few lines of poetry. The Memory Thief began with one small scene that ended up near the end of the novel. There is a mystery in the creation of a story. We don’t have to understand it all as we go along. It’s enough to just experience it.

You are often asked to attend local Triad book clubs as a guest speaker. Tell us about that.
One of my favorite things of the past year has been meeting with local book clubs. I frequently call out-of-state book clubs at night, to join their discussion via speaker phone. But I love to attend local book club chats. Having a book published was a dream come true, but hearing it discussed by groups of readers has taken that dream to a whole new level. It is so fulfilling to hear readers’ thoughts, answer their questions, and discover what their favorite lines or scenes were. I encourage any Triad book clubs that are interested in selecting either The Killing Tree, or The Memory Thief, to email me at to set up a discussion time.

What else do you like to do in your spare time (when you have spare time!)?
I am a passionate cook. I love to try new recipes. When I find a new dish that my family and friends love, it feels like I’ve discovered gold. I also enjoy volunteering at my sons’ school, and teaching a three year old Bible Fellowship class at Calvary Baptist.

And for our lighter questions...

Favorite place to get a good deal on kids clothes?
Children’s Place offers good deals on boys basics like jeans, t-shirts and jammies.

Favorite place to splurge on kids clothes?
Gap Kids for their superhero t-shirts. My boys loves these.

What is your favorite family activity?
Swimming, taking walks through the woods to look for “treasure” like cool rocks and turtle shells

Favorite “mommy-time” activity?
Having coffee with my friends.

Best place to eat lunch and/or dinner with the kids?
Midtown Café is great, because there are lots of options for everyone. My boys love the pancakes and the food is served quickly.

Favorite date place?
P.F. Changs in Greensboro

Funniest thing your kid(s) has ever said?
6 year old: My algebra is really bothering me. It makes my nose run and my eyes itch. (Me: You mean allergies.) No mom, Algebra is way worse than allergies!
3 year old: When I grow up I’m going to be an asteroid. (he meant astronaut)

Favorite park in the Triad?
Joanie Moser

Mini-van or SUV?

Best thing about raising a family in the Triad?
There are so many adventures within driving distance. Not just the mountains or the coast, but smaller things like the Caraway Speedpark—where my boys can watch some great races without all the crowds/traffic of Nascar.

Best mom secret YOUR mom has shared with you?
Not to expect my husband, Kip, to always parent the same as me. Maybe Kip wouldn’t hold our baby the way I believed would keep his neck “perfectly” stable. Maybe Kip wouldn’t respond with as much sympathy to their tears, as I would. But my children have a Mommy. They don’t need two of me. My husband and I are different, and approach them with our own unique and complete love. Our kids need that.

Oh, and her cornbread recipe. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Best birthday party you have attended?
A camping party for a six year old boy. There was a tent set up in the backyard for the boys to play (i.e. wrestle) in. A marshmallow roast over a fire pit. Camping themed games like a “Build A Tent” race using pool noodles and PVC joints. Then, once it was dark, each child was given a flashlight and a bag and led into an adjoining lot where glow in the dark plastic creatures like spiders, snakes, and dragonflies had been scattered all over the ground. The campers were able to keep whatever bugs they found and “caught.”

Best book you’ve ever read?
An impossible question for me. But the book that means the most to me is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This book taught me how beautiful language can be---how deeply it can make me feel, how easily it can break my heart. I read it during the same season that I first fell in love and found myself reading passages over and over just to savor their perfection. The plot was wonderful, but it’s Hurston’s words that I’ll never forget.

What’s your favorite thing about Triad Smarty Pants?
That it’s a collection of local stories, brimming with authentic Triad flavor. I also admire how it’s a source of collective-mother-wisdom. The shared tips, bargains, and ideas are so valuable.

I could not live without my...laptop.

I wish someone had told me sooner about... The Keurig single brew coffee maker. No more stale coffee in the bottom of the pot for me. Each cup is piping hot, freshly brewed, and perfect.

Great answers, Rachel, and thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with TSP readers! We're so glad our readers recommended you!

If you know a Smarty Mom or Dad , you can nominate her/him by sending us an email at


Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

I really enjoyed meeting Rachel and reading this interview! Always, like to be introduced to new authors and it is so exciting that she lives right here in the Triad!

candice said...

I would love to know more about her two books. Genre? Subject matter? I would like to propose these to my book club.

Ashleigh said...

Rachel spoke at my bookclub last fall. She is amazing! I loved her first book and have already pre-ordered her second on Amazon! She writing reminds me of Flannery O'Connor. "The Killing Tree" is a MUST read!

Carrie said...

Rachel came to our book club several months ago and she was wonderful. The Killing Tree is a great read but it was even better to be able to talk to Rachel about how she came up with her ideas and the process of writing the book. Fascinating. Great pick for Smarty Mom TSP!

Rachel Keener said...

Thanks TSP! I'm thrilled to be a Smarty Mom. Candice, my books fall into the mainstream/southern fiction genre. You can view their cover art and descriptions at And thanks Ashleigh and Carrie for your kind words!

Kelly G. said...

I love that Rachel chose Their Eyes Were Watching God as an inspirational book. Reading this book in college led me to a lifelong interest in and study of linguistics.

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