Today's guest author is Ginny Rorby, award-winning author of Dolphin Sky, Hurt Go Happy, The Outside of a Horse, and 2011's Lost in the River of Grass. Ginny shares with us her unusual route to publishing, her writing process, and her involvement with the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference.
Some of us have had some inkling that we wanted to be writers from an early age.
Others, like Ginny, stumbled upon this career path quite by chance. She was a flight attendant with National Airlines, then Pan Am for twenty-three years, and writing never even crossed her mind.
A former junior College drop-out, and a terrible English student in High School, Ginny went back to college in her thirties, attending classes during the week and working the London flights on the weekends. She would do her homework in the galley with her books spread out in front of the ovens. Ginny received a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and English from the University of Miami and eventually an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University.
1. You kind of stumbled upon writing by chance. Can you tell us a little about that and how you became a writer?
In early August 1982, I was in the offices of the Miami News and, while waiting for the editor, I began cleaning out my purse and found the letter I’d written about the dog. I scrawled, We Found Your Dog, at the top of the page and gave it to the woman who came to review the pictures I’d brought to show her.
The next day an editor with the News called my home and left a message with my husband—a single sentence. “Tell her if she can write like that, we’ll publish anything she writes.”
Because of that phone call, on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class at the University of Miami. Eventually, with the encouragement of Evelyn Wilde Mayerson and Lester Goran, and a pat or two 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.
DS is the story of a young girl’s friendship with a pair of dolphins that were kept in a freshwater pond as part of roadside tourist attraction in the Everglades. After that initial round of rejections I rewrote it, taking out the sex scene between her father and a visiting research biologist, and my agent started submitting it to editors of children’s fiction. Eight rejections later it finally sold.
I just finished reading What a Plant Knows as part of the ongoing research for a YA novel I’ve been writing based on the 1974 book, The Secret Life of Plants. For pleasure reading, I just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and am about half-way through Longitude.
about your writing process when starting a new book.
I think I’m a little of both. I really need a fully formed plot in my head before I start the research, then I crack my knuckles, wiggle my arms, shake my legs and let the research and the stories I pick up in the process, inform the track the novel takes. In THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, every scene is based in fact. I maintained the original concept for the story like the background of a painting, and then layered in the details.
DOLPHIN SKY and HURT GO HAPPY both came into my head fully plotted, but I remained open to changing what didn’t work, and working in new information as it presented itself. As for LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS, I stole the entire story from my husband. He’s the one who sank his airboat while showing off for an ex-girlfriend, and together they walked out of the Everglades. I did turn it into YA, so the school field trip to the Everglades is basically the only fictional part.
I volunteered to help find housing for presenters in 1996. When Marlis Broadhead who started the conference in 1989, moved to Oklahoma, Suzanne Byerley and I stepped forward. She and I ran it for the next 9 years until she moved to Ohio. We turned it over to Charlotte Gullick for a couple of years until she left to run a community college Creative Writing program in Austin, TX. Maureen Eppstein took over as director and here we are—ready to celebrate our 24th year in 2013.
Tap into your teen-aged angst. I remember how small my world was, and how every crisis seemed like something I would never get over. I have an ambylopic (a lazy) eye, and my greatest fear was that my mother would make me wear my glasses. There were no contact lens back then, and only nerds and geeks wore glasses, right? Every time I try to imagine how a kid fears ridicule, I remember the terror I felt every time I was called on to read in class. If my eyes were tired, I had to turn that eye in to see the page. Because I had so much trouble seeing, my grades were horrible, but it was more important to be popular. Telling you this story is looking back from my adult perspective, and in telling you this story I’ve written it for adults. Showing that kind of angst for a teen character is YA writing. The YA writer has to burrow back into the teen experience—be that kid with 13, 14, 15 years of experience living in the world. If you are writing from hindsight, with all the knowledge and worldliness you’ve acquired, you are writing an adult book.
I did a one-on-one critique at this year’s writer’s conference. The woman was writing about an overweight young girl trying to lose enough weight—by scary means—to be popular. She revealed that she had been overweight as a girl, and that her brother used to tease her about it—pretend to stick her with a pin to let the fat out like air out of a balloon. “Is that in there?” I asked. “No,” she answered. My parting words to her and to all YA/MS writers: Revisit your pain and use it to make your story ring with authenticity.