Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet Ginny Rorby

Ginny writes novels for young people about the relationship between humans and animals. I have read two of her books, THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE and HURT GO HAPPY, each of which moved me to tears.

Tell us a little about yourself, Ginny. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get your start?

Becoming a writer had never so much as crossed my mind. English was my worst subject in high school. How I became one is a testimony to how a small act of kindness can change a person’s life.

In 1981, I wrote a letter to the owners of a dog a friend of mine found. The young dog was skin and bones, with maggot-filled sores on her sides, diseased eyes, and the only fur left on her body a single long patch down the back of her neck. I wrote her owners a letter describing how the poor dog ended her life. Of course, I had no one to send it to, so the letter stayed folded in a pocket of my purse a year.

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, John Hopkins, a copy editor with the News, called my home and left a message with my husband—a single sentence. “Tell her,” he said, “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 began working on the novel that would eventually become my first book - DOLPHIN SKY.

What made you decide to write for children and young adults?

The first 6 rejects. My agent sent DOLPHIN SKY—per my request—to editors of adult fiction, all of whom sent it back with the same snappy little comment, “This is not adult fiction.” 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. 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 first became aware of your work through your new book THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE.” I adored this book and blogged about it earlier here and over on Equestrian Ink. Tell us a little about what led you to write it.

In 2007, I’d known for nearly 30 years that people in other countries ate horses. I even knew that during World War II, we ate them in this country, 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, 100,800 horses were slaughtered to satisfy the appetite for horsemeat, primarily in the countries of France, Japan and Belgium. At the time this program aired, the last U.S. slaughterhouse had just been ordered closed in DeKalb, Illinois, by the now infamous Governor Rod Blagojevich.

I wrote the statistics down, but I still didn’t have an idea of where to go with the information. Then on July 4th, I was still idealess when Couric did a story about the horses that pull the caissons at Arlington National Cemetery. 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.

One of the themes that struck me in THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE was the healing power of a human/animal relationship. This has fascinated me for some time. Do your other novels have this same theme? Expand on this a little.

That is my shtick—so far. My new book, LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS (Lerner, March ’11) is a departure of sorts in that there isn’t an animal main character. Two kids go for a joyride in an airboat, sink it, and have to walk out of the Everglades. The Everglades is a main character in the book, which is about the healing power of the natural world. I have never understood the requirement of a roof over one’s head to praise one’s god. Talk about imprisoning the mind and the spirit.

Tell us a little about your background with animals, Ginny, and how that influences your writing.

I always loved animals, and was fascinated by them. As a little kid, I had a collection of animals in jars--dead lizards, snakes and birds found covered with ants that I’d rinse off in the lake, and then put in alcohol. I used to pick the bones out of owl pellets, then paste the reconstructed skeleton to the cardboard inserts that came in my dad’s Arrow shirts.

The mistreatment of animals pushes all my buttons, and I firmly believe that animal abuse and child abuse are linked. If you can mistreat one you can potentially harm the other. My books draw a parallel between these issues.

I recently read HURT GO HAPPY, your second novel, about the relationship between a deaf girl and a chimp who learns sign language. I was quite moved by this story. Did a great deal of research go into this novel?

At least a decade’s worth. I knew nothing about being deaf and less about chimpanzees. From idea to publication took 18 years. Note: Ginny is interviewed here explaining her research for HURT GO HAPPY.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you work from an outline, or set your characters on the page and just see what happens?

I really need the whole plot in my head before I start the research, then I let the research, and the stories I pick up in the process inform the story. In THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, every story in it is either true or based in fact. I just pieced them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Ginny, you mentioned a new book coming out from Lerner called LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS, and I know you're working on a rewrite of DOLPHIN SKY. Sounds like you are one busy lady. Any other projects you can tell us about?

I’ve just finished a first draft of a book about a kid with Asperger’s syndrome, a ghost and a whale. I have another one written based on the book The Secret Life of Plants, and am working on one about an orphan and a dog. Oh, and there is the fictionalized memoir from my dead-animals-in-jars days.

Okay, final question, from one animal lover to another – what’s your favorite animal?

All of them. For the last six years, I’ve had a bat living in my upstairs bathroom for whom I leave the door ajar so he can come and go. It would be easier to answer which animals I don’t like: Cockroaches and Jerusalem crickets.

Ginny - thank you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Ginny and her books, please visit her website at

Book Giveaway!!

Ginny is giving away two copies of her award-winning book HURT GO HAPPY! Read about the book here. To enter:

* Leave a comment on this blog.

* Follow this blog for another entry (includes current followers)

*Repost or retweet this contest for another chance to win

Contest open through December 5th, 2010, when 2 (two!) winners will be chosen at random, and books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!


Monica said...

I just put all these books on my TBR list.


Alison said...

Great interview, Linda!

Enter me--because I can never have too many horse books!

Linda Benson said...

Monica and Alison, you are entered in the contest. But Alison, just to be clear. Ginny is giving away two copies of her book HURT GO HAPPY (which is awesome, by the way!)

Lynne Kelly said...

Wow, all these books sound fascinating! I'm an animal person (and a sign language person), so I'll be on the lookout for these.

Lynne Kelly said...

Oh, I'm also a blog follower & retweeted the contest!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Wonderful interview! Ginny Rorby's books sound amazing! Thanks, Linda.

Dreaming said...

Oh,pick me! Pick me! I love books!
One can never have enough of them.

GladysMP said...

How often does a person get a message saying "if you can write like this we will take everything you write?" Wow! Animal-themed books are special to me for animals add such enriching experiences to life.

Jen Vincent said...

I work with students who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and I just read HURT GO HAPPY. I thought it was brilliantly written. I am a vegan, too so I thought the animal story was just as interesting as the deafness aspect. Great interview!

Linda Benson said...

Lynne Kelly and Dreaming - You have each won a copy of HURT GO HAPPY! Please contact me linda (at)lindabenson (dot) net with a mailing address, so your books can be shipped. Congratulations! And thanks to everyone for entering.

Dreaming said...

Woohoo! I am excited! I can't wait to read the book. You made my week!
I'll send you contact info via email.

Thanks, again!