Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
Rachel Van Dyken Is Exploring the Fashion Jungle
Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
Four-time New York Times bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken has been called "the second coming of Candace Bushnell" after the release of her newest book with legendary Super Model turned Super Mogul, Kathy Ireland. The pair co-wrote the novel Fashion Jungle about the model’s life in the fashion industry. The book has been described as "Sex and the City meets the #MeToo Movement with a dash of Valley of the Dolls." Rachel has written close to 85 romance novels in the last ten years and is on mission to change the stigma of the genre.
Learn more about Rachel.
Learn more about The Passionistas Project.
Passionistas: Hi and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, and today we're talking with Wall Street Journal, USA Today and four time New York Times bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken. Rachel was called the second coming of Candace Bushnell after the release of her newest book with legendary supermodel turned super mogul Kathy Ireland. The pair co-wrote the novel "Fashion Jungle" about the model's life. The book has been described as "Sex and the City" meets the #MeToo movement, with a dash of "Valley of the Dolls." So please welcome to the show Rachel Van Dyken.
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me.
Passionistas: Thanks for being here. We're really excited to talk to you today. What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Rachel: The one thing I'm most passionate about is my family. Um, they always come first, no matter what I'm doing, whatever project I'm working on, and then obviously hand in hand with that is writing. It's, it's something that I don't understand the concept of being stressed about deadlines or stressed about getting books out because for me, that's just my passion in life. I love getting words out. I love creating worlds for readers. So really it's, that's my passion and it's my job, which is, I'm really lucky.
Passionistas: Tell us about how you became a writer.
Rachel: So I actually was a school counselor. Right out of college, which I don't know why I thought that was a good idea at 21. But I was a school counselor. I had about 800 kids that I was in charge of, um, which was a lot for someone, you know, at my age. And I got really bad anxiety attacks, like really bad panic attacks from it because you're dealing with so much emotional stuff. You know, you have four year olds that are in preschool talking about suicide and it's just, it's just a lot to handle. Um, so I started reading, so I would take, um, I worked also for the state and I would take my clients to the library and I'd be like, okay, check out a book. And then we'd go through it and talk about, you know, social cues in how to approach friendship and different things like that. And then at the time I just was a voracious reader, so I would check out like 15 books.
And so I started checking out a ton of historical romance and in between the times I had clients, I started thinking, Hey, I could, I'm going to try. I thought I could do it. So I tried writing and would just send chapters to my sister every other day and she was like, this is great, but I'm like, you're a liar. You're my sister. You have to say it's good. Um, but yeah, then I sent it to a publisher and I got my first publishing deal, but it was a really great outlet for me. You know, I always encouraged kids to have a journal and for me it was almost like my own personal journal. Only it was romance.
Passionistas: So why did you pick romance?
Rachel: I love love. And I think that so often, especially as women, we are shamed for maybe being more sexual or talking about love or talking about female empowerment and relationships. And it really bothered me that romance was getting kind of this, this, I loved reading about it and people would always be like, Oh, that's a romance novel. Like I remember in college I had a friend, a friend that whenever I would bring in like a romance book and it was usually like Regency historical, he'd be like, Oh, you're reading one of those again. And I felt like I had to hide it. Like I felt like I wasn't allowed to have that book out in my history class because it wasn't considered real literature. So I wanted to prove that romance obviously is literature and it's good and it's amazing. And so because I love that and kids was a passion and because I loved reading about it, I wanted to write about it too.
Passionistas: Do you feel like the stigma of that genre has changed in recent years?
Rachel: Every time I think it has, I feel like we go backwards. You know, every single time I'm like, Hey, they finally get it and we're getting the respect we deserve. There's like an article somewhere that makes, that a man wrote, obviously that makes fun of our genre or that says there's other authors that are real authors and writers and we just write bodice rippers. And so that's something that it bothers me on a daily basis. I know the other day there was a post that was going viral and now it was about this library that did a thing called bad romance. And they would check out these romance books and they would host it every Valentine's day and they would pick out passages and make fun of romance novels. And I'm thinking, especially when you're taking stuff out of context like that, of course it's going to sound funny because you haven't been reading, you don't know the characters, you don't know.
And there are some of them are my friends, like the ones that are making fun of. And so that is just, I mean that's just more random, 2020 we shouldn't be having to do stuff like that. And so I think that there is still a stigma, but I'm hoping that me and my fellow writers can help continue to battle that as we do.
Passionistas: How do you battle it?
Rachel: The biggest thing that we do is we try to be really informed, like letting people know, okay, like a bodice ripper of maybe back in the day when people were getting Harlequin books that were all Fabio on the front. Like that's what people think when they think romance. You know the other thing you're writing "50 Shades of Gray" or they think that you're writing Fabio. And so for us it's just making sure people know what it is and making sure that the readers do a really good job of um, letting people know what it is and not having, not being shamed for it.
And I think too, on top of that, that's why things like this are so important. Doing a podcast and, and other large media outlets because then it takes that stigma away and then you can start talking about what's so important. You know, like we read about cancer and these books we read about research, we have very intelligent women and men in these books that, you know, have these passionate, you know, times together. But it's all character driven. And I think it's really important that people understand that it's a story and it's still character driven. There's a lot of writers in that space and you've been very successful.
Passionistas: So talk about some of the highs and lows just from a business perspective of what you're doing.
Rachel: When you start writing, you have to look at it as a business. And for me it's always been very important to look at it as a marathon, not a sprint. You know, a lot of writers start out and they put all their eggs in one basket. They're like, this book is going to hit. But what they don't understand is even if that book does hit, you still have to hit all those other times too. It's not just like a one, one hit thing and then you're going to be like, you know, going to the Hamptons with Nicholas Sparks, like, that's not how it works. Um, and I think that's a common misconception because you, when a book does really well, all of a sudden you see this person everywhere and you just assume that it was their first book and they haven't been working really hard for 20 years. Like you just, you don't know 'em and I think when Amazon opened its doors to all the self-publishing, you have a lot of people, you have a lot of competition and you have a lot of people that are coming in and doing what we call like their, I don't, they're called farms basically.
And so they come in and they just make up random pen names and they'll release like 15 books that have all been ghost written and then they're trying to, you know, make money and cheat the system and stuff. And so for us, like you're really having to navigate those waters. And something I, I've mentored a couple of authors and something I always tell them is don't, don't think of it as competition and don't keep people in the red ocean. It's like a red ocean versus blue ocean marketing perspective for me, don't compete. And do the same old thing with everyone else and be like, Oh, this stepbrother romance, that's huge. Let's do that. Don't do that. But bring them over into the blue ocean where there's lots of competition, there's more originality. And even if you're not making as much money in that blue ocean, you're still giving a better product to your readers and you're giving them something different.
You're not giving them the same thing that you're seeing in the Amazon or Apple top 100, you know, you want to give them something different. And so for me, there's been a ton of crazy highs, but there's been a lot of lows too. And you just have to ride that wave and no one publishing. It's going to be that way.
Passionistas: So now your first book was published traditionally with a book publisher and then you also self-published. So talk about the different approaches and how you approach each way.
Rachel: I think it's really a smart to have your hand kind of in a lot of different cookie jars because when you do just traditional publishing, um, you don't have a lot of say in what goes on. Um, um, luckily I have great publishers who do, who really want me to be partners with them, which I love. But that doesn't always happen, especially when you're newer. Um, because you haven't had those sales to prove, you know, that you know what you're talking about. They're like, no, we know. Um, so traditional publishing, it's more of a hands off. You turn in your manuscript, you do your edits, done indie publishing or self-publishing, you have control over the editing process. You have control over the cover art control over the marketing. And so I think it just depends on where your passion is. If you're a really controlling person, it's hard. It's hard to give your baby away to the big publisher if they change it.
I had a publisher change. The girl was, um, had dark hair and they put a blonde on the cover and I was like, why would you do this? And they were like, Oh, we just liked the picture better. And I'm like, that doesn't make any. So then I have readers like coming at me thinking, why would you do this to your cover? And I'm like, I didn't do it. And so then that's a repetitive process. So I think it's nice to have both. I think the indie publishing for me is great because I can plan my schedule to where I do my traditional release and then I have non-compete, so I have to wait six weeks so that I could do my own. So I still have series. I refuse to sell that our mind that I, that I write in. And then I have series that publishers own that they continue to keep. So it's kind of nice to have both. And I think there's, I think there's, I think it's smart to do that. I think it's good, especially if you have a book series, it didn't do that great. And that's, you know, your business and that's how you're putting food on the table. It's nice to have a traditional deal waiting in the back that, you know, was a sure thing.
Passionistas: How many books have you written and do you write more than one at a time?
Rachel: Yes, I write usually three books at a time. Um, but it's because so there was really good point. It, I don't get writer's block because of it because I'm constantly changing scenery, changing characters and I hate being on like tr whenever I have to finish one book and I know it's due in like a week. I hate that because then I have to stop working on other things because that's what helps me stay fresh. That's what helps me, you know, reinvent the story. Like I'll be writing, say a paranormal just for fun and all of a sudden I'm like, Oh, but this could happen and I'll just like click over and go in my other book. So it really helps me out. And I usually don't write in the same genre. So I be writing mafia with contemporary romance, maybe with like a little rock star romance or paranormal. So it's all different so I can keep them apart. Um, and I typically release 11 to 12 books a year and depending on my traditional release schedule, because everything has to go around that. And then I have, I believe we're over 85 books now published.
Passionistas: And how long have you been doing it?
Rachel: 10 years.
Passionistas: And you've had time to have a family.
Passionistas: So how do you juggle all that good scheduling?
Rachel: It's, I used to, I don't honestly know what I used to do with my time. My husband and I asked that like every day we're like, did we just read magazines and sit around the house? Like what did we do? Because you know, we had full time jobs but you know with a child everything changes. It is you, your schedule changes your sleep, you don't sleep ever again. It's fantastic. Um, so for you know, for a while and my husband was really just being a full time, cause he works from home, stay at home dad and working full time. And I honestly have such a good partner and he's always been a huge advocate of it's not my job to watch my child. It's my privilege to have this child that gets not, you know, cause so often, especially people that are my age, we hear dads that are like, Oh yeah, I'll watch the kids tonight if you want to go out, you know, with your girls.
And it's like, no, no, like that's this. It's 50/50. You can, you know, I don't know. So he's always been, and he always thinks it's funny that that people are someone all how involved he is. But I'm like, no, that's his, it's his life. You know, he's the one that's like, let's have 10 more kids and I'm like, or we can only have a few. So yeah. So he's really supportive and great. And then obviously I really utilize my time when little guys napping or when he's at school, I'm working as hard as I can, getting those words out and, and I still answer all my own social media and do all that. So I definitely split it up. So if he's around, I'm on my phone trying to answer messages and emails. But then once it's around six, lately it hasn't been like this, but usually that's, it's around six o'clock. I put everything down, everything's done. And then we have family time and he knows that he knows when he's at from his nap, it's time for like mom and dad to play and we do whatever.
Passionistas: So most of the writing you do is classified as new adult. So for someone who doesn't know, talk about what that genre is.
Rachel: New adult is right after sa you're 18, 19 years old, um, it can be all the way up to 25-ish. And it's kind of that time in your life when you're like, what am I doing with my life? Why doesn't my degree work anymore? Why am I in student loan debt? You know, it's that whole time where you're trying to figure out who you are and what your place is in the world. And I find it extremely fascinating because no matter how old you are, it's just like with why books, no matter how old you are, you remember being in that place.
And so it's really fun to write because you remember what it was like when, when you were struggling, when you were like, do I have enough to buy chicken nuggets today? No, I do not. You know, like money and when you first get your first electric bill and you're like, what is this? You know, just all those times and all those life lessons. I think it's so fascinating putting it in book form because that's also a lot of times too, when you have your true love, right? Your very first love or your very first, you know, heartache. And so I think it's interesting to write about that because the feelings that are behind that are so intense because you have so much going on and you're not really, people say you're an but you're really not an adult yet. And so it's just a really fascinating time. So new adult would definitely be that little section of time where we call it like coming of age time.
Passionistas: You wrote your new book, which is called "Fashion Jungle" with supermodel Kathy Ireland. So how did that come about and what was it like working with her?
Rachel: We had a mutual friend introduce us and we honestly, I remember talking about, she called me later that week and I was sitting in front of my house and she was like, Hey, this is my idea. What do you think? Um, I kind of want to call it "Fashion Jungle." And there was these four women and I want them each to be in their thirties, you know, this is post like them, you know, making it in this industry. And she had this story, this incredible story that included a lot of situations where, you know, she was mistreated or her friends were mistreated or there were suicides, um, agents getting people addicted to drugs or people who were involved in sex trafficking. And you never saw again, just like fascinating, heart-wrenching stuff that she really wanted to put in a fiction book, which it was hard cause we had so much content.
Um, and so we decided just to start the project and it went really well. I would write stuff and send it to her. And then she would edit or add things. Um, I remember the first time I sat down, I had 15 pages of notes that we had to just say like, okay, how are we gonna, you know? And the other hard part is a lot of it is based off of real life. You know, it's, it's people, they're still living, some people that have died. And so celebrities, you know, that you can't like name names, you can't name drop it all. And so, you know, in order to protect those people and protect ourselves, we had to change names but also get permission from somebody because we were like, Hey, we're going to be writing about this. So it was really fun. It was a really fun experience. She was fantastic. Is fantastic to work with. Um, and it just one of the sweetest people in the world.
Passionistas: Talk a little bit more about that, about the celebrities and how you go about getting permission from them or, or the decision to change the name rather than get permission.
Rachel: Well, thankfully she was friend or is friends with a lot of these people. I mean, I don't even think that woman has enemies. She's just the nicest person. So, you know, that was the easier part. The harder part was people that maybe were not the greatest people. Um, that did take advantage, that did have the whole casting couch that, you know were worse than the worst that you've seen in Hollywood lately that are no longer with us. You know, how do you deal with that by still respecting the dead, if that makes sense. Um, and what we ended up doing is we were a prequel novella for the ebook launch and we partnered with them. And the, the actual novella was about this man that owned the biggest modeling agency in the world that was known to take advantage of all the girls, you know, and these girls, when I say girls, I'm talking 14 years old, 13 years old, and they're without their parents. They've been, they grew up thinking I trust an adult. Like, you know, you always tell your kids, find an adult, find a teacher, find this person, and then you could trust them. Like that's what you hope for your kid. And so, you know, her being in the big city, she's thinking, well, they're an adult, why would they take advantage of me? You know, she just so innocent. Her friends were innocent. They didn't know.
And then also you have this added pressure of well this is just how things are in this industry, which a lot of people are like, okay, well it's Hollywood. So I guess this is how things go. And it's New York. Okay. It's the fashion industry. It's normal to be, to get asked to be topless. Like that's okay. You know, and just crazy situations. And for her she was like, you know, I knew my boundaries going in. Um, but with this person that we ended up writing about, she, because of the person that he was, she actually didn't want not want to change his first name. So we kept his first name changed the last name just because she was in an altercation with him at one point where he tried to take advantage of her in hotel room saying, there's only one bed. We need to stay the night, you know, one of those situations. And so, so yeah, so we definitely wanted to make sure that we put that out there just because people need to know, you know, and, and she's been talking about in interviews too, so it's just one of those things that I think, you know, you just deal with it as it comes.
Passionistas: Are there any other names you can name in the book?
Rachel: We ended up, uh, basing a character off of Arnold Schwarzenegger because they're really good friends. And so, uh, we had actually finished it and then when I went to book bands and another signing with her, we were on the phone with her manager and he's like an Arnold really just like you to add a part. And we were like, so we went back. It was really, and I was like, repeat yourself Arnold. And then I'm like, okay, we're on a first name basis, get, okay. So I had to go back and, you know, spell that name. So that was fun. Uh, and add him like a little section in, because we also had another character based off of Vanessa Williams in the book. She also did, um, like a little soundtrack, um, song for the book too, which was really nice of her.
Um, and then we do have a one character that, it's one of those things that I don't mention it live cause there's a not supposed to, but if you read the book, you'll know it's based off of American royalty and this person does end up dying in a plane crash. And it's very, very, very sad. But it's someone that was close to her. Um, so that was definitely something that whenever readers pick it up and they read it, they are like, that's one of the gut wrenching parts of the book that really gets people. Because, you know, some of them were like, I remember this happening, I remember seeing this on TV. And if not, then they're, you know, Googling it as fast as they can drain of. Like, it's like for them it's like trying to find the treasure, like, okay. And that was just, you know, trying to relate everything together.
Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and you're listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Rachel Van Dyken. To learn more about all of her books, including "Fashion Jungle" visit RachelVanDykenauthor.com. Now here's more of our interview with Rachel.
So what do you hope people take away from reading the book?
Rachel: Anyone can pick up this book. It's, it's a clean read. It doesn't have, you know, anything in it that even like a 12-year-old would not be able to read that hasn't been exposed to already. Um, you know, but even if you're in your eighties, we can pick it up and we wrote it that way so that people can not only learn about the fashion industry, which was always interesting, but also learn about the people that maybe no longer have their lives anymore. You know, people that we've lost, people that have gone through really hard times, people that have disappeared.
We wanted to make sure that we did have the #MeToo movement in there because this was back in a time when that was not a movement. It was not, hadn't happened yet. It's weird to me that Hollywood has had this whole movement of #MeToo, but yet no one's been talking about the fashion industry. And I think that's really strange because the fashion industry, it was worse, you know, like there and there's in situations where, you know, it was all young girls. And so that's something that we really want to do include because we haven't had that moment yet and it needs to happen. And I'm hoping that this helps raise awareness for that, you know? And on top of that we have, we deal a lot with sex trafficking. I know that's something that's close to my heart as is to Kathy's heart as well. Um, and that's something that again, like, you know, you try to raise awareness, but I feel like we're still yelling and people aren't listening.
And so it's something that we want to do include in there because she did have friends that she never saw again. You know, friends that were taken overseas. I know she had said one story, which I don't know if we included all of it, but um, when you don't make it, they send you to the other agency over in Europe and they give you drugs and tell you to be nice to the men because they're businessmen. Right? But they're actually sex trafficking, you know what I mean? So like people would go over there because they couldn't make it in New York and then she would never see them again. And so it's just heartbreaking stuff that yes, it's fictionalized. It's, it's still a fun, sexy book. There's still a lot in it. It's a good suspense. But we have all those little kernels of truth and wisdom in there that people can pick up and go, wait. And so I'm hoping that this book does help and continue to help raise awareness.
Passionistas: Do you think you'll start to write more books that are out of outside of the pure romance genre?
Rachel: My goal in life is to write a really good suspense that has a little bit of romance, but as categorized as a suspense. Because I love in this book we have a, I write a mafia romance, which sounds silly, but it's awesome. Love it so much. Um, I just love intense people and I love anti-heroes. So I love people that you think you can't redeem them. They're the worst. They justify all these things and in the end they're actually like a good person. And you see, just in this book we had a character day and that was like that. You think he's like the bad person, the villain and all of this and he's actually the savior of them all, which I think is so cool. And so I love writing stuff like that. And I hope that in the future with Kathy or whoever, I'm writing with the, I can continue to write books that have that romance in there that I desperately love, but also have so many other things that can actually help help people as well.
Passionistas: Are you going to write more with Kathy right now?
Rachel: We have not even talked about it because we've been doing press for two weeks now. Uh, but I would be totally open to it. You know, like I said, we had a lot of content and it was really hard. One of the things that I care from readers is, well there are so many storylines. It was like it took me to like page 10 and I'm like that's fine cause you have to get to know the characters. And like for romance, a lot of times there's just two point of views. So for my readers, you know, they're used to the two, not to the four or five, like different people that are talking.
Uh, so yeah, I would love to write more with her and I would definitely love to bring in, you know, we left it open. So to bring in any of those storylines again and doing an offshoot of that would be fun. Well and she's the kind of person too that seems like you could do something about business. Like, she's such a pioneer in business and branding and yes, I want to just kind of sit at her feet and have her tell me all, all her secrets, all her things. She's brilliant. And she was one of those people that, you know, when, when she was deciding, you know, I'm have a family now where I'm pregnant, you know, what do I do? Like she shifted her mindset to woman business woman. Like even though I'm a model, I'm still a business woman, so I'm going to do this. And I think her very first business was socks. Like she sold a brand of socks and it sold, sold out. And it did. And so they just went from there. You know, what about this, what about that? And she and Kathy Ireland worldwide do a fantastic job of once you're under their wing and you're part of their family, you're part of their family forever. And I think that's something that, that speaks volumes about who she is and who they are. And I think on top of that, it's also why she's so successful is because those people had been with her for a long time. And, and, and once you're partners with her, you know, you've, she mentors you, you know what I mean? And she's really great at that.
Passionistas: What do you think is your best habit?
Rachel: My best habit's probably working out and making sure that I get up. My watch always tells me to stand cause I'm always sitting and I am the type of person that, again, I'm high anxiety cause I'm, you know, I think a lot of creative people are because we're just like Whoa all over the place. You know, I don't sleep super well because I'm constantly thinking about books. And so one thing that I do that my husband's really good at being reminding me like, remember you've been sitting for 10 hours, remember? Like you're going to feel so much better if you do this. And that's, I do CrossFit. So that's, that's a habit that I've kept up for the last five years. You even did it when I was pregnant and I think it's so important. I always tell my readers too, I'm always like a huge advocate of eating healthy, but also getting out, even if it means like just getting out of your chair and walking around your hotel room and doing some air squats or just taking a walk outside.
I think it's really important just to, to move because I feel like we're so disconnected and I think too, when you're disconnected in your home, and I'm like, hold up working all day, I'm not having any social interaction at all except for with people in my head, which means I'm kind of crazy, so I need to go out and so I have to leave the house, go out and make sure that I have that time for myself. And I think so many authors hit burnout this day and age. Like you see so many authors that burn out because they're just like pumping out books, but they're not taking that time for themselves. They're not taking that time to even read or to, or to be outside or to take vacation. And I know I'm preaching to the choir because I'm, I have to remind myself of this every day. But that's why it has to become a habit because you need that time for yourself to relax.
Passionistas: Is there one lesson that you've learned on your journey so far that really sticks with you?
Rachel: The biggest lesson I've learned that I continue to tell myself every day is that even if it's just one person that is impacted by your words, but maybe they were suicidal or maybe they've gone through a death in their family. Maybe they have, they're going through anxiety but anxiety a lot. Then it's worth it. Like it is worth your time, 100% to write that book and to put it out there, even if it just one person buys it because that means that one person needed it at that time. And so I think when sales are down or when you're bummed about a book release or when you know you see someone else doing really well and you're excited, but you're also like, but why? Why do I suck? I don't, I don't get it. Like, you need to know that that's so important.
And I always pray that I'm brought that person. So especially because I think it helps us authors to just understand that like these people are out there like needing these words. Like yes it's romance, but we put so much in these books that, you know, we're so intense, we deal with really intense situations and we use romance, we use comedy to kind of help people out of them. But that reading is an escape. And so no matter what you're providing that escape and that safe place for someone and I think that's really important.
Passionistas: What's the biggest risk you've taken in your career and how has it paid off?
Rachel: I think the biggest risk was quitting my job. Um, I quit my job when I, I mean I had nothing in savings. I had just used my first, then my very first Facebook ad the year before that for 50 bucks. So that's all I had. I mean, we were literally living from paycheck to paycheck off $21,000 a year because my husband had just gotten, he was a commercial diver. And you get a great job. And then he, they almost killed him. He almost died. He was drowned and it was like three months after we were married. And so it was a huge risk because I was the breadwinner and I had my MBA at the time and I had just gotten a brand new job that was paying like double and I was like, yeah, you believe in it. Okay, it's cheaper. But I was like, yes. Um, but I hated that job and I would come, I loved the kids I worked with, but I was a manager and I would come home and the boss, the one boss above me was just so stressed out all the time.
And, and I would, she would keep me there until 10 o'clock at night, you know, so I'm getting up and I'm driving there at eight. And so I was working crazy days, but I was on salary, so it didn't matter. You know what I mean? Um, I wasn't getting to spend time with him. And then I was writing for like three hours a night. So I was getting no sleep because I just had to do it. Like it was my passion and I had just hit the USA today list on my last Regency series. And so I was making okay money with my royalties, but I was like, I just can't, like I can't, I need to do this full force. And so I quit my job and started writing full time with him. Also, you know, just, we started another business, started a publishing house in Indy house under his name and just kind of went full force at it.
Passionistas: What's your definition of success?
Rachel: Success is going to bed at night knowing you got done that day. Everything you needed to get done, even if that means you just brushed your hair. I had a really hard time when I just had my son because I was used to having like 12 hours a day to finish a book and I'd read like 17,000 words a day. Like I was just crazy. And then all of a sudden it was like, okay, well I'm trying to nurse and then I'm trying to like, I can't type one handed. And I was like, how do I, you know, cause he's a boy. So he thought he was hungry every hour of course. And I was like, no formula. And then finally I was like, we're done here. We're going to get formula. Cause I just couldn't deal with any cause I was trying to work.
And then you panic about finances and you're like, okay, well I have to get this book out or if I'm, if I'm late on this deal. And so for me the biggest thing was like understanding, and this, my sister helped with this. She was like, did you brush your hair? And I was like, yeah, actually I did good. You got mascara on. And I was like, I actually got mascara on today. And she's like, congratulations. You have a successful day. Like did you get breakfast? Like you have to look at every single victory is like, even if it's small is a victory. Um, so it's not even about money. It's not about my book at the time. So we looked at this like, I think it's, you have to look at the tiny, tiny, tiny things because then when the big things happen, it's even more epic.
But if they don't, you don't go to bed like, Oh, what was me, you know, you can still celebrate what you've accomplished and what you've done. And I seriously have to tell myself that on a daily basis because in my husband, again, his radar reminded me, cause I'll be like, Ugh, but I didn't get this. He was like, but did you get this done? And so that's kind of like switching your focus to not what I didn't do, but what I did do. And then even writing those things down, which I've done, put on sticky notes around it and like killed it. I killed it today. So I think that's so important and it's something that I struggle with still, but it's good.
Passionistas: What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to be a writer?
Rachel: My advice is write, write, write, write, write. I think, uh, and even if you're writing 27 different manuscripts or if you're, you know, working on just one, it makes sure that you write it and finish it. There's so many people that have like, I've been writing a book for 10 years and I'm like, no, but a lot of times that's because we never think we're good enough. It comes back to that security thing. You think it's not good enough or I'm going to compare it to, to Christina Lauren. No, like they're, they're amazing writing duo, but you're new. Like you can't compare yourself. You know what I mean? It's not fair to you. It's not fair to them. So making sure that you're continuing to write and hone your craft, but do not go back and delete what you've already written because a lot of times what you put down the most raw is the most real, like the most, the stuff that's going to impact people the most.
And I can honestly say my worst selling books are ones that my publisher had me rewrite that I took out all my original stuff that I really loved that made it special and then it just made it like anything else. And I think that that is something that writers need to remember. That's like the best advice I can give.
Passionistas: Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Rachel: My mantra is actually from Joyce Meyer and I, it inspired me to write a book and it's "Do it afraid." So it's like anytime you're, you know, it's not no fear. It's even if you're afraid you can still take a step and do something. And I think that's so important. It's because I've had a lot of really intimidating situations where I'm like, what do I do? My husband's always reminding me, he's like, do it afraid. Just do it. Like it doesn't matter. You can do it and still feel that fear, but don't let that fear define you.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Rachel Van Dyken. To learn more about all of her books, including "Fashion Jungle," visit RachelVanDykenAuthor.com.
Please visit the PassionistasProject.com to learn more about our podcast and new subscription box filled with products made by women owned businesses and female artisans to inspire you to follow your passions.
Sign up for our mailing list to get 10% off your first purchase, and be sure to subscribe to the Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guests.
Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
LIVE EVENT — Aaaron's Coffee Corner Founder Carolyn Koppel
Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
Tuesday Mar 24, 2020
Carolyn Koppel, founder of Aaron's Coffee Corner, talks about starting a charity, creating Aaron's Coffee Corner and working with a sponsor.
Listen to Carolyn's episode of The Passionistas Project Podcast here.
Tuesday Mar 10, 2020
Claudia Cordova Rucker Is Creating Beyond Ordinary Work Environments
Tuesday Mar 10, 2020
Tuesday Mar 10, 2020
Claudia Cordova Rucker is the founder of the award-winning beauty oasis Aqua Skin and Nail Care and Estetica Mia. Her purpose is to connect with entrepreneurs to work toward a shared vision of elevating work environments through ethical business practices, an open book business management model and heartfelt leadership. In 2013, 2017 and 2018 she was recognized by the California Senate for her excellence in leadership and contributions to her community’s economic growth.
Learn more about Claudia.
Learn more about The Passionistas Project.
Passionistas: Hi and welcome to The Passionistas Project Podcast. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, sisters who are on a mission to inspire you to follow your passions through our interviews with strong, empowered women who are pursuing their dreams.
Today we're talking with Claudia Cardova Rucker, the founder of the award winning beauty oasis Aqua Skin and Nail Care and Estetica Mia. Claudia's purpose is to connect with entrepreneurs to work toward a shared vision of elevating work environments through ethical business practices, an open book business management model and heartfelt leadership. In 2013, 2017 and 2018, she was recognized by the California Senate for her excellence in leadership and contributions to her community's economic growth.
So please welcome to the show, Claudia Cordova Rucker.
Claudia: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited.
Passionistas: What are you most passionate about?
Claudia: I'm most passionate about finding what's alive in people. Really being very aware when I'm connecting with them and really listening to what are their needs themes, you know, like what is really important to this person and what do they need to thrive. And I think we're also busy and we're moving through life at such a quick pace, that to me, the beauty is just to slow down when I meet someone and just really be present and listen to them and say, wow, what do they need to thrive? And then to come back and say, how can I be a part of that? What can I offer while still being aware enough that I have to ask permission? Not just go into strategy and analysis for them, but to really listen and connect with them and saying, Hey, do you need someone to listen? Do you need advice? What is it that's alive in you? And how can I meet your needs? And that's what I'm really passionate about. And gaining that awareness and then bringing that to the workplace. That's when I thought, Oh my God, this is magic. This is my purpose. This is really where I want to spend my time and be very intentional about creating these beyond ordinary business work environments.
Passionistas: Talk about that. Talk about how you bring that into the work you do.
Claudia: I have a high need for peace and harmony. Uh, so it was really an identifying my own needs and that, and then realizing that when I either a went anywhere to, uh, be a customer or be in my own workplace, felt, uh, some disharmony that that really affects me on a really deep level. So it was really that like, aha moment that I kind of could pick up on that, that I thought, okay, well how do I go and change this? At first it was implementing open book, business management and transparency. And so that's what I thought would fit. And then I moved to know, Oh, we need a training program that's going to fix that. But it wasn't until I picked up the phone and spoke to Catherine Cooley, she's a nonviolent communications coach that I actually realized, Oh my God, this is the answer.
And so we really bring that into the workplace by starting with communication and how we communicate. And we use a communication style, which it seems kind of dry. It's actually much more than that, but it's called NBC or nonviolent communication. As the founder of the company, you figure out what your needs are and then you really hire for people who share means. So for us in our organization, I have a high need to contribute and our team also has a high need to contribute. And the way that we do that is through a really connective beauty experience. And so there's a lot of layers to it. But I would say that's at the foundation. It really is how we communicate and how we honor what's alive and the people who we collaborate with.
Passionistas: Talk about your journey to starting the nail care salon in 2005.
Claudia: I had been in New York on September 11th and what I now realize is that I was probably suffering from PTSD and I was just super afraid. I was like, if I don't move back to California and something like this happens, how am I going to get back to California and to my family? Because you know, I was stuck in New York for a couple of weeks when that happened. So it was really this thought of like, how do I come back? And I didn't even think about what am I going to do? My expertise at that point was in fabric manufacturing and design for men's wear. And I came to Santa Barbara. There's nothing to do. It has nothing to do with menswear. So I was just here trying to figure that out. When my mom asked me, “Hey, your sister's a single mom, you know, she really needs a way of providing financial support. Can you help her open a business?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure, that's going to be cool. Oh I can do that. That's not, that's not hard.”
And it was really working with my other two sisters that we created. Upwork skin and nail bar, just using our passions. I'm passionate about business. My middle sister Cynthia is passionate about, she's a surgical nurse and you know, all those beautiful cleanliness protocols and health consciousness. And then my, my little sister is passionate about nail care and beauty. So we kind of put all of our strengths together and opened up Aqua nail bar. And then a year later my little sister said, peace out. I do not like managing people and I don't want to do this, but by then we were deep in a business and so someone had to rise to the occasion and take over Aqua and that's really why I ended up continuing with Aqua Aqua Nail Bar.
Passionistas: And then you opened another salon in 2006 but you had to close your first salon three years later. So what happened and how did you handle that setback?
Claudia: One learning lesson was you'd never let your ego get in the way of closing a business when all the signs are there, right? We were leaving a lot of money and I just had this like I can do this attitude and I can make this happen, but we were in a recession and the location was in a, in a neighborhood that was really hit hard by the recession. So closing the original location and just consolidating into the second location. Was this really what kept us going? And it's really where I learned that resiliency that I needed just to say, okay, press pause on ego, keep on moving forward. Find those inner strengths and just keep bouncing back because even after we closed the first one, there's been a lot of journeys, a lot of times where we've had to like kind of look back and rewrite our story to be able to continue on in business.
Passionistas: So talk about focusing on the company culture at Aqua and why that's so important to you.
Claudia: In 2015 California passed AB 1413 which was a labor code change and it, it has culminated into AB five right? What we now know and has gained a lot of publicity, but we were winning all sorts of awards. We were really in a great place when our employment lawyer called me for a meeting and said, Hey, have you heard about AB 1513 you might want to consider this. And really that's when we had to make a decision. What route were we going to go with our business? Where are we going to be compliant and still have employees or were we just going to become landlords and rent space? And for me, I had always had this vision of, Oh, Aqua is going to be a franchise and I'm going to franchise the world. So that meant that we had to adopt AB 50 AB 13 actually all of our independent contractors, employees, well, when you have in place, I mean you really have to lead and you have to create a work culture.
That is a, I mean to me it's, it's taking more responsibility and it was really all these learning lessons of transferring from independent contractors to employees that really would test me over and over and over again. And I also would say is that when I would face the obstacles, I really looked out into the world like Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, all of these really amazing people that are very inspiring. But then I go into depression, right? Because I didn't know how to make this happen in my business. But as the universe always provides, you know, I had all these really amazing women that just kind of floated in and you know, just taught me that it really starts with work culture, staying positive work culture. And then finally to me it was communicating all of that. And again, coming back to MVC and learning MVC because now I could really have a platform that I could use to communicate the love and tenderness that I always felt in my heart, but that I always had to kind of join with the whole business aspect of it.
Right? And really it's in the, in the work culture, when you get that right and it's helped them tick, um, to what, to who you are, not as who you pretend to be, but who you really are at your core. That's just really magic because there's enough people out there that you're going to find your tribe as long as you're clear and you can communicate what your purpose is clearly. And so that's really where the work on work culture started just through a lot of pain, really, to be honest with you. And then again, that resiliency of saying, no, I'm not going to accept that this is the way that it has to be. I can choose to create what's living inside of my heart. I just don't know how. But I know that the guides are going to come in and they would, it's very miraculously our amazing work culture has been a collaboration of many, many women. Just saying, I see you and you matter and I believe in what you're doing and let me offer you my gift and then take it, say thank you and incorporate it into your work culture.
Passionistas: It's so unusual, and I will speak for myself, it's not something I've experienced in a work culture. So does it take people time to adjust to it?
Claudia: We have a lot of clarity in regards to what needs we made for employees. I would say that before it would take a lot of time, because we weren't in alignment, we were just like kinda housing people under our roof and offering them a job. But for example, now because we're, we're speaking so clearly that women and we mainly employ women will come in and we go through like a seven step interview process because we want to make sure that we're a good fit for them, just like they're a good fit for us. But I would say that because we're so good at communicating what our work culture is like and who will do really well there and thrive that no it doesn't. It's just very natural and they come in with such excitement and they stay with that excitement, even through you know, painful, grow, growing moments.
There's still the excitement and the, and because they trust and they know that we have this mutuality that the company and the leader is so invested in their personal growth. And by doing that we know that we're growing a company together. And who wins? I mean everybody wins. The clients just get amazing beauty experience and our team just gets amazing personal growth experiences. It's really beautiful, especially because we have this aspire training program. So a lot of the trainees that are coming in are young women in their twenties to be able to offer them an environment that's very positive and that can bridge the heart rural business experience and real communication tools. I mean that's the magic. You see them grow so quickly and their confidence is just like every day you see it. Just build and build and build. And that to me is the exciting, the exciting part of it. Yeah. I always tell them, your art legacy, you're going to go out there when you do well in life. That's the seed that we've planted and kindness and compassionate is going to grow. So there's a ripple effect by investing in them. Our bigger, higher purpose of spreading kindness and creating a compassionate world that like there are legacy they're going to make that they're going to make that happen.
Passionistas: Were Amy and Nancy Harrington and you are listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Claudia Cordova Rucker. To learn more about her businesses, visit www.esteticamia.com. Now here's more of our interview with Claudia.
So you've obviously had some setbacks along the way too, and you had a leak, a costly leak that led to you needing to get a bank loan. So talk to us about that process and what happened and what was the result of that?
Claudia: I always say that I'm very thankful for that plumber, that kind of food. So negligent. Um, because that was really the process. I would say of my own personal growth journey, we needed the money. We were not bankable at that point. And even though we were generating over a million dollars in revenue, the bank did not see that five to 6% net profit was enough to get a loan, which is bizarre to me now because in our industry that's very normal. So to ask for someone in the beauty industry to generate more than that is kind of unrealistic unless you're writing like a open book business management model and are highly systematized. So yeah, I was really confused and really kind of like desperate and I think that my banker saw that and she really connected with me and she said, “I know we said no, and I'm really sorry I, it could be a yes, but go to Women's Economic Ventures… to WEV. They will offer you the loan. I'm sure that they will.”
And so really what WEV gave me is they saw me as the leader that I could be, not the manager that I was, they really invested in me through coaching, through the loan, through awards that I've won. We've just been a really foundational part of my own personal growth and developing the methodologies to create these beautiful beyond ordinary businesses. I would just say that WEV was what inspired me to start this journey and this path of empowerment for myself, but also for these women that we're talking about that get to be part of our organization and make it what it really is.
Passionistas: So can you explain a little bit about what the Women's Economic Venture is?
Claudia: They are a women's center. The women's centers are all over the United States and basically what they do is they provide coaching, mentoring, and then they provide funding for my minorities, women or just entrepreneurs that don't have a lot of business experience.
And it's really like a trust lending model, which you know, doesn't really exist out there. And they're a place where you can go as a woman or a man because now men are also a part of the program really where you can say, I have a dream to create a business, but I really don't know how and I really don't have any resources. And you have this whole group of people at WEV that are there who say, come on in, we believe in your dream and we're going to help you make it happen and not only make it happen, we're going to be there with you as you grow because they start with the entrepreneur training program, but then you can go into like long-term coaching like thrive and vibe, which is what I was part of and they offer you these beautiful souls that are called business consultants, which can teach you anything from financial literacy to leadership.
They're your guide through entrepreneurship. I was very lucky. I had a, I had a coach by the name of Jeff, Jeff Alkazian and I always tell him your gift Jeff, is that you see leaders before they see themselves and he taught me that and he taught me that way of thinking, of seeing people before they could actually see themselves and then giving them the tools that they needed and keeping them positive so they could find that resiliency to move forward to really offer the world. That's something amazing. Most of the week businesses are really particular and that they're not just about business. They're really about making an impact in our world. So there's like one girl, her name is Wren and she's offering unloved fish to the world, right? So all these fish that have no home, if people don't know them, she so that we can protect our oceans and still keep what's beautiful and alive in them by not odor fishing or I have another friend of mine that's in weave, her name is Cynthia Taurus and she's offering culturally correct therapy to the Latino community, which is, I didn't even know about that, but it's just like amazing that you can be seen for who you are, not for what therapy has said that you should be. Right. So yeah, so they, they just, they're doing amazing work in our community. I just think that there needs to be more WEVs out there and out there in the world.
Passionistas: Talk a little bit about the salon coaching that you do. This is through strategies.
Claudia: Strategies is really interesting because in 2015 when we were going, we have to make the decision to go employee based strategies, offers an open book business management platform. So really what they're doing is that they're giving you all the tools to be able to implement open book management in your company. An open book management basically is, we're completely transparent with our financials. We teach our team financial literacy. So basically we invite them to be what I call “intrepreneurs.” They get to make the choices. It's choice on how we spend money choice, how we train choice, where we're gonna invest our resources.
So for me, I am the leader of the company, but really we're empowering them to take full ownership. And to me it's just when they believe in that and they can invest themselves in not being afraid to make choices, you really see a lot of personal growth and strategies is the company that gave us the methodologies to be able to implement open book management into our company. How did the California wildfires and mudslide impact you and the business? First, just like an awareness of God. We got a really love every day because we don't have any control over mother nature and especially for us that we live in California. We're always at the mercy of the winds, the fires and the rains now. So it was that awareness of just being really prepared and really strengthening that personal resiliency that I was talking about. That's how it's really affected me in a positive way.
It was sad also and that it affected us in that a lot of our clients moved away and some of our service providers chose to not do the commute every day to come to. So it did effect us staffing wise and our co like the number of customers we were seeing. But I also think that in all that case chaos and craziness, it was really a call to find that resiliency within myself and that tool kit that I say that lives in internally, that I have this, I own this and I'm a creative person and I'm just going to look at everything in a positive way and say, I know it looks really shitty right now, but what positive can come through this? What can we learn and how can we grow?
Passionistas: Do you feel like you have a particular trait that's helped you be successful?
Claudia: Yes, I know exactly what it is. I don't like labels cause sometimes I think they're kind of, I have not, not that I think they are to me a little bit judgmental, but the ability to be a concatenator — to put ideas together. Catena is like a chain and in Spanish and catena in Italian. So basically it's the idea to be able to link things together, right? To create something bigger. And so I would say that that trait, which my big system thinker friend called me a concatenator, she goes, “That's why you're successful. It's because you're a concatenator.” And I'm like, “Oh my God, what does that word mean? I’ve got to go look it up in the dictionary.” And then I met with her again and I go, “Could you explain to me what a concatenator is?” And she explained it to me and I said, “Yeah, that's really true.” It is the ability to be able to see random things and then put these ideas together and just be okay, be fearless and the idea that it might not work, but when it works, it's really super awesome and cool.
Passionistas: What's your secret to rewarding life? It's really investing in yourself.
Claudia: It's really saying every single dollar that I can spend on coaching, reading therapy, right, whatever, whatever it is that you need, making yourself the first and, and foremost investment because when we invest in ourselves, the payoff is always going to be big, right? Um, for everybody who we're connected with, for us, for everybody who we're connected with and just for the greater world at large, I feel like when you're in your happy place, you have so much more time to be creative and see things in a positive way as opposed to really that the amount of energy that it takes to be in that dark, lonely, isolated place. Nobody wins there, right? So by investing in you and figuring out and taking ownership of you, think that that's the best investment that you can make and will ultimately lead to the most joy and fulfillment in life. But one that is not based on anything or anyone's affirmation of you, like your personal affirmation, like really lives at your core. And to me that's the best thing investing in you. It just pays off and happiness and joy.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Claudia Cordova Rucker. To learn more about her businesses. Visit www.esteticamia.com.
Please visit ThePassionistasProject.com to learn more about our podcast and new subscription box filled with products made by women owned businesses and female artisans to inspire you to follow your passions. Sign up for our mailing list to get 10% off your first purchase.
And be sure to subscribe to The Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guests.