Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Rosanne Parry

Rosanne Parry is the author of the many award winning novels including Heart of a Shepherd, Last of the Name and A Wolf Called Wander which has spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Her new novel is A Whale of the Wild. Parry and her family live in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon. She writes in a tree house in her back yard.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are hard, and A Whale of the Wild, had extra work to do. It is a companion novel to last year’s A Wolf Called Wander which has spent 40+ weeks on the NYT best seller list, so the title needed to be similar. And the wolf book sold a dozen translations, so we needed to pick a title easy to translate.

I had hoped to work the word “orca” into the title because my story is told from the point of view of a sister and brother orca in the Salish Sea, but we went with “whale” in the end because it’s more familiar in Europe and Asia.

I had also hoped to work in the word “journey” because the orcas travel from the San Juan Islands near the US Canadian border out to the open Pacific and back again to the Puget Sound south of Seattle all in search of their family and the salmon they need to eat.

In the end we went with “wild” because one of my primary reasons for writing from the point of view of an animal is to help young readers feel a connection—a sense of kinship—with the wild places of America.

What's in a name?

I’m always checking shop employee name tags for a good character name!

But with my orca characters I didn’t want to use conventional human names because names have historic and ethnic connotations I was hoping to avoid. Also the 70+ members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale community who inspired this book all have names I didn’t want to use because the book is not based on any particular orca.

In the end I chose to name all my characters with the names of stars. The matriarchs of the group are named for the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere. My main characters are named Vega and Deneb for the main stars in the summer triangle. The big males in the group are named for Rigel and Anteres after the supergiant stars. I like how those names confer a sense of dignity and timelessness.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenaged self would be shocked I chose to write for a living at all. I hated writing in school. I’m a terrible speller and when I was a teen I just assumed it meant I was a bad writer. What a relief to learn that the making up things part is really the most important bit when you are the writer. And cheers to my heroically patient editor and overworked copy editor for making my pages more correct than I could make them on my own.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

One of my greatest assets as a writer for young readers is my enormous family. I have lots of nieces and nephews some of whom now have kids of their own, so there’s always a middle grade aged reader in my life.

My main character Vega is an oldest child, she’s going to be the way finder of her family some day and that responsibility weighs heavily on her. So when I write from Vega’s point of view I am thinking about all the matriarchs-in-the-making in my own family—those girls who are such strivers, brilliant competitors, so caring, but also who worry and second guess more than they probably should.

Deneb is a younger brother and for him I’m channeling those boys with big sisters in my life who are big-hearted, funny, brave, and trying so hard to be a man among the men of our family. Even when they make a mistake, they are trying to do right.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Research is really one of my favorite parts of the writing process and so I relied a lot on the scientists who work on cetaceans in the Salish Sea for information that helped shape the events of the plot. I’m grateful to the Center for Whale Research and The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor and the Sea Doc Society on Orcas Island.

I’ve also learned a lot from the many Indian Nations of the Salish Sea who have thousands of years of history living side by side with orcas. They have also done much to support healthy rivers and remove dams in order to restore the salmon runs both orcas and Indians need to survive.
Visit Rosanne Parry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue