Author Collaborators Find Success With Book Series
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
One challenge that elementary school teachers face is finding inspirational and clean reading material for their students. This is a difficulty that Leslie J. May and Charles R. Ratliff faced so regularly in the classroom that they became part of the solution.
“We decided that we could write a wholesome book that would have quality stories for kids,” May says.
The two worked together at a school in Mohave County, Arizona, and had a shared desire to write fiction. Ratliff’s wife, Elizabeth, and May are sisters who have always spent their summers on Bass Lake with their families, and eventually moved there themselves. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the writers decided to base their stories on the lake.
“We try to stay true to what lake life is like,” May says.
The first book in May and Ratliff’s Bass Lake Bunch book series, “The Hideout at the Abandoned Fish Hatchery”, was released in 2008. In this modern-day story, two orphans, Brianne and Kevin, run away from their social worker to find their aunt who lives near Bass Lake. While searching, they meet three friends who help them hide in a fish hatchery until their relative is found.
“It’s a realistic fiction book,” May says. “We tried to keep the setting very close to what is here, so kids could look up Bass Lake on the map.”
The characters are also unique to the writers’ experiences.
“Each of the kids in the Bass Lake Bunch really represents large groups of kids that we’ve worked with,” May says. “We made them so all the kids that we’ve experienced would have someone in our story that they could relate to.”
These students even helped with the writing process. While writing, May and Ratliff took snippets of their work into the classroom and asked their students to give feedback.
“You’d be surprised what kind of ideas kids come up with,” Ratliff says.
The children’s enthusiasm and willingness to edit became invaluable to the writing process, fueling the writers’ passion and helping them write for third through eighth graders.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the series, however. When the duo’s publisher closed in 2015 and sold all rights and artwork back to May and Ratliff, they became concerned that the series was at its end.
“When I got (the rights to the book series) back, I’m like, ‘Okay, so now I have to start shopping for another publisher,’” Ratliff says. “My wife tells me, ‘You’re just as skilled as any other place. Why don’t you just do it yourself?’”
Ratliff, who was an award-winning journalist and editor before turning to teaching, took the advice to heart and opened Lost Lake Cottage Publishing.
“Being my own publisher, I just really love doing that part of the work,” Ratliff says.
The first thing that rolled off the press from Lost Lake Cottage Publishing was the second book in the Bass Lake Bunch series.
“When you hold that book in your hands and it’s complete, there’s something incredibly fulfilling about seeing that process come to fruition,” May says.
Since then, Ratliff has published other works as well.
The second installment in the series, “The Secret of the Lost Lake Cottage”, takes place during the same summer as in book one. In it, the Bass Lake Bunch help an old man find a valuable keepsake that has been missing for 35 years. The third book in the series is set to come out in 2021.
Over the years, the series has won national-level awards. Both books won the 2018 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award silver medal for Best Children’s Chapter Books Series, and the second book won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in 2019.
The writers have been pleasantly surprised by readers’ reactions.
“The student response that we get in letters, and the response from teachers wanting to use it in their classroom – that has been the most fulfilling thing to me,” May says.
Around Bass Lake, the response has been enthusiastic.
“We also have a fan base of adults around the lake,” Ratliff says. “They say that they love it and they read it, too. So it’s really a book for all ages.”
Visit lostlakecottagepublishing.com for more info on the Bass Lake Bunch book series and to purchase the books. To schedule authors Leslie J. May and Charles R. Ratliff for a speaking engagement or school promotion, email firstname.lastname@example.org.