Rhonda Edwards teaches fourth grade during the day and college English students in the evening. She writes for children aged 6 to 18.
Welcome, Rhonda Edwards. What would you like my audience to know about you?
Edwards: First let me thank you, Bonnie, for the opportunity to talk about what is dear to my heart. Words; words that make beautiful sentences full of inspiration for learning.
I was born in Wilmington, NC and lived in the southeastern portion until 1979. My family consists of 5 generations with my grandmother being 97. I have been married for 37 years to my soulmate. We have a son/daughter-in-law and 2 gorgeous granddaughters.
I teach 4th grade Gifted and Talent students at Eagle Nest Elementary School in North Charleston, SC. I am twice Nationally Board Certified and have been teaching for 22 years. My Masters is in English and I have a BS in Elementary Education along with a Gifted Education endorsement.
Bonnie Ferrante: That’s wonderful.
What motivated you to begin writing books for young people?
Edwards: One Acorn’s Journey the Legend of the Angel Oak tells of the struggles Angel Oak has undergone on its way to becoming the oldest Live Oak tree. I write in the hopes that young children make a difference by being aware and caring of the world around us.
Ferrante: A desire that I share. Your writing focuses around nature. Why do you think this is an important topic for children?
Edwards: As an English MA, much of the world literature I read shared a common thread of conserving and preserving the resources of the world. Many creation myths are similar to biblical accounts. Our world and its inhabitants are beautifully made and important in the web of life. I see humans as caretaker of the Earth and its inhabitants. I have long been inspired by the works of people such as Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau.
Ferrante: Beautiful. Your books are a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. How do you choose which genre to use?
Edwards: This is a tough question for me and every time I have tried to answer it, I come to the same conclusion. I want to make the story of history and science interesting. My goal is to put the reader in the place of the character/s and allow them to discover and be amazed with the character/s at what is uncovered along the way.
Ferrante: If your books could change your readers’ perception about something in nature, what would you want it to be and why?
Edwards: If there is a perception about nature that I would like to change within my readers it is the fact that in many young people I sense an apathy. It seems that many of our youth today would rather spend their time indoors watching television or playing online games. Take notice of things in nature and be aware that it will ultimately be their responsibility to handle problems within habitats and ecosystems. We have so many beautiful state parks in the United States. There are wonderful opportunities for families to explore nature all around the world.
Ferrante: Parents have to lead the way to get children interested in the outdoors. How do you choose your topics?
Edwards: Personal experience or newspaper articles help me to find my topics or should I say find me.
A Living Mascot, is a true story of how 10 years ago there was a bald eagle nest adjacent to the elementary school where I teach.
One Acorn’s Journey the Legend of the Angel Oak was written as a legend of Johns Island, SC’s Angel Oak after a visit there with my family.
A couple of articles in the newspaper article about sea turtle egg piracy, inspired Pirates at Pawleys.
Adora the Albino Alligator is from an article about the albino alligator, Alabaster’s exhibit at the SC Aquarium in Charleston. I seem to find topics which complement nature and history.
Ferrante: I know the feeling. How do you organize your work? What is your writing process? Is it different for fiction and nonfiction?
Edwards: When that first little tingle is felt in my mind, I grab a notebook or journal. Ideas are then jotted down and I am writing or drawing notes to complement the idea. If inspired by a newspaper article, the article is placed in a manila folder with the title of the book on the cover. I will need to use them for direct quotes and double check my facts.
Organizers work well and there does need to be a brainstorming session. Brainstorming allows me to write down all I already know about my idea so I can then look for additional information if I need more details.
Then the research begins. Is there a historical connection that can be brought into the plot? Is there a danger to some animal or its habitat to include? Can I visit or have I visited my setting? Is there a website which can be included for additional learning? Have I seen interaction with humans and the natural setting? This will help form my characters and the conversations they have. Do I have pictures that will help tell the story? How does my information need to be told so that my reader comprehends and seems to be a part of the action in the story?
My drafting, editing, and revising seem to happen all at once. Unless I am traveling or away from my computer, I am drafting on the computer. Each book is kept in a separate file on the desktop. Do not forget to back up all of your work. All the information I gather from research and any pictures are kept in the same computer file. When coming back to my cold text (text that was written earlier), I reread what is written in its entirety. Does my story flow? Is it choppy and events out of place? Corrections are made immediately on the computer and then I continue writing.
I also use a paper copy as well. On a printed copy I can make notes for myself as can my copy readers (my mother and sister read all of my books for me and give me corrections or ask questions when something is not understood). It is here that I feel most vulnerable! Yet, I think my mother is my biggest fan.
The hardest part for me is when I finish a book. It is like saying goodbye to a good friend when it is sent off to my publisher, Deb Staples. I feel at a loss until a new idea takes shape. Then my process begins all over!
Ferrante: Thank you for the detailed account. Hopefully beginning writers will find that useful.
Ferrante: When was the last time you laughed so hard that you cried?
Edwards: The last time I laughed so hard that I cried was on a summer day after being at the beach with my sister. We walked into our condo on Pawleys Island and found our mom just laughing and giggling and so proud of herself. Wendy asked mom to show us what she had been drinking. It was funny how Mom kept teetering and giggling. Mom reached into the fridge and pulled out the bottle of mixer. We both burst out laughing as we told mom that she was not drinking anything alcoholic. All she had been drinking was only mixer to make margaritas. At this point the laughing was hysterical and I think we all ended up crying.
Ferrante: Aside from any family occurrence (marriage, special anniversary, birthday child, etc.), What event or accomplishment would you consider to be the highlight of your life thus far?
Edwards: Last school year, a former student looked me up and visited me at school. She asked to spend the day with me and just hang out with the kids and me. When our day ended and she was about to leave, she asked to tell me a story of how she had been bullied in school until being in my classroom. She spoke of the book I had begun every morning meeting with, Together, written by George Ella Lyon. She said that it was through these meetings and our discussions based on the teaching of that book that she learned to be confident in herself and that it was this which had guided her through school to her adulthood. That was indeed a highlight in my life.
Ferrante: If you were given the opportunity to be an apprentice to any person, living or deceased, from whom would you want to learn?
Edwards: Henry David Thoreau
excerpt from Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
*This interview was edited for length.
The Secret of Atalaya: A Carolina Cousins’ Mystery by Rhonda S. Edwards will be reviewed November 18, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.