A Whale of the Wild
Dear Dreamwalkers, remember last year’s amazing chat with Rosanne Parry?
We talked about embodying character and showcased her new releases, Last of the Name, and A Wolf Called Wander. Well, over this past year, A Wolf Called Wander became a NYT bestseller. Bravo! Today, Rosanne’s swinging by to dreamwalk with us again as her newest adventure novel, A Whale of the Wild, hits the stands September 1st. We’ll talk about the essential interconnectivity of our planet, and the joy and wisdom learned from submerging into the whale’s world.
A Whale of the Wild weaves a heart-stopping tale of survival with impeccable research on a delicate ecosystem and threats to marine life. New York Times-bestselling author Rosanne Parry’s fluid writing and Lindsay Moore’s stunning artwork bring the Salish Sea and its inhabitants to vivid life. An excellent read-aloud and read-alone, this companion to A Wolf Called Wander will captivate fans of The One and Only Ivan and Pax. Includes black-and-white illustrations throughout, a map, and extensive backmatter about orcas and their habitats.
Janet: Welcome, Rosanne!
Rosanne: Thank you, Janet. I’m so happy to be here.
Janet: I’m in my study overlooking the garden. Where are you?
Rosanne: I’m in my backyard in my treehouse. I’m so grateful to have fresh air and quiet and also a nice background of trees for all my video conferencing. Though I did have a little parade of skunks passing through in June. I tried not to write anything alarming as they were walking by!
Janet: A perfect writing refuge. Skunks aside, I will endeavor not to be jealous. I was thrilled to learn A Wolf Called Wander became a NYT bestseller! I loved it and was happy to hear that you were working on another animal adventure tale–with an orca! Ah! And now it’s coming out. First question — what inspired this new story?
Rosanne: Well, I had such a good time researching and writing WOLF, but I felt that the story had come to its natural stopping point, and I didn’t want to write a sequel. I did love the idea of writing from an animal POV again, so I cast about for another animal. I knew I’d need a social animal and one that lives near enough to me that I can research the habitat firsthand. Elephants would be so cool, but how would I ever get to Africa? So that leaves ravens, mustangs, and orcas as my primary candidates. My publisher was the most keen on the orcas, so I went with that, and I’m so glad I did.
Janet: Yes, the timing is perfect for Vega’s story, for a focus on needed conservation, and a deeper look into the orcas’ culture. Can you talk more about that?
Rosanne: One of the first things I learned about orcas in the Southern Resident Community that live in the Salish Sea is that a mother’s sons and daughters remain at her side their whole lives long. Fascinating! And orcas’ lives follow closely to a human time span. They have a long childhood, only coming to sexual maturity in the mid to late teens. They can have babies well into their 40s, and they are one of only a few mammals to live long and productive lives past menopause. It’s the matriarchs that lead their family in the search for salmon to eat–a search that takes them all over the Salish Sea, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Monterey Bay California. That’s a lot of navigational information to remember. Orcas are incredibly smart, and their social bonds are intense.
Janet: Considering this tight, lifelong bond, how did you separate the brother and sister, Deneb and Vega, from their mother? I ask this knowing adventure ensues!
Rosanne: They get separated by a cataclysmic earthquake, which is followed by a tsunami. I’ve always wondered why fish are washed up in these great tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, but not marine mammals. If whales were washed up, for sure, they would be in the news coverage–hard to miss a beached whale. But they don’t. Nobody knows exactly why whales don’t get dragged ashore in a tsunami and imagining how they might know what to do after an earthquake was great fun for me. And also it gave me a way to give my young orcas a chance for adventure away from the careful and loving protection of Mother and Great-mother.
Janet: We west coasters live with the knowledge of the eventual Big Quake. It’s in my mind these days and has crept into my more recent fiction as well. I can see how the powerful tsunami would separate the young whales from their pod. They’d have to remember all they’d learned from their mother to survive and find their way back. I’m curious now. Who is Great-mother?
Rosanne: One of Vega’s problems at the start of the story was her worry that she wasn’t equal to the task of becoming a wayfinder like her great-mother–the matriarch of her entire extended family–its wisdom keeper and teacher. But the tsunami changes the underwater landscape that she had worked so hard to learn. It forces her to rely on things beyond memory to guide her and her brother Deneb home–courage, intuition, and a willingness to try new things.
And her brother, who will never grow up to be a leader, sees how his confidence in his sister’s wayfinding skills is part of what makes her strong. He takes such pride in following her. That was one of the fun things to think about too. In a matriarchal society, what do the males take pride in. Deneb’s mentor is Great-mother’s brother Rigel who has swum at her side for 80 years. His constant refrain is, “I am here. I am beside you.” And come what may, he is faithfully upholding his sister and her family. So like the many men in my life.
Janet: This is beautiful, Rosanne. I love that Vega has to rely on things beyond memory to guide her and her brother Deneb home–courage, intuition, and a willingness to try new things. These are wayfinder skills. And the words, “I am beside you.” says so much. I got chills when I read that. You chose to tell this story in alternating viewpoints between Vega and Deneb. How did this enhance the telling?
Rosanne: Vega is an oldest, and like a lot of oldest siblings, she feels the weight of responsibility keenly and worries. That worry puts her in her own head a lot, which is good if you want to explore what the toll of leadership means in a young life. But it’s not as good for taking in the wider world. Deneb is all about exploring the wider world–bursting with curiosity and energy. Also, Deneb offers some comic relief in what could be a too-serious story. I think of him as a junior and very earnest mansplainer. He wants to help so very much and sometimes does it very clumsily. Also, a character needs to make mistakes, and Deneb makes a few that Vega never would.
Illustration by Lindsay Moore
Janet: Yes. Part of the great fun of alternating voices is the ways in which it brings out the individual character’s world view (or in this case sea view?), especially when the personalities are so vastly different. I know the mother teaches the young ones where to hunt for salmon. I’ve read the whales are dealing with hunger with a decrease in the salmon population. Do Vega and Deneb face hunger after the tsunami?
Rosanne: Ooh, I learned such a cool thing, and then I saw it in drone video from a research facility. A mother orca teaches her babies how to hunt salmon by first catching them and feeding directly, but later she catches a salmon and then injures it a bit so it can’t swim quickly. Then she brings it to her little one so it can learn to hunt this slower fish successfully. They gradually move up to bigger and faster fish. So cool!
But salmon and their scarcity is the underlying danger of the book. No matter the adventure, their hunger, and the lengths they need to travel to find salmon are the centerpiece of orca’s lives in the wild. The Southern Resident Killer Whale community has not had numbers this low since the capture years when as many as 50 baby orcas were captured and sold to marine entertainment parks. Now it’s the lack of salmon that are driving their numbers down.
There are some reasons to hope, though. I just learned this spring–after the book went to press–that due to years of effort by a coalition of groups led by the Lummi and Nooksack tribes, the dam on the Nooksack River has been removed, opening up 12 miles of pristine river habitat for salmon to spawn in. It could increase the salmon run by as much as 30% in the Nooksack watershed. Feature Story dam-removal-brings-hope-salmon-washingtons-middle-fork-nooksack-river
Janet. Huzzah!! Glad for this good news, Rosanne! I’m grateful that A Whale of the Wild is coming out. There’s so much treasure here. What was the central thing you learned writing this book?
Rosanne: On so many levels, I’ve learned how connected the entire ecosystem of the world is. We need each other. We need our fellow humans. We need our fellow trees and orcas and wolves and salmon; we need our fellow plankton and all the many microbes of the soil. There is no air to breathe or water to drink that is separate from the air and water of every other living thing. We can’t just take care of our own. We have to care for everyone.
Janet: Rosanne, you’ve given voice to the wild. A personal voice that brings these beings close to us as readers: awakening the deep connections we all have. Thank you so much for that.
Rosanne: I’m keenly aware of how much I owe to my illustrator. And the book designer who have made this book far more beautiful and accessible and interesting than I could make it on my own. Lindsay Moore drew more than 100 pieces of art for this story. She is a marine biologist with a masters in scientific and medical illustration and she LOVES orcas. We took a research trip to the Salish Sea about a year ago. We drove along most of the nearshore places our orcas swam, we took ferries and hiked to the very northwestern-most tip of the continental US, and we kayaked in their home waters.
We are kayaking in the Haro Strait on the north end of San Juan Island. For me, the value of the kayak trip was not so much seeing whales as looking at the world from a whale’s eye view.
She is both a brilliant illustrator and science consultant on the project. She helped me see the larger connections in the food web. And she brought lots of heart to the project. Sylvie La Floche was the master designer who made the pictures and text flow together like water. And she put a subtle clue at the top of each chapter to help young readers know who was narrating each chapter.
Janet: I can’t wait to read it and see these illustrations, Rosanne. One last question, I know we’re doing virtual launches and visits now with the pandemic. Will you be offering some webinars or some such? Is there a way teachers and librarians can get in touch to set up a virtual visit?
Rosanne: I’ve been thinking hard about how I can offer something beyond the usual 20-25-minute zoom meet & greet for schools and libraries and bookstores. But given how hard teachers and students are working and because both the Wolf and Whale books lend themselves to science and social studies connections, I’m working on a virtual school visit package. I hope it will serve students well and be fun and engaging wherever students happen to be learning. I will be posting about this on my own website www.rosanneparry.com over the next month, and teachers and librarians can always reach me at Rosanne at rosanneparry dotcom.
I love to connect with readers and teachers and other writers too. I’ll be doing a workshop on Finding Gold in your Story Setting for the Manuscript Academy on September 9th.
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