|photo: John Hawkins
Rachel Hawkins is the author of The Wife Upstairs, as well as many books for young readers. Hawkins also writes romance novels under the pen name Erin Sterling. She studied gender and sexuality in Victorian literature at Auburn University and lives in Alabama. Her latest novel is Reckless Girls (St. Martin's Press, January 4, 2022), a gothic suspense novel set on an isolated Pacific island with a dark history.
On your nightstand now:
The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. I'm a sucker for anything gothic, and this one is so lovely and strange. Perfect cold weather reading. I'm also reading Alison Weir's Queens of the Crusades because I love a good history book, and just picked up S.A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears. Since it's the holidays, I've got both of Jenny Holiday's rom-coms, A Princess for Christmas and Duke, Actually, plus an Agatha Christie collection, Midwinter Murder. My nightstand is in constant peril of tipping over, to be honest.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. It's an Elizabethan-era retelling of the Tam Lin legend, and I was deeply obsessed with it as a kid. I think it's what also started my lifelong love for Prickly Heroines (And the Seemingly Feckless Pretty Boys Who Love Them.) Plus it's super spooky, and I'm always very here for that!
Your top five authors:
I love Sarah Waters so much that I refuse to read Affinity simply because I always need to have an Unread Sarah Waters Book in my back pocket, as it were. And Stephen King's books have been with me since the time I was around 10 (I know!! Too young!!). It's a really special thing to get to keep reading and loving an author for that long. Same with Nora Roberts, who I also admire so much for A) putting out like 184 books a year, and B) making every one of them great and compelling. Rebecca Roanhorse is so ridiculously talented I can hardly stand it, and has very quickly become one of those authors where, if they write it, I will buy it, don't even have to know what it's about. I also love Elizabeth Chadwick's medieval historical fiction so much that I always order a hardback copy from the U.K. when it comes out over there rather than wait for the U.S. version.
Book you've faked reading:
I was an English major! I faked reading a LOT of stuff! But the one that immediately springs to mind is The Mill on the Floss. Sorry, George Eliot!
Book you're an evangelist for:
People are probably so tired of me yelling about Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall, but too bad for them, because here I am, yelling about it again. It's a short book, more a novella, really, but it packs a BIG punch. It's Daisy Jones & the Six run through a '70s British folk horror filter. How can you not be evangelical for a book like that?
Book you've bought for the cover:
Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty. And what a fabulous decision that was because the book was even more gorgeous than it's admittedly very gorgeous cover, and that's also the book that convinced me I wanted to try my hand at writing YA.
Book you hid from your parents:
Judy Blume's Wifey. Sorry, Mama! I also had a tendency to take books that looked racy off my parents' shelves and hide them in my room (looking at you, The Mummy by Anne Rice!) which, in retrospect, was not the brightest move on my part since I'm sure my parents knew exactly where those books were going.
Book that changed your life:
When I was in college, a professor assigned Nikki Giovanni's Love Poems because she was coming to speak at the university. I read and enjoyed the poems, so I went to her talk, and promptly had my whole brain broken open in the best way. I walked out of that talk a different person than I was when I went in.
Favorite line from a book:
The entire paragraph is a masterpiece, but I've always loved the bit in the opening of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House: "Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years, and might stand for eighty more." Everything you need to know about the setting of this book, boom, right there! Evocative and so, so scary. That almost casual "not sane" dropped in! God, I'd spend a whole night in Hill House just to write something so great.
Five books you'll never part with:
So I realize this is a BANANAS thing to say for a woman who has as many bookshelves in her house as I do, but there actually aren't any books I wouldn't part with. I like the idea of books drifting in and out of my life, onto new adventures with new readers. I think part of this is because one of my favorite hobbies is scouring thrift stores for old paperbacks, so it's very cool to think that a book that once meant something to me might eventually end up as someone else's treasure.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I know it's since been made into a very popular and polarizing TV show that, like, 90% of the planet seemed to watch, but I first read George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones in 2005 when I was home on maternity leave with my son. I was not a fantasy reader, genuinely thought I didn't even like fantasy, but for some unknown reason, my sleep-deprived brain saw it in the bookstore, and was like, "Yes, this." Maybe it's just because it was about 1,000 pages and seemed escapist, maybe I wanted to read about people going through an even harder time than I was, or maybe I just really like dragons after all. Who can say? But I devoured it. Just fell into that book headfirst complete with that heady sensation of, "Oh. Oh, this is everything I've ever wanted in a book!" I'd love to feel that again.