By Charlotte Matherly, contributor
JMU alumna Rachel McRady has returned to Harrisonburg almost every year since her graduation in 2011 to visit her favorite restaurants and people and show her kids around her college town.
But this week’s visit is particularly special for her: It’s a stop on her book tour for her debut novel, “Sun Seekers.”
McRady, an Emmy Award-winning journalist at Entertainment Tonight, will visit Parentheses Books downtown at 7 p.m. on Thursday for a conversation about “Sun Seekers” with Breeze TV reporter Alexa Bonilla.
The adult fiction, family-drama novel follows a 6-year-old girl named Gracie Lynn, whose grandfather has dementia and lives in a nursing home. Her parents use a metaphor for sundown syndrome to explain his illness: There’s a worm in his brain that sleeps while the sun is out, they tell her, but when the sun goes down, the worm wakes up and makes him sick. Gracie then breaks her grandfather out of the nursing home, and they go on an adventure to chase the sun so he’ll never get sick again.
“Sun Seekers” hit bookshelves about three weeks ago, and McRady said she’s excited it’s finally out. She wrote it in 2016, and for seven years, she’s been doing “everything in my power” to get it published. As a child, she said, she’d always wanted to write a book and loved telling stories — even before she could write, she’d dictate stories to her mom, who’d type them up for her.
McRady said she’s straddling two careers right now, as an author and a journalist. She works as an assignment editor and senior writer at Entertainment Tonight, where she’s been for eight years. Before that, she wrote for Us Weekly and Wetpaint, a now-defunct entertainment and celebrity news outlet.
She traces her journalism career back to her JMU days, where she majored in media arts and design and was heavily involved in student media. McRady wrote for The Breeze’s life section, did design work and eventually became the student newspaper’s managing editor in her final semester. She also founded Port & Main, a student-run lifestyle magazine that ran for several years.
“I very much loved my time at JMU, so it’s really exciting for me … to work with a student journalist to moderate a discussion about my book, because it’s kind of all of my worlds colliding,” McRady said.
When she returns to Harrisonburg, McRady has a roster of eateries she makes sure to hit up. Any time there’s a new flavor at Kline’s Dairy Bar, she stops by, and she never comes to the Shenandoah Valley without visiting Tacos El Primo, the turquoise taco truck parked just off Reservoir Street.
“If I’m within a 50-mile radius of that truck, I have to be there,” she said.
McRady lives in Richmond with her husband and two daughters. She moved back to Virginia after spending four years in London and three years in New York. But wherever she goes, she has a knack for picking out JMU alumni.
“There are these close personal connections where immediately you have a bond with someone, and so that’s always been really special,” McRady said.
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