Rita Clay was born on 31 July 1941 in Michigan, U.S.A.. Her mother was a former Miss Michigan, while her father was a U.S. Air Force pilot. She spent much of her early years living in Europe.
Rita married very young with her high school sweetheart, and she stayed at home to raise their four children. In 1977, when she had been married about 20 years, her husband brought her a typewriter and said, "'You said you always wanted to write. Now write." She and her mother, Rita Gallagher, accepted the challenge. While beginning to write, they learned how to publish books and made great friendships with other writers.
Rita's first attempt of publication was a long historical romance which was promptly rejected. Her next manuscript, a contemporary romance, was like wise rejected. But her third manuscript, Wanderer's Dream, was sold to Silhouette Books. She used her maiden name, Rita Clay for her titles for Silhouette. In 1982, she moved to Dell to write for their Candlelight Ecstasy line and she wrote as Tira Lacy, an anagram of Rita Clay, because Harlequin owned her pen name. In 1985 she resigned from Harlequin and asked to use her fullname, Rita Clay Estrada, on all future books.
Rita, her mother, and 35 other authors, decided that an association was needed to defend their published members. They founded the Romance Writers of America (R.W.A), that years later persuaded Harlequin books to register copyrights for authors' works and to allow writers to own their own pseudonyms. Previously, the authors were forced to leave their pseudonym behind if they switched publishing houses, making it more difficult fortheir fans to follow.
R.W.A. signature award, the RITA, which is the highest award of excellence given in the genre of romantic fiction, is named after her. The R.W.A. also awarded Estrada their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.