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Turning Points: How We Define Ourselves by Rachele Alpine

Rachele_(39)_2 featuredThis guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate her release week, here is Rachele Alpine, debut author of the YA novel Canary, sharing hers… and this is an extra-special Turning Point to share, because Rachele is one of my former Mediabistro students!

And scroll down to see who won a signed finished copy of Canary in the giveaway!


Guest post by Rachele Alpine

CANARY is on sale this week from Medallion Press!

CANARY is on sale this week from Medallion Press!

My first fiction writing course in college was in a small room in the English building with only enough space for a big wooden table. Twelve of us fit around it if we squeezed together, but we couldn’t pull our chairs all the way back or they would hit the wall. I remember the way the floor creaked when my professor walked in and how excited I was when he closed the door and began to speak to us.

I had been waiting to take this class since I signed up for it during freshmen orientation. I loved writing, but had always kept it private. Even though I filled up notebooks full of words all through high school, it had always been a part of me that I didn’t share with many people. I never felt like my writing was good enough to share.

However, I had made the vow to myself that college would be different. I was going to be different. I was so used to holding back with things. I had always lacked confidence and felt like I wasn’t good enough. My life was a cycle of self-doubt, whether it was about academic abilities, talents or how I looked. I would retreat into myself, not sharing my thoughts with anyone but letting them destroy me from the inside. I was my toughest critic and because of that, I missed out on a lot of things during high school.

But I didn’t want college to be like that. I couldn’t let it be like that.

I remember getting back our first stories. I had stapled a page on top with nothing but the title and my name. I opened it up to see what my professor thought of the piece I had worked so hard on. I envisioned feedback and maybe even some praise, but all that was written at the top were the words “This is not writing.”

This is not writing.

There were no other comments anywhere on the story. The only feedback my professor had given me about my writing was a single sentence reconfirming within me everything I lacked.

I’d like to think that maybe he had a reason for writing what he did on my paper. Maybe the whole class got messages like that, and it was his way of pushing us to do better. I hope that was his purpose, but I’ll never know for sure because when our class broke for a break, I took my bag and never went back. I threw my paper in the wastebasket outside the English building, held in my tears until I made it to my dorm, and dropped the class.

I never took another creative writing course in college. Writing became private for me again. I learned my lesson. I had tried to share my writing, and my teacher’s comments had reaffirmed my doubts.

This self-doubt ruled me. Other people’s opinions controlled what I did. It’s silly to think that one professor’s comments were enough to prevent me from doing what I loved. But how do we rationalize what makes us value or doubt ourselves? We can’t.

But what we can do is decide what we do with these doubts. Do we let them define our lives? Or do we push through them, even if the idea of that is often scary and hard?

This question became my turning point.

And my answer was easy…I didn’t want to be defined by my self-doubts.

It took me six years after that first writing class to find the courage to take another. It was my last semester of graduate school, and I signed up for a writing workshop. I remember how nervous I was those first classes, but I soon discovered that things were different there. The class wasn’t run by the teacher. Instead, she set it up as more like a community of writers and shared her early writing with all of us too. I began to find myself looking forward to the class and when it was my turn to share my story, I welcomed what my classmates had to say. We encouraged each other, and the feedback that was given was meant to help the writers, not to silence them.

I realized that everyone is going to have opinions, both good and bad ones. People always do. But you can’t let yourself be ruled by them.

My first professor’s words were only one person’s way of viewing something. It was my reaction to his words that were mine. I could have chosen not to believe them. I could have trusted in myself and proved him wrong. I could have ignored him completely or even laughed that he was dumb enough to doubt my talents.

It took me a long time to understand this. And truthfully, it’s not always easy. I’m still my toughest critic and need to work on having more confidence in myself. But the difference now is that I choose how I respond to the critics, both the one inside my head and those who are around me. I’ve learned how important it is to believe in myself. Because when I trust in my words, my writing can be free, and most importantly, I can be free.


Don’t you want to know more about Rachele’s debut now?

CanaryStaying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.


Rachele_(39)_2Rachele Alpine is a lover of sushi, coffee, and Michael Jackson. One of her first jobs was at a library, but it didn’t last long, because all she did was hide in the third-floor stacks and read. Now she’s a little more careful about when and where she indulges her reading habit. By day she’s a high school English teacher, and by night she writes with the companionship of the world’s cutest dog, Radley, a big cup of coffee, and a full bag of gummy peaches. Rachele lives with her husband in Cleveland, Ohio, but dreams of moving back to Boston, the city she fell in love with while attending graduate school there.

Visit Rachele online at www.rachelealpine.com.

Follow Rachele on Twitter.

Rachele’s Facebook page.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

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21 thoughts on “Turning Points: How We Define Ourselves by Rachele Alpine

  1. What a horribly crappy thing for that professor to do. That is so not teaching. It’s great that you were able to use that to spur you on though. Which just goes to show that if you want to write, you are going to write regardless. PS. Best of luck with your new book. I have been hearing great things about it!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Rachele. So glad you persevered despite that instructor’s idiocy. And congratulations on your debut – the ultimate comeuppance! Can’t wait to read it.

    • Ditto what Jody and Dawn have said! I can’t believe any “teacher” would be that harsh and unhelpful, especially in an intro level course. *huge disapproving frownie face* Luckily you were stronger than his smallness, and now look at you. :)

  2. I can completely sympathise with this – I’m my own worst critic, too, and it’s easy to get sucked into that cycle of self-doubt. So glad you managed to overcome it, and congratulations on your debut! :)

  3. You should send your professor a signed book with a note saying This IS writing.

    I think lots of these people think it’s tough love or some other such crap. What they don’t realize is that there’s no love in that approach, it’s just toughness and being tough like that can kill, whether it’s someone’s dreams or confidence or even an actual life.

    Canary looks PERFECT:))

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  4. Pingback: It’s a Bookish Kinda Love: CANARY by Rachele Alpine | A Writer. In Process.

  5. I’d love to win a copy of this! The combination of sports and assault is so relevant today. Sounds like a great read for some of my middle school students. :)

  6. That was so powerful. I’m angry on your behalf and a bit horrified that he may still be crushing the hopes of some other kid. But I’m glad you’ve risen above and beyond what little thoughts would have limited you to. Good luck on your writing and future endeavors.

  7. Rachel, I’m so glad you didn’t let one rude comment from someone stop you from pursuing your dream to be a writer. As a former English teacher, I am appalled that someone in academia addressed your work that way. I must confess that I’m itching to know the name of this professor so I could Google him and roll my eyes when he comes up.

    Nova, I already own Rachel’s book. I won it in a contest that Lucky 13 hosted recently. So you don’t have to put me in the drawing for the book you’re giving away here.

  8. Thanks for being willing to share what must have been a searing experience. And how hopeful it is that you persevered and grew from it! Congrats on your book!

  9. Ugh, Rachele! Such power we put in the hands of those who claim to know better. You had the courage to try again–and there is probably a student out there who didn’t. Writing is persistence, people. Rachele proves it right here. I can’t wait to read CANARY!

  10. Congratulations on your book Rachele! And thank you for sharing your story. I’ve always had difficulty fighting against the little voice in my head that tells me that my writing isn’t good enough. It doesn’t help that I’m easily affected by what other people say as well! Still, I’m slowly but surely learning to look at things in another way — and it’s helped my writing tremendously.

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