Today I have a fascinating interview with author Chris Rakunas, who has written a non-fiction book about his experiences with the Haitian relief effort after the 2010 earthquake. He talks about the book, his publishing experiences and his upcoming novel, The 8th Doll. Enjoy...
Interview with author Chris Rakunas
1. Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.
My wife and I just moved to a small town in Western Oklahoma called Clinton (pop. 9,000), and I grew up west of here in another small town called Los Angeles, CA (pop. 18,000,000). I grew up body surfing on the beach, and I still have a love for the ocean that comes out whenever I get to scuba dive.
Most of my career has been spent in various healthcare roles, including time as a COO and CEO of hospitals, which I think gave me a unique look at the world. When you get to meet with people who are dying and their families, you get a good perspective on what is really important in life. I never once met a patient who said, “You know, I wish I had spent more time at work.”
I have been very fortunate in life to have traveled a great deal as well, and I try to tie that into my writing. I have spent time in some out-of-the-way places like Lithuania, Mongolia, and Siberia. I just love the little gems you get from travel because it’s a gift that stays with you forever.
2. Please tell us about your book, Tears for the Mountain.
Tears for the Mountain is a non-fiction book about a medical mission trip to Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in 2010. Over 200,000 people died, and over 1,000,000 were made homeless in the blink of an eye, and the need for medical help was immense. I was involved with a team whose job was to deliver 20,000 pounds of medical supplies to local hospitals.
The book goes through how I became involved with the project and ends with the first day back from the trip. It’s partly a chronicle of the trip, but partly meant to give people an idea of what medical mission work is really like. There are funny moments, heartbreaking moments, confusion, passion, terror, and every emotion in between flying at you because that’s truly what the situation was like. One moment you would want to cry because of story someone told you, then you’d be laughing at something hilarious a child did, and then you’d be wondering if you were going to be safe.
There is a nice promotional video that people can watch about the book as well. It’s a nice video to watch after reading the book as well because those photos are all from moments that are mentioned in the book.
3. Why did you write this book?
The book actually started off as a bit of therapy when I returned from the trip. I had a hard time dealing with some of the images and things I had witnessed when I was in Haiti, and a physician friend of mine suggested I write some of it down.
About a year later some people I know suggested that I put it down in a book, so I began writing seriously. The project was never meant to be something that I personally profited from, but instead something that could benefit the orphans at New Life Children’s Home. Once I had made the decision to donate the proceeds to them, I really felt a sense of passion about getting it published and promoting it.
4. What was your goal in publishing your book?
There are two things that I wanted to accomplish. First was to remind people about Haiti. When the earthquake happened, it seemed to be in the news everywhere. People were starting drives to collect goods and money to ship over there, and then suddenly the next week a new reality TV show started, and everyone forgot. The kids who were orphaned by this earthquake are still there. The people who were made homeless are still there. They didn’t go away just because a new season of The Bachelor started.
The other goal I have is to fund-raise. When I got to see Miriam Frederick in action first hand, I knew I needed to do something to support her. Lots of people talk about doing good in the world; Miriam just goes out there and does it. She holds orphans in her arms, she touches mothers who are living in the streets, and she never loses an opportunity to let a child know that he or she is loved. It’s amazing.
I have been thankful that some major news sources like CBS news have picked up the story about the book, and I am always thankful when people tweet about the book or post something on Facebook.
5. What would you like your intended readers to take away from reading your book?
Probably the first thing is to let them know that you don’t have to be some sort of superhero to make a difference in the world. I’m just a regular Joe, but I decided that I was going to ensure that those supplies got to their destinations no matter what, and that’s what happened.
I also want people to get a sense of what things were really like on the ground there. There were a lot of people ‘assessing the situation,’ which ended up being a phrase I hated. I think some people like the drama of disasters, and they’re almost like disaster tourists. It’s ok to be involved with a crisis, but just make sure that you’re focusing your time and efforts on affecting a positive change.
When someone puts down Tears for the Mountain, I hope that they feel compelled to tell others about the story. Whether it’s posting reviews on Goodreads or simply telling a co-worker, every little bit helps.
6. Did anything surprise you about the process of writing Tears for the Mountain?
There were two surprises. One was just how different memories can be. When we were in Haiti, it’s not like we had planned to write a book and kept copious notes and photographs of everything. We went, we did our thing, and then we came home. But when I started writing the book, I shared the manuscript with Dr. Schroering and he and I had some different recollections. (He recalls me saying, “Dude…!” quite often during the trip)
The other thing I learned was that publishing really is a business. I received lots of praise from agents and publishers that said things like, “Wow, this sounds great and reads well, but we don’t do non-fiction right now.” But I received one email from a publisher that said they only did paranormal teen romance, and they’d love it if I could put a vampire into the story somewhere. At first I blew my top because…well, you can’t just add things to non-fiction, and you really can’t add a vampire to non-fiction. But then I realized that that’s just the nature of publishing. Publishers want to have books that sell, and if vampires help a book sell, then they’re going to ask for a vampire in everything.
I was very fortunate to start working with Divertir Publishing because we really had our goals aligned for this project. I try to thank Dr. Ken Tupper, the publisher, every time I speak with him for not making me add a werewolf.
7. I know you currently have a novel in the works. Tell us a bit about it.
I spent the back half of 2011 trying to figure out what I was going to write next. I felt such a strong connection with Tears for the Mountain that I didn’t want to jump into another non-fiction unless it was something I could really stand behind.
For the New Year, my wife and I were down in Mexico with some friends (Melanie Wilderman was one of them, for you Paranormal YA fans), and I was standing in front of the Temple of the 7 Dolls, a major Mayan temple in Dzibilchaltun. I was staring up in awe of it, and suddenly this story popped into my head. I wandered around the ruins for the next few hours, looking at all the different buildings and aspects of the area, and I couldn’t get the story out of my head for the rest of the week.
The 8th Doll ties together aspects of Mayan culture and architecture to weave a fast-paced story about the 2012 apocalyptic prophecy. It is fiction, and it’s the first of a four book series that follows the main character, Alex Guidry, to various places around the world, almost all of which are places I’ve spent time in. I find that the writing is much more interesting when you can describe the smell of the room and the way the air tastes. The mysteries and twists in the book are all factual.
The book will be out by 31 July worldwide, in both paperback and e-book formats.
8. Did you find it more difficult writing a non-fiction book or a fiction book?
This is an easy one. Non-fiction is way harder to write because you can’t change the story! In a fictional account, you can add whatever you want. If you suddenly think of a neat twist that requires a Mercedes Benz and a pile of rubber bands, you just go back 5 pages and mention that there happens to be an SL-500 with office supplies in it.
With non-fiction, you’re bound by the truth, which can sometimes be exciting, but sometimes boring. (Notice that there aren’t any bestsellers about getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist or trimming your toenails)
9. Are there any more upcoming projects for you?
I just finished the second book in the Alex Guidry series, The Eye of Siam. It’s about a jewel heist in Thailand, and I’m about to start the third book, which will take place in Lithuania. I visited an amazing 15th century castle there about 10 years ago, and I have never been able to get it out of my mind.
For anyone who wants to hear about release dates for The 8th Doll and what I’m writing next, I have a page with pretty regular updates. I also love interacting with fans, so I will respond to all emails and messages sent. One thing I have really enjoyed about writing is talking with people all around the globe. On any given day I can be emailing with people in Europe, India, Canada, and Australia. It is very humbling to have someone take the time to let you know that they’ve read your work.