When former Central DeWitt High School English teacher and Sabula native Rachel Carlson wrote her first book, “Here To Stay,” it sat as a file on her computer for three years.
She said she was so impressed when her co-workers and dear friends, Denise McAleer and Staci Mercado, wrote and published their own books.
However, Carlson said she never could imagine doing it herself.
That is, until McAleer — after releasing her children’s book, “Bruno’s Unusual Journey,” chronicling the voyage of a black bear through the Midwest in the summer of 2020 — told her to go for it.
Her encouragement was enough to push Carlson to go home, dig up her manuscript and do something with it.
“Here to Stay,” which tells the romantic story of a young woman traveling to Colorado to vacation at a guest ranch after a breakup, and winds up falling in love with one of the ranch owners, finally was published in the summer of 2021.
Recently, she published her second book, “Dump Road,” a fictional murder-mystery which happens to be set in her beloved hometown of Sabula.
While it is exciting for her to have two books available for purchase on Amazon, Carlson said she isn’t looking to become a world-famous author. Getting a book deal with a big publishing company would be “fabulous,” but Carlson said she prefers to write as a “side-gig” to teaching high school English.
“The goal is not to be famous,” said the 41-year-old, who now lives with her husband, Jason, in Princeton, North Carolina, where the two live on a small acreage with three horses, chickens, dogs and cats. “I just want to keep doing something I love, and share my work with people who enjoy it.”
With the holiday season right around the corner, Carlson also wants to encourage people to keep local authors’ work in mind when shopping for gifts.
“There is such a push these days to support local businesses in the community,” she related. “Authors who sell their own books are a part of that, and a lot of times their topics and settings are relatable to people in the community. Instead of buying a book off the shelf by an author you don’t know, why not read a story written by a local person, friend, former colleague, or someone who grew up where you did? It’s all about supporting each other.”
Local authors, whose work is available in various area locations — if they have not already sold out — include Mercado, McAleer, Selatin Softa, Kurt Kreiter, Bill Homrighausen, Bill Mueller, Molly Giese with illustrations by Cassie Dunlavey, Kim Jacobi, Stan Reeg, Jon Juhl, Tom Henricksen and more recent Central DeWitt graduates Lexi Birks and Sam O’Connor.
Already, Carlson is receiving rave reviews for “Dump Road.” The book references places anyone who is from or has been to Sabula would know, such as the road for which the book is named, “Dump Road;” the Hop N’ Shop (which Carlson said serves “amazing” pizza); the Lakeside Café, which closed years ago; and the dangerous swimming area called the “Y,” which Carlson remembers as a place she and her friends were forbidden to go as kids.
“I made up the characters and events, but the setting should seem familiar to anyone who is from there,” she noted.
As for what happens in “Dump Road,” according to the summary Carlson provided on her social media page:
“It’s 1986 in Sabula, Iowa, the ‘Island City,’ and it’s senior year for JoAnn Sullivan and her best friend, Shena Carpenter. Comfortable with their place in the middle of the social hierarchy, below the likes of Garrett Malone and his Barbie doll girlfriend, Andraya, they plan to be themselves and have the best year ever partying with their friends, cruising Dump Road and working at their jobs at the Lakeside Café and the Hop N’ Shop. But a back-to-school party at a dangerous swimming area called the ‘Y,” and a run-in with Garrett Malone changes everything for Jo. Garrett has it all and seems to be untouchable, until he crosses the line and makes one too many enemies.”
Carlson lived on the island in Sabula until she was in seventh grade, at which time she and her family moved to nearby Miles. She graduated from East Central High School in 1998.
Quite simply, Carlson said she misses Sabula and writing about it made her feel closer to her hometown.
“I never really wanted to leave Iowa, but my husband’s job as a college coach has taken us elsewhere,” she shared. “Writing about home makes me feel at home, and Sabula is such a unique area … I knew it would be the perfect setting.”
During the process of writing and publishing a book for others to read, Carlson said she learned to consider who her audience would be and to try and tailor the book to their liking.
The first book she wrote, Carlson said, was for her. For “Dump Road,” however, she had a particular audience in mind.
“Sabula folks,” she related. “Especially those who grew up there around the same time I did.”
Carlson is thankful to McAleer and Mercado for inspiring her, and giving her the courage to share her stories.
Being able to enjoy the fruits of her labor — and knowing others are enjoy reading the book as much as she loved writing it — truly has been a gift.
“It feels amazing when people not only spend money on something you created, but actually like it,” Carlson shared. “I’ve had many people tell me they finished ‘Dump Road’ in one sitting or in one day, or that they ‘couldn’t put it down.’ Those are just the best compliments. I love when people can relate to the story, or when they say it takes them back to their high school days. To be able to provide an enjoyable experience for someone; a few hours where they are captivated by a story … that’s the best.”