For as long as she can remember, Rachel Noëlle Sammons has loved to write. Now at the age of 18 and about to go off to college in England, the 2013 Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate is the author of Toni, a full-length novel she has self-published.
Sammons, who goes by the pen name Rachel Noëlle as an author, went to Italy and Croatia with her parents and brother on a week-long vacation in the summer of 2012. They visited Venice and the city of Rovinj, Croatia.
Sammons wanted to write a novel about Venice, but was having trouble getting started, so she decided to write a novel about a 17-year -old Italian girl who was sent to Croatia by her parents and became a singer for a rock band.
“I always wanted to write about a band,” Sammons said Sunday after a talk about her novel at the Riverside Public Library. “I’ve always wanted to write about a character who was wild and rebellious and was outgoing, so she was always in the back of my head. Same with the band thing, so all I needed was a setting.”
She based the lead character, Toni, on a friend from Rochester, Minn., where Sammons lived before moving to Riverside when she was 10 years old.
Writing about a wild and rebellious character was a release for Sammons, who said that she tends to be somewhat introverted herself.
“I’m not like Toni,” Sammons said. “I’m a very shy person. Writing is the best way to express myself.”
Once back from Croatia, Sammons began writing. She went to her bedroom every night at about 6 p.m. and sat down with her laptop computer and wrote. She didn’t use an outline. The story just came to her, she said.
“I would write straight through until midnight or even later,” Sammons said.
It took her only two months to write the book. Once back at RBHS for her senior year, Sammons had some friends read the manuscript and give her feedback. Then then she edited it while also keeping up with her classwork and completing college applications.
At times it was difficult to focus on school.
“All I could think about was Toni,” Sammons said.
She had one major setback. After connecting with some Croatian teenagers on a social media site, she learned that the names that she had given her Croatian characters were not authentic.
“After writing the book, I no longer trust Babynames.com,” Sammons said. “I had to change the names of characters. That was very hard for me.”
Because she had only spent three days in Croatia, she also had to do a lot of research about the country to make sure she got details right.
Once she had finished editing the book, Sammons thought about trying to get a literary agent, but she was impatient so she decided to publish the book herself. She found a company owned by Amazon, which has a web-based self-publishing program. She uploaded the text and found a friend, Samantha Goldsmith, to pose for a cover photo taken at the North Riverside Village Commons. It costs about $8 to print a single copy of the book.
“Self-publishing was just to get a head start,” Sammons said. “Friends record their own music, and I thought that was very inspiring and motivating.”
This summer she spoke about her book at the North Riverside Public Library as well as her appearance Sunday at the Riverside Library. Both libraries have copies of the book available for check out.
Sammons has already written and getting ready to edit a sequel to Toni. She wants the story of Toni and her band, the Crabapples, to be a series, though not a very long one. She wants a career as a writer and feels that she has many more books to write.
“It feels like a stepping stone,” Sammons said. “I don’t see this as a major accomplishment. I see this as one more step closer to my major accomplishment.”
Sammons has always loved to write.
“When I was little, before I could write, I actually scribbled on paper and I brought it to my mom and it was a different story every time,” Sammons recalled. “It was something I’ve liked to do ever since I could remember.”
She has written other book length manuscripts, but says Toni is the first one that she wanted other people to read.
Sarah Johnson, the chairwoman of the English Department at RBHS, had Sammons in her Advanced Placement literature and composition class two years ago. She says that from day one Sammons was focused on becoming a writer.
“In terms of writing and dedication to that, she’s definitely top 5 percent of anybody I’ve ever taught, and that’s three schools [in] 17 years,” Johnson said.
Writing is the main reason Sammons has decided to attend the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Sammons had been all set to attend Houghton College, a small Christian liberal arts college in western New York. But in July she found out that she had been accepted into University of the East Anglia, which has the first and best creative writing program in Great Britain, according to Sammons.
Sammons, who loves to travel, was also seeking an adventure.
“I wanted to go to some place that I was kind of scared of, because my dad said it’s not an adventure unless you’re a little scared,” Sammons said.
So on Saturday she will get on an airplane and fly off to England to start college.
And she is scared.
“It is intimidating for me to go to a school that far away,” Sammons said. “It’s a secular school and I am very religious. It’s going to be a different culture. I just wanted an adventure, because then I’ll get inspiration.”