White, Ruth C. 1942–
White, Ruth C. 1942–
(Ruth White Miller)
Born March 15, 1942, in Whitewood, VA; daughter of John Edward (a coal miner) and Olive (a hospital food server) White; married (divorced); children: Dee Olivia.
Education: Montreat-Anderson College, A.A., 1962; Pfeiffer College, A.B., 1966; Queens College (Charlotte, NC), library media specialist certification, 1976. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: Yoga, exercising, walking with her golden retriever.
Mt. Pleasant Middle School, Mt. Pleasant, NC, English teacher, 1966-76; Boys Town, Pineville, NC, house mother, 1976-77; Harleyville-Ridgeville High School, Dorchester, SC, librarian, 1977-81; Dougherty Junior High School, Albany, GA, librarian, 1981-85; Association for Research and Enlightenment Foundation, Virginia Beach, VA, librarian, 1986-97.
Best Children's Book by a North Carolinian designation, North Carolina chapter of the American Association of University Women, 1977, and Georgia Children's Book Award nomination, both for The City Rose; Newbery Honor Book designation, 1997, for Belle Prater's Boy; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), for Sweet Creek Holler; ALA Best Book for Young Adults designation, New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, both for Weeping Willow; ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2000, for Memories of Summer.
FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS
(Under name Ruth White Miller) The City Rose, McGraw (New York, NY), 1977.
Sweet Creek Holler, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.
Weeping Willow, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.
Belle Prater's Boy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Memories of Summer, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
Tadpole, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
Buttermilk Hill, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.
The Search for Belle Prater, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.
Way Down Deep, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2007.
Little Audrey, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to Venture Inward.
White's works have been translated into German, Dutch, Chinese, Indonesian, French, Polish, Afrikaans, and Japanese.
Many of White's books have been adapted as audiobooks.
Ruth C. White is the author of several award-winning novels for middle-grade and young-adult readers, and her works include Sweet Creek Holler, Weeping Willow, Little Audrey, and Belle Prater's Boy and its sequel, The Search for Belle Prater. White's stories are set in the South, in particular in the coal-mining region of western Virginia where the author grew up. Commentators have praised White for her characterizations, depiction of locale, and sensitive treatment of such difficult experiences as the death of a parent, divorce, abandonment, and rape. In 1997 White's much-acclaimed novel Belle Prater's Boy was named a Newbery honor book.
In her works, White focuses primarily on teenage girls, and the action in many of her novels takes place in the 1950s, when she herself was young. "I work with and write for adolescent girls because that was the time in my life when I was most confused and unhappy," she once explained. "I can relate to these girls now because I remember the pain of trying to grow up, trying to find my identity, and trying to be an individual in a conformist's world. Adolescents today have basically the same problems, only more of them."
Growing up in a poor western Virginian family during the 1950s provided White with both incentive and fodder for her later writing career. "Born in the poverty-stricken coal mining region of Virginia, I was the fourth daughter of a coal miner who died when I was six," she once commented. Although her family had no televi- sion, it was probably for the best: they read aloud and performed music together. In this setting, White developed her imagination and "managed to get the most out of the public school system and go on to a better life," building a career as a school teacher and librarian, and also gaining respect as a writer.
Although White published her first novel, The City Rose, in 1977, it was over a decade before her second book appeared. In Sweet Creek Holler six-year-old Ginny and older sister June must deal with the rumors that swirl around them when they move to a new town. The girls are actually the object of these rumors because their father was shot to death, leaving them and their beautiful mother to fend for themselves. During the six years they live in the small mining town of Sweet Creek Holler, the sisters witness the tragic effect gossip can have on sensitive souls. Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Joanne Johnson praised White's "carefully drawn characters" and "well-thought out and presented" relationship between Ginny and a young friend. In Horn Book, critic Nancy Vasilakis judged the novel to be "stronger in its delineation of character and in its evocation of time and place than in its narrative development," yet she praised White's obvious "affection for the indigent folk of its Appalachian locale."
In Weeping Willow, set in 1956, White tells the story of fourteen-year-old Tiny, who is the eldest child in her family. As she grows into adulthood, Tiny must deal with her stepfather's unwanted sexual advances, as well as with the typical challenges of high-school life. Writing in the Voice of Youth Advocates, Myrna Feldman praised the novel's characters, setting, and details, deeming Weeping Willow an "exceptionally fine book" that is "honestly written and difficult to put down." "While the sweep of the novel is admirable," wrote New York Times Book Review critic Linda Lee, questionable is the novel's message that "incest is a bad thing, but it can be lived with." Praising the story's detailed setting and "strong" voice, Alice Casey Smith contended in a School Library Journal review that Weeping Willow "has too, too many threads that don't weave together." Betsy Hearne viewed the novel more favorably, however, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Weeping Willow contains "vividly rendered" characters and a "plot following variably but believably from their [the characters'] patterns of action."
Belle Prater's Boy takes place in the fall of 1953, and here White explores the nature of friendship, loss, and love. Despite its title, the novel revolves around twelve-year-old Gypsy, who is known in Coal Station, Virginia, for her beautiful long hair and for having a father who died tragically seven years earlier. When her cousin Woodrow Prater moves in next door following the mysterious disappearance of his mother, Belle, he and Gypsy develop a close friendship that, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, allows both preteens to "face tragedy and transcend it—and … pass along that gift to the reader."
Reviewers praised Belle Prater's Boy highly. Writing in Kliatt, Jana Whitesel deemed White's novel a "rare" book that "transcends age with its timeless story." In the New York Times Book Review, Meg Wolitzer declared that "it takes a writer of real lyricism and energy to tell a good young-adult story, and Ruth White is one." Several critics cited the author for her well-drawn characterizations and vivid depiction of locale, Wolitzer remarking that White's "vivid and accurate eye has helped her fashion an ideal backdrop for the story and its element of suspense." "White's characters are strong … and her storytelling is rich in detail and emotion," asserted Maeve Visser Knoth in a Horn Book review, while Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin praised the book's "humor and insight," "solid picture of small-town life," "unpretentious, moving story," and "strongly depicted characters." Belle Prater's Boy "balances disturbing emotional issues with the writer's light touch," summed up a critic in the Voice of Youth Advocates.
The curiosity of many readers was sparked by the central mystery of Belle Prater's Boy: namely, what happened to Woodrow's Prater's mother? White provides the answer in The Search for Belle Prater, which was published more than nine years after the first book. In what a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised as an "elegantly conceived sequel" containing "tiny glints of magic," thirteen-year-old Gypsy narrates the adventures of the two seventh graders who—joined by friend Cassie Daulborne (who claims to have second sight) as well as by a teen runaway named Joseph—attempt to track down the missing woman. After receiving a mysterious phone call on the exact hour of his birth, Woodrow decides that his mother wishes to reestablish contact. Traveling to West Virginia, the group encounters racial prejudice, reunites Joseph with his family, and ultimately brings an answer to the question posed by the novel's title.
Calling The Search for Belle Prater a "worthy sequel" to the award-winning Belle Prater's Boy, Marie Orlando added in School Library Journal that the novel shares "the warmth, love, and humor" of the first book. Noting the deepening friendship between Woodrow and Gypsy, Horn Book contributor Cindy Dobrez added: "Characterization, dialogue, and setting are among White's many literary strengths, and she doesn't disappoint here."
Other novels by White have continued to focus on young characters coming to terms with their personal reality during the 1950s. In Memories of Summer thirteen-year-old Lyric witnesses her older sister, Summer, gradually decline mentally, becoming a stranger with schizophrenia; meanwhile, the young teen must also deal with a new culture as the family moves north to Flint, Michigan, where her widowed father finds work in an automobile plant. Praising White's novel as "affecting," Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick noted that Memories of Summer is based on White's experiences with her own sister, and added that the author includes "gentle humor … as well as pathos, and the tale is simply but movingly told."
In 1955, thirteen-year-old music-loving Tadpole shows up at the Kentucky home of ten-year-old cousin Carolina Collins, guitar in hand and fleeing from an abusive uncle. Carolina's mother, Serilda, is usually docile, but she fights to protect the troubled young boy in White's novel Tadpole, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised for its "homespun language" and "evocation of ordinary people as they stumble into enduring truths about human strength and vulnerability." Another ten-year-old is the focus of Buttermilk Hill, which finds wise and self-reliant Piper Berry weathering her parents' divorce by focusing on her own dreams and gaining insights and strength from both her friends and her poetry. Praising White's "down-home, approachable style," Horn Book contributor Christine M. Heppermann noted that Tadpole is full of "appealing characters" and "eloquently crafted images of … life in the Kentucky hills." A Kirkus Reviews critic also had praise for Buttermilk Hill, dubbing it a "poignant, compassionate exploration of the hopes and dreams that burn in the hearts of a small-town community in 1970s America," while in Booklist, Ilene Cooper praised White for maintaining "a good balance of happiness and hard knocks."
Way Down Deep introduces a unique cast of characters living in a small rural town in 1950s West Virginia. Three-year-old Ruby is found on the steps of the town's courthouse and is instantly accepted by all, Ms. Arbus in particular. A decade later, a man is caught trying to rob the town bank and he and his family are also accepted by local townspeople. As secrets are revealed, it is this family that ultimately sheds light on the secrets in Ruby's past. Cooper, writing in Booklist, noted that "at the heart of the story are profound questions that readers will enjoy puzzling out," while Horn Book contributor Betty Carter remarked that Way Down Deep contains "an undeniable charm." In a School Library Journal review, D. Maria LaRocco called the novel "captivating and thoughtful on many levels." As LaRocco added, Way Down Deep "offers humor, mystery, and a feel-good ending that a multitude of readers will find satisfying."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 15, 1977, review of The City Rose, p. 197; October 1, 1988, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 329; June 15, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Weeping Willow, p. 1827; April 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 1434; September 1, 2000, Debbie Carton, review of Memories of Summer, p. 109; May 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Tadpole, p. 1598; August, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 1937; February 15, 2005, Cindy Dobrez, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 1079; March 1, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of Way Down Deep, p. 85.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Weeping Willow, p. 284; April, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 336.
Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 2001, review of Memories of Summer, p. 20; April 17, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 21.
English Journal, November, 1993, Margaret B. Shelley, review of Weeping Willow, p. 79.
Five Owls, January, 2001, review of Memories of Summer, p. 68.
Horn Book, November-December, 1988, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 785; September-October, 1992, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Weeping Willow, p. 589; September-October, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 601; May, 2001, Kristi Beavin, review of Memories of Summer, p. 362; May-June, 2003, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Tadpole, p. 358; September-October, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 600; May-June, 2005, Betty Carter, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 334; May-June, 2007, Betty Carter, review of Way Down Deep, p. 293.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, March, 2001, review of Memories of Summer, p. 581.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1977, review of The City Rose, p. 581; September 1, 1988, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 1330; June 1, 1992, review of Weeping Willow, p. 725; July 15, 2000, review of Memories of Summer, p. 1048; August 1, 2004, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 750; April 1, 2005, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 428; March 1, 2007, review of Way Down Deep, p. 10.
Kliatt, January, 1993, review of Weeping Willow, p. 13; May, 1998, Jana Whitesel, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 42; July, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Memories of Summer, p. 25; March, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 16; March, 2007, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of Way Down Deep, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1988, Beverly Lowry, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 20; August 23, 1992, Linda Lee, review of Weeping Willow, p. 26; October 27, 1996, Meg Wolitzer, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 44; February 11, 2001, review of Memories of Summer, p. 26.
New Yorker, November 18, 1996, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 102.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1988, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 460; May 18, 1992, review of Weeping Willow, p. 71; March 11, 1996, review of Bell Prater's Boy, pp. 65-66; July 31, 2000, review of Memories of Summer, p. 96; December 23, 2002, review of Tadpole, p. 71; November 8, 2004, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 56; February 19, 2007, review of Way Down Deep, p. 169.
Riverbank Review, fall, 2000, review of Memories of Summer, p. 35; spring, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 44.
School Library Journal, September, 1977, review of The City Rose, p. 132; October 1988, Katharine Bruner, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 165; July, 1992, Alice Casey Smith, review of Weeping Willow, p. 91; April, 1996, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Bell Prater's Boy, p. 158; August, 2000, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Memories of Summer, p. 192; March, 2003, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Tadpole, p. 242; September, 2004, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 219; April, 2005, Marie Orlando, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 143; April 1, 2007, D. Maria LaRocco, review of Way Down Deep, p. 152.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 27, 2003, review of Tadpole, p. 5; April 22, 2007, Mary Harris Russell, review of Way Down Deep, p. 9.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1988, Joanne Johnson, review of Sweet Creek Holler, p. 244; October, 1992, Myrna Feldman, review of Weeping Willow, p. 234; June, 1997, review of Belle Prater's Boy, p. 87; December, 2000, review of Memories of Summer, p. 356; December, 2004, review of Buttermilk Hill, p. 397; April, 2005, Lucy Schall, review of The Search for Belle Prater, p. 52.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (August 5, 2007), Dean Schneider, review of Tadpole.
Ruth C. White Home Page,http://www.ruthwhite.net (August 5, 2007).
TeenReads.com,http://www.teenreads.com/ (August 7, 2007), Donna Volkenannt, review of Way Down Deep.
Looking Glass Review Online,http://www.lookingglassreview.com/ (August 7, 2007), review of Way Down Deep.
Ruth C. White
Ruth C. White contributed the following autobiographical essay to SATA in 2007:
At some point in the nineteenth century, the English Comptons helped to settle the rugged hills of Southwest Virginia. Olive Compton, born in 1916, was one of their direct descendants. She grew up on the very top of Compton Mountain in Buchanan County. It was the most isolated place in Virginia at that time, and Olive lived there from her birth to her marriage having very little communication with the outside world. She didn't even have a radio or a telephone.
Growing up with twelve sisters and brothers, Olive worked in the gardens, helped tend the livestock, and assisted with housework and the younger children. Each day she and her other school-age siblings walked about two miles down the mountain to a small country school at Whitewood in the valley. Olive's favorite subjects were reading and geography.
Hannibal Compton, Olive's uncle, was an educated man, a schoolteacher and an early historian of the region, and he had a whole library of excellent quality right up there on the top of Compton Mountain. So, as a young girl, Olive would spend hours reading his books, and she found that reading could take her away to a more desirable place and time, and to more interesting people and events than she had ever known. By the time she had reached eighth grade, Olive was fairly self-educated through her reading, which was probably a good thing, because eighth grade was as far as one could go at the Whitewood school, and her parents did not have the money to send any of their children away to a county high school.
In the 1920s and 1930s, coal mining became the chief industry in Buchanan County, and Whitewood grew into a booming coal town. At the age of seventeen, while attending church in the valley, Olive met a young miner who loved to read as much as she did. His name was John Edward White, known affectionately by one and all as John Ed.
John Ed and Olive married and quickly became the parents of five daughters. Audrey Virginia came first in 1936; Yvonne Marie in 1939; Eleanor June in 1940; Ruth Carol in 1942 and Elizabeth Gail in 1944. True to Southern tradition, Ruth Carol, like John Ed, was called by both names, and so was the baby, Elizabeth, a.k.a. Betty Gail. Unfortunately, Betty Gail died at the age of seven months, which brought me, Ruth Carol, to the rank of baby of the family.
My sisters and I had more entertainment and more contact with the outside world than our mother had as a girl, but we still became avid readers mostly through her influence. She read aloud to us even after we were old enough to read for ourselves.
Since reading was such a big deal in my family, and I loved a good story above all else, I knew that I would be a writer someday, even before I started school, and I never wavered from that goal. What I did not know was that I would be writing about those days in which I was living. I had visions of stories involving princesses and swashbuckling heroes, lovesick cowgirls and faraway places with strange-sounding names. It was only after I grew up and away from the Appalachian region that I
realized what a wealth of unique story material I had stored up in my memories during those early years. Therein lay my greatest asset as a writer.
Today, upon reaching a certain age, I find that I cannot remember what happened last week, but I remember well those childhood years in the Appalachian Mountains as if they never ended, and that is where I actually began writing these novels, which only today are finished and published.
Some of my most pleasant memories of childhood involve crawling into one bed with all of my family on cold winter evenings while Mom read to us from Little Women, Heidi, Lassie Come Home, or some other such wonderful treasure. But it was Laura Ingalls Wilder, a Midwesterner, who was the first, and probably the most important influence on my own writing. My sisters and I felt that we were growing up with the Ingalls girls.
Although all of my published books are definitely fiction, just as Mrs. Wilder's were, there is an element of truth, or many elements of truth, in each of them. In most of my books I have used the Appalachian setting, interwoven the culture and dialect of that region, and used characters that I knew there. I have also used the names common to the Appalachian region, both people and places, and repeated jokes, stories, and songs that I remember from childhood.
In addition to telling the stories of the mountains, five of my books, Sweet Creek Holler, Weeping Willow, Memories of Summer, Tadpole, and Little Audrey, tell some part of my own life as a child. In short, I have taken my reality and turned it into fiction.
My Childhood as Recalled in My Books
My earliest memories (1945-48) are of living not far from Whitewood and Compton Mountain in a place called Jewell Valley Coal Camp. A coal camp was a place where the coal miners lived with their families. In our camp all the houses were exactly alike—brown square wooden boxes with two families living in each one. A partition ran down the center to divide the living quarters. We had no running water inside the house, meaning no indoor toilets, and not much else in the way of modern convenience.
The miners were paid with scripts instead of money, which could be spent only at the company store. We lived in the coal camp from the time I was three until just after I turned six. My sisters attended school at Jewell Valley, but we were gone before I made it to first grade, and kindergarten did not exist in that time and place. Little Audrey covers those years of living in the coal camp with my father, mother and three sisters. As I was beginning the story, I decided to write it as close to the truth as possible. First of all, I would use the real names of places and people, including my family. I would include real events as they happened, to the best of my recollection, or if I couldn't remember something, I would ask one of my sisters to help me out.
At the time the story takes place, my sister Audrey was the only one of us old enough to tell a tale. So I have her as the narrator of Little Audrey. When I was ready to start the first page, I closed my eyes, took myself into Audrey's head, and used her senses. I saw myself on the dirt road running through Jewell Valley. I saw the hills and the camp. I saw and smelled a beautiful spring day. I heard a voice beside me. It was an old friend, Virgil. Because I felt so completely in the moment, I began writing in the present tense: "It is a golden day in May, 1948. The air fairly sparkles with sunshine." And the story began to flow. I did not have to struggle at all with the plot, the characters, the setting. Everything was there already, waiting for me to place it upon the page, and the present tense felt so natural that I decided to stay with it.
As the story opens Audrey has been very ill, first with scarlet fever, and then with a botched tonsillectomy, which nearly killed her. At this point she has been back in school for a month, and is struggling to regain her health. While relating information about her school life and the everyday problems of bullies and best friends, she casually brings up the subject of sisters, referring to Yvonne, Eleanor, and me as the "three little pigs," and further labels me the "runt piglet."
Audrey recognizes and laments the fact that her parents chose to have more children than they could properly care for. Then, without much fanfare or self-pity, she reveals the most painful burden her family must carry, namely that her father, John Ed, has become a serious alcoholic who neglects his wife and kids. In her own words, or as close as I could come to Audrey's words at that time, she describes the hardships of living in poverty, along with the hopes and dreams of a little girl inspired by a very special teacher, a good friend, and a strong mother who holds the family together.
At the end of the book, John Ed is killed, and I wanted the reader to be left with the impression that his death, though very sad, was not the worst tragedy that could have happened, but in truth was the best thing for the rest of the family. Though the mother and children mourn for the person John Ed once was, they have not actually seen that person in a long time. Without him they find a way to leave the hills and make a better life for themselves.
In reality, my father had become an alcoholic by the time we moved to Jewell Valley. He spent every weekend away from his family, drinking with others like him, and he actually was killed one night while he was drunk. As in the story, I was six years old, and my sisters were seven, eight, and eleven. Mom was forced to take us out of the coal camp and find another way to live. She was only thirty years old at that time and she didn't have any prospects of securing employment because jobs for women simply did not exist.
With a small amount of insurance money from the mining company and some help from John Ed's father, Mom bought a little brown house for us in a narrow hollow tucked away among the hills near Grundy, Virginia. The place was called Little Prater. There we survived on a monthly check from Social Security. Of course we were very poor, but I think we were actually somewhat happy, at least content, living a quiet simple life there from 1948 to 1954.
When I am visiting schools, I often tell young people that my childhood was both traumatic and wonderful. It was traumatic in that my father was killed suddenly and violently when I was very young. My mother, sisters, and I were forced to live in poverty, and every day was a struggle to survive. But it was also wonderful in that we had a loving mother and relatives, and we had each other. We didn't have to worry about being kidnapped, molested, or murdered. Those thoughts never entered our heads. We were, in fact, as carefree as the little wild animals that scampered up and down the hillsides.
In fact we did a lot of scampering up and down the hillsides ourselves. On pretty days we sometimes left our house after breakfast and played in the hills all day. We came home only long enough to eat our "beans and 'taters." In summer we had fresh vegetables and fruits, and we were healthy most of the time.
My sisters and I were not only avid readers but also great mimics. We had no television, but there were movie theaters in nearby Grundy, and we were lucky to see the latest movies from Hollywood, which we would later act out. We would write down all the dialogue we could remember from a good movie and learn it for our own entertainment. Being the aspiring writer, I also wrote original plays for my classmates, and they would help me act them out.
We attended a little four-room country schoolhouse that was perched up on a hillside there in Little Prater. You might think such a backwoods school would not be very successful in educating its poor student body, but in this case you would be wrong. Our teachers were excellent, and in spite of everything, my sisters and I were blessed to receive a sound basic education.
Somehow or other we managed to have a radio all those years, and we picked up every song that came along, thus developing a remarkable repertoire of folk, country, bluegrass, spiritual, and popular music. To this day we know the words to scores of forgotten songs. We are a wealth of music trivia. I often use the lyrics of some these songs in my books.
Sweet Creek Holler is the fictional account of an Appalachian girl whose coal-miner father has been killed. In this book I took the four girls in my family and combined them into the two main characters—Ginny and June Marie Shortt. Ginny is the narrator, and the story covers her life from ages six to twelve, living with her sister and widowed mother in a shack up a "holler." Ginny and Junie go through many of the normal girl things in growing up, but they also experience some interesting mystical events.
I have always enjoyed reading stories involving mysterious and supernatural happenings, and I find that most young people feel the same. In my own books, I don't want to over-do that angle, but I do like to include a touch of mysticism, just enough to tweak the imagination. In Sweet Creek Holler I manage this with two ghost girls who happen to be about the same size as Ginny and June Marie.
During those years of living in Little Prater, my paternal grandfather and grandmother, whom we called Poppy and Granny, lived in Feds Creek, Kentucky, just over the state line not far from us. Poppy worked in a mine there. I often visited them, and I have happy memories of those visits. In fact, Kentucky was so special to me I decided to set a novel in that time and place. It turned out to be Tadpole.
Even though Tadpole is set in Kentucky, and we actually still lived in Virginia at that time, the story is based on our real lives. I tried to portray all four of the girls in my family as we were. The oldest and most sociable one, Kentucky, is Audrey, who, as a child, had more friends than all the rest of us combined. The next oldest, Virginia, is Yvonne, who was more concerned about her looks than the rest of us, and she was as pretty as a flower. Georgia is Eleanor, the brainy sister, who studied all the time and made straight A's, but she was also quite lovely. And then of course there was Carolina who thought she was nobody, based on myself.
The character of Tadpole is based on my favorite cousin who was an orphan. In the book, he acquired his nickname by swallowing a live tadpole on a dare. An hour later he chucked it up again, and it was still alive, so he threw it back into the creek where it swam away. He tells Carolina that the tadpole is probably a big bullfrog by now, and all the other frogs call him Jonah.
In reality, my cousin's nickname was Toad, and when I last saw him in 2004, he told me he didn't remember where his nickname came from. What he did remember about his childhood was being passed around from one relative to another, just like Tadpole in the book.
When kinfolk visited in those days, it was a special time, almost like a holiday, but I, being the youngest, was sometimes ignored by older cousins. Writing fiction, however, allows you to re-write the past, and give yourself happy endings. So in this book, Tadpole, who picks the guitar and sings, appreciates little Carolina as nobody has done before, and helps her in finding some self-esteem as the talented one.
Here again, I couldn't resist a few mystical events. One of these, by Tadpole's account, is the death of his melancholy cousin, Eugene. Tadpole is distraught over this loss until he notices that in a certain painting, which has always been Eugene's favorite, a new figure has emerged, and it happens to be Eugene himself, as happy as a pup!
In a similar vein, Tadpole sometimes hears a voice that guides him, and which he reveals to Carolina as the adult Tadpole, come back through the years to assist him in growing up, because he had no parents. Then there's the mystical window at his uncle's house through which Tadpole can see the past. There he watches his mother and Carolina's mother as little girls playing in the yard.
Of course I had to give Tadpole a happy ending in letting him go to Nashville to become a singing star. In reality I'm afraid he did not have such good fortune. He ran away from his relatives and joined the army as soon as he was old enough. He later settled down in Rising Sun, Maryland, married, and became the father of twin boys.
In my own real life, as my sisters and I began to grow up, our requirements grew as well, and my mother struggled desperately to fulfill our needs. Eventually, she did manage to find a job working in the kitchen of Grundy Hospital where she worked long, hard hours for little pay.
In 1955 there was much talk about the booming auto industry in Michigan. It was rumored that they were hiring a great number of men and women and paying good wages. So my mother made the decision to take my sisters and me to Flint, Michigan, in search of a better life. I can only imagine how much courage it must have taken for this quiet, shy person from Compton Mountain to leave the hills and all her relatives, to say goodbye to the only home she had ever known, and move to a large industrial city up North. On top of that to be responsible for four teenage girls must have been almost overwhelming for her.
On a bus we left Grundy mid-morning one September day and continued riding through the night, carrying all of our possessions in suitcases and a few boxes. In Ohio we saw flat land for the first time in our lives. I think in that moment we all felt the enormity of this great life change, and steeled ourselves for the unknown. It was indeed a very difficult move for all of us, but particularly so for Audrey, the oldest. Shortly after our move to Flint, she began to show signs of a mental breakdown, but she managed to hang on bravely for a few more years. In the end it was a crushing disap- pointment in love that overwhelmed her, and schizophrenia swallowed up the sister we once knew. This memory was almost too painful for me to dwell on, but it was an important part of my life. So here again my reality turned to fiction.
Memories of Summer tells the story of sixteen-year-old Summer Compton as she is descending into madness. It is told through the eyes of her sister, Lyric, who is thirteen. In this story I wanted to emphasize not only the suffering of the schizophrenic, but also the effects of mental illness on the entire family. In several of my other books, I have a widowed mother taking care of her family alone, because that had been the case with my family. But one day my sister Eleanor said to me, "Have you ever thought what our lives would have been like if Mom had been the one to die, and Dad had lived?"
Actually, I had never thought of that, but I did at that moment. Believe me, I am very glad that I had a wonderful mother who raised me and my sisters in a way that nobody else in the world could have done, but for the sake of variety in my storytelling, I decided that in my next book I would have the father be the survivor who took care of the kids, and that's the case in Memories of Summer.
In this book, as Claude Compton and his two daughters arrive in Michigan, the city of Flint is commemorating its centennial year with elaborate celebrations. Coming from Glory Bottom, Virginia, the girls find everything exciting and fascinating. For the first week they wander
around the city alone, laughing and singing, enjoying all the sights and sounds, and having glorious adventures. Then comes Monday morning and school. Lyric manages to re-enter the real world, and adapt to this new life, but Summer cannot. It is the beginning of her breakdown.
Several months of anguish follow, not only for Summer, but also for Lyric and their father. Summer is tormented by voices and people who exist only in her mind. She has always had an unreasonable fear of dogs, which she refers to as wolves, and now she begins having nightmares about them. The sisters have always been extremely close; then strangely enough, one night Lyric finds herself in one of Summer's nightmares. In this way, she gets into Summer's mind, and experiences the horror her sister is going through. Summer is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and at the end of the book, is committed to Pontiac State Hospital, while Lyric and her father settle into a new life in Michigan, and find some degree of happiness.
The true events of my sister's descent into darkness were too painful to write about. Furthermore, it is not a story for young people. By the time Audrey was committed to Pontiac State hospital at the age of twenty-three, she had given birth to two beautiful sons. She was confined and treated for years, but, like Summer, she never regained her sanity. My mother raised her children, Johnny and Mike.
As it turned out, Mom was not able to work for the auto industry as she had so counted on. It seems men were hired at any age, but women over thirty-five could not find employment at the factories, and she was thirty-nine. That's how things were in those days. So again Mom worked in the food-service department of a hospital in Flint. The pay and working conditions, however, were better than she had been used to in Virginia.
My sister, Yvonne, stayed in Michigan, eventually married a General Motors man, and became a wonderful mother to four fine boys. Eleanor also stayed, eventually married a factory man, and became mother to two very fine children—a girl and a boy.
And I? Well, in reality, at the tender age of thirteen, I found Flint to be a harsh environment compared to the home we had left behind, and I was acutely homesick for the mountains. In those days, with the extended family in Southern culture, it was common to live for a period of time with a relative, for different reasons. If Junior didn't behave, for example, he might be sent to live with Uncle Jim for a time, or if you needed to be closer to the high school, you might stay with Grandma nine months out of the year, etc.
So, it was decided that I could go live for a while with an aunt and uncle back in Virginia, until I thought I could manage Michigan again. I went home to the hills
on a Greyhound bus, believing, along with my mother, that I would return to her in Michigan in a matter of weeks or a few months at the most. As it turned out, I spent the next four years with my aunt and uncle in Virginia, attended Grundy High School there, and graduated in 1960. That was reality.
Weeping Willow is the fictional account of those four years. In this book I came so close to that fine line between fiction and reality, that even I hardly knew where one ended and the other began. So it is not surprising that this is my favorite of all my books. This is the story of Tiny Lambert, who is more like me than any other character I have created. Though I did not suffer the abuse that Tiny suffered, the rest of the book is to me like a photograph of a particular time and place. Yet, with the issues in this story, it could take place in the twenty-first century. The themes are as old as the hills themselves.
The mysticism in Weeping Willow comes in the form of Willa, a little girl only Tiny can see. She has curly red hair and shows up to comfort Tiny in difficult times. It appears that Willa is simply an imaginary friend, until she returns suddenly at the worst moment of all for Tiny. Now Tiny is a teenager, and so is Willa. Later, Tiny learns that her missing father had curly red hair. It was my intention to leave the reader with the impression that in times of need, Tiny's father has come to her in a form she can relate to. In the end Tiny feels a hole in her heart, which Willa once occupied, and she knows that Willa will never come again, because Tiny has grown up.
I had some wonderful English teachers at Grundy High School who helped me and encouraged me to write. Two of them were Miss Hart and Mrs. McElroy. My grades were never something to brag about, but I managed to be an average student without working too hard.
It was at Grundy High School that I met Roberta Smith, the best friend of my life. She supported me in my writing by reading every word I wrote. She, in turn, loved to create poetry, and I encouraged her in that. I still have some of her poems.
Besides Roberta and me, there were three others in our close circle of friends. They were Garnette, Gipsy, and Vicki. We called ourselves the "Inseparables," not only because we were all in the high school band, but we also did everything else together. In Weeping Willow the characters of Rosemary and Bobby Lynn are composites of these four girls. That's why the book is dedicated to them, along with the Grundy High School Class of 1960. Many of the characters in my books love music and are talented in that area. This is the case in Weeping Willow, because high school and junior college were the years when my own musical interests peaked. I played clarinet and also sang.
In fact, like Tiny Lambert, I won the local talent contest the year I was a senior. Two weeks later I won another one in a nearby town. In my mind, those two wins, even today, stand alongside my Newbery honor (to be discussed), as an equal source of pride. As the years went by, I belonged to different singing groups and studied piano, but without much success. Other priorities took over my life, and my involvement with music fell by the wayside, though my love for it remains to this day.
In reality, upon graduation from high school I had a rare opportunity to go to college. At this point nobody in my family had ever even thought of such a thing, but it was almost as if some good spiritual entity gently took control of my life and manipulated me into a good education. With the help of the Buchanan First Presbyterian Church and the Junior Woman's Club, both in Grundy, I found myself partially funded for college. Of course I would also have to work, which I was willing to do.
There is a picturesque little college down in North Carolina called Montreat, which I still dream about and think of sometimes with a feeling much like homesickness. Going there was the first major turning point in my life, for it lifted me out of the backwoods and introduced me to a wider world.
At Montreat I met young people like me from all over the world. At that time the school was similar to Berea in Kentucky, in that it offered a liberal arts education to anybody who was willing to work, and work I did. I served in the cafeteria three meals every day, and also helped in the dean's office.
Somehow I managed to continue with my writing, and was encouraged by my teachers. I wrote for the school newspaper, which was called The Dialette, and I continued privately to write stories, which I dreamed would one day grow into novels.
It is my intention to do a sequel to Weeping Willow, which will focus on Tiny's years at Mountain Retreat College, and also on her relationship with Cecil, who is the boy next door. This will be a crossover book, connecting Weeping Willow and Buttermilk Hill, which is discussed further on.
My First Publication, The City Rose
It was at Montreat that I met my husband, Larry Fisher. After two years of college, I moved with him to his hometown, Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Then came the most important role of my life, as I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom we named Dee Olivia. When she was two years old, I went back to finish my degree at nearby Pfeiffer College, and became a teacher.
I began teaching language arts at Mt. Pleasant Junior High. It was there that I discovered both my favorite age group, and the very best in young-adult literature, which made me nostalgic for my childhood. I realized that, of all the reading I had done during my sixteen years of education, I had come full circle back to the literature I loved most—specifically the young-adult novel.
I started teaching in 1966, and the schools in North Carolina had been only recently integrated. In one of my classrooms I had two African-American students, both girls and both good readers. Once a week I would take my classes to the library to select their own books. It was my favorite day of the week. I noticed that my two African-American girls searched and searched the stacks for reading material, but they were not very excited with what they came up with. In trying to help them find the best books, I finally managed to get it out of them that they wanted to see books with African-American girls on the covers, and there were very few such publications at that time.
Then I would write one, I told myself. Yes, I had always wanted to be a writer, and here was a hole in children's literature that I would try to fill. I set about writing a book with an African-American girl as the main character, but of course the first novel is not so simple. I found myself working on it for years.
In 1969 my marriage ended, and I became a single mother. Dee and I lived in a trailer while I continued to teach and she attended the same school where I worked. In 1973 I met and married a man by the name of Joe Miller who lived in a neighboring town.
By this time I had come to the realization that I would be happier as a school librarian so that I could help young people with their reading. I could also indulge my love for children's literature. So I attended classes at nearby Queens College in Charlotte and earned certification in library science. Though I had done only average academic work in high school and at Montreat, and had barely squeaked through Pfeiffer, I found it was easy to make good grades at Queens, as I loved my subject so much.
In my spare time, what little there was of it, I continued to work on my book. I had definitely underestimated how long it would take to finish such a project, and get it published. Today many people ask me how I managed to find a publisher for that first book, and I always reply that I was simply lucky. I had a copy of Writer's Digest, which included a list of publishers looking for new authors and willing to read unsolicited manuscripts. Being a student for so many years, the name McGraw-Hill had become familiar to me from seeing it on textbooks. So I decided I would send my manuscript there first, where it fell into the hands of a young editor by the name of Eleanor Nichols. She worked with me on revisions for about a year before she accepted the book for publication.
Ten years had gone by since I had started my novel, and the girls I wanted to write it for were long gone from school. But no matter, I thought, I had finally managed to publish my first book, and other young girls and boys would read it.
The City Rose, published under my married name of Ruth White Miller, came out in 1977, when books with African-American children as the main characters were no longer rare, but the demand was growing. It is about a young girl who moves to North Carolina to live with an aunt after a fire destroys her family in Detroit. It was fairly well received for a first novel, and soon became an Avon paperback. Today it is out of print, but used copies can be found on the Internet.
Dee and Buttermilk Hill
As the Beatles put it so aptly, while I was busy with other things, life was happening. My little girl, Dee, was growing up. She had her own life and many friends and relatives in Mt. Pleasant. They were fairly nice years for her. In Buttermilk Hill, which is based on Dee's childhood, I have used my own memories, as well as Dee's, to paint this picture of small-town life in the 1970s. Piper Berry is the main character, and she lives with her divorced hippie mother and a golden retriever in a trailer. Piper also happens to be the daughter of Tiny Lambert from Weeping Willow. So this book shows you not only what happens to Tiny when she grows up, but also what happens to her daughter.
Dee was never a poet as Piper Berry is in Buttermilk Hill, but she was very much like Piper in other ways. She loved animals, for one thing, and she loved her relatives, especially her grandmother Fisher. I decided to make Piper a poet when I read some poems written by two good friends of mine, Virginia Grant and Nora Baskin. I asked them if they would write some poems for the main character in my new book, and both graciously agreed.
During the time I spent in North Carolina I saw little of my mom and sisters in Michigan. Mom was busy with Audrey's boys and trying to work. Yvonne and Eleanor were also busy raising their own children. Eleanor did manage to continue her education. She eventually earned a master's degree from Oakland University in Michigan. She graduated with honors and became a reading specialist.
A Few Unsettling Years
In 1977 my husband and I took on a job as house parents at Boys' Town, a home for troubled boys in Pinev-
ille, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Dee, of course, moved there with us, and was not very happy about it. Looking back, I can hardly blame her.
I will never forget the experience of working there with adolescent boys. It was fulfilling, but at the same time heart-wrenching to see so many young boys struggling to find their place in life. I admired the other house parents there who had been at it so competently for several years, and I had to conclude that I did not have what it takes to be a successful houseparent. Not everybody is cut out for such a demanding job. We left after only a year.
At this point, Joe, Dee, and I moved to Summerville, South Carolina, near Charleston because we had always loved the area. There I began my career as a school librarian at Harleyville-Ridgeville High School in nearby Dorchester. This school was in a very poor district, and many of my students were troubled with family and money problems, racial tensions, drug and alcohol abuse, giving birth out of wedlock, poor academic achievement, etc. It was a challenge for me, and I did not have the time or energy to think of my writing for the years I was there.
In the meantime, Dee was happy and attending one of the best public schools in the South—Summerville High School, a very large facility near Charleston. She made friends easily and graduated from there in 1981. She chose to go to college at my old alma mater, Montreat, back in the mountains of North Carolina. I was delighted with her choice.
That same year my marriage ended and I left my job in South Carolina to move to Albany, Georgia, and live with my sister, Eleanor. General Motors had transferred her husband to a new plant in Albany, and Eleanor found a position teaching at Deerfield, a private school.
Yvonne remained busy with raising children in Michigan, while Audrey was in and out of hospitals and half-way houses. On several occasions Mom tried to care for Audrey at home, but it simply didn't work out. She was too ill for home care.
In Albany, I found employment as a school librarian at Dougherty Junior High School. There followed some very troubling years for both Eleanor and me. We were almost forty years old, which certainly seems young to me now, but together we went through a bout of depression and soul searching. We talked a lot about metaphysics and our recent fascination with noted psychic Edgar Cayce. We talked about visiting the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, (the ARE) which was built around the psychic readings of Cayce. But we never quite made it.
We also recalled our youth in the mountains and how it had shaped us. I wanted to write about those years, and my second book began to form in my mind. When I finally started the actual writing of Sweet Creek Holler, a floodgate of old memories, old sorrows and grief, and, yes, nostalgia, opened up. It was my first experience with writing as catharsis. It was better than psychotherapy.
After five years in Albany my book was no closer to completion, my job was growing stale, and I felt I needed a dramatic change to re-awaken my passion for life. That's when I made the impulsive decision to move to Virginia Beach and try to get a job at the ARE Library. As soon as that decision was made, I felt excitement stirring in my bones, and my life took on new meaning. In July of 1986, I made that move, and it was the second important turning point in my life (the first being Montreat). I found a small three-bedroom house to rent, then invited my mother, who was almost seventy by then, and Dee, who was between jobs, to join me there. They both accepted, and we three settled into a period of togetherness and happiness.
Mom was delighted to stay at home at last and not have to work. She took care of the house. Dee, having the right personality for dealing with people, was quick to find a job in selling. At first I did some substitute teaching in the public schools, but within a matter of months I was hired as a librarian at the ARE's metaphysical library, one of the most fascinating libraries in the world. And right outside my office door I could see all of the more than fourteen thousand psychic readings done by Edgar Cayce, bound in brown leather and perused each day by scholars, holistic healers, and spiritual teachers from all over the world. I felt that I was home.
At the ARE I learned more than I can even describe. The people I met there ranged from some real kooks to the highly intelligent and enlightened. I felt that I was in an intense classroom, and I liked to imagine this place was a spiritual junction for old souls. I devoured hundreds of metaphysical books. I attended conferences, lectures, church and social events with like-minded people. It was as if I were hungry for the contacts, the stories, the information, the mystery and mysticism.
Publishing My Second Book, Sweet Creek Holler
In no time at all I was finished with Sweet Creek Holler. Since McGraw-Hill had gone out of the children's book business, I had to find a new publisher. This time I wrote a query letter with the intention of sending it to children's book editors. In this letter I first mentioned
The City Rose, then described my new book, and asked the editor to contact me if interested in seeing Sweet Creek Holler. Then I made copies of the letter and sent it to thirty different publishers. In no time at all I had nineteen positive replies. I numbered the replies as they came in and set about sending my manuscript to each publisher sequentially.
Of course computers were rare in those days, so my books were typewritten, and electronic book submissions were unheard of, so hard copies had to be laboriously put through a copy machine and sent to each publisher one at a time. Three publishers rejected Sweet Creek Holler before a reader at Farrar, Straus & Giroux of New York read it, liked it and gave me a phone call. It was October of 1986, and it was the most welcome phone call of my life.
Margaret Ferguson was a young editor at FSG that autumn and she was assigned to my book. We worked very well together, and have done the same on all my books since. Sweet Creek Holler was well received in 1988, earning very good reviews, including one in the New York Times Book Review, which was quite thrilling. It was also named to ALA's Notable Books list.
Several changes took place within my family in the late eighties. First of all, Eleanor went to work in management for General Motors, and was first assigned to the new Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Her family moved with her.
Second, Dee took a job in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she stayed with an old friend from her Mt. Pleasant days. It was her intention to earn enough money to go back to college, and eventually she did manage to earn her degree in business.
And third, Audrey's two sons, John and Mike, now with families of their own, came to Virginia Beach to start a business together, and Mom moved in with Mike and his family.
So I was on my own, but not lonely. I found that I actually enjoyed the solitude. I also had more time for my writing and my growing spirituality. I became active in the Unity Church, and attended ARE events and conferences. I began writing book reviews and short articles for Venture Inward, which is the magazine of the ARE And I met some truly interesting people from all over the world. It was a time of great personal growth, in which I found emotional and mental health.
Reunion and Loss
It was either Janis Ian or Janis Joplin who said, "You never get over high school," and this was the case with me. Memories of those high school years still haunted me. In 1990, I traveled back to Grundy for my thirty-year high school reunion. Of course it was not my first visit back to my roots, but it was the most significant, because four of the Inseparables, who, after high school, had been separated to four different states, would be together again. Roberta, a teacher in Bristol, Tennessee, was married with three sons; Garnette, a nurse in Roanoke, Virginia, was married with a son and a daughter; and Gipsy was an unmarried music teacher in nearby Elk Horn City, Kentucky. Vicki was married with two daughters and one son in Pembroke Pines, Florida. She had been two years behind us in high school, and was not present for the reunion.
Roberta, Garnette, and I stayed at Gipsy's house the first night. It was wonderful and bittersweet. Of course the magic of the teenage years had long left us, but we still had enough in common to renew the close ties we had shared those thirty years previous. Now at forty-eight, we simply picked up our conversation as if it had been interrupted only yesterday. The next night we met with our other classmates for the official reunion. It was unforgettable.
I had already started writing Weeping Willow before the reunion, but when I returned home, the book bloomed with new life. I finished quickly and it was published in 1992, dedicated to my good friends and our most special class of 1960.
The year after that, in July, 1993, I lost my sister, Audrey, to lung cancer. After all the years of anguish, her suffering was finally ended. Then sadly, in October of the same year, my dear friend, Roberta, died during an asthma attack.
Writing Belle Prater's Boy
In both Sweet Creek Holler and Weeping Willow, the main characters are children living in poverty in Southwest Virginia in the 1950s. Of course I was writing from experience. So when I was searching around for a new story idea, I had to realize that being poor is only one of the problems young people face in all generations. Children who do not have to worry about money still have difficulties in their lives. The loss of a parent is a good example, through death, divorce, desertion, etc.
With this in mind, I decided to set my next story—still in my beloved Virginia mountains in the 1950s—but in brighter, more comfortable surroundings. As for characters, I knew only that Gypsy and Woodrow would be the city mouse and the country mouse, but there would be no animosity between them. They would have much to learn from each other.
But I had no idea where the story was going from there. So I placed Gypsy and Woodrow in this small, middle-class, close-knit community and in my mind I said to them, "Now, tell me your story."
I didn't realize then that Woodrow's mother, Belle Prater, would turn out to be the pivotal focus of the book. But right from the start she intrigued me, and I guess that's how she managed somehow to take over the story. Though we never meet her, she haunts every page, from first to last.
In this story I deliberately inserted the theme of appearances versus reality on several levels. There's the contrast between the two sisters—Love, who is a beauty, and her plain sister, Belle; Gypsy, the town's little golden girl, and Woodrow, the cross-eyed kid from the sticks; the obvious creature comforts and loveliness of Residence Street as opposed to the shack up on Crooked Ridge; and the social world where Love Ball Dotson reigns supreme versus the dark world of Blind Benny, who wanders out only at night.
Besides the publication of Belle Prater's Boy, another very important event for me occurred in 1996. The descendants of John Ed and Olive Compton White met at the Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia/Kentucky state line near Grundy for a family reunion. Mom, now almost eighty years old, reigned over the festivities with a wonderful smile on her face the whole time.
All of Mom and Dad's surviving children and grandchildren, along with spouses, came from a half dozen states to be there. We rented cabins tucked away in the Appalachian woods, and for three days reminisced together. There was good food, and much singing and laughter, and yes, a few tears as well.
The Newbery Honor
On the January morning of the Newbery announcements in 1997, I headed out to work at the ARE Li-
brary as usual, not realizing that my life was about to change. My editor, Margaret Ferguson, called me at work around 9:30 and gave me the news that Belle Prater's Boy had won a Newbery honor. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I was thrilled, to say the least.
When I returned home that evening I found the Newbery Committee had left a message on my answering machine, also giving me the news and congratulating me. That day and the next I think I received flowers from about a dozen different sources.
In June of that year I was invited to the ALA convention in San Francisco, where Dee and I attended the Newbery banquet and met all of the other ALA winners. A View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg took the medal that year, and there were three other honor books.
Belle Prater's Boy was the breakthrough book that made me feel like a real writer. After its success I was able to quit my nine-to-five job at the ARE Library and become a full-time writer. I started accepting invitations to visit schools and book events all across the country. Dee usually travels with me to the most interesting places. We have met many fascinating people and experienced some wonderful adventures together. To date, I have traveled to eighteen states discussing my books with young people and their parents, teachers, and librarians. What a great job!
Still, I stayed in Virginia Beach to study metaphysics and haunt the ARE for two more years. Finally I was able to verbalize my new-found belief system in this way: Spirituality is a reverence for life; care and compassion for the poor, the sick, the elderly, children and animals; living in harmony with the earth; valuing people over things; and respecting yourself.
I try to use these tenets in living my life day by day.
The Millennium and Beyond
I have always had a knack for knowing when it is time to go, and this insight came to me in 1999. I felt that I had learned all I needed to learn at this particular crossroads, and now I wanted to spend more time with Dee. In Pennsylvania she had become quite successful, owning her own business and a home near Hershey, where you can smell the chocolate when the wind is right.
Two weeks before the millennium I moved away from the South for the second time in my life, to live with Dee. Together we bought a beautiful golden retriever, Dory, who added much to our lives. We had always been close, but that winter, as we played in the snow with our dog and spent many wonderful days and nights together, we grew even closer.
My own mom spent some of those carefree days with us. She had begun dividing her time among her children and grandchildren. She spent a few months with Dee and me, a few with Yvonne, and a few with Eleanor, but she always returned to live with Mike, whom she had raised. I think she felt more at home with him.
In 2000, I published Memories of Summer, a book about a schizophrenic girl, similar to Audrey's story. It was designated as a best book for young adults by the ALA. Mom was the first to read it, and I am afraid it brought back too many sad memories for her. She cried.
In May of 2001, while at Mike's house, Mom lay down on the couch to watch her favorite television program and never got up again. At the age of eighty-four, this gentle, soft-spoken lady from Compton Mountain, who had always loved her family above all else, died. I wonder if, at that moment, she saw herself as a girl sprawled under a tree on that isolated mountain top in the hills of Virginia, reading a good book. And I know I must write Olive's story before I die.
A Period of Productivity
Tadpole and Buttermilk Hill were followed by The Search for Belle Prater. This book begins a few months after Belle Prater's Boy ended. On New Year's Eve the Ball household receives a mysterious phonecall from Bluefield, West Virginia. Woodrow is quite sure it is his mother, Belle Prater, calling. After that, he and Gypsy will not be satisfied until they go by themselves on the bus to Bluefield to search for Belle. The book describes how they search for Belle and what they find in the end.
Way Down Deep has little to do with my own life, except for the Appalachian setting. The idea came from a newspaper article I read years ago about a little girl abandoned in a field near a town in the Midwest. Nobody ever learned her identity, or how she came to be there. This story haunted me for years, and finally I decided to build a story around such an incident. Unfortunately, in real life the child died, but the town, not willing to have the unknown girl forgotten, erected a monument for her.
As I began my version of the story I had no idea how I would solve the mystery of Ruby's sudden appearance in the little town of Way Down Deep, but I knew that the ending would come to me. I also knew I would not let her die. That was too sad for a children's story. As I wrote, and the characters took shape in my mind, the mystery did solve itself naturally. I felt that it ended the only way it could have done—in a burst of mysticism!
These Happy Golden Years
For many years my sister, Yvonne, and I, had not seen much of each other because we lived so far apart. I did not know her four boys and their families well, and they did not know Dee and me. But all of that began to change after the 1996 reunion at the Breaks. Yvonne and her husband, Bob, loved the state park in Virginia as much as I did, and we began meeting there for a week each summer whenever possible.
In the meantime, Yvonne and Bob were building a wonderful log cabin in Millington, Michigan, near Flint. They sent me pictures, and finally I had to go see it for myself. It is a grandparent's dream to have such a place. In a park setting with a stream running through it, it has an elaborate tree house for the grandchildren, and seven meticulously tended wooded acres. Dee and I began to spend a few days each year with Yvonne and Bob at their "estate," and Yvonne and I have caught up with the years and reminisced about our childhood days in Virginia. We also see Eleanor and her family occasionally in Tennessee where she has a beautiful home on the top of a hill, also with about seven acres surrounding her house. One of her children lives on the same land within sight. It is gratifying today to see how well my sisters have turned out with their beautiful families and homes. In spite of the hard times, the lean years, we finally all made it to a safe and happy place.
In 2006, Dee married William Anderson, and once again I knew it was time to go. So I left her house, but didn't go far. I moved into a condo of my own only about a block from Dee and William.
On May 27, 2007, Dee gave birth to a fine baby boy, William Paisley Anderson, IV, called Pate for short. As my first grandchild, he is, of course, the most magnificent child in the world! I can see myself now surviving to a ripe old age, living here near Dee, William, Pate, and maybe more little ones, sharing their lives and writing more books.
Today my life is very full. I spend my days walking in the park with my golden retriever, Dory—yes, she's eight years old now—helping care for Pate and writing whenever I can find the time. But there's always time to do what you love to do.
A Note to My Readers
To those young people who have a sincere desire to write, my advice to you is do it! READ, READ, READ! Then WRITE, WRITE, WRITE! Your background doesn't have to hold you back. Start where you are now. And nobody can stop you.
"White, Ruth C. 1942–." Something About the Author. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3071200087.html
"White, Ruth C. 1942–." Something About the Author. 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3071200087.html