We’re very excited to celebrate our own Rosanne Parry’s book birthday today, with the release of her latest middle grade novel from Random House, The Turn of the Tide.
I was thrilled to get to read this book, and to interview Rosanne for today’s post.
MUF: Rosanne, I loved this book – as a reader, as a writer of middle grade work, as a sailor and as a lover of history. I can’t wait to share it!
R: Wow! Thank you so much. That means a lot coming from a fellow sailor in particular. I found the sailing sections tricky to write. I knew the action I wanted to convey and knew I had to write it in the sort of nautical language a kid who grew up sailing would use. But I bet most of my readers have never sailed and some of them will have never seen a sail boat in action so the trick was to make it accessible to a non-sailor without losing the fun nautical language or the pace of the action. I revised those sailing sections a zillion times.
MUF: Your descriptive language is so evocative of place that the reader is transported to the very scene of the action. I was there in the hills with Kai in Japan. I stood in front of the Coast Guard exhibit at the Maritime Museum (which is in reality my own favorite exhibits there), and felt the tug of the current as Jet sailed her dinghy through the bay. How do you go about researching to create such a sense of place in these realistic scenes?
R: I do love research and I worked on this book over several years so part of it was just making multiple trips to Astoria to visit the museum and browse in the comics shop and sample the milkshakes at Custard King and go to the Scandinavian Festival in the summer. My son and I took a memorable canoe trip on the Columbia right at the starting point of the race. I wanted to see what it felt like to be in among the river islands but I didn’t want to be at the mercy of the wind. We were coming up to the mouth of the John Day River and the tide was coming in so the current of the John Day pushed us up stream and we were not strong enough to paddle against it. Very unnerving. We had to paddle across the current to get back in to the main flow of the Columbia. I’d read about how these currents worked and studied the nautical chart but it was really helpful to be out there actually feeling the strength of the tide acting on the junction of the two rivers.
On the other hand there were places I could not go. Unfortunately I was not able to travel to Japan. But my brother has gone there for work regularly for more than 20 years. Two members of my critique group have lived in Japan. One of them worked in the Ehime prefecture and camped in the area around Ikata. They were very helpful. I had a long interesting conversation one afternoon with a gardener from the Portland Japanese Garden, which is known to be one of the most botanically authentic in North America. The gardener helped me think through what plants would be very familiar to Kai here in Oregon and which ones would be new. One of the tricks to writing good setting is writing, not about what is actually there, but about what, of all the things present in your setting, your character notices and why does he notice it. Writing in two points of view was tricky in some ways, but having two very different perceptions of the same place was interesting and fun.
MUF: When you shared the images for this interview, you included this one of the compass. You called it a character in the book. I love that! Can you tell us more about this particular compass, and how it might have inspired your story?
R: The compass in the picture belonged to my grandfather. He was a hunter and an accomplished woodsman. He used this compass until he gave up deer hunting at the age of 75. (He continued to hunt ducks until he was 84). It’s an army corps of engineers compass and he told me he got it from a friend after the First World War. It’s still in working order and I carried it around in my pocket quite a bit as I was writing. I thought about what the various heirlooms of my family mean to me now, and what they meant when I was twelve.
It was also a good reminder to think about the moral compass by which my characters were navigating their lives. I think of both Kai and Jet as very honorable young people, but they come to their honor through very different cultural lenses. So I’d watch the compass needle swing into place and think about what forces were tugging at my characters—pride and shame, sorrow and kinship, loyalty and competitiveness. It made me reflect about my own motivations too. There are more sensible ways to make a living than this. What is it about literature that continues to tug me in the direction of writing it?
MUF: I already asked about the research you did in order to describe setting so well. Can you share a bit about how you conduct your historical research?
R: I do read quite a bit, sometimes reading things that are quite tangential to the book. Treasure Island for example. I spent a long afternoon reading various nautical poems and found a poem translated from the Japanese which says a lot about Japanese culture and values. It’s called Be Not Defeated by the Rain by Kenji Miyazawa. Here’s a link to the poem.
Interestingly, when I was discussing the book with my daughter’s Japanese teacher (who very kindly checked all the Japanese words for me and commented on the cultural matters) she said that since the Sendai earthquake, many in Japan are rethinking the cultural value of stoicism that the poem promotes. There is a feeling that the expectation that people suppress their grief and horror is unkind and even unhealthy. An interesting perspective and not one I’d be likely to find by reading alone.
Fellow writers are often great about sharing a research resource. James Kennedy, of 90 Second Newbery fame, introduced me to someone who has made a long study of Japanese ghost stories. He helped me understand Kai’s fears in better context. For example, in Western tradition monsters reside in the depths of the ocean and the darkest, innermost parts of the forest. But in Japan, the “haunted space” is on the margins—at the edge of the jungle, on the surface of the water. So interesting. And again a nuance I might miss if I just relied on reading.
MUF: Here’s one last question for you: What’s a middle grade read that has stuck with you lately?
R: I’ve been working on a new book narrated by a wolf. It’s been great fun, so I’ve read a bunch of wolf stories old and new. There’s one by Avi and one by Tor Seidler this year. But the one that really captivated me was The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. It’s the story of a girl in the waning days of imperial Russia who works as a wolf wilder, a person who takes the pet wolves of the aristocracy and makes them able to live in the wild again. She runs afoul of a corrupt army officer and sparks a child-led revolution. It’s the sort of book twelve year old me would have adored.
MUF: Another book I can’t wait to read now! Thanks for sharing with us Rosanne, and best of luck with The Turn of the Tide!
In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, THE BEST OF IT: A JOURNAL OF LIFE, LOVE AND DYING, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press,blogs at The Best of It, and manages Gather Here, an online history site for middle grade readers and teachers.