Festival Feature: Rachael Hanel

Festival Feature: Self-Taught Reader Hanel Will Discuss Memoir Writing at Festival


Featured Book: We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter

1. Have you ever presented at the South Dakota Festival of Books before? If so, tell us your favorite memory. If not, tell us what you are expecting and why you signed on.

I have not presented at the South Dakota Festival of Books before. However, I attended the Festival several years ago and was so impressed by the line-up of authors and the easy access to them. It was one of the better organized festivals I have ever been to, so I’m excited to be a participant this year!

2. What is the earliest memory you have of books and/or reading?

My mom says that I taught myself to read. My parents were of the generation that did not read to their kids. But I had an older brother and sister, so there were always books around the house. I liked to look through pictures in books before I could read. I was also a devotee of “Sesame Street,” and my mom says before long I was putting two and two together. I was reading before I went into kindergarten.

3. Who is your favorite author and why?

I really enjoy Alison Bechdel, the graphic memoirist. I find her work to be so smart and intelligent, yet accessible. She expertly uses metaphor to create a deeper meaning and brings her stories full circle. In terms of crafting an essay, I have found no one to be better. She also is most gracious with her fans.

4. If you have to give one piece of succinct advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Trust yourself. Early readers may want to shape your work, and you may be tempted to take the advice of people who have more experience than you. But only you can know your voice and know the style of writing that’s comfortable for you.

5. Tell us one fact about yourself that nobody knows.

In the era of social media and over-sharing, this is a hard one! I think I’ll have to pick something that few people know instead. I could speak a little German at the age of five, thanks to a sister who was in a high school German class and enjoyed playing school with me!

6. What was the greatest moment of your literary career?

I was elated when the editor at the University of Minnesota Press said he would accept my manuscript for publication. I had been keeping a spreadsheet of rejections—by that time I had dozens of rejections from agents and editors.

7. Describe the feeling you had when you first held a finished, published copy of a book you had written.

It felt unreal. In a way, it still feels unreal. I look at my book and see a nice-looking book, but it’s hard to believe that I actually wrote that and it’s now a published book. I think for so long I just figured it wouldn’t happen, and it’s hard to overcome those years of negative thought.

8. What is the best movie adaptation of a book you have ever seen? The worst?

The best: Adaptation. This movie is based off one of my favorite books, Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. The movie not only reflects the content of the book, but it’s also about the stressful process of being asked to adapt a book for the screen. It’s very clever and original.

The worst: Into the Wild. It’s actually a fine movie, but the book is one of the most excellent books I’ve ever read and it is just hard to adapt such a fine piece of writing for the screen. The movie does not come close to capturing the written story’s magic and mystery.

9. Write a haiku that describes you as a writer.

Writing is one piece
Of a life filled with bounty
Just one part of me.

10. What is the strangest question you have ever been asked related to your career as an author or your writings?

I was asked once at a reading event who my favorite serial killer was. In my book I have a chapter in which I describe my fascination with true crime stories at a young age. The question was funny, but caught me off-guard! If you want to know my answer, you’ll have to ask me in person!

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