Today we’re stepping inside the workspace of author Rosanne Parry–or rather, I should say stepping outside to the workspace of Rosanne Parry.
Rosanne Parry’s first novel, Heart of a Shepherd, was published in 2009 and is being released in paperback this week. Heart of a Shepherd has earned itself a long list of awards and rave reviews including the Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year 2009, Horn Book Fanfare Best Books of 2009, and the Indy Next pick for spring of 2009. It has also been optioned for a movie. Most recently, Heart of a Shepherd was chosen by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English to be the 2010 Oregon Spirit Book Award.
The book’s description from the publisher reads: When Brother’s dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch, but also reveal his true calling.
On her website, Rosanne shares a great account of how she got the idea for Heart of a Shepherd. It took 7 years and 5 months from the time she got the initial seed of an idea to it becoming a fully realized novel that was accepted for publication by her editor. That’s an encouraging anecdote for those of us toiling away on our own first novels, and a reminder that patience and perseverance can pay off.
She has also written a picture book titled Daddy’s Home which was published by Candy Cane Press. I loved what she had to say on her website about what inspired her to write this picture book: “I wrote this rollicking celebration of Daddy and the end of the day because I never want to forget the joy of seeing my children run to their dad every day when he came home from work. I wrote it because I love that the routine a child demands is often a routine the parent needs.”
Rosanne Parry’s second novel is titled Second Fiddle and will be published in spring of 2011. Rosanne shared with me the recent, exciting news that Second Fiddle was picked up by Listening Library, which means it will also be available in audio book format.
And now, let’s climb up into her workspace.
Since it’s summer, I’ll tell you about my summer office. I write in a tree house in my backyard. It’s a small platform about 8 or 9 feet off the ground in a big douglas fir tree. The trees all around me are a walnut, a few cedar, a small grove of wild cherry, and a mountain ash that has bright red rowan berries in the late summer which attract swarms of birds.
There is nothing in my office but a small folding table, a rolling chair, and a squirrel-proof box with a few odds and ends of office supplies. I prop up a white board if I need it. But otherwise, its just me, my laptop, notebook and pencils, and a water bottle.
Describe a typical workday.
In the summer, I usually ride my bike every morning for at least an hour before it gets hot. It gives me time to get my thoughts in order. When I get home I organize my kids for whatever is occurring in their day. I usually get a few household chores out of the way–a load of laundry on the line, a little attention for the chickens and the garden.
I try to work in the tree for 3 or 4 hours before lunch. After lunch I often take my kids to the community pool and work for an hour or so while they swim. If I have errands to run, that comes after lunch too. Luckily there’s a grocery store, a library, and a video store in easy biking distance from home.
I try to get back in my tree house for another two to four hours in the afternoon. Sometimes my kids have dance or music in the afternoon and then I tote my work along.
In the evenings we have family supper and games and music, so I try to wait until my children are asleep to get back to work. Depending on whether or not I have a deadline, I might work 2 to 5 more hours at night. Because there is no electricity in my tree I have to work in doors after dark. sigh . . .
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I think what I love about my tree house is that there is nothing up there. No things at all, just me and the work and plenty of sunshine and fresh air plus an occasional visit from my chickens.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I try to avoid rituals which can be as distracting as things. Although to be fair, climbing the tree and sweeping out the cobwebs and setting up the computer is its own little ritual.
What do you listen to while you work?
I love many kinds of music but I usually listen to classical when I’m writing. Anything with lyrics in a language I speak is too distracting.
My most recent book, Second Fiddle, is set in Berlin and Paris and is all about music so I listened to the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach and other German baroque pieces while I was writing the scenes set in Berlin. When the story moved on to Paris I listened to lots of flamenco guitar and violin music. A favorite recording of mine was “Andalucia” by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sergio and Odair Assad.
I listened to American composers when I wrote Heart of a Shepherd.
No food is a huge advantage to working in my tree house. It’s completely open, so any food I would bring up would be devoured by birds and squirrels. They wander through my workspace all day long. I always bring up water and sometimes when it’s really hot my youngest climbs up with popsicles to share.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I write in a composition book in pencil, not because I’m a luddite or anything. I just like to write outside and it’s easier to write by hand. No worries about rain or the state of my battery or dropping my computer if I happen to be writing in my favorite tree. Composition books are cheap and I buy 144 pencils at the beginning of the school year which lasts me and my kids about 9 months. After school when I’m driving my kids from place to place I bring my comp book and computer and type up what I’ve written that day perched in various waiting rooms about town or sometimes in the coffee shop nearby.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I need a fairly specific idea for a main character and a setting and a general idea of an outcome before I begin. I’m not much of an outliner early in the process. I do work out a very detailed outline after I have a working draft.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
The need to put four kids through college is marvelously motivating. Actually my problem is more un-focusing at the end of my workday than staying on task. If I have a character I love, the hours just vanish and find myself looking up to realize it’s almost dark and I haven’t fed my family in hours.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I’m pretty happy with who I share my workspace with now. Birds and squirrels wander through all day long. My kids climb up as they need. Sometimes neighbor kids tag along. I keep my cell phone with me in case my parents need me. But I’m content with the level of hubbub in my writing life. In fact, I chose to be a writer so that I could be home with my children and parents when they need me.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
These are not about writing specifically but I think of them often while I’m working. One is from Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” The other is from Churchill: “Success is going from failure to failure without loosing your enthusiasm.”
As for writing advice, I had a high school English teacher who said that because of the way English is structured, most errors in grammar and usage involve the verb. So highlight every verb in your writing and any error will be more obvious. I do it all the time and it’s amazing how often I miss a shift in tense or an imprecise or repetitive word. It’s tedious and slow to put into practice especially with something as long as a novel, but I’m never sorry that I’ve invested the time to do it.
And for all the Bingo players, Bingo Book #29 is Rebound by Bob Krech!