Thursday, June 16, 2016

Q&A with Lesa Cline-Ransome

Lesa Cline-Ransome, photo by
Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of the new children's book Just a Lucky So and So: The Story of Louis Armstrong. Her many other books for young readers include Satchel Paige and Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. She lives in the Hudson River Valley region of New York.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Louis Armstrong for your new picture book, and how did you research the book?

A: Louis Armstrong was not my intended subject. As often happens when starting research for a project, I began with the idea to write a book about jazz cowboy Dave Brubeck. 

But the more I read, the more I came across references to Louis Armstrong. And when reading passages about Louis, I became less interested in reading and writing about Dave Brubeck. Eventually I gave up, and realized the book needed to be the story of Louis. 

Much of my research came from the Ken Burns documentary and companion book, Jazz. I followed that up with biographies of Louis' life and his own autobiography. Of course, listening to his music is about the best research you can do. 

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: "Just a Lucky So and So" was not only a signature piece of his, it seemed to be Louis' mantra for life. 

I was struck by the many elements of his life that most would consider unlucky--extreme poverty, a neighborhood filled with crime, divorced parents, minimal education--that within Louis found just as many examples of the lucky elements in his life---a loving family, a tight knit community, being surrounded by vibrant music, and the mentors he found throughout his life that helped him along a path to success. His rise from impoverished beginnings demonstrates the power of resilience. 

The text on the first page reads, "In New Orleans, Louisiana, in a part of town outside Storyville, tucked in a corner called Back O' Town, in a section nicknamed The Battlefield, Little Louis Armstrong was born, black and poor and lucky."

I wanted to communicate to young readers that perspective matters. His community may have been poor, but it was rich in love, and culture and talent.

Q: You collaborated on this book with your husband, James Ransome, who illustrates many of your books.  How do the two of you work together on books? Do you consult frequently with each other, or show each other what you have when you feel it’s finished?

A: It is surprising to most people that while James and I do collaborate on many projects, the only part of the process where we work actually work as a team is in the brainstorming phase. 

On occasion one of us will discuss with the other an idea for a project and if we decide we'd like to pursue it, we go to our own corners and begin the process. I start with research, which I do share with James, and then proceed to writing the manuscript.  

After several rounds of revisions with my editors, it goes back to the publisher and James begins working on creating a dummy book, sketches and finally paintings for the project often one to three years after my writing has been completed. By the time he's finished, I've probably written another two or three projects.   

Q: What do you think is the best age group for this book?

A: My books are typically for the 6 to 9 year age group, but depending on the length and subject matter, they could appeal to a younger or older age group as well.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just begun working on my very first Middle Grade novel about a boy who migrates from Alabama to Chicago in the 1930s and finds a sanctuary in his local library. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In addition to writing for children, I also really enjoy writing my blog, Writerhood: Thoughts on Writing, Motherhood and Everything in Between, where I have the opportunity to connect to different readers while sharing thoughts on my challenges, failures and triumphs as both a writer and parent of four.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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