Episode #17: Running across genres with Rachel Toor, Part Two

It’s the most anticipated podcast episode of the season . . . Part Two of Rachel Toor’s amazing interview which aired in April.

I interviewed Rachel a few weeks ago and we had a great conversation about the magic of fiction. Though On the Road to Find Out is her first novel, the mystical experience she recounts jives with what I’ve heard other fiction writers say, including Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar, in episode 7 of Behind the Prose. To borrow Baszile’s words, “it’s magic.”

In this episode, Rachel’s got the wand and she knows how to use it.


  • Ever thought about the shape that your paragraphs give a piece of writing and how this might affect the reader’s experience with it? Rachel Toor has, and she gives her thoughts on the topic at [07:15].
  • At [15:03] Rachel gives her thoughts on “unlikeable” female characters. See if your feelings match up with hers.
  • Think the death of a subway rat could make you cry? Listen in at [19:54] to get some perspective on how you might get the maximum amount of pathos out of any scene.
  • As a writer, Rachel thinks that English teachers are reaching when they ask their students to find hidden meanings and symbols in literary works. Go to [39:20] and see if you agree.

Listen below or download on iTunes.


Rachel, with her running partner, Helen.

Rachel, with her running partner, Helen.

Rachel’s ambition, on graduating from Yale University, was to work on a dude ranch in Wyoming (never having been to a dude ranch—or to Wyoming). Moving to Missoula, Montana, for an MFA in creative writing is the closest she’s come. After a dozen years as an editor of scholarly books, at Oxford and Duke University Presses, she slid down the ladder of social mobility and did a stint in college admissions, quitting to write Admissions Confidential: An Insider’s Account of the Elite College Selection Process (St. Martin’s, 2001) in an attempt to demystify an arcane and brutalizing rite of passage. Since then she has published a memoir, The Pig and I (Penguin, 2005; Bison Books, 2009) and Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). Rachel writes a monthly column in The Chronicle of Higher Education and a bi-monthly one in Running Times magazine, where she is a senior writer. Her work has appeared in various and diverse places, including The New York Times, The LA Times, Ploughshares, Glamour, Inside Higher Ed, Reader’s Digest, Runner’s World, Ascent, JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) and variety of other more academically-oriented publications. Her work also appears on the Athleta blog, where she was a sponsored athlete for 2012.

In June, 2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published her first novel, On the Road to Find Out.

Rachel is currently associate professor of Creative Writing at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, the graduate writing program of Eastern Washington University. She lives with her dog, Helen, who raced in her first half marathon in February. She was 4th dog (out of 42).