I am so excited to welcome Rita Lorraine to the BookEnds team!
Rita queried me with a beautiful, lyrical picture book and I knew that I had to read more. Along with a middle grade manuscript, she sent me two non-fiction picture books that each told the story of a former slave who overcame incredible odds to achieve their dream. Rita truly has a knack for finding history’s unsung heroes and heroines and putting their stories on the page for readers of all ages.
As the 2012 Lee and Low New Voices Award winner, Rita Lorraine’s debut picture book, Uncle Bill’s Family Reunion, will be published in the Fall of 2017.
I’m thrilled to be able to introduce Rita Lorraine to our BookEnds blog readers. I hope you enjoy!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
Since I love writing historical pieces, my process is to collect as many history books as I can. I don’t just mean books with chunks and chunks of text. I’m very visual and need reference books with pictures, postcard images, cars, food, menswear, dresses, store windows and even jokes from certain time periods.
Once I’m so submerged in facts and pictures that details are coming out of my ears, I go into my home office and begin writing. Sometimes I write only a few paragraphs at a time; other times I write from early afternoon until bedtime.
I try to write something – anything – everyday, even if I end up writing only a sentence or two. If inspiration won’t come, I leave home and head for the nearest community playground (with my pen and pad) because hearing children’s laughter often breaks through the writer’s block.
You are the 2012 Lee and Low New Voices Award Winner for your non-fiction picture book, Uncle Bill’s Family Reunion (Lee and Low, Fall 2017). Tell us about the book, and what drew you to William “Uncle Bill” Lewis’s story?
Uncle Bill’s Family Reunion is the true story of a slave who rented himself from his owner and set up a blacksmith shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It took years of planning, saving and working day and night, but Bill eventually saved enough money to buy freedom for his wife, himself, his firstborn son, and his extended family.
I stumbled across Bill’s story while researching and writing my first nonfiction pictorial reference book, African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes. I love stories about people overcoming odds – especially when the story involves early Americans who made do without telephones, Internet, public libraries, cable TV, public transportation, and the like, but still managed to achieve! When I realized the blood, sweat, tears and discipline it must have taken for Bill to eventually free every member of his family, I knew it was my responsibility to tell his story.
What do you love about writing history and historical fiction?
I love gazing at old photographs and trying to get into the minds of the people staring back at me. I check out their clothes, shoes, furniture…everything around them, then I follow up with hard research about the time period and mindset of the day.
I tell myself, “This person actually lived. He (or she) had dreams and plans. He courted someone, fell in love, married and raised children. He ate food, celebrated successes, and probably wept over many failures before dusting himself off and trying again.”
What is the hardest part about writing non-fiction for children?
The hardest part is figuring out how to stuff all the facts and events I want to share into the story without slowing the pace so much that it’s like watching a sweet old grandma pedal a bicycle uphill.
What book do you wish you had written, and why?
This is going back a few years (actually, more than a few…but who’s counting?) but I would love to have written the book called Peony, by Pearl S. Buck. It’s a meticulous historical novel, an achingly beautiful story of unrequited love, and a triumphant “life’s journey” opus all rolled into one. I was just entering my teens when I discovered it in my school library and I fell instantly in love with the writing style. “Ripe and full;” that’s how I would describe her prose. Did I mention that Pearl S. Buck was once my favorite author? 🙂
If you’re not reading or writing, what would we catch you doing?
I’m an outdoor girl. You would probably catch me taking a walk (alone, or with a friend) so I can breathe in the fresh air, or sitting on the front porch debating the latest headlines with my mom and sisters. You would also catch me trying to talk my two sons into throwing a barbecue where they do all the work and I just kick back and wait for the burgers to sear.
Thank you, Rita – I’m so happy to have you as part of my team! You can follow Rita Lorraine on Twitter at @RitaLorraine.