How long have you been writing, Rita?I supposed I’ve always written stuff, like poems and short essays, but mostly just for fun. When I was in college, my professors would often read my writings to the class, which made me sort of cringe at the attention. Then one day I was reading a book to my four-year-old nephew and saw how attentive he was to the story, and an idea struck me. I would write books for children. When I retired from my regular job in 2006, I began writing seriously—learning so much along the way, especially from the great folks at SCBWI, The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And here I am getting my first book published.
Good things come to those who wait! Where did you get your idea and inspiration to write The Legend of Ghost Dog Island?The Legend of Ghost Dog Island was inspired by my childhood. My father loved to tell stories meant to scare us kids, and the Louisiana bayous are plumb full of legends that can conjure up some pretty scary images.
What sets The Legend of Ghost Dog Island apart from other books in the same genre?The Legend of Ghost Dog Island is set in 1956. None of the modern day conveniences are around, such as cell phones, TV’s, and video games for the kids to entertain themselves. And kids had much more freedom to explore without fear of their surroundings. This is a perfect time for adventures to take place without using “fantasy” worlds. It also includes historical facts pertaining to the lifestyle and history of the Cajun people. I have also included sources for further research on the topic in the “author’s notes” at the end.
Love the idea about adding sources! Very innovative! As an author, Rita, what is your writing process?As hard as I try to become a structured writer, I seem to work better when I let the characters take me along for the ride. Sometimes they drag me away from the original story I had in mind. For instance, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island started out as a story of my childhood, of living on the bayous, and being bullied for being from the “wrong side of the levee.” My main character, Nikki, decided on her own to form relationships, become a stronger character than her creator intended, and to take the story to Ghost Dog Island.
How long did it take for you to start and finish The Legend of Ghost Dog Island?I began writing this story in 2008, after a few attempts at writing picture books. After starting The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, I fell in love with the novel process. The story was “finished” a year later. In 2011, after many, many revisions, I started getting positive feedback from agents and editors. So I suppose it took me a couple of years to feel like it was really complete.
However, the publishing world still didn’t seem to think the story had a place in today’s middle grade market. I was beginning to consider self publishing it, when Musa made the offer.Do you have any advice for other writers, Rita?
I guess my advice is the same as what was told to me over and over again. Perseverance is the key. So many times those rejection letters make you want to give up. Take the time to learn more about your craft, and keep going. Use any small suggestion or criticism from editors and agents, as well as critique groups, to keep you motivated.Yes, perseverance is my personal mantra! What’s next for Rita Monette the author?
I have a couple more middle grade/YA novels in the works, including a sequel to The Legend of Ghost Dog Island.I’ll look forward to that! Okay, here’s one for me, since I’m writing a time travel series – If you could time travel anywhere into Earth’s past, where would you go and why?
Only one choice? Okay…I would love to go to Egypt, back to the time when they built the pyramids, because I am fascinated by them and how they might have been constructed. As long as I don’t have to actually carry those stones.You can find me at http://ritamonette.blogspot.com or http://ritamonette.com
Blurb from The Legend of Ghost Dog Island:Ten-year-old Nikki Landry lives in the swamps and bayous of 1956 Louisiana. Her papa, a fisherman by trade, has just moved their houseboat to an unfamiliar bayou. Nikki has seen and heard something eerie on a nearby island. The following scene is where Papa is telling her of the legend surrounding the island.
Excerpt:I poured some syrup onto my plate and swirled my warm, crunchy biscuit through it. “You gonna put your lines out in that big lake past them islands?” I looked up at Papa, as he sat quietly sipping his coffee. His scarred hands looked real big and strong around the tiny chipped cup. His pale blue eyes seemed out of place against his black hair and dark skin.
“Yup. That there’s Flat Lake,” he said. “This side of the islands is called Bayou Platte.”“We heard a really weird sound out that way earlier.” I stuffed a piece of biscuit in my mouth.
Jesse stopped eating and watched Papa’s face.Papa set his cup down. “Weird sound, huh?”
“Yeah, like a dog howling, but scarier.” I opened my eyes wide. “Right Mama?”“Howing,” Jesse said with a mouthful of food.
Mama smoothed my brother’s curly hair. “It could have been a wild dog. But I’ve got to agree, it did have an eerie yowl about him.”
“I thought I saw something out there on that big island,” I said. “It was mor’n likely just a critter, but I had a creepy feeling about it, like it was watching me.”Papa rubbed his chin and got a twinkle in his eye, like he did when he was fixing to tell one of his swamp stories.
Mama stood up and lifted my brother from his chair. “Let’s get you ready for bed.” She gavePapa one of her warning looks and disappeared into the back of the houseboat toward our tiny bedrooms. She knew once Papa got going on one of his tales, there was no stopping him.
The last traces of daylight seemed to disappear in a hurry, as if Papa had ordered it away. The glass globe of the kerosene lamp clinked. He touched a match to the wick and adjusted the flame until it filled the room with pale light and gray shadows. He motioned me to sit next to him on the worn sofa.I hurried to his side, not knowing what spooky legend he was going to tell this time, but as scared as I’d get, I always enjoyed hearing ’em.
“Mais, there’s a legend told around these parts.” He leaned down so the light from the lamp made eerie shadows across his face.That was how they always started out. I rolled my eyes, determined not to get spooked this time.
“Folks say there’s something living out yonder,” he went on. “Legend has it the creature lures dogs to the island using evil spells. Then at the peak of the full moon, they’re turned into hollow spirits with glowing eyes.” Papa put on his eeriest sneer. “That there’s Ghost Dog Island.”“Ghost dogs?” I pulled my knees up against my chest and wrapped my arms around ’em tight. My mind conjured up images of a huge monster with drippy fangs, and dogs with bright yellow eyes. I thought about the feeling I had of something watching me. Was there really a creature out there? Did it have its eye on Snooper? I shuddered.
IEEEOWWWOOOO-oooooooo! The howling sound echoed again across the bayou.