A history in western Kentucky, an inspirational family, and a passionate need to put her stories into books is giving this Paducah native a new lease on life.
The Tracks is a story of fact, fiction, fantasy, and family values. It’s a story of adventure that follows 12-year-old Emma Mae and her 10-year-old brother Edward from an ordinary farm in 1914 western Kentucky to a world of suspense and wonderment aboard a mysterious train that “sweeps them off in the darkness, sweeps them off in the night, sweeps them off forever, never again to see light…”
Even when simply describing the premise of her self-published children’s book, The Tracks, Rosalyn Rikel Ramage can’t help but adopt her storytelling voice, her words becoming softer and softer until “never again to see light…” is nothing but a mysterious whisper. For Ramage, The Tracks and its sequel The Graveyard are much more than lighthearted adventure stories; they’re a fulfillment of a dream Ramage has held on to for a long, long time; a dream to keep her family’s memory and history alive while also inspiring young readers to embrace their inner scribes.
A McCracken County native, Ramage has always had a fascination for family history, a passion for teaching, and a knack for storytelling. While a student at Reidland High School, she was constantly writing scripts and plays and musicals—she’s always enjoyed putting words on paper. When she went off to college, however, she decided to focus on her passion for teaching children, and in the process met the man who would later become her husband and give her three children of her own.
She continued to teach for the next 20 years, writing here and there all the while. Though Ramage published two books of children’s poetry—A Book for All Seasons in 1977, followed by A Book About People in 1980—she kept most of her projects on the back burner as she focused on her students and family.
In her retirement, split between her and her husband’s home in Nashville and farm in Paducah, Ramage revisited the stories of Emma Mae and Edward. In 1914 western Kentucky and in Ramage’s stories, the brother and sister duo are young adventurers who always seem to find their way home, learning important life lessons and family values along the way. In Ramage’s reality, the brother and sister duo are her aunt and father. When Ramage was a kid growing up in McCracken County, she loved hearing her parents’ stories of how things used to be. For The Tracks and The Graveyard, Ramage drew inspiration from these family stories, passed down from generation to generation, as well as her own experiences growing up in rural America.
Ramage’s favorite part of the writing and publishing experience is the part that comes after—sharing her stories aloud. She often visits classrooms and libraries for readings, challenging students to listen for literary devices like similes, metaphors, and alliteration that enhance the story. She then challenges them to draw from their own lives to create stories of their own, with as much or as little fiction and fantasy as their teachers will allow.
“I’m so thrilled to be accomplishing what I always hoped to, that my family’s history in western Kentucky is being kept alive through my books, and that I’m encouraging children to write,” Ramage said, surrounded by books at the McCracken County Library. “Seeing the children’s reactions to my stories, feeling their excitement, knowing that they’re being challenged—that’s by far my favorite part!”
A little over a year ago, Ramage found new inspiration in what could have been a terrible situation. She unexpectedly fell ill and had to undergo open-heart surgery, but she came out of it at a run. —-“That’s when I got my new lease on life and decided, if I’m going to do this, I really better double down!” she said. “But I’m feeling so much better now that I hope to be around a long while.”
She’s working on polishing the next book in her children’s series, The Windmill, in which Emma Mae and Edward will be joined by their friends Evelyn and Ted (Ramage’s mother and uncle), for yet another fantastical western Kentucky adventure. Also in the works is Millicent’s Tower, a classic whodunnit mystery, this time for an older crowd.
Ramage started Millicent’s Tower years ago, but it wasn’t until recently when her oldest grandson gave her a little push and her new lease on life gave her a little shove that she decided to make it happen. She was thrilled and somewhat shocked when Five Star Publishing expressed such keen interest.
“It’s a ‘cozy’ adult mystery novel. It’s a book with a body, but no blood or gore, and there is a little romance, but nothing graphic, and there might be some profanity, but it’s not hardcore by any means. It’s an Agatha Christie kind of book,” she explained. “It was a lot of fun to do, and I would get so excited writing it! I just love when I get started on an idea, sometimes not even knowing where the ideas came from!”
She hopes to have The Windmill published this summer, followed by Millicent’s Tower next year. In the meantime, she’s still thrilled at any and every opportunity to share her Emma Mae stories with students in Tennessee and Kentucky. No matter how many times she does it, she never tires of telling stories.