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After 30 years of writing nonfiction, author and Spotsylvania resident Candice Ransom now pens for herself.
Ransom's book 'Rebel McKenzie' is set in Caroline County's Frog Level, so she joined the locale's parade last month.
By CATHY DYSON
After Candice Ransom had written more than 110 books, she finally got the chance to pen the kind of stories she was meant to write.
But the way the successful Spotsylvania County author came to follow her heart--and not the specifics of her book deal--may be a path others don't want to take.
It was 2008, the economy had tanked, and her career was taking a nosedive. She had run herself ragged the year before--selling 12 books--but the old contracts were gone. Publishing houses she dealt with were either changing direction or going out of business.
Bookstores were doing the same, and schools couldn't afford to hire her for workshops.
To make matters worse, her depression flared, and the medicine she took left her with horrid side effects.
She suffered bouts of insomnia that lasted up to 48 hours. She couldn't tolerate bright light. She had no energy or desire to work.
"I was down, but not out," Ransom said, looking back.
Characters who were a mixture of her imagination and childhood called her to the computer.
"I sat down and wrote for myself for the first time, and that was the thing that got me out of bed," she said.
ART IMITATES LIFE
Ransom wrote about a girl like herself, "only braver." That was 8-year-old Iva, who wanted to use her great-grandfather's treasure map to discover long-lost gold.
The girl lived in Mineral, in Louisa County, but Ransom changed the name to Uncertain to reflect her state of mind.
The book, "Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World," was launched--and published by Disney-Hyperion.
It got rave reviews from Kathi Appelt, winner of a Newbery Medal for children's literature. She said Iva Honeysuckle "is destined to become as distinctive and well-loved as Pippi Longstocking. Here is storytelling in its full glory."
Ransom followed that with an even funnier tale for middle-school readers. "Rebel McKenzie" is about a preteen who wants to be a paleontologist, "the Ice Age kind, not the dinosaur kind."
When her parents won't put up the money for her to go on a kids' dig and safari--saying their busted refrigerator is the bigger ice-age issue--Rebel runs away. Police bring her back with blistered and bloodied feet, the same situation Ransom suffered years ago while growing up in Centreville.
The only difference was that Ransom was trying to get to New York City to become a writer.
"To this day, I can't wear closed-back shoes," Ransom said. "I didn't become a famous writer, either. And I can't stand New York City."
A COLLEGE DEGREE AT 52
Ransom is 60 and lives off Gordon Road with her husband, Frank, and their cats.
She's spent more than 30 years writing historical fiction and nonfiction, biographies, board books and picture books.
She's written series about Time Spies and Boxcar Children and has had 45 titles translated into 12 languages.
Everything Ransom knows about the writing process, she taught herself--until she got a college degree at 52.
"I wanted the dorm experience," she said, then realized what she needed more at that point in her life was her own bathroom.
She earned a master's of fine arts in writing from Vermont College in 2004 and the same in children's literature from Hollins University three years later. She teaches a six-week summer course at Hollins about writing for children.
While earning her degrees, Ransom noticed her real-world experience set her apart. Classmates would be analyzing why a writer chose a particular turn of phrase. They'd cite a Freudian cause or some other deep-seated condition.
"I would say, 'She probably couldn't think of anything else to say' or 'Her editor probably changed it.' "
Still, Ransom wouldn't trade the tools she acquired through her degrees.
"I learned so much, even about sharing the bathroom," she said.
THE BEST MATERIAL
Ransom says she doesn't have time or the luxury to travel to new venues to find subjects for her books.
"I don't need to," she said. "The best material is right in my own backyard."
She giggled that she gets excited when she sees a place name like Snell on a map. She and her husband set out, checking out old houses, unusual names of businesses and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
She regularly eavesdrops on conversations and stores them away for future books.
She's enjoying this new phase of her career as she draws on her own experiences and people she's known for Iva and Rebel--and future books and characters.
"We definitely hear more of Candice's voice" in the new books, said Rebecca Purdy, coordinator of children's services for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. "I know [Rebel] is semi-autobiographical, and that's part of what makes it such a strong read. It's a very personal book."
Ransom set the novel about Rebel in Frog Level and entered her in a beauty contest sponsored by the fire department. Mirroring her own life, she gave Rebel a young nephew and a big sister who studied cosmetology.
Hot-dog spaghetti with a little sugar on top was a favorite, both in Rebel's family and Ransom's.
But there is one interesting difference between Rebel and Ransom.
For the talent portion of the pageant, Rebel chugged a little RC Cola and burped her way through the 13 colonies.
"I can't do the 13 colonies," Ransom confessed, "but at one time, I got through most of the alphabet."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Candice Ransom knows she's got some explaining to do when she says she wants to be like a buzzard.
She spent several years researching the birds for a book and found them quite enchanting. She ordered license tags with "BUZARD" and subscribed to what she calls the Turkey Buzzard School of Writing.
She doesn't want her work to read like the buzzard on the ground: ungainly, clumsy, busily doing its job. She aspires to be "the turkey buzzard in the sky, soaring effortlessly with scarcely a wing flap."