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
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
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
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
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/