Monday, August 11, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (with interview and giveaway)

WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (Random House, June 2013)

What It's About (from the book jacket):  Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe.

But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.

Opening Lines: "I don't need my eyes to tell me what's coming, and I don't need my great-granddaughter's hand on my elbow to keep me from stumbling. I know my way to the beach. For eighty-nine years, these feet have known the land of my tribe. I won't fall now. Not today. Not after waiting so long."

Why I Liked It: I have to admit here that Rosanne Parry is a real-life friend of mine. We are in the same critique group in Portland, Oregon, and she has been a huge mentor to my writing.

That said, I was not a member of the critique group when Written in Stone was first written, so I did not see its genesis. I can truthfully say however that Rosanne worked on the story for years--ever since she started her teaching career in Taholah, Washington, on the Quinault Indian reservation, and the story is very dear to her heart.

The story is framed by the resumption of whaling for the Makah people in 1999--which is referred to in the opening lines quoted above. We learn that Pearl was a girl of thirteen when the Makah voluntarily gave up whaling in the 1920s, and the bulk of the story is concerned with her as a young girl, coming to grips with the deaths of both her parents.

The story starts powerfully, with the return of a whale hunt and the horrible realization by Pearl that her father is dead. I will quote this at length because it shows the lyrical strength of Parry's writing:
"The drums faltered and fell silent. The welcome song waited in my mouth. Seven silhouettes bent over their paddles. There was no shout or raised arms, no trail of seabirds and sharks. Grandma counted, "Pau, saali, chakla, muus..." She wept before she came to seven. I did not count. I knew where the harpooner sat. My body held still as stone, but my mind flew out over the ocean like a seagull looking north and south, crying in a gull's one-note voice.
Gone. Gone. Gone."
Just as she did in her celebrated debut, Heart of a Shepherd, Rosanne Parry's writing sweeps the reader along. She also has an unerring ability to pull on a reader's heartstrings without being mawkish.

Other things I liked: the strong family structure of the Makah, and the number of strong women in Pearl's life, particularly her Grandmother and her Aunt Susi, who show her the way forward. The historical details are well-woven into the narrative, so that they come up seamlessly--particularly the 1918 influenza epidemic which killed Pearl's mother and baby sister, the dealings with the Indian agent--"The Mustache"--who goes on "for many sentences, dishonoring us with the free use of a dead man's name," and the suspicious "art collector," Mr. Glen, who is really focused on surveying the Makah land for oil.

This is a story well-told and heart-felt, one that lingers in the memory long after the final page is turned. (And the cover is gorgeous!)

I asked Rosanne to answer the Traditional Mafioso Questions, and she kindly obliged:

Interview with Rosanne:
1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Well, I happen to be having tea with 3 of my favorite middle grade authors today, Susan Blackaby (Brownie Groundhog and the Wintery Surprise--okay this is a picture book but she also writes for older readers), Heather Vogel Frederick, (the Mother-Daughter book club series) and Susan Fletcher (The Falcon in the Glass). I am a lifelong fan of Beverly Cleary and a brand new fan of debut author Robin Herrara (Hope is a Ferris Wheel). And that's just the Portland authors I like! Obviously I could go on and on.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
I met Luis Alberto Urrea at the Summer Fishtrap Workshop this year, so I've just finished his book Into the Beautiful North, which is lovely. Against all the noise of border-crossing children you hear in the news, it was a refreshing look at the issue from the migrating child's point of view.  Besides that I have a bunch of books about wolves for a non-fiction project I'm working on and a really fun reference book called Home Ground which is a series of descriptions of natural features of North America as described by poets and writers of literary fiction. It's surprisingly fascinating. For example, when a tree falls over and heaves its root ball out of the ground, the depression left behind is called a tree tip pit.  Cool!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I really like the scene where Pearl discovers the petroglyphs. I love the way art tends to encourage reflection and meaning-making, so this was a great way for my character to have an encounter with a work of art and gain an insight into her own life's purpose. It took a lot of research to make sure that the scene would work, but I'm very happy with how it came out.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
Making jam. Using up fruit is a bit of a game at my house. We have apple, plum, peach and pear trees, plus blueberries, raspberries and loganberries. Last week I made lavender peach jam and plum sauce. Next, raspberry jam, and then pear chutney and caramel apple butter. 

5) My favorite breakfast is..
At the moment I'm very fond of blueberry pancakes because the blueberries in my yard are ripe.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Gosh, any place at all? Hmm. I'd love to take my family to all the great national parks in the US. I'd love to just pack up the canoe and the camping stuff for the whole summer and drive to Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Redwoods, the Everglades, Denali, the Smoky Mountains, Arches, and the Volcano Park in Hawaii (okay that would be a challenge to drive to).  How about you Mike? Do you have a favorite national park?

Me: Well, Rosanne, I hate to admit I have only ever been to Yellowstone.Several years ago, I was traveling back from the midwest with my sister-in-law, who had just completed medical school in Wisconsin, and I thought that riding shotgun with her and her belongings would afford me a wonderful way to see the country. However, I made a serious faux-pas in Yellowstone because of the British pronunciation of the word geysers. In Britain, we call those hot water spouts "geezers." So, when I loudly exclaimed in front of Old Faithful and the surrounding geysers, as well as the motor coaches disgorging bands of senior citizens, that I had "never seen so many geezers," I got a whole bunch of dirty looks. Oops!

About the Author: Rosanne Parry is the author of the award winning novels Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle, and Written in Stone. She has taught writing at schools, conferences, educational non-profits, and online at the Loft Literary Center. She and her husband live in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon where they are raising 4 children, 3 chickens and 5 kinds of fruit. She writes in a tree house in her back yard.

Website: Rosanne Parry
Twitter: @RosanneParry

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Rosanne. Readers, Rosanne has generously offered a signed paperback copy of Written in Stone. Leave a comment if you would like to be in the running. International entries welcome.

(And the winner of Kimberley Griffiths Little's In the Time of the Fireflies is... Myrna Foster!)


  1. I enjoyed the author background you shared. Writing is a long journey. This story sounds very intriguing and the few lines you chose were superb. Might make a great read-aloud.

  2. Agreed on the opening of this book...and even better is the promise is kept that we are heading into a _great_ story. Thanks for sharing and as always I _love_ these interviews.Have not read The Mother Daughter Book Club books, but I will!

  3. Very interesting interview. The book sounds like a good one. I especially like the geezer story. Thanks for all of this.

  4. Catching up from a blogging break and had to stop by and read your interview. I loved this book too. Loved getting to know Roseanne better with these questions. Sounds like Portland is spilling over with talented authors. And I'm still laughing about your "old geezer" gaffe, Michael.


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