Friday, May 11, 2012

Ginny Rorby Interview

Today’s TMT Blogiversary Blog Tour Stop is at Teaching in Cute Shoes.
Visit Cynthia’s blog to read about her favorite mentor text!

Over the last couple of years, I have been so lucky to get to know Ginny Rorby. Before I was on Twitter, before I went to NCTE and ALAN, Ginny was my first author friend. I was so fortunate to meet her at a book signing and she was nice enough to share her email with me and we've been communicating ever since. I have enjoyed every book of hers I have read and Hurt Go Happy has quickly become one of my favorite books. Today I am so happy to share with you an interview with her to celebrate our blogiversary!

 Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby 
Teach Mentor Texts: How do you find inspiration for the tough topics you tackled in Hurt Go Happy and Outside of a Horse?

Ginny Rorby: In 1988, I read a Houston Chronicle article about Lucy, a sign-language-using chimpanzee raised as if she were a human child. She ate her meals at the table with her family, and after supper, when she was older, she would fix herself a gin and tonic, and turn on the TV to watch her favorite shows. 

All the chimpanzees one sees as cute babies in commercials, or movies, or in circus acts, end up grown and unwanted. So did Lucy. By age of seven she became unmanageable and her family ended up sending her to a facility in Africa. She was housed with other chimps which, having never seen another chimp, she called black bugs. One day, someone who had known her as a baby stopped by to visit. When Lucy saw her, she signed, “Lucy want out. Help me, please.”  I literally sobbed when I read that story and the first scene I wrote in Hurt Go Happy was Sukari in a cage signing ‘Help me, please.’

No one could help Lucy. There was no place to take her. A few months later, she was killed by poachers. The tragedy of being unwanted is compounded because Lucy used sign language. She could communicate her feelings, her love, and her pain. 

Lucy’s story had been told only by her ‘owner,’ as was Nim’s. Nim was also raised in a similar fashion, and taught sign language, ended up in a research facility and died at the age of 26. There is a new movie out about him. Project Nim. (For a younger audience there are language issues in the film.)

As for The Outside of a Horse… In 2007, I’d known for nearly 30 years that people in other countries ate horses. I even knew that during World War II, Americans ate them, but it wasn’t until I saw a Katie Couric segment on the CBS News on June 8th about the slaughter of racehorses, that it occurred to me to write about horses. The statistics were appalling. In 2006, 100,000 horses were slaughtered to satisfy the appetite for horsemeat, primarily in the countries of France, Japan and Belgium. I remember writing the statistics down, but I still didn’t have an idea of where to go with the information. I’d written two books since the publication of HURT GO HAPPY, but no one seemed interested in either of them, and I had two other false starts on a shelf in my closet. So on July 4th, I was idea-less when Katie Couric did a story about the horses that pull the caissons at Arlington NationalCemetery. When they are not transporting the caskets of our Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, they are used for physical therapy for soldiers who have lost limbs in the wars. After that program, I had all I needed for the plot of THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, which is about an Iraq war vet who comes home missing a leg, and his daughter’s fight to bring him back from the abyss through their shared love of horses.

Three of your four novels deal with animals, why did you choose to write novels about animals?  

      I think a fascination with animals and the natural world is in my DNA. As a kid, I spent hours
      studying them, and had a rather large collection of pickled critters (who died of natural
      causes.) I would search the woods near our house for owl pellets, (regurgitated fur and bones)
      pick them apart and try to reassemble the skeleton. When I wasn’t doing that, I was an Indian
      trying to scalp my sister. Therefore, I don’t think I had a choice. If I was going to write, it was
      going to be about animals.  

Hurt Go Happy also has a deaf protagonist. What experiences or research did you do to be able to write about Joey? 

The moment I decided my main character would be deaf I started reading everything I could find about the Deaf. I was living in Miami at the time, and signed up for a sign language class at the community college. Portraying a deaf character, when I knew next to nothing about being deaf, was a scary undertaking. I literally spent years on that aspect of my research, and am very proud of the positive response I’ve gotten from the deaf community. A couple of Deaf fans recently made a wonderful video ad for HGH. 

Being an author is not your first career, what made you decide to become a writer?

I didn’t. Writing chose me. The first written word of mine ever published was an editorial about a lost dog for a Miami newspaper. It was 1982, and I was 38. An editor called my home and said if I could write like that they’d publish anything I wrote. At the time, I was attending University of Miami, working on a degree in Biology, and had reached the stage where Organic chemistry, Calculus and Physics were looming. Because of that phone call, on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class. For the next 3 years, with the encouragement of Evelyn Wilde Mayerson, Lester Goran, and pats on the head by Isaac Bashevis Singer and James Michener I was, by 1985, committed to becoming a writer and had begun work on the novel that would eventually become Dolphin Sky. I never did take those courses, and graduated from the U of M with a dual major in Biology and English—a combination that is serving me well, since the relationship of children to nature, and the treatment of animals, are my subject matter.

Are you reading anything good right now? Do you have a favorite genre? 

Actually, I read a lot of non-fiction, historical fiction, and some mystery. I’m not a fan of fantasy. At the moment I’m reading Pope Joan, and The Book Thief. The first takes place in the Dark Ages, and the latter during WWII.

What is the best writing advice that you ever received and what advice would you give an inspiring writer? 

WRITE. Writing is an art form. To be good at it one must practice. We write every day, but grocery lists, e-mails and text messages to friends, don’t count. I wish I had a nickel for each time someone has told me they are going to write a book one day. They think it’s just a matter finding the time. Oddly, no one thinks that by sitting down at a piano, they will be able to play a rhapsody, or that by strapping on a pair of ballet slippers one will be able to perform Swan Lake. No one thinks that becoming a great athlete is a matter of luck. Everything one does well takes years of practice to perfect. It’s the same for writers.

If someone is really interested in taking the time to become a writer, then they need to start today. Keep a journal. Experiment with writing poetry, short stories, even the book reports you have to do for a class. And keep them all. I’m embarrassed to say I have every story I’ve ever written. They are a useful gauge of the progress I’ve made over the years. Writing well is about rewriting. I can read what I wrote yesterday, a month ago, a year ago, and see my mistakes, see what is needed to make it better. I’m editing this as I write. I’ll reread it a dozen times before I send it back to you—and I will still miss something, or realize I could have said it differently, and better. 

As for the best advice to give an aspiring writer:  Don’t come to the end and think it’s ready to go. Rewrite it, then rewrite it again. Try to get a second opinion—but not from a family member. Get the opinion of another writer. Better yet, join a writers group.

When I finish something, I put it in my closet, and start a new project. In a month or so, I’ll dust it off and read it again. By then I’ve forgotten the pain I went through trying to write it in the first place and am no longer attached to each and every word. I can edit viciously.

Read it aloud to yourself. You will hear your mistakes. If you don’t find a million words to change, or think of a dozen additions to the plot, or to the characterizations, perhaps you are that rare genius.

I like this quote: “I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”   ~James Michener

At Teach Mentor Texts, we are all about promoting literacy and spreading the love of books.  How do you finish the statement: Writing is...?


Exhaling.

What about: Reading is...?


Inhaling.

This is not original with me, but it definitely applies. If I didn’t read I couldn’t write. One can read and not be a writer, but writers can’t write without reading.
Readers who aren’t writers still exhale. Reading teaches us to think—about the world, our place in it, our experiences and vicariously live through the experiences of other. Sharing this knowledge is exhaling no matter what your profession.

“The brain that doesn't feed itself, eats itself.”  Gore Vidal

Thank you so much Ginny! Inspiring as always! I am so glad that my first author friend 
and one whose novel is one of my favorites ever could help us celebrate. 


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