By Robyn Porter, CRRL Intern
Candice Ransom, the author of 100 children's books, balances the responsibilities of a writing career with the creative energy necessary for reaching young readers. Her works include picture books, young adult books, and early readers. Many hold historical or biographical significance, like Liberty Street, published in 2003.
Liberty Street, a picture book, is set in Fredericksburg during the Civil War. Described as "a moving story of courage and love," Liberty Street tells the story of two slaves, a mother and daughter, and the love and struggles they share in tragic times. Ransom bases her book on slave accounts and records of the original Liberty Street in Fredericksburg, where slaves used to walk and visit friends on Sunday afternoons. In her story, a mother enrolls her daughter in a secret school to learn to read and tries to earn extra money to buy her daughter's freedom before she is bonded out to another family far away.
Some of her other works include The Big Green Pocketbook (1993), the story of a mother and daughter's trip to town to run errands, and When the Whippoorwill Calls (1995), a story of positive and negative change for a tenant farming family in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also, her books for teenagers include My Sister, the Meanie (1988), My Sister, the Traitor (1989), and My Sister, the Creep (1990). They tell the story of two sisters and the love-hate relationship they share through their teen years. Ransom drew from her own experiences with her older sister to make the sister books realistic.
Although Ransom recognizes advantages in every age, she particularly enjoys writing for children ages 3-7. "I enjoy doing something for younger kids where there's a lot of rhythm and rhyme and nonsense; at this age of my life, it's very freeing." However, she finds early reader books the most challenging, as well. She admits that it's difficult to contain an entire story in eight pages because "their world has no abstracts, it has to be very concrete, and since I don't have any kids, it can be really hard for me."
Entering the minds of children is often impossible for adults. However, Ransom uses many of her personal experiences to recall life as a young adult. "I had a miserable pre-teenhood. All I had to do was remember those and put them on paper and they were absolute bestsellers." Lately, Ransom relies more on creativity for her work because after writing her stories down "many of them left my mind because I freed room for other things." However, traces of her life can still be found in many of her works.
Ransom has continued writing while pursuing masters degrees. The combination of student life and career expectations can be daunting. "My degree work is very different from my books for contract, and this has been an enormous challenge to try to separate this work constantly. [I'm] trying to keep one side very creative and trying to keep the energy level up for books that I'm being paid for." Ransom holds a MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College and is working on a Masters in Children's Literature at Hollins University.
One important lesson Ransom's learned from attending school while writing is time management. Before entering college, Ransom would start an interesting idea of a book, but delayed writing when other priorities called her attention. "I would never get to them, or I'd get to them very late. I'd have files of ideas that would be sitting there for years and entering this program has forced me to do that work."
Despite the challenges, all her hard work is repaid when she receives letters from children who've read her books or when she visits schools and sees the kindergartners holding their copies of The Big Green Pocketbook. But, she describes the most rewarding part of writing as "the actual work. When I'm actually working on something that's going well and it's my idea, until I have to send it to my agent or my publisher and then all these people get their sticky little fingers in it and it isn't mine anymore. But, while it's mine, that's the best part."
One Christmas Dawn (1996), the story of a young girl who awaits Christmas and the return of her father from the sawmill, where he's gone to find work, holds a special place in Ransom's heart. Typically, picture books take Ransom over five years to complete. However, the idea for this book came faster than others. "One Christmas Dawn shaped itself very nicely from start to finish and because of that, because it had a naturalness to it. I don't see the mistakes in there, it doesn't seem weighted down. Sometimes I'll go through my work and see problems, but that one still seems magical to me."
With all her success as an author of children's literature, Ransom doesn't have any plans for adult books in her future. Some years ago, she tried writing an adult mystery novel. She attended murder mystery conventions, which were "a lot of fun because people talked about how they would kill people while we were eating lunch. It was so different from kids conferences, where the focus would be on how to nurture their little minds." Her endeavor to write mystery books didn't last long, after completing half the novel and showing it to her agent, "they basically said don't finish it, it's just not for me. So, I very happily went back to what I was meant to do. There will be no adult books."
There is no doubt that Ransom's career is a success. Beyond her wide readership, she's the recipient of multiple awards, including the Hodge Podge Society Best Children's Book for The Promise Quilt and the Notable Trade Book in Social Studies for One Christmas Dawn. She is also adjunct professor at Spalding University (Louisville, KY), teaching writing for children in their MFA in Writing program. However, Ransom believes that she's yet to achieve her greatest writing accomplishment. "I don't know what it is, where it's going to be, or whatever. But, I'm not ready to lay down the pen and say 'That's it.' I just want to keep writing good books and I haven't reached the climax, yet. It's still out there."
She offers this advice to aspiring authors: "In some ways, it's much easier to get started than when I started a long time ago because there are so many resources, like the internet and conferences--just the availability of material is enormous. So, take advantage of these resources, but know when to stop, too. You have to trust your own judgment, don't rely too heavily on all of that stuff, but it is there when you need it."