Saturday, September 23, 2023

Q&A with Rosanne Parry


Photo by Brian Garaths



Rosanne Parry is the author of the new middle grade novel A Horse Named Sky, which is part of her Voice of the Wilderness series. Her other books include A Wolf Called Wander. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write A Horse Named Sky, and how did you create your character Sky?


A: When I'm looking for a Voice of the Wilderness story, I always need an animal that is smart, social, and in an ecosystem accessible to me.


As much as I love elephants, gorillas, and chimpanzees, an extended trip to Africa isn't possible for me. So, I've stuck with the Pacific Northwest, a landscape I know and love with an abundance of public land.


Wild horses are so iconic to American history, they were a natural choice and there are easily observable populations of them in Eastern Oregon and Northwestern Nevada.


In a horse family the lead stallion is a fierce protector of his mares and foals, but he drives away the young male horses just as they are coming of age. The only way for a colt to stay is to fight the stallion and win. That's a dramatic moment in a colt's life.


I asked myself, what if there was a colt who wanted to stay with his family but didn't want to fight? What would he choose? Could he become a leader without fighting? A good question is often the starting point in character development for me.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Parry’s moving story follows the pattern of her recent animal tales, A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild, chronicling a wild animal’s life in the first person, imagining its point of view, and detailing and appreciating the natural world it inhabits." What do you think of that description, and what connections do you see between this novel and your previous novels about animals?


A: Greenwillow and I have decided to call these animal-narrated novels the Voice of the Wilderness books. They are not a traditional series, but they are definitely companion books.


It's been a treat to work on books that sink so deeply into the natural world. I think that reversing climate change will be the fight of our lifetime. I believe that humans are uniquely organized to protect what we love.


My hope is that these books will help children all over the world feel a connection to the wilderness and be willing to do the hard work of defending the natural world and healing the climate. If we can do that, then that the natural world will do its work of sustaining our lives.


Q: Did you do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?


A: I love the research process. For each book I write, I read 20-30 books and find all sorts of experts to interview. I also spend time in the field, both watching the animal I'm writing about and closely observing the environment where they live.


It's not enough to say horses eat grass. I need to know which grasses they eat and which they shun. Do all wildflowers taste the same? I tasted them to find out. Some flowers are sweet and some sour and some bitter.


I was surprised to learn that sagebrush is eaten by horses but almost always in the winter when the sage changes in ways that make it easier to digest and more nutritious. Amazing!


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started working on it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew from the start that I wanted my conflict-avoiding character Sky to find something worth fighting for--and allies in the fight. Getting all the story elements to lead to that conclusion took some arranging and rearranging.


At this point in my writing career, I outline my books closer to the beginning of the process. It helps me focus my research and keep on track for my deadlines. But I also like to leave room for research and experience to lead me toward a more interesting story.


For example, I had never heard of the California Indian Act of 1850, and its provisions which made the enslavement of Indigenous people legal. When I learned about it, how it took indigenous children from their families, I knew I wanted to draw attention to this little-known part of the American slavery story.


So, I developed a stable boy character in the Pony Express who is a Paiute child, a person that Sky comes to love dearly. A person who inspires him to fight for his own freedom. Fortunately the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 ended the most egregious provisions of the California Indian Act and the entire law was repealed in 1937.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm just wrapping up work on a nonfiction picture book about the impact wolves have had on the environment in Yellowstone National Park. It's called The Wolf Effect and it is headed to stores in May of 2024.


The illustrator is Jennifer Thermes, whose work I've admired for years. I'm over the moon to be working with her!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Readers who would like a signed and personalized copy of A Horse Named Sky can contact my local indie bookstore, Annie Blooms, with directions about who to dedicate the book to and where to ship it. You can find them at or 503-246-0053 .


I will be appearing at the Las Vegas Book Festival Oct. 21 and at the Portland Book Festival on Nov. 4.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rosanne Parry.

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