Kara LaReau

THE INFAMOUS RATSOS: Louie and Ralphie!

Hello, friends! Guess what today is?

It’s the pub day of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, also known as its book birthday!!!

I can’t believe this day has finally come (I’m sure you can’t, either, since I’ve been talking so much about the book lately), and that it comes on the heels of my delivery of the revision of the second book in The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy (more on that later). It feels SO GREAT to have that revision off my plate for so many reasons, especially because I can now spend more time celebrating the Ratsos!

To that end, check out these rat-related tidbits:

Of course, I haven’t forgotten my INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest. (Have YOU??) This will be the final day, and I will be choosing TWO WINNERS. As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose two names at random at the end of the day; each winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you’ll be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). I’ll post the names of the winners tomorrow. NB: One post per entrant, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Over the past few days, I ‘ve told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’HareMiss BeaversTiny, Chad, and Fluffy; and Big Lou. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for the Infamous Ratsos themselves, Louie and Ralphie!

As I mentioned yesterday, Louie and Ralphie were inspired by my own grandfather, Ralph, and his older brother, Louie. My grandfather passed away about six years ago, just after my cancer diagnosis (he never knew, thank goodness), and his absence is felt in my family every day. Like the Ratsos, he was nice and thoughtful and generous and helpful, among many other wonderful traits. But he had a really rough childhood; he grew up during the Great Depression, his father was cruel, and when he died, my great-grandmother was left to care for my grandfather and his brother and their two younger sisters. I’ve been told that my grandfather and my Uncle Louie earned reputations in their neighborhood as being “troublemakers,” though no one ever seems willing to elaborate! I can only imagine the sorts of mischief they managed together, and that’s pretty much what I did when I conceived of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS.

My grandfather, Ralph (right) and his older brother, Louie (left).

When you’re a good kid faced with rotten circumstances, there’s a chance you could end up making some bad choices, unless you have the right guidance; in my grandfather’s case, he was shipped off to the CCC by my great-grandmother, and that seems to have straightened him out. Also, he met my grandmother soon after, and they were married fairly young; it seems as if my grandfather spent his life trying to be the father and husband his own father never was. He more than succeeded.

My grandparents, early on in their romance. (FYI, my grandmother just turned 95 a few weeks ago!)

Originally, I wrote the Ratso Brothers as minor characters in a longer story. That story never quite panned out (though one day, I might go back to it), but those two little rats kept pestering me to write a story about them! My grandfather’s last name was Rizzo, which I then filtered through “Ratso Rizzo,” the character Dustin Hoffman plays in Midnight Cowboy. Voila! The Ratsos were born.

Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

The way Matt Myers has brought Louie and Ralphie to life is pretty much how I’ve always seen them in my head. I especially love that he’s given Ralphie those thick glasses, since they look exactly like the ones my grandfather used to wear!

The original “Ralphie,” wearing his trademark glasses.

Thanks so much for following me through this journey of my creative inspirations over the past week, and a big thumbs-up to those of you who participated in my Kindness Contest. I didn’t write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS until after my grandfather passed away, so he never got to see my tribute to him. I can only hope I’ve done his “troublemaker” spirit justice, and that his legacy of kindness might live on in my words.

One of my favorite photos of my grandfather and me, at our town parade.