An Interview with LeAnn Ralph
To start this off, why don't you give an idea of what the book is about?
Christmas In Dairyland (True Stories From a Wisconsin Farm)
is collection of 20 true stories set our family dairy farm in Wisconsin during the Christmas season when I was a kid 40 years
Where did you grow
up and was reading and writing a part of your life?
I grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, and reading
was very much part of my life. My mother was stricken with polio at the age of 26 and paralyzed in both legs. The doctors
told her she would never have more children. I was born 16 years later. My brother is 21 years older than my sister and
me is 19 years older. We didn't have neighbors with children for me to play with, so I thought of books as my friends. When
I was a very little girl, I would pick out three or four "Little Golden Books" and would ask my mother to read to me. My brother
and sister would read to me, as well. Later on, when I learned how to read, I frequently had my "nose in a book" as my mother
was fond of saying.
your earliest influences and why?
My mother was my earliest influence. She was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who homesteaded
our farm in the late 1800s. She attended a country school but only attended through the eighth grade. To go to high school,
she would have had to board with a family in town and her parents could not afford to send her. Education was very important
to her. She stressed the importance of learning to read and learning to write well. I was the first person in our family to
graduate from college. She would have dearly loved the opportunity for more education.
What would a typical day be like for a writer?
A typical day involves juggling
about 20 different activities when what I really want is for the rest of the world to "go away" so I can concentrate on my
current writing project.
How long have you
been writing and in what capacities?
I've been writing since I learned how to write. I started out with diaries and journals when I
was a kid. I've always enjoyed writing letters as well. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater,
I won a Superior Writing Award from the College of Letters and Sciences for a case study of Anne Morrow Lindberg that I had
written for a psychology class. For the past 10 years I've been working as a journalist and also writing creative narrative
nonfiction. In between earning my undergraduate degree and working as a journalist, I earned a Master of Arts in Teaching
with Wisconsin teacher certification. I taught English for a couple of years at a boys' boarding school.
Which is more difficult
to write - Fiction or nonfiction and why?
I can't comment on which is more difficult to write, fiction or
nonfiction, because I don't write fiction. I have always admired fiction writers those people who can tell a good story and
make the characters and settings and the plot so real that I forget I am reading fiction.
Has there ever been
a time when you wanted to throw in the towel and give up? And if so, how did you defeat those instincts?
be honest, I feel like "throwing in the towel" just about every day. Writing is a solitary activity that gives few rewards
for the amount of time devoted to it. I only write because I can't NOT write, if that makes any sense.
What is the hardest
part about being a writer?
The hardest part about being a writer is putting so much time and effort into the work and living
with the feeling that no one is paying any attention to what you're writing. I once read an article that said writers should
write to please themselves and to not worry about an audience because "your audience will find you." But that's not true.
If you write and keep everything to yourself, keep it all on a computer disk or keep printed copies in your desk, an audience
is NOT going to find you. And maybe that's the hardest part about being a writer: finding your audience.
Do you have any hobbies?
What are they? How do they enhance your writing?
I enjoy flower and vegetable gardening. And going for walks
in the woods with my dogs. (My husband and I have a springer spaniel and a Shetland sheepdog.) I also enjoy horseback riding.
And reading, of course. And I have cats. Four of them were orphaned when they were two weeks old. Two of them were orphaned
when they were only hours old. Raising infant kittens was quite an experience. I find that my hobbies and my pets frequently
give me material to write about.
Articles and media
alike make it sound as though the only way to rise to the top is to sacrifice. What do you find to be good sacrifices?
I rarely socialize. I only go shopping when I have to. I don't go to movies. I rarely watch television. I've spent
money trying to promote my book that might have been better spent paying other bills or buying necessities. Are they "good"
sacrifices? I don't know. Maybe they're not sacrifices at all. Or maybe they're not enough of a sacrifice.
What question do
you get asked more than any other?
The question that I get asked the most is "how do you remember all of those stories?" I wrote
a weekly column for two local newspapers for a little over seven years. That's 375 stories.
Whats the coolest
thing a reader has said to you?
"For years we've been trying to get my dad to write down some of the stories he remembered from
his childhood. Something about your book must have inspired him to start writing. Thanks to you, his children and grandchildren
and great-grandchildren will now have those stories forever."
What has been your
feedback from readers? What do they say to you about their interpretations of your book?
The feedback on Christmas In Dairyland
has been good. One of my purposes for writing the book focused on preserving a piece of rural history. The United States has
lost about a half million dairy farms over the past thirty years. In 1969, there were more than a half million dairy farms.
Today, only about 80,000 dairy farms remain. Wisconsin, which has always been known as 'America's Dairyland,' went from 60,000
dairy farms 30 years ago down to about 20,000 dairy farms now. And the estimates are that Wisconsin continues to lose an average
of three dairy farms every day. Readers who grew up in a rural setting enjoy the book because it brings back memories. Readers
who did not grow up in a rural setting enjoy the book because it allows them to find out what it was like to grow up on a
farm. I have received positive feedback from readers in Wisconsin and from readers around the country, including New York,
Texas and Idaho
Do you think that
as a writer you are more prone to watching what goes on around you and observing behaviors than most people are?
think anyone who is a writer is more observant. But I don't think writers are observant because they are writers. I think
they are writers because they are observant. Writers, it seems to me, have a different way of looking at things.
Who are some of the
authors you consider to be "don't miss"?
Considering the genre that I write in, James Herriot is a "don't
miss" (All Creatures Great and Small; All Things Bright and Beautiful; All Things Wise and Wonderful; The Lord God Made Them
All.) Studs Terkel's oral histories also are a "don't miss" (Hard Times, Working, The Good War).
If one were looking
to start his/her own career as a writer, what would you suggest his/her first step to be?
Write. Write every day. Set aside
time, even if it's only 10 or 15 minutes, and start writing a journal. If you don't know what to write, then write, "I don't
know what to write." Your brain will soon get tired of writing "I don't know what to write" and other words will come. Learn
everything you can about writing. Explore different genres fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry. Remember that writing is a
process. And keep writing. Through the process of writing, you will find your voice and you will find the unique talent that
only you possess.
What kind of movies
do you enjoy?
I rarely watch movies. When I do watch a movie, I want to see a good story, one that engages my
emotions and is not predictable.
What is your favorite
city to visit, but one that you wouldnt want to live in?
I try to stay out of cities, if at all possible. Villages
and rural areas suit me better.
Whats the strangest
question youve ever been asked in an interview?
"Do you find that coming from a rural area gives you a better
edge over other writers?"
Whats the best part
of being a writer?
The best part about being a writer is the writing. The creative aspect. Making something from
nothing. Taking a blank page (computer screen) and putting words together that tell a story.
next book that I'm working on will be called Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam.
Betsie's Literary Page has enjoyed this time with Ms. Ralph and learning about wonderful
upbringing and history. We'd like to thank her for indulging us and wish her great success today and always with all
her future works.