Interview with Lea Rachel
By Carin Chea
Lea Rachel was born to write. Though currently a professor of Economics by trade and degree, it is undeniable: Lea Rachel is a creator of worlds.
Upon a casual perusal of her work, I was captivated by her attention to detail, vivid character landscapes, and her uncanny ability to place the reader directly in the protagonist’s shoes.
Rachel’s latest novel, Seeking Forgiveness, is an intimate narrative on a white mother’s adoption journey with her Black son, which also happens to closely mirror the author’s personal experiences.
Dip your toe into this author’s imagination, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Dive into her stories, and you’ll be thankful. Rachel’s work will undoubtedly make your transition from reality to story seamless and thrilling.
I have read some of your works. Insidious Red Parasite [which placed 5th out of over 18,000 entries in the 72nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition] was captivating. You are an amazing writer. I’m actually a little nervous!
Please don’t be nervous. I’m honored that you even read some of my previous works.
You started off as a creative writing major and ended up as an economics professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Tell us about your professional journey.
I have always been writing from the time I was a young child, stories and plays. I had a conversation with some of my colleagues once, like if they could go back in time and be anything they wanted.
Their answers were “stuntman” or “firefighter.” I’ve always wanted to be an author. Yet I’ve also always been very risk averse. Now that I’m older, I think I should’ve taken the shot.
I had a single mother and she was always worried about money. I found I was always good at math, and I ended up going into economics and making it my career.
I liked that economics could be about helping distribute resources to different people. The notion of helping and being aware of other people’s lives seems to be a common point between writing and economics.
That’s so great that you’re able to identify common ground between two fields that seem so different.
I feel like a lot of people wouldn't understand the connection with economics, but for me it’s all about trying to make people’s lives better. With my novels, I’m also trying to point out ways where things could be improved or at least raise awareness of certain topics or issues.
For example, one of my books, The Other Shakespeare, was about breaking down barriers for women. [The Other Shakespeare centers upon the fictional construct of William Shakespeare having been born as a woman (Judith)]
I also read an excerpt from that. It’s amazing how you can write contemporary as well as period pieces. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I wait for inspiration and I write when inspiration hits. All of my work on some level has a deep autobiographical component to it. Insidious Red Parasite, for example, was from a time in college. It was inspired by those depressive episodes we can get into in our 20s.
As for The Other Shakespeare, being a female in economics, where only 14% of full-time professors are females, I’ve seen the need to break down barriers, and it inspired my writing of the Shakespeare book.
Your upcoming novel, Seeking Forgiveness, is inspired by your real-life story as a mother adopting a Black child. What inspired you to write this book?
While it is a work of narrative fiction, it is based on my experience of motherhood as a white woman adopting a Black son…and having no idea initially what I was doing.
I cuddled my son to sleep for years. One evening, I was looking outside the window, the trees were rustling, and I thought, “I need to write about some of these experiences.”
Interracial adoption is a growing trend, but is still very unique. I get a lot of questions from people. The inspiration came at night, but after an episode that happened with my son when he was 5.
It was time to take him to the dentist for the first time. When we got there the receptionist looked at us, closed her sliding partition window, went away for a while, and when she came back she said, “I need your papers.”
I had my insurance card but I didn’t understand what she was asking me. She said, “In order to see the boy, I need to have approval from his guardian or parent.” I told her I was his parent. She said, “We can’t treat him until legally we can prove that we can treat him.”
We had to leave. My son was asking where his lollipop was, you know the one the dentist gives you after you leave? I’m backing the car out of the parking spot, looking over the back seat, and my son and I made eye contact.
He said to me, “Did we have to leave because I’m Black?” and I said, “No. We had to leave because I’m white.” I wanted him to never feel like things were his fault. Around then was when I got the inspiration to say, “I need to write a novel that incorporates these experiences.”
Many of the vignettes and episodes that happened are incorporated in the book. I wanted to protect the privacy of my son, so I made it fiction. It’s inspired from our lives, but I’ve always pulled things from other interracial families as well.
What happened with the dentist?
I reported them to the Missouri dental board.
What does your son think of the book?
When I finished my first very solid draft, so like draft 7, I had a stack of papers on my desk. He knew I was writing a book about him. He saw the stack of papers and asked, “Where’s the book?” I told him that was it, and he walked away.
[Laughing] I get it. He was looking for a literal book.
I do check in with him though. Our pictures were in the paper and some of his friends asked about that.
I’m not 100% positive he fully understands what it all means. I tell him but he gets distracted and asks what’s for dinner.
Do you read him excerpts from the book?
I’ve told him stories. I haven’t read actual excerpts. My son is not a big reader; he’s more about sports and very extroverted. He doesn’t want to sit at home and read a book. I’ll tell him what I wrote about. He’ll ask me things like, “What’s my name in the book?”
My dream is that one day when he’s older, that he’ll read it. Both my parents died young, by the time they were in their early 50s.
I hope I don’t die soon, obviously, but this is something my son will always have so if he’s missing me he can always access it. If he’s feeling lonely, he can always reach for it and know that there’s someone who loves him.
Did you dedicate the book to your son?
I didn’t dedicate it to one specific person. Instead, there’s a quote that reads: “Tomorrow is a possibility but if you love someone, tell them today.”
The book is also about motherhood. It’s from the mother’s perspective, so there are themes of motherhood. I could’ve also dedicated it to my mother, to my grandmother – they’re in the book as well.
What would you like your readers to take away from Seeking Forgiveness? Do you have a specific target audience?
Mothers and parents, first and foremost. The book is also about adoption and family and the things you go through.
I have another story where a good childhood friend came to visit us right after I adopted my son. He was a year old. I said something about my being Jewish and celebrating Hanukkah and she said, “Wasn’t his birth mom a Christian?”
My childhood friend said, “You have to raise him Christian.” I don’t even understand how that would work. I realized that if my son had been a traditional birth son, she would’ve never asked me a question like that.
I view adoption motherhood as permanent and integral. He’s my family, my flesh and blood. I think other adoptive parents understand this. These stories will resonate with adoptive families.
The book is for anybody who wants to understand these types of experiences and alternative lives.
Many people have asked me questions regarding what it’s like to be a white woman adopting a Black son in St. Louis. This is my way of answering a lot of the questions I get. When people want to hear about something shocking that happened, here it is.
It’s a compelling story that resonates to families and parents. The book is called Seeking Forgiveness, with the idea that as a parent, there is no answer key or guidebook. There’s no direct solution to: “My son’s only 12 years old and tells me he hates his life. How do I answer that?”
You do your best and hope you’re not making so many mistakes that when they go to therapy they never forgive you. All parents try their best, never knowing if it’ll work out in the end.
My earlier book, The Other Shakespeare, ended a little sadly. I mean, it is about women’s lives in the 15th century.
This book is hopeful. There’s a lot of shocking, surprising, unfathomable little vignettes that you can’t believe happen, but did happen, but it does end hopefully.
We live in a difficult time period where there is discrimination, but the love of a mother for her son can get them through a lot of things. It doesn’t mean life isn’t difficult. But, if there’s love and effort and genuine honesty and open communication, I think things can be hopeful in the end and there can be a bright side.
Who would play the lead characters if your book was turned into a movie?
I would say the mother is the lead character because the story is from her perspective. For the majority of the book her son is in detention, in jail.
My immediate thought is Sandra Bullock because she too has two Black children and understands interracial adoption. She might have experienced some of the things we went through.
As far as my son, I think Michael B. Jordan is great, but he might be too old to play a 16-year old.
How about that kid on Stranger Things? I love that kid. He’s very likeable and kind.
The kid who plays Lucas? I think you hit the nail on the head. My son absolutely loves Stranger Things.
Another great option would be Miles Brown from Black-ish. The character he plays on the show, Jack Johnson, reminds me a lot of my own son.
Is there anything else you’re working on that you’d like us to know about?
I do have two other novels written. I’m always writing. I just don’t have them published yet.
You can check out what is available on my website at www.LeaRachel.com.
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