Life in a teenage rock band

Alum Rachel Sammons self-publishes her novel Toni

Hannah Pecis and Kate Alaks

Kate Alaks, Opinion Editor

Standing in the Riverside Library, a subtle streak of purple in her hair, Rachel Noelle Sammons cues up a PowerPoint full of of pictures of a Croatian island and begins to talk about her summer vacation. But there’s more to the slideshow than that.  Rachel used her vacation to write a 602 page book called Toni.

A former bulldog, Rachel graduated RB last May, 2013. Between her junior and senior years, she went on a two week trip to Europe with her family and spent eleven days in Italy and three on an island in Croatia. This island became the setting for her book. “I believe that setting is a very important part in a book because where you are affects what happens to you and how you feel. I believe the setting of a place is as strong as a character,” Sammons said during her presentation.

Upon returning home, Sammons began writing her story. She preferred to write in the evenings, with no set schedule, and most of the initial writing was done in about six weeks, during July and August. This was not so surprising; Sammons has always had an affinity for writing.

“I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was old enough to know what writers do. When I was little, I loved telling stories,” she said. What was more surprising was the actual presentation. “I don’t typically like being in the center of attention so presenting my novel to the community was something I thought I’d never do. In fact, I kind of fantasize about being a ghost writer,” Sammons said. “But it is extremely wonderful to meet so many people interested in my book.”

Toni is told in first person by a teenage girl who is sent off to live in a made-up city in Croatia. “She is very eccentric and crazy rebellious, and she decides that she wants to be a singer,” Sammons said. “Toni cuts off her hair, gets a tattoo, and joins a rock band.”

The first person perspective was both challenging and exciting to write in. The character of Toni is inspired by one of Sammons’ closest friends, which required Rachel to improvise. “I can be very shy, but my introversion is deceitful, because in my head I am tempted by ideas. So it was very fun to write Toni because it was basically channeling my inner rebellious self,” she explained.

The editing process began during the fall of senior year. Sammons proofread the book herself and gave it to multiple friends to edit as well. That took even longer than the initial writing, in part because the fall of senior year entails searching for colleges. Sammons said, “All I could thing about was Toni. It was very frustrating for me to find a balance.”

One of the hardest aspects of writing was the research. “Ninety-nine percent of the challenges I faced while writing this book all traced back to the fact that I decided to write it in Croatia,” she said. “I don’t regret it, but it was very challenging for me.”

She got in contact with three girls living in Croatia. “Since it was through the Internet, it wasn’t intimidating at all,” she said. “I simply explained to them that I was an author writing a book that takes place in their country. They were very thrilled. One of them even offered to translate my entire book into Croatian.”

She also realized that there were some pretty big changes she would have to make. One involved the school system, which doesn’t meet at the same times as school in the US. The other involved her characters’ names; which it turned out weren’t really Croatian. “It was very challenging for me because I had been living with these characters for so many months,” Sammons explained. “It was like changing the name of your best friend.”

By April of 2014, Toni was finished. “While writing a book, I never really think about publishing it or anything like that because I’m so caught up in the story. But after finishing Toni, I knew that I wanted people to read it,” Sammons said.

She put the book on Kindle initially, with a fake cover just to make it available. Eventually she created a cover with her friend, Sofia Soluri, and self published using Create Space. “The self-publishing process would have been easy if my laptop hadn’t succumbed to narcolepsy,” Rachel said. “It’s a simple step-by-step process on a website…I do recommend it to writers even if they want to be ‘actually published.’ It’s a way to get your name out there.” Even though Sammons has always wanted to see her work in the big bookstore, she feels that self-publishing was worth it. “I used to be totally against self-publishing but seeing my musician friends recording their own music and putting songs on Sound Cloud inspired me,” she said

Rachel sees her story as a good representation of teenage life. “I suppose it’s very upbeat, but it’s also very insightful into the mind of a teenage girl, because all the young adult books I’ve read are about very angsty teenage girls,” she said. “It seems like every teenage girl is full of angst. But Toni is very much different. She’s the type of teenager, and I know many teenagers like this, that doesn’t let anything get them down.” She added, “Teenagers don’t stew in their own stress and self-pity, they go out and do whatever it takes to suppress any bad feelings.”

As she ends her presentation at the Riverside Library, Rachel is getting ready to head off to college. She isn’t just leaving home; she’s leaving the country to go to University of East Anglia in Europe. Since publishing Toni, she has already written a second book following the events of the first one. It is in the editing stage at the moment. Rachel hopes to make a short series of books, but has no definite number in mind.

Both the North Riverside and Riverside Public Library have copies of Toni available for checkout. You can find out more information about Rachel Noelle and Toni on Facebook, Blogger, and MySpace. Toni is available for purchase in paperback or electronically.