Independence Day received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.
Following find an interview with author Rachel Teller (aka Austin Ogonoski).
What is the name of the book and when was it published?
So the book is called Independence Day, and it went “live” on the Amazon storefront back on August 3rd, 2018. This is something I’ve sat on for the better part of two years as this cringey vanity project I was a bit embarrassed to show other people.
What’s the book’s first line?
“Can I get two large coffees, double cream, double sugar?” I’m of the belief that every Canadian story needs to start at a Tim Horton’s, because that’s how it happens in reality anyways.
What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.
It’s about a teenage girl fresh out of high school, Candace, who doesn’t really care to take her mental health issues seriously, and is stuck in a perpetual destructive cycle that only her immediate family, as well as her boyfriend Mitchell, are willing to put up with. Candace and her boyfriend are intending to find a place of their own once Mitchell signs his first professional hockey contract with a minor league team, but Candace’s instability and violent outbursts become a much bigger issue than either of them anticipated – partially because Candace had been carefully hiding them from him. The pair are then forced into navigating an extremely complex mental health crisis, and learn first-hand just how difficult and uncomfortable this situation can be – especially as teenagers still struggling with their own maturity and the very real prospect that Candace might not get better.
What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?
Inspiration came from all over the place; it’s actually quite difficult to point at one exact person and say “she’s the reason I wrote this.” I started work on the novel after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theatres a few years ago. My buddy and I left the Cineplex totally confused by the story, and in the coming months it seems we weren’t alone as YouTube quickly became full of these really intricate videos dismantling the movie from front to back. It lit a fire under me, as I wanted to prove that writing a competent story with a good message behind it wasn’t all that difficult.
The core plot of a hockey player dealing with an unstable girlfriend, I have to thank Alex Galchenyuk for that. A couple years ago he was playing for Montreal and there were a string of incidents that made national headlines where his girlfriend was either arrested, or I think P.K. Subban had to break up a fight at a bar between them. We tend to forget the moment these athletes step off the ice, they have very real, human problems to deal with, sometimes as petty as relationship drama. I thought it would be a really interesting topic to explore especially from the significant other’s point of view; any argument can totally change the trajectory of their entire lives, and a simple breakup can be the difference between living on the top floor of a downtown high-rise, or working at a coffee shop for minimum wage. There’s a lot at stake for them and it makes them approach the relationship in ways that are definitely unhealthy.
As for Candace, I myself went through the mental health system at seventeen, so I was inspired to convey as accurately as possible, what it’s like to be in this situation first-hand. I wanted to show how complex these situations can get, and that when people lose their patience with you, sometimes it’s fully understandable. As a society we’re becoming quite good at openly talking about mental health and participating in all the social media hashtags that go viral, but when it happens in front of you, or to you, the level of chaos is something hashtags can’t really convey, and the whole “patience” and “understanding” rhetoric only goes so far. This book was written to drill that point home. That being said, Candace is primarily based on a girl I became sporadically involved with after meeting her in one of the inpatient programs I attended. Dealing with her for a number of years resulted in a level of stress and confusion I don’t wish upon anyone, but at the same time left me with a fantastic set of notes on what it’s like to live with borderline personality disorder, and it became the framework for Candace as a character. Many of her internal monologues, violent outbursts, portions of her backstory, and certain scenes in the novel, don’t stray very far from the “source material” at all.
Set all of this against the wintery backdrop of a western Canadian city, where everyone’s cold, cranky, and obsessed with hockey and cheap coffee, and you have Independence Day.
What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
Independence Day was written primarily to show teenagers why it’s of the utmost importance to keep their mental health in check if they’re aware something is really, really not going well at a pivotal time, just as they’re becoming an adult. Holding off on seeking treatment for just a few months, or being outright stubborn about it, can have a butterfly effect on the trajectory of their lives. And I think that’s accurately conveyed once you finish Independence Day. If you put yourself in Candace’s shoes and change up how you approach the situations she finds herself in by even a small amount, the outcome is completely different.
What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional would you say the character reminds you of?
The most distinctive aspect about Candace is her level of self-awareness. She’s fully cognizant of the fact that she’s stuck in a cycle of destructive behavior and is even taking this into account when planning out her future with Mitchell, but doesn’t quite have the tools to put an end to it, or realize just how unhealthy of a thought process it all is. That was a really important detail about Candace’s illness that I wanted to get as accurate as possible. In reading various online support groups, the folks who struggle with this disorder are in some cases 100% aware of how chaotic their lives are and feel an abundance of guilt when they act out, but aren’t sure how to break this cycle.
In terms of famous people, very early on in the writing process, my buddy and I went and saw the Tonya Harding movie out of curiosity, and I can definitely see where the concept of an unstable/misunderstood figure skater slipped into the book, but it wasn’t fully intentional, it just worked out that way. However, I’ll for sure concede and say that Candace is a more introverted Tonya Harding.
If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?
It’s the kind of plot that would benefit from having complete unknown actors cast as Candace and Mitchell. One of my favorite movies of all time is Silver Linings Playbook, another movie that tackles mental illness quite well, and as great as the story is, it’s a bit weird to see Hollywood millionaires like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence chasing each other around the neighborhood. That whole scenario that these are two random down on-their-luck individuals isn’t fully sold on me and I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen here. Independence Day’s plot really only works as an indie movie.
When did you first decide to become an author?
I ran a video game blog for a few years, so I already had experience writing on a fairly routine basis, and knew from the daily array of comments I received that people enjoyed my work, so I must have been doing something right. Writing a novel was a challenge I imposed on myself, just for the hell of it. Writing about video games, the structure of your articles or podcasts becomes pretty formulaic after a while. You’re either mad at a game, happy with a game, or discovering an old game, and then essentially giving your readers a gigantic list of reasons why. With a novel, you’re given a much bigger box to play inside, and you’re constantly worrying about plot devices, character development, themes, and pacing. I thought it’d be fun to try my hand at that balancing act.
Is this the first book you’ve written?
Correct. I’m genuinely surprised it got the rating it did. My own analysis I did prior to the review published by IndieReader, I pegged it at a 3/5 and I think there’s about a page worth of complaints I wrote down. I mentally prepared myself for a bad review and still feel embarrassed/ashamed to have taken up such a vanity project in the first place, mostly due to the subject matter, but it is what it is.
What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
I work in the video game industry doing quality assurance for a major developer based out of the United Kingdom, and race late model stock cars on and off throughout the summer. Breaking the news to my friends and coworkers that the guy flipping them off on the race track sat down and wrote a sensitive 370-page odyssey on mental health with a female protagonist has been a very delicate process, and I guarantee people will be laughing behind my back in the pits.
How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
For Independence Day, I set a hard goal of 4,500 words per chapter, and basically wrote anywhere from half a chapter, to a full chapter, per evening. The nights I worked on the book, it was an all-night thing, starting from the moment I got off work until midnight. Each night, I’d begin by editing the previous night’s chapter so that probably added to the elapsed time. If I were to write another novel I’d definitely impose more reasonable limits on both the word count and working hours, because there are definitely portions of Independence Day where it turns into Metallica’s “…And Justice for All” and is too long for its’ own good.
What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?
I think it was pretty cool that I could sit down and write the exact kind of story I wanted to write, and have the characters behave exactly how I wanted them to behave. I feel like the message behind Independence Day wouldn’t have gotten through if someone was tapping me on the shoulder telling me the plot in chapter X was too bleak and that I needed to go back to the drawing board. If that happened two or three times, I wouldn’t have finished the book at all. I liked having only myself to answer to.
The hardest part was definitely figuring out what to do once the book was completed. I don’t consider myself an indie author and I’m certainly not part of any online writing communities – this is more along the lines of outsider art than anything. Just figuring out how to get the book published on Amazon, or getting it reviewed by IndieReader, I didn’t even know what to type in to Google. I didn’t know this stuff existed.
What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?
Planning and outlining is the most important part of the creative process. You need to have a complete overview of your plot, down to what happens in the front and back half of every chapter, as well as complete familiarity with your characters. It doesn’t matter how you go about planning this out, whether it be in point form like I did, or sketching out your characters and settings to have a visual reference, you simply need to do it in a way that works for you. None of your novel can be left up to guesswork when you start writing because that’s how you’ll start making mistakes or leave plot holes open. Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, you can crank out chapters with relative ease, and even start doing some really fun stuff like writing the book out of sequence so people don’t notice your writing style shifting as the book progresses. Independence Day was written completely out of order and I think the book as a whole benefitted from it greatly.
Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling? If so, why?
One hundred percent. The story that inspired Independence Day isn’t exactly a happy one, and if it resulted in a career, or some sort of rights purchasing, it would mean all of this garbage I dealt with paid off in the end. It’d be a very strange conclusion and not something I expected given the cards dealt, but then again, some guy named Chad Kroger had an argument with his girlfriend in the early 2000’s, and twenty years later everyone knows the words to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me?”
Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)
I’m really not happy with the way modern media is heading and how a lot of books, music, movies, television shows, hell even some video games, feel really contrived. I figured I’d just be the change I wanted to see, to at least say I did my part.
Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?
Man, it’s all going to be sports or reporters. Keeping things inside Canadian borders it’s the late Christine Blatchford. There were a few stories she did in the final years of her career on some extremely touchy subjects that she knocked out of the park. On the sports side of things, it’s Zach Shomler of Strong Opinion Sports, Tony Kornheiser from ESPN, and Clay Travis from Fox Sports Radio. I’m sorry, sports personalities are all I got.
Which book do you wish you could have written?
I’m pretty sure everyone who dabbles in the young adult genre hopes they make it big like John Green. There was a period of time where the mere existence of The Fault in Our Stars went viral, and this is on top of his previous success in Looking for Alaska.