I connected recently with writer Rachel Sarah, like one does these days, through a writers’ facebook group, and the more I learned about her career, the more impressed I became. She started out, at the age of twenty-one, as a journalist in the Czech Republic. She then earned her journalism degree from The New School in New York City, became a freelance journalist, and wrote a memoir that was optioned for a TV series by 20th Century Fox. These days she writes environmentally-focused nonfiction for kids and teens.
Rachel Sarah’s middle grade book GIRL WARRIORS: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth, came out in April 2021, and she’s currently working on a YA nonfiction book about 15 Contemporary Women Solving the Climate Crisis. A California native and mom of two girls, Rachel cares deeply about the environment and searches out projects that will make the world a better place.
Read on for my interview with the amazing Rachel Sarah.
Your nonfiction middle grade book, GIRL WARRIORS: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth, came out in April 2021. Can you tell me the inspiration behind this book?
In 2018, the wildfires began to rage here in California, and today this is our reality every year. I wanted to reassure my children, to tell them that we’re all safe, but I’m terrified for their future, and for the futures of children everywhere.
That year, in 2018, Greta Thunberg, the then-16-year-old Swedish climate activist addressed the United Nations Secretary-General in Poland:
“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it like a crisis,” Greta told the crowd. “You say you love your children above all else and yet, you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
Greta articulated the fears I had as a mother. I had to do something. First, I pitched a story to The Washington Post: a feature about four teen climate activists in the U.S.— and the moms who made their work possible.
These girls and moms live with the same fears, urgency, and anger I do. They also voiced the same anxiety I feel. Even though so many youth aren’t old enough to vote, they are organizing strikes all over the world and fighting for their futures.
The more activists I spoke to, the more I realized how many young people all over the world were pleading with adults to clean up the mess we made… to give them the future they deserve!
First you wrote the article for The Washington Post, and that became the seed for GIRL WARRIORS. Is that right?
Yes, I’d never written for young readers before, but I was experienced in both writing and editing book proposals for adults. So, that’s what I did. I put together a proposal — for readers ages 8-12 — to tell the stories of 25 girls and women under age 25 who are rising up around the world.
Why girls? One teen activist pointed out to me: “All of the founders and co-leads are young women. Also, many are young women of color. It wasn’t planned this way. It shows how communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change.”
My agent pitched the book… I sold it to Kara Rota, my amazing editor Chicago Review Press.
You’re now writing your next nonfiction book for Chicago Review Press: NO PLANET B. What can you tell me about this book?
Yes! I’m currently writing another book for my editor Kara Rota, for Chicago Review Press’ Women of Power series. This book, for readers ages 12-17, is about 15 Contemporary Women Solving the Climate Crisis (it’s due out in 2023!!).
I hope to tell the stories of women climate leaders around the world, whom I’ve interviewed over the past six months: scientists, strategists, policy makers, doers, and disruptors from all over the world. I am aiming for part narrative nonfiction, part climate science, part environmental activism, and all-parts empowering.
You’ve been interviewing youth climate activists in live Instagram chats… Can you tell me more about using social media to research stories?
Social media baby!!
As I wrote in the introduction to GIRL WARRIORS, I thought the hard part of writing this book would be finding activists, but every time I connected to someone on Instagram, she would lead me to her friend.
They also introduced me to their moms, dads, and siblings. I spoke to girls and young women from the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, India, and Australia.
You’ve written articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Family Circle, and POPSUGAR. What can you tell me about the life of a freelance journalist?
Short answer: Lots of rejection!
Over the past decade, I’ve worked as a content writer in marketing, publishing, and branding, in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds.
In between everything, I am one of those writers who needs to write every day to make sense of the world, to breathe, and to keep my heart open. I go through waves of pitching stories, including news, perspectives, and essays.
I love to hear “how I found my agent stories.” Can you tell me about how you first connected with your agent, Eric Myers?
My former agent had left the industry, and I thought, “How hard can it be to find another agent?”
Ha! Over a two-year period, I wrote a contemporary middle grade novel, participated in Pitch Wars, and accumulated 77 rejections from agents!
In the end, I got three offers of representation, and I signed with Eric Myers, who’d been at Dystel & Goderich in NYC. Eric has since launched his own literary agency and I’m grateful to be on his team.
You are a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Have you always had a passion for environmental issues like climate change?
When I was a kid, no one around me talked about climate change, although I clearly remember people being worried about the droughts here. I’d say I’ve always had a passion to heal and to seek out solutions.
I’ve had anxiety since I was a little girl, so this has layered into my writing and work.
My parents got divorced when I was in preschool, I went back and forth between their houses every other night. But I kept all my hard stuff inside… somehow writing helped me make sense of the world.
You are a founding editor of the wonderful online magazine Literary Mama. Can you tell me about the magazine and your role in it?
I’d met writer and mama Amy Hudock in Berkeley, CA when I’d responded to a call to meet other mama-writers with our kids. I’m so grateful for that chance meeting!
As Amy writes here, a bunch of mothers and our children congregated once a week at a local kid’s play space with our journals and notebooks to write as our kids played around us. Eventually, we pooled the resources to pay for a childcare provider so we could workshop our writing. Gathering with these women sustained me, and I remain connected with so many of them.
As Amy writes, “We had never heard of anyone combining a writing group with a play group, but we wanted to do something in addition to discussing sleep patterns while our children played. So, we did a radical thing: we decided to exercise our minds while our children exercised their bodies. Our children weaved through our circle. A mother would turn to respond to a need, change a diaper, or nurse a child, then come back to the conversation. Unlike many mother writers, we didn’t have to choose between books or babies. We got both.”
Together, we decided to turn our writing into a magazine called Literary Mama, featuring “poetry, fiction, columns, and creative nonfiction that may be too raw, too irreverent, too ironic, or too body-conscious for traditional or commercial motherhood publications.”
Like me, you’re the mom of two girls. How do you talk with them about environmental issues? What are some things you want all young people to know?
I attempt to talk to them honestly and also with confidence.
I want young people to know that it’s okay if you’re afraid. I want them to know that we can make a difference.
There’s still time. There’s so much you can do:
- Speak up.
- Talk to your parents.
- Speak to your relatives.
- Talk to people about how they can vote.
- Call your elected officials.
As climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel says so well: “We know exactly what’s causing climate change. We can absolutely: 1) avoid the worst and 2) build a better world in the process.”
Thank you so much, Rachel Sarah! Last question: what is your favorite piece of writing advice (for journalism, prose, or just in general)?
Remember that narrative is key in everything you write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Every story has an arc, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Rachel Sarah, a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer and journalist, is the author of the middle grade nonfiction book Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (April 6, 2021, Chicago Review Press), which earned a Kirkus starred review.
She’s currently working on a YA nonfiction book for Chicago Review Press’ Women of Power series about women climate leaders around the world (due out in 2023). She’s a member of SCBWI and has been a Pitch Wars mentee.