Fiction, fact, biography, and semi-autobiography... Meet Lea Rachel
Today I'm delighted to welcome author Lea Rachel to my blog. You may have seen my review of her book, Seeking Forgiveness, yesterday: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5077271568. I read that the book is "semi-autobiographical," so I was eager to ask the author some questions, starting with the question about how Lea became the white mother of an adopted African American child.
How difficult is it to become qualified to adopt or foster?
I believe that fostering-to-adopt is regulated at the state level, so what is required will differ depending on where you live. But regardless of the state you live in, becoming certified generally takes time and effort. Classes are required, homes have to be certified, background checks done… It took us around two years to become certified, and then another year and a half after that until we had a placement.
Did you always plan to adopt, or did something happen that made you decide to adopt, rather than just fostering?
We always hoped to adopt, but what you discover when you become certified to foster is that nothing can be predicted or guaranteed. Indeed, those who work in the foster system tend to discourage people from entering into it if their intention is adoption. The primary goal of the foster system (as it should be) is reunification of children with their birth families. So while adoption can happen, those who work in the foster system are not working towards that goal; they are working towards birth family reunification and adoption only happens when family reunification becomes impossible. We knew this going in and our intention was just to foster – but then, we were blessed with the opportunity to adopt our son.
Did you know that you might end up being an interracial family? If so, how did you feel about the idea, and if not, how did you feel when it happened?
When you sign up to be a foster parent they give you a very long list (2-3 pages long) of characteristics with check-mark boxes beside them, and you have to go through and check what you would be ok with fostering, and what you would not be ok with. Included in the list were health defects and various abnormalities, and to be honest, they are what gave me the biggest pause. I was a sick child myself, in and out of the hospital for years after I was born, and I have a bit of PTSD from the experience - when I enter a hospital now I often get panic attacks. So I spent days agonizing over whether I should check the boxes next to some of the most serious health conditions that a foster child might have. Racial characteristics – African American, Hispanic, Native American – those were easy boxes for me to check.
Wow! I have a friend who's adopted brother tried to "wash" the color off his skin (many, many years ago). Have you ever had such a problem, and if you did, how would you deal with it?
If anything, I have the opposite problem at home. I’ve spent so many years telling my son he was gorgeous and that his skin was beautiful, that he’s asked me if I mind being white, and don’t I wish I were Black sometimes? It made me so happy when he asked me that!
What a great job you did! I love that!
In the story, Rachel questions her competence as a mother. Do you, as the author, view her as a good mother?
That’s a great question. The bottom line is that parenting is hard, and any parent is going to make some mistakes and do or say some things that they regret later. I’ve tried to portray Rachel in an honest manner, and so this means that I do write about mistakes that she makes. However, the love Rachel has for her son is so strong, so unflinching, and so immutable, that it helps her overcome the mistakes and tribulations of motherhood.
I certainly viewed her as a good mother when I read the book. Though I found myself thinking often of something a friend told me, when I was agonizing too much over trying to be perfect - you only have to be good enough. And I definitely think Rachel reads as being good enough.
Do you think Rachel would feel as guilty if her son were white, or if she were non-white?
Another excellent question! I think the answer is no, she would not. She is a mother so she would still feel guilty about many things – I do think the hardest part about being a mother is never knowing if you are doing things right and if you are making the right calls or not – but the interracial component adds a layer of complexity to Rachel’s already thickly stratified foundation of guilt. She will always wonder whether she handled education of race and racial issues with her son adequately or not.
The book description mentions "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah. Do you think that's a good comparison?
“Born a Crime” is non-fiction, and “Seeking Forgiveness,” while containing autobiographical elements, is fiction. So they aren’t a perfect comparison. But both are good reads (in my opinion) both for the storytelling, and for the interesting perspectives and experiences that they present.
I certainly enjoyed both books.
Going back to your book, the cover is really striking. How did you (or your publisher) come up with it?
To be honest, it was mostly the vision of the artist we hired, Stanislav Snihur. I discussed with him the book and what the vision of the story was, and he came up with an initial cover that was very close to what you see now. We only had to tweak it a little bit. I’m glad you like it – I will pass the compliment on to Stanislav!
And now, a writerly question, since I love writing as well as reading. I read that you've been writing short stories since you were a child. Did this novel grow out of short stories, or did you have the full novel in mind when you started to write?
The very first chapter of the novel poured out of me one day unsolicited, and without purpose. Writing can be cathartic, and clearly the morning I wrote that first chapter, I was needing to get some motherly guilt off my chest. I put the essay, as it was then, away and didn’t reread it for weeks. When I did finally bring it out and look at it again I was surprised to find that it wasn’t half bad! I continued developing the characters and a book started to take shape. I had no idea, initially, where it was headed, but after about a third of the book was written, I had a good feeling for where it was going to go.
What are you going to write next?
Whenever I have a book coming out, I take a break from novel writing. Instead, when I wake up in the mornings and sit down at my desk with my cup of coffee and my open laptop, I work on shorter pieces – short stories or essays. I am certain I will write another novel, but the genesis for that can only come after I’ve finished promoting my current novel, Seeking Forgiveness, and have the space to think creatively again.
Good luck promoting Seeking Forgiveness. I hope it gets lots of sales and readers. I certainly recommend it highly, and I really enjoyed it.
Thank you for visiting my blog, Lea, and it was great to "e-meet" you! Meanwhile, dear readers, don't forget to visit Lea's website: http://www.learachel.com/main/. You can even download the first chapter of Seeking Forgiveness there. Then purchase your own copy (because I'm sure you'll want to), at https://www.amazon.com/Seeking-Forgiveness-Lea-Rachel/dp/0990861627/