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Windy Rafters homestead is setting for book series

ronalee orr
Ronalee Orr is writing a children’s fiction series set at her family homestead, Windy Rafters.

Ronalee Orr combined her love of young people and the family homestead in a new book series titled Windy Rafters Roughnecks.

The series is set at Windy Rafters, the historic homestead of her husband Monty Orr’s family near Orton.

“Our family has a wonderful historical legacy here at Windy Rafters,” Orr said of her choice of a setting for the series. “My husband renovated the barn his grandfather built as an events venue. He also moved and restored the Orton school, where his mother was once a teacher, to Windy Rafters and built a replica of his grandparents’ homestead cabin built in 1905.”

An avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction Orr has long planned to write books.

The development of the Windy Rafters Roughnecks series happened over 10 years as Ronalee and Monty organized and hosted events at Windy Rafters Barn, including school field trips where early Alberta history was showcased for students.

“My curiosity about local and family history came together with my interest in writing,” Orr said.

A graduate of the University of Lethbridge with a BEd, a diploma in early childhood education and a masters degree in educational leadership, Orr worked 25 years as a teacher and administrator.

Ronalee Orr books
Ronalee Orr’s grandchildren display their autographed copies of ‘Windy Rafters Roughnecks: Mystery at the Barn.’ From left: Caleb, Rowan and Bennett O’Connor.

Her interest in children and a desire to write something of value for her own grandchildren, led Orr to write fiction for young people.

“I wanted my grandchildren to understand this history and to be able to see themselves in it. After I started writing I realized that this book might have value for other children and youth in understanding the history of rural southern Alberta as well.”

The books will all be set at Windy Rafters, with each one including travel to a different time period in the history of the homestead. The main characters — the Windy Rafters Roughnecks — will develop throughout the series.

“At the same time there will be a snapshot of how we have changed through the generations, in our perspectives of the world and our relationships with each other and our Indigenous neighbours,” Orr said.

Orr, who in her teaching career worked with students from the Piikani Nation and Blood Tribe, has an interest in First Nations culture.

“I wanted to be able to acknowledge those contributions and represent them alongside, and in interaction with, the history of our homesteading family. It has been a pleasure and a learning experience to vet the contents of the book through members of the Blackfoot community prior to publication.”

Orr does extensive research before starting to write a book, and spends time thinking about it before she fires up the computer in her home office.

“I like to just let all the ideas percolate but even then I get ideas that pop up during the writing process that may change the whole course of the novel.”

“I tend to write in spurts. I’d like to say that I’m an organized writer but despite all the planning, there is a stream of consciousness to it. Once the writing takes off it can go in many different directions. When I’m into it, I’m into it, and just like when I’m reading a good book, time and other things cease to matter. While I’m grappling with an idea or event in the writing, I find it hard to put it aside for other things. I know some authors write a certain amount each day, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve also been very glad never to face writer’s block, at least not yet.”

Orr edits and revises her writing continually, and laughed that former students — who complained when told to do a second draft of a story or report — would be happy to know that “Mrs. Orr” sometimes does five or six drafts.

“When writing for young readers, less is more. Each word has to justify its place in the text. That means constantly trimming the words back. When writing a novel, you’re really never done. It’s helpful to step back and then come at it with fresh eyes and every time you do, there are things to change and improve. Editors are worth their weight in gold, in helping me see the whole piece with a different set of eyes. At some point I simply have to decide that it is finished.” 

Orr’s writing is influenced by favourite authors from my youth such as  Louisa Mae Alcott, L.M. Montgomery and C.S. Lewis.

Windy Rafters Roughnecks Book Two: Cattle Thieves is in production and is about four to six weeks away from publication. The third book is in the research and outlining process.

Orr explores writing on her Web site’s blog www.MyScribblOrr.blogspot.com.

“Writing a book is a steep learning curve. There is so much more to it than I realized. Writing the book is just the first step followed by production and then promotion. I’m really a novice in this whole process.”

Seeing the printed book was a special moment for Orr and her grandchildren, who had listened to their grandmother read the manuscript so often that they were starting to believe it would never be published.

“It was truly amazing,” Orr said of the arrival of the box of books. “They each have their own autographed copy now and some have taken it to school.”

Brant Bond’s Grade 6 class at F P Walshe school chose to read Windy Rafters Roughnecks: Mystery at the Barn next semester. Orr created a free novel study on-line to go with the book. 

In addition to the Windy Rafters Roughnecks series, Orr is also considering a series of board books for babies and toddlers, as well as a possible Windy Rafters Romance series.

“I’m not sure how many books there will be. I have solid ideas for at least four. My grandkids like to contribute their ideas about the books, characters, and plots. They think I should include a time travel to the future in the last book. I’m not sure I’m that imaginative, but I’m sure they are.”

The first book in the series, Mystery at the Barn, is available at Fort Pharmacy, the Fort Museum and at ronaleeorr@gmail.com.

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