The Story Behind the Story by Beth Orsoff April 5, 2011Posted by Jaidis in Being Green, Books.
Tags: Authors, Featured, Interviews
The Story Behind the Story
Why an Entertainment Attorney from Los Angeles Would Write a Book About Walruses
I have a confession to make. Actually, a few confessions. I’ve never been to Alaska, I’ve never seen a walrus in-person, and I occasionally throw my empty Diet Coke can into the regular trash container instead of holding onto it until I can find a recycling bin. But I feel really guilty about that last one.
The question I’m most often asked about this book is “Why did you write it?” I admit it’s not a natural fit. My first book, “Romantically Challenged,” was about a Los Angeles lawyer who goes on a quest to find The One. Although I’ve been married for seven years, no one found that book surprising. (I did a lot of dating before I was married.)
Nor were friends puzzled by the topic of my second book, “Honeymoon for One.” Sure, it’s about a woman who, after being dumped at the altar, goes on her honeymoon alone, and then gets accused of killing her fake husband in a third world country where she can’t speak the language. But everyone knows I love to plan vacations.
But Alaska? The Arctic? Walruses? I don’t even like cold weather! The only explanation is I’m a sucker for cute baby animals. Even cute baby walruses.
Here’s how it happened. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in April 2006. I was thumbing through the newspaper while waiting for my husband 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 the calves without their mothers because young pups don’t know how to forage. 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 stated that for the entire twenty-four hours they spent in that location, the walruses circled the boat and cried. 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 home, I was practically in tears.
He read the article over my shoulder as I cut it out of the newspaper. (This was when I still read the newspaper in paper form.) Until this point, I had primarily written light, humorous fiction. When I told my husband 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.
Since I knew nothing about walruses beyond what I’d read in that article, I started researching, and kept on researching. I began with several books about Alaska, then I moved 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. Since thousands of male walruses haul-out on this island every summer, it, or Wilde Island, its fictional twin, was the natural setting for the book.
More digging unearthed the walrus tagging program, which I also fictionalized and wove into the story. I was lucky enough to find a short video clip on NPR’s website that discussed the program, which led me to one of the scientists who participated in it. I e-mailed him and he graciously agreed to a phone interview. Speaking to one of the scientists who had actually tagged 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 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 them. I have to admit, those were hard to watch. And like Sydney, I no longer think polar bears are quite so cute.
Although the book is fiction, it’s based in fact. The walruses really are endangered. While the Save the Walrus Foundation is a product of my imagination, many existing groups and agencies are trying to save the walrus. Let’s hope they succeed.
I absolutely loved Beth’s book How I Learned to Love the Walrus! You can check out my review of it Here!
Be sure to check out my Being Green Giveaway to enter for your chance to win a digital copy of How I Learned to Love the Walrus!
Also, be sure to stop by and tell Beth hello on Facebook!