Guest post by YA author Ginny Rorby, a member of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference board.
Ginny launches her latest, How to Speak Dolphin, on June 7 by showing that with accidents, as in life, “trying trumps not trying,” at 4 p.m. in
the Abalone Room, Little River Inn.
Ginny Rorby holds an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Miami, an MFA in Creative Writing from the Florida International University, and is the author of 5 novels for young adults, Dolphin Sky, (Putnam, ’96) and Hurt Go Happy, (Tor Books, ’06) which won the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award (2008) and was nominated for six state reading awards and published in 7 languages. A new edition from Tor Teen will be published in October 2015. The Outside of a Horse (Dial Penguin,’10) was a Scholastic Book Fair selection, and Lost in the River of Grass (Lerner Books ‘11) won the 2013 Sunshine State Young Readers Award. How to Speak Dolphin (Scholastic Books ’15) has been translated into Dutch and French for the Netherlands and France.
When I took my first creative writing class back in 1982, I was a biology major who found myself in a creative writing class in part because I’d written an editorial comment for a local paper and the editor called to praise my writing. By then, I was faced with calculus, organic chemistry and physics, all of which I’d put off taking. Creative writing sounded fun until I actually had to write something. I remember whining to another student that I didn’t know what to write.
The classmate said, “Don’t let Goran hear you say that.” He could have finished the thought with, “He doesn’t suffer fools,” but he didn’t. Goran was Lester Goran, Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of Miami. He and Isaac Bashevis Singer (as in Won a Nobel Prize) occasionally taught together. If Goran was intimidating, Singer made my knees knock.
I kept my mouth shut and tried. I wrote a story about my husband sinking his airboat and walking out of the Everglades. In every subsequent creative writing class right through graduate school, I rewrote that story. Not until 1985, did I finally come up with an original idea of my own. It eventually became Dolphin Sky, my first published novel.
Why bother telling you this? Because I’m an accidental writer. Even though I ended up getting an MFA in creative writing, becoming a novelist was never a dream of mine. Even now, whenever an idea seeps in, my first reaction is always the same: I can’t do that. And every time I hit a wall and can’t think of another thing to write, I assume I’ve shot my wad as a writer. Oddly enough, the act of giving up frees me to stop worrying and puts me back in touch with my optimistic alter-ego: Can’t possibly, but will try.
Recently, during one of my dry spells, I rewrote Dolphin Sky. I started it in 1985 and though it wasn’t published until 1994, I’m now a better writer than I was then. Besides, it was the only of my novels that pre-dated Scholastic Book Fairs and e-books. The “revised” version of Dolphin Sky is now available on Kindle. When I finished the rewrite, I tried to interest other editors of my acquaintance in reissuing it, to no avail. On a whim I wrote to Scholastic Books, trying to sell them on the idea of making it a Book Fair selection. No answer.
Months after I had forgotten I’d written them, I heard from one of their editors. She wasn’t interested in Dolphin Sky, but thought I’d be the perfect person to write another book about a dolphin. I suggested that she might like to look at the book about a dolphin that I’d already written. No, she wouldn’t. She was contacting me because my inquiry had crossed her desk just after she’d circulated an in-house proposal for a book about an autistic child and a dolphin.
I’m not a complete idiot. I was corresponding with a SCHOLASTIC editor!! I write books for kids and here was the biggest name in children’s publishing tapping at my door. When she asked if she could send me the plot outline, I said yes. It turned out to be about dolphin assisted therapy—using a captive dolphin to help disabled and mentally challenged children with behavioral and learning issues. Here’s the “Shoot Yourself in the Foot” part. I said thank you, but no. I don’t consider myself an in-your-face animal rights activist, but everything I’ve ever written has that theme. I couldn’t possibly write a book—even for Scholastic—that put a wild animal in a chlorinated tank.
Lucky for me, she didn’t take no for an answer. She told me I could do anything I wanted to do with the story
“Even let the dolphin go?”
You’d think that would have been enough for me to do back-flips out in the driveway, but that whiny “I-don’t-know-what-to-write” person un-holstered her gun. I agreed that I would be perfect for it. I’d researched autism for another book and knew a great deal about dolphins. However, I said, stalling for time, I’m a slow study. I like letting ideas percolate. What kind of time line did she have in mind?
A fall of 2014 pub date! Yikes. This was April 2013. The longest it has taken me to write a book was 18 years, 30 if you count the one about my husband walking out of the Everglades. The quickest was two years for The Outside of a Horse. I thought no way, then surrendered and submitted a synopsis and an outline, neither of which I’d ever done before, made three trips to Florida, put my nose to the grindstone as never before, and I did it—in six months.
Even after thirty plus years, when it comes to the next story, I still seem determined to shoot myself in the foot, and have to remind myself once again that trying trumps not trying every time.
TO COMMENT, click on "Comments" above or below the post, then fill in the form, or click on "Reply" of another comment to add to that comment.
SHARE on your Facebook or Twitter, hit the buttons: