historical fiction books | historical romance books

Words with a Wordsmith Rachel Callaghan

By Alina Rubin
March 22, 2024

Rachel Callaghan’s Novel: Under Water

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?  

The second finished novel to be published soon is a literary thriller set in West Virginia, featuring a character who readers loved, Sammie Rae, a rural deputy sheriff. I’ve been writing for years off an on. My very first novel, which I haven’t tried to get published, is epistolary, comprised of emergency room entries, letters, posting on the hospital bulletin board, set in the ‘70s.

Paper Lantern Writers - Historical Fiction Author Collective

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I have two favorite under-appreciated novels: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, by Imogen Gower, about a merchant in the 1780s whose ship is sold to purchase a mermaid. The mermaid is, to me, the greatest metaphor I ever read. The other novel is Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, the tale of the first Mrs. Rochester, the story of a clash of cultures devastating to a young woman. It’s a subtle tale of why women need rights and the greatest story derived from a famous novel.

Paper Lantern Writers - Historical Fiction Author Collective

What’s the best compliment a reader has ever given you?

The two best compliments readers gave me are about Under Water. One person said, “A contender for the great American novel,” another said that she dreamt about the characters. That’s a level of “bringing characters to life” any writer would be delirious to achieve.

Paper Lantern Writers - Historical Fiction Author Collective

What’s the oddest thing a reader has ever asked you?

The oddest thing a reader ever said to me was that they absolutely believed the main characters in Under Water’s present-time story line were my husband and myself and they refused to believe that wasn’t true.

Paper Lantern Writers - Historical Fiction Author Collective

Is there another profession you would like to try?

The only other profession I’d like is to return to being a physician in an emergency room and operating room again.

Paper Lantern Writers - Historical Fiction Author Collective

What was the inspiration for your book?

The inspiration for Under Water is the house, we did, indeed buy sight unseen over the internet. Anger at how many problems were undisclosed fueled my desire to tell a tale that morphed into the novel.

RACHEL CALLAGHAN, novelist, award-winning essayist, and ex-short story writer, author of Under Water, and former editor of In Posse on WebDelSol, learned a thing or two about traumatic circumstances and the emotional and psychological damage they cause. Starting Hahnemann Medical College (now part of Drexel University) when only 1/11 students in her class were women, she startled the administration by choosing to have a child her senior year. Even the teaching physicians were put off-balance: one ordered Dr. Callaghan from rounds for being visibly pregnant, as that might scare the patients. Post medical school, she had Internal Medicine, OB-GYN, and ER training and experience, working until her career was cut short when she was diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma. A stem-cell transplant was the cure. What followed was a decade of profound fatigue which left her mourning the loss of patients she loved as friends. The treatment for that was writing about people and making them come alive on the page. Besides writing, she is now a wife, mother, serial home renovator, dog and cat owner, and former traveler who circled the globe at age 21. Dr. Callaghan’s rich life has been instrumental in shaping her fiction.



To interact with Paper Lantern Writers and other historical fiction authors and readers, join our Facebook group SHINE.


Alina Rubin

Written by Alina Rubin

Alina Rubin loves writing historical fiction about heroines with strong voices and able hands. Her debut novel, A Girl with a Knife, won the Illinois Author Project competition. When not working or writing, Alina enjoys yoga, reading and traveling.

View Alina’s PLW Profile

Share This Post

1 Comment

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *