May 15, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, LAST OF THE NAME and A WOLF CALLED WANDER, by Rosanne Parry

Last of the Name, by Rosanne Parry
It’s time for another Birth Stories for Books post, and today I’m so happy to share an interview with author Rosanne Parry about the path to publication for her two most recent books: LAST OF THE NAME (Carolrhoda Books, 2019) and A WOLF CALLED WANDER (illustrated by Mónica ArmiñoGreenwillow Books, 2019).

Let’s get right to it:

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Rosanne. If I remember correctly, you and I first met at a week-long writing conference hosted by Linda Zuckerman when we were both in the pre-published stage of our careers. How fun it is to circle back with you now that you have six middle grade novels under your belt. 

Today we’re going to begin by talking about LAST OF THE NAME (Carolrhoda Books, 2019) which just came out in April. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? For example, it’s my understanding that it’s been a long time in the making. I'd love to learn about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for your story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

Rosanne Parry: I got the idea for Last of the Name when I was in Dublin with my son for World Championships of Irish Dance. We visited a reconstruction of a famine ship in the Liffey River. I learned that from the 1840s to the 1870s (the peak famine years) the largest category of emigrating Irish persons was a single girl between the ages of 12 and 25 traveling alone. The rise of abolition and then the civil war had made it unpopular to have black house servants in the north so those wealthy families in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago dismissed their black house servants and hired Irish girls instead.  I also learned that many Irish served in the Union army, even boys as young as 8 or 9, and that the first draft in American history took place during the Civil War. I knew then that a story about a girl and boy traveling to New York would provide all the conflict and excitement I needed to carry the story.

DP: That definitely sounds like exciting fodder for a story! You have me hooked already. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

RP: I researched this story over many years, learning about Irish history, language, and dance. I studied the civil war, the situation of free black workers in the north, and historical newspapers. I learned to play the harp. I visited the Tenement Museum in NY and the Emigration Museum in Dublin. I spent some time with the Irish American Historical Society in New York which had an old manor house just off Central Park which I used as a model for the Treadwell home. I was struck by the grandness of the public rooms contrasting with the cramped and uninsulated servant’s quarter at the top of the house. And the stairs for servants—steep as a ladder and no lights at all! So those details from my research stayed consistent throughout.

Once I had a sense of where the story was going I made a detailed outline (my usual process is looser) in order to make the story events slot in with the progress of the Civil War and the looming draft riots. Once the outline was in place I wrote the whole thing in about six weeks, but only because I’d had a foot surgery and couldn’t walk so I could devote 10-12 hours a day to the writing. I was so bored! I would have gone nuts without the book to write. There weren’t major changes in the revision process. Clarifications. Fleshing out some scenes to give my reader more context. And I added a few extra scenes earlier in the book with the Jewish tailor and the Black carpenter who become more important toward the end of the story.

Oh and I was thrilled that Learner agreed to have newspaper headlines in the chapter headers so that we could round out the context of the novel without leaving the point of view of my 12 year old narrator. That way my reader can track the progress of the civil war battles even though they are happening far away. Also it allowed me to drop in interesting nuggets of information. For example the Black troops that served in the Union Army were served by Black surgeons. And many thousands of poor immigrants in the Five Points neighborhood lived in underground rooms with no light and no air circulation and with standing water on the dirt floor.

DP: Wow, Rosanne. It sounds like you could write dozens of different books on this topic with all of the historical expertise you've developed during your research. How exciting that your readers will continue to benefit from of all of this excellent preparation on your part. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication?

RP: Historical fiction can be hard to sell, so my agent and I looked at publishers with a strong tie to the school and library market who had the vision to make this book the best version of itself that it could be. We found the perfect home in Carolrhoda which is an imprint of Learner.

A Wolf Called Wander, by Rosanne Parry
DP: You also have another new book, A WOLF CALLED WANDER (Greenwillow, 2019). I’ve heard you mention that both books touch on migration, human and animal. What were some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for these two books? 

RP: When we first sent out A Wolf Called Wander most publishers found the writing terrific but felt it was too slim for a MG and too meaty for a chapter book. But Andersen Press in the UK, the originating publisher, looked at it and said, this needs to be a fully illustrated story book that is in print with the same illustrations 50 years from now. I was blown away by the care lavished on this story. The book is gorgeous. It has already sold in 6 translations, including the American version at Greenwillow. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. And the reviews have been comparing it to Jack London and The Incredible Journey so that’s pretty amazing. Really it came down to an amazing editor, Chloe Sakur, and an equally gifted Art Director, Kate Grove, who had a vision for the book and their publisher Klaus Flugg who believed in them and gave them everything they needed to make something extraordinary.
A Wolf Called Wander, UK Edition

I’ve been very lucky. But I also wrote something that inspired this leap of faith.

So if you are in the slog of writing and looking for a publisher, please know, there is no special connection I had to this publishing house prior to this deal. The book came through the same channel every other book comes. The writing sparked something in them and that is the entire game.  Put your whole heart in every page, there’s no other way to gain readers.

DP: Thanks for telling it like it is, Rosanne! 

I recall that your earlier books, (HEART OF A SHEPHERDSECOND FIDDLE, WRITTEN IN STONE, and TURN OF THE TIDE) were all published by Random House, but I noticed that your two latest books are published by Carolrhoda and Greenwillow, respectively. Are you able to share how this came about and/or how you connected with these two new (to you) publishing houses?

RP: Often an imprint within a publishing house shifts its focus or a new editor takes over and brings a new vision to a publisher. I had been with Jim Thomas at Random House—who I met through the Oregon SCBWI Fall Retreat. He left publishing entirely after Written in Stone came out. The editor who took his place moved the imprint from a literary MG and YA focus to a much younger and more commercial chapter book focus. (The A-Z mysteries, the Babymouse books etc.) They finished out the two book contract I had with them by publishing The Turn of the Tide and then I moved on to publishing houses who were focused on the kind of work I really like to write. I have nothing but gratitude for the gang over at Random House and I’m thrilled to have my tenacious and savvy agent, Fiona Kenshole, at my side to negotiate the transitions.

DP: That's great info. Were there notable differences in the path to publication for your earlier books as compared to your latest books?

RP: The big difference was that I had a body of finished work for my agent to look at which gave us the room to think strategically about what to try to sell first. Because one of my long-term goals was to have work in translation, Fiona suggested that we start with the wolf story because animal stories translate more readily than American-based school stories. And then the immigration story Last of the Name felt very timely so we decided to go out with that one next. Interesting that the immigration story ended up with a launch date a month before A Wolf Called Wander because we sent it out almost a year after the wolf book. To be fair, the wolf book is fully illustrated by the incredibly talented Spanish artist Mónica Armiño which took quite a bit of time.

DP: I can't wait to see the illustrations. The book sounds fabulous! 

I know you are a part-time bookseller at the legendary independent bookstore, Annie Bloom's Books. What advice would you give to fellow authors (and aspiring authors) from your perspective as a bookseller?

RP: Two things: Care about what you are writing about. Your work will automatically be better if you have a passion for your subject/characters/story world. And your book has to live somewhere on our shelves. A sci-fi mystery with fantasy elements, historical footnotes, and a collection of recipes which appeals to teens and adults and toddlers equally? No. Please don’t write that. Think about where you want to your book to be. Imagine your shelf neighbors. Hold your ideal reader in your heart always. 

DP: Such sage advice! (Have I told you about my herbal recipe book for teens to toddlers? Kidding!) 

One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits. I’m always looking for new pro tips. Wearing the hats of both bookseller and author, I know you’ve presented and/or read to many young readers over the years, too. What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters?

RP: School visits and bookstore events are not a required part of the job. If you dread the thought of them or find it overwhelming to both create new work and do events, set the public stuff aside and just focus on the writing. Nobody else can do that part for you. On the other hand if you find public events energizing, go for it! Think about what you have to offer a classroom or a bookstore and then look at it as an exercise in serving the literary community rather than a book selling event. Serve your community well and the sales will take care of themselves.

And if you are an aspiring author, the best way to get free mentoring is to attend as many bookstore events as possible by authors writing in your genre. I host book events almost every week and I learn a lot even from folks writing far outside my genre.

DP: I couldn't agree more, Rosanne! I love attending book events for other authors. It's professional development, socializing, and "buying local" all wrapped up into one occasion! 

I also know that you coordinate the League of Exceptional Writers, which is described in your bio as "a free mentoring workshop for young avid readers and writers, sponsored by the Oregon SCBWI and Powell's Bookstore.” Similar to my earlier question above, based on your experience and observations at these events, what advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters?

RP: If you are an author with a book published in a format that Powell's can sell, or if you are a professional working in the book industry, think about a 10-15 minute nugget of content you can convey to avid writers ages 10-14. (We accept kids 8-18 but most fall into the middle range).  For example Hannah Holt talked about how to use your family tree for story ideas. Barry Deutsch showed kids how to tell a joke in 4 comic book panels. Nevin Mays showed the kids audio book recording equipment and gave them some passages to try recording. My League members love to practice what you are teaching, so have an idea of something concrete they can do in 10-20 minutes—write a joke, write a passage of dialog using a new skill, draw a face with 3 different expressions

I will be looking for next year's mentors in June. Please email me if you are interested.

DP: Great tips. Thanks! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

RP: I wish I had known that it would be possible for my children to go to college without the support of my regular teaching salary. I worried so much that I wouldn’t be able to help them with college, when in fact it has worked out just fine.

DP: Oh, that's a wonderful answer, Rosanne. You've worked so hard for so many years. I'm so glad to see that effort pay off. 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?

RP: I am positively brimming over with exciting news that I can’t tell you. Sorry! Stay tuned. I’ll post things on my website as I go.

DP: Nothing like a cliff hanger to keep us waiting on the edge of our seats (and refreshing our screens)! 

One more question: How is that you started writing in a treehouse, and how is it possible that your  treehouse is a comfortable place to write?!

Rosanne's Weather-Dependent Writing Spot
RP: I started writing in a treehouse because my children were 4, 7, 10 and 13 and I didn’t want to open every jar of peanut butter. When I was up there, they were more self sufficient, but if they were in trouble or just needed my company I wasn’t far away. My youngest used to come up and propose a popsicle date on the regular which I miss very much now that she’s in college.  My treehouse as you can see is not exactly weather proof. It works for me spring summer and fall because there are no books, no chores, no phone, no food, and no internet if I turn off my connection. Plenty of fresh air, birds, trees, squirrels and a zip line for quick escapes—I’m very lucky!

DP: Love it! (And I can especially relate to missing those sweet popsicle dates, given that my oldest is now in college, too).

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for your two latest books, Rosanne! My readers have learned so much from you, and we look forward to following your career to new heights!

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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.

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.

2 comments:

  1. Great interview with a very talented author!

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  2. Really enjoyed this interview and learning about Rosanne's recent work ... never knew about the treehouse—brilliant!

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