Author Rosanne Parry. Inhabiting the Other
Welcome to Creative Conversations, discussions on the creative process. Find a comfy seat, lean in close and eavesdrop in on our conversation. Today I’m talking with gifted author Rosanne Parry who just came out with two new titles gleaning starred reviews!
Rosanne Parry is the author of the many award winning novels including Heart of a Shepherd, and The Turn of the Tide. Her newest novels are Last of the Name and A Wolf Called Wander both on sale in the spring of 2019. She and her family live in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon. She writes in a tree house in her back yard.
Some lucky Dreamwalker will win a signed copy of one of Rosanne’s spring releases.
I know Rosanne as a friend, fellow author, and tree-house lover. Here’s a peek at where she works, folks.
Janet: Congratulations on your new publications, Rosanne. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me here on Dreamwalks.
Rosanne: Hi Janet, thank you so much for reading my books! Looking forward to our conversation.
Janet: When I asked Rosanne what she’d like to talk about, she said, “Inhabiting the other.”
It’s an artform to enter your characters so completely as you’ve done in all your books, Rosanne, so I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
Rosanne: Thanks. In some ways this is really the entire game. How do you sink into the thoughts and world view of a character and see the world as they see it. At the most basic level I like to put my eyes at the level of my character’s eyes and see what I notice that I don’t at my adult height. So when I was working on WOLF which is from a wolf’s point of view, I found myself kneeling in the forest and looking for what is different and cupping my ears to make them more wolf-like and directional and paying attention to what I noticed that my regularly -shaped ears didn’t catch.
Janet: I happen to like your regularly-shaped ears, Rosanne. 😊 You describe embodying your character so well here. Katherine Grace Bond and I offer workshops focusing on this skill at the yearly writing retreat, giving writers lots of space to move around and practice being inside the character’s body. Did you take a notebook with you to jot fresh impressions in the woods when you became Wander?
Rosanne: I do. I feel very fortunate to have Forest Park practically on my doorstep. It is the largest urban park in America and except for a zoo and rose garden at one end, most of it is wild land and more than 100 miles of trails. So I go there a lot. I find a dry spot to sit down and make notes or a scene or two in the story. I also take reference pictures all the time so that I remember the texture of a particular tree’s bark or the shape of a deer print in the mud.
Janet: This is delicious, Rosanne and it shows in your writing. I was in the wolf pup’s skin, experiencing his world from page 1. What did you do about Wander’s heightened sense of smell?
Rosanne: Actually, the smell aspect was a big challenge for me because I don’t have a particularly keen sense of smell. (When you spend your life working with children this is actually a bit of an asset 🙂 But I know that wolves rely much more on their sense of smell than we do. And then I had to pick smells that kids might find familiar. So for example when I had the wolf cut through a farm field, I picked mint because I knew that kids would know what that smells like better than, oh say barley or hops or some other crop they’d be less familiar with. And again, I found myself sitting in the forest asking myself what can I smell here?
Janet: If you go in deep enough, you’re less aware and more aware — less self-conscious more character conscious. Wander’s world is Rich in ways ours is not, but his experiences are also limited to his body, mind, nature, experience. You do this beautifully.
Rosanne: Thank you! I came to feel quite viscerally when I was working on the wolf book is how much trouble an animal is in when he can’t find his family. I have the usual anxieties about losing my family but if I lost them, I have options! Phones. Police departments. But a lost animal is profoundly lost. A wolf can only rely on the landscape he remembers and the chance of catching their scent on the wind.
Janet: I sensed this quest was the beating heart of the story. We feel how lost he is when he can’t find his family. Tapping into your own fears fed the story. It’s something we do, not to say it doesn’t hurt. I hear Harper Collins is donating a portion of the profits to a wolf sanctuary in New York
Rosanne: They are such wolf fans over at Greenwillow. Apparently on the day they made the deal for WOLF there was howling in the hallways!
Janet: I’d like to howl for your other new release: Last of the Name. Again, you’re deep in, and I’m immediately in Daniel’s world, cramped below decks, hungry. Can you talk about how you entered so deeply into his character?
Rosanne: When I was in Dublin in 2011, I had the opportunity to tour a reconstructed famine ship, the Jeanie Johnston, in the Liffey River. It was so small. The space they had for stores was tiny. The passenger quarters were shockingly cramped. No privacy. It would be a huge challenge for a passenger cohort what was healthy and strong to begin with, but of course most of them were malnourished at the outset, so it’s no wonder so many died during the passage.
Janet: I’m so grateful that you went there, saw and experienced the famine ship, and shared it so personally on the page. How did you keep in touch with those sensory impressions after you left Liffey River? And did you go there with this story in mind or did the experience of the famine ship seed the novel?
Rosanne: In some ways I wish I could forget what the hold of that ship felt like. It haunts me still. On a practical note though I jotted down the measurements of the berths and found they were the same as my writing table so then I had an anchor to remember the scale of the whole thing. That particular tour very much launched me in the direction the story took in the end. I had wanted to write about a boy who dances for a long time. And I wanted to get away from the, dancing is a feminine endeavor and so the boy is brave to do it, narrative that is a necessary part of contemporary dancing boy stories. But boys dance freely, joyfully, all over the world and dance is not the province of one gender so Irish dance which has a nearly identical dance tradition for boys and girls was a great candidate.
The thing I learned from the Jeanie Johnston tall ship that helped me set a course for the book was that the largest category of immigrating person was a single girl between the ages of 12 and 25 traveling alone. They were going to fill positions as domestic servants, taking the places of black domestic workers because the changes in America due to the abolition movement and then the emancipation proclamation made it unfashionable to have black servants.
Janet: And so, the sister, Kathleen?
Rosanne: Yes. I love her fierceness so much. My 12-year-old self read a lot of historical fiction and was regularly annoyed that the girl was always dressing as a boy to gain some advantage, but the boy never dressed as a girl. My adult writer self has been looking for years for a historical situation where it was advantageous to be a girl. And there it was. A girl with room and board and a salary too (no matter how small) was a huge step up for the girls’ whole family. Those Irish maids sent their wages home to Ireland. They brought family over and they supported family who stayed. Britain had spent centuries systematically making the Irish poor and here was an income stream they had no power over. Those girls and their carefully saved pennies changed the course of history.
Janet: This is fascinating, Rosanne. First a quote from the book to show Kathleen’s fierceness.
Excerpt, Chapter One:
“Kathleen breaks hers in two and hands me half. She watches me eat every crumb of it, and my own portion as well, like a hawk watches chickens. Queen Elizabeth herself was never such a tyrant, and I’m her only colony.”
Next, I want to ask how you stepped into Daniel’s hungry body–felt his hunger?
Rosanne: As for the hunger, fasting is a part of my spiritual practice. In fact, it’s Good Friday so I’m fasting today. It doesn’t take more than 12-18 hours without food to feel how consuming hunger is and how exhausting. Many cultures who have a stereotype of laziness–Mexican’s and their siesta for example–have also had a history of hunger. So the fatigue and the strain of thinking of nothing else but where is my next meal coming from is a surprisingly accessible feeling. Stop eating for a day. Maybe two.
Janet: If there hasn’t been a book written about The History of Hunger there should be one, looking at history through that single lense, Rosanne. I used to say, “write hungry.” What I meant by that is not to starve yourself, but to keep the senses sharp. You don’t eat a big meal before going on a run. Same with facing the page, or at least I’ve found it so.
Both your new books show your focused care for each of your characters, and that invites the reader to participate in the heart of the story– since the character IS the heart of the story.
I’ll share a line from Katherine Grace Bond’s poem String Theory here
The whorls in your own fingerprints are hidden letters in the name of God.
Rosanne: Oh! Lovely! And how perfect for poetry month. You know I wrote a poem about my great grandfather’s immigration experience. The book is very much not my family experience, but I wanted to collect the very little I knew from my father and I had a poem-sized amount of information.
My father knows one word in Irish.
One word survived the sieve of a ship that leaked souls.
One word heard above the howling wind of hunger
One word sung by the ghosts of hanged harpers.
A simple word, Fay-el-tuh, Fawl-ta, the correct pronunciation
was sifted out in the school yard a generation ago.
But the word was remembered in the key of F
The poet tuned his harp before burning
in the key of F, tuned his harp before hanging,
Failte, you are welcome in my home.
The mother whispered it on a winter night
come inside my castle walls and I will be your round tower.
And she spread her skirt across the doorway,
across the stone step, across her sleeping children.
She stood over them through the night with only the ghost of a harper
And the long polished shard of song to warm her.
In time the round tower fell, fell to ashes
and the sleeping children were shipped by rail
across an ocean of grass.
One word on a paper tag. Failte.
Will you welcome this child into your home?
No fell up him as often as yes
No, from kin that didn’t know him,
No, from them that loved him and couldn’t keep him.
Yes, from them that had plenty room at the plow but little else.
And in this hard rain, the child grew,
Red hair hidden under a cap and faith in a pocket
Accent traded for a proper coat and the right spelling of his name for a union job.
Still he grew.
Grew like a cabbage on cold ground,
Thick and leafy, a crinkled green cloak wrapping inward
And his children grew after him and his children’s children
watched over by the ghosts of harper poets who sang to them in the key of welcome.
Janet: Thank you, Rosanne.
I’m pleased to announce to Seattle area dwellers, Rosanne will be presenting and
signing books at Secret Garden on June 1st at 2pm.
Follow Rosanne Parry
And Now for the Book Giveaway!
The winner will choose a signed copy of either A Wolf Called Wander or Last of the Name.
How to Enter. Giveaway is limited to US address or APO address. Participants must be 18 or older. To those of you who are new to Rafflecopter, all you need to do is sign in or tweet to enter (a tweet helps to spread the word about the book giveaway, but either way is fine). If you’re keen to win, you can sign in or tweet as often as once per day. The tweet is written for you ahead of time. You just need to click. Also, you need to click “I Tweeted” to confirm the entry. Good Luck All!
I’m thrilled that Rosanne has two brand new books out! She’s presented at the Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) State Tournament twice now and is a wonderful presenter!
Thoughtful interview, and such a powerful poem, Rosanne!
The comments on eye level were very intriguing. A change of level or of listening (cupped ears) can make all the difference how you construct point of view.