22 December 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Interview with author Beth Orsoff

I’m taking a small break this week (and last week), but I had a chance to interview the author of a recent review (How I Learned to Love the Walrus) and I completely jumped at it. I really wanted to know the answer to my first question, the scene she wrote about that moment will stay with me for a very long time. But first, a little about her book… (stay with it, it’s a long one, but some interesting insight from the author!)

“How I Learned to Love the Walrus,” Beth Orsoff’s new novel, is a humorous take on the question: In an age of cynicism, is it possible to become an idealist?

When Los Angeles publicist Sydney Green convinces her boss to let her produce a documentary for the Save the Walrus Foundation, the only one Sydney Green is interested in saving is herself. The walruses are merely a means to improving her career and her love life, and not necessarily in that order. Sydney would’ve killed the project the second she learned she’d be the one having to spend a month in rural Alaska if it had been for any other client. But for rising star and sometimes boyfriend Blake McKinley, no sacrifice is ever too great.

Yet a funny thing happens on the way to the Arctic. A gregarious walrus pup, a cantankerous scientist, an Australian sex goddess, a Star Wars obsessed six-year-old, and friends and nemeses both past and present rock Sydney Green’s well-ordered world. Soon Sydney is forced to choose between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.

1. Walruses are such an unusual subject matter. What inspired you to write about them?

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in April 2006. I was thumbing through the newspaper while waiting for my husband to return home when I came across an article about a bunch of walrus calves that had been found abandoned in the deep waters of the Arctic Ocean. According to the article, it was very unusual to find walrus calves without their mothers because young pups don’t know how to forage for food. They depend on their mothers for their survival. The scientists guessed that the walrus cows had followed the sea ice north in search of food and never returned. The article contained a photo of one of the baby walruses treading water, and a quote from a scientist on board the ship who said for the entire twenty-four hours they spent in that location, the walruses swam around the boat crying. The scientists knew there was no hope of rescue and the calves would likely drown or starve to death. It was heartbreaking, both for them and for me. By the time my husband arrived, I was practically in tears.

My husband read the article over my shoulder as I cut it out of the newspaper. Until this point, I had primarily written light, humorous fiction. When I told him this would be my next book, he not surprisingly asked, “How the hell are you going to turn that into chick lit?” My answer: “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.”

The figuring it out part was a lot harder than I had imagined. All I knew when I started was that that scene would be in the book and it would have a profound influence on the protagonist. And “How I Learned to Love the Walrus” was born.

2. This book contains a lot of detail about walruses and the Arctic. Did it require much research?

Yes! I’ve never been to Alaska or the Arctic, and all I knew about walruses when I started this book was what I’d read in that newspaper article. Almost every aspect of this book needed to be researched.

I began with several books about Alaska, then I started researching online. Initially I was searching for background information on the walruses when I discovered the website for Round Island, one of seven islands in Bristol Bay, Alaska that make up the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, where thousands of male walruses haul-out every summer, and which I used as the basis for Wilde Island in the book. More digging unearthed the walrus tagging program, which I also fictionalized in the book. I was lucky enough to find a short video clip on NPR’s website that discussed the walrus tagging program and led me to one of the scientists who participated in it. I e-mailed him and he graciously agreed to a phone interview. Talking to one of the scientists who had actually tagged the walruses, and others such as a former manager of Round Island, a climate scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, and a representative from the Alaska SeaLife Center, proved invaluable. I’m so thankful to everyone who patiently answered my many questions.

I also read everything I could find on walruses, life in the Arctic, and the impact of global warming on the Arctic environment and its inhabitants; and spent innumerable hours watching videos of walruses in the wild, including several of polar bears attacking walruses. I have to admit, those were hard to watch. And like Sydney, I no longer think polar bears are quite so cute.

3. Is the organization mentioned in the book, the Save the Walrus Foundation, a real rescue organization?

No, that’s fiction. But many existing groups and agencies are trying to save the walrus. One such organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, has petitioned the U.S. government to protect the walrus under the Endangered Species Act and has filed numerous lawsuits in attempts to safeguard the walrus’s Arctic habitat. You can find them at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/.

4 The protagonist is a Hollywood publicist. You’re an entertainment attorney. Was your background useful?

Yes, while everything having to do with Alaska and the walruses required research, the Hollywood angle did not. I’m comfortable enough with the milieu to make it up.

5. What number book is this for you?

This is my third published novel and the fourth one I’ve written. My first book, “Romantically Challenged,” was originally published by Penguin/NAL in 2006, about the same time I read the article that inspired me to write this book. I recently republished it myself as an e-book. My third book, “Honeymoon for One,” is also available as an e-book. My second book, “Disengaged,” currently resides on my computer’s hard drive. At some point I may release it as an e-book, but for now I’m working on something new.

6. They say the first book is always about you. Is “Romantically Challenged” autobiographical?

No, but everyone thinks it is. Although I did my fair share of dating, I was already involved with my husband for many years when I started writing it, and we were married by the time it was published.

“Romantically Challenged” is the story of Julie Burns, a single thirty-something lawyer who after being dumped and disgraced by her boyfriend, decides to reenter dating hell in search of that one elusive commodity—a decent guy . . . who steals her heart, of course.

When Julie becomes convinced that finding The One is “just a numbers game,” she sets out to increase her numbers by any means necessary. From chance meetings and blind dates to dating services and the wonderful world of the Internet, Julie will try anything to meet her man. And in the process, she discovers a couple of secrets about the single life: Sometimes love sneaks up on you when you least expect it—and even the worst first impressions can have surprising results. . . .

7. Since your married, presumably your honeymoon wasn’t for one. What inspired you to write a book about a woman who goes on her honeymoon alone?

I hated planning my wedding, but I lovingly slaved over every detail of my honeymoon. One night after we’d returned from our trip I had a dream about a woman who was jilted by her fiancé but she still wants to go on the honeymoon, so she decides to go alone. That was the starting point for “Honeymoon for One,” which shows that there are worse things in life than being dumped at the altar. Like being accused of killing your fake husband in a third world country where you can’t speak the language, for example.

When Lizzie Mancini booked her honeymoon to the secluded Blue Bay Beach Resort on the small Caribbean island of Camus Caye she thought it would be relaxing to spend the week at an isolated couples-only retreat. But that was before she knew she’d be honeymooning sans groom. Touring alone, dining alone, and worst of all, having to explain to the resort’s thirty other guests why she was staying in the bridal suite alone—Lizzie was dreading it. But it still beat the alternative, eight more days hibernating in her empty apartment feeling sorry for herself.

Then Lizzie meets Michael, a gold-chained antiquities dealer who offers to play her husband for the week no strings (or sex) attached. The plan works perfectly until Lizzie spends the night with scuba instructor Jack, and Michael’s body washes up on Blue Bay’s pristine shore. Lizzie quickly becomes Polizia Nationale’s number one suspect and the only way she can prove her innocence is to solve Michael’s murder herself.

8. What’s the new book about it?

I have no idea. There are two kinds of writers—plotters and pantsters. Plotters outline their story and know exactly where they’re headed before they write their first word. Pantsters “fly by the seat of their pants” or make it up as they go along. I’m a pantster. I begin with almost nothing—a dream, an article, a vague notion. Then I start writing and see where it takes me. I love not knowing what’s going to happen next. That’s the fun of writing the book, and what keeps me writing. I want to know how the story ends. I think Stephen King said it best in his book “On Writing” – I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader.

Beth, thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions and give us a lot more information, I cannot wait to read your next one!

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