Rita Monette was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. After retiring from her “real” job as an administrative assistant for the State of Michigan, Rita began doing what she always wanted to do…write and paint.
Five long years later, Musa Publishing offered her a contract for her debut middle grade novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, which also includes her artwork. Her stories are set in the beautiful, yet mysterious, bayous and swamps of her home state.
Rita now lives with her husband, four lap dogs and one lap cat in the mountains of Tennessee.
SB: Your current book, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, was professionally reviewed by Long and Short review.com. In their review they said, “I could really see this being used in a classroom with the possibilities for many teaching moments.” When you read that part of the review, how did it make you feel?
RM: I felt very pleased the reviewer saw that possibility in my book. It turns out that one teacher in Virginia used the story in her fourth grade literary circle. I later did a school visit with them. The kids loved the book and they were awesome with their comments and questions! The librarian was there and loved it and the school bought six copies for the other fourth and fifth grade teachers to use. Yay, Yorktown!
SB: Nikki Landry is the main character in your book. Tell us about her and what inspired her character?
RM: Since this story is based on my childhood, Nikki Landry is playing me. Of course I made her braver, more adventurous…and a tomboy. But don’t call her that. She doesn’t like it. Nikki is very attached to her dog, Snooper, since moving all the time doesn’t leave time for making long-term friends. Nikki is a “ponderer.” She thinks about things that don’t make sense until she can figure out the truth. And she is very good as solving riddles. Just ask her.
SB: The story takes place in Louisiana where you are originally from and you are very knowledgeable about it. Was easy for you to set the scene when writing this fictional story?
RM: Yes, the setting was the easiest part. I have vivid memories of the swamps and bayous I grew up in. Southwest Louisiana is a great setting for a mystery in itself but I had to come up with lots of adventures—and with that lots of trouble—for the kids to get into.
SB:The Legend of Ghost Dog Island is about mystery and adventure. Were you an adventurous child who loved unlocking mysteries?
RM: I couldn’t say that I was the adventurous type. I loved solving mysteries but only in my head. That’s why I created Nikki. She’s everything that I wasn’t as a child.
SB: Not only are you a writer, you are a painter. What do you love most about writing and what do you love most about painting?
RM: I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. It is kind of part of who I am. Writing was something I began later in life. I find that writing is like painting a picture with words. In drawing, I have a tendency to make random lines until an image begins to appear. Then I have to erase the lines that don’t fit. In writing, it’s the same way. I just write down the words in my head until a story appears. Then, of course, I have the massive job of taking out the words that don’t make sense.
SB: You did the illustrations in the novel—they are very good. They are realistic and believable and they really bring the story to life. Where did the ideas for the artwork come from?
RM: Thank you. The idea to do the artwork came about from kids reading my manuscript and not being able to picture some of the concepts in the book. Since it is set in a place foreign to most people—the swamps of Louisiana—and also a time children today cannot relate to—1956—I decided to help them out. The idea came to me after the book was accepted for publication and was in edits. I wasn’t sure the publisher would accept my idea to illustrate it, so I sent them a few samples. They loved them and approved my doing them. I wanted to do more, but time was running short.
SB: Did you ever think about making this book into a mini-series?
RM: I did think about it when I was writing it since the bayous of Louisiana are full of legends with no end to the adventures these characters could get into. I do have a sequel started which involves ghostly pirates.
SB: Do you only write mystery books for (middle grade?) young adults/teens? Any future plans to test the waters by writing in another genre.
RM: I wrote a few children’s picture books but haven’t tried to get them published. I also have an adult historical fiction in the works based on my great-great-grandfather’s life. So, yeah, who knows?
SB: What’s next for you?
RM: I’m currently working on a sequel to The Legend of Ghost Dog Island that will hopefully be finished by the end of this year. I am also working on a young adult novel that might be finished next year.
Thank you for the interview, SB, and the opportunity to get more exposure for my work.
To purchase The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, click here.