Kitchen Table Chat with Rosanne Parry, author of The Turn of the Tide

Please join me today in welcoming Rosanne Parry, who kindly shared a lovely chat with me over the past couple weeks--since she lives in Oregon and I'm in Connecticut, we had to just imagine that we were sitting down at the kitchen table for a cup of tea. I hope you enjoy one with us this morning. :)

FEH: Hello, Rosanne, and welcome to my virtual kitchen table! I hope you'll help yourself to a cup of tea and slice of sourdough bread. :)

I want to begin by saying how much I have enjoyed all your books. Heart of a Shepherd is one I turn to often, as I need the hope it portrays amidst troubling events. Your latest, Turn of the Tide, carries similar themes of hope and courage and the importance of doing small things well. [Note: I'll include a short description of the book at the beginning of the interview so you won't have to explain it!] As a mother of four girls, I particularly love the way Jet sets out to follow her dream even when many people find it an unreasonable goal for a girl to have. Even more, I loved the way her cousin Kai always respected and supported her in this goal--honestly, that might have been my favorite part of the story. Did you find supporters in expected or unexpected places who enabled you to live out your dream of being a writer?

RP: Good morning Faith. Happy to sit down to our virtual 3,000 mile long kitchen table. I’m settling in with mint tea, apples and cheese. It’s a treat to spend a little time with a fellow book lover. Thank you for your kind words about Heart of a Shepherd and The Turn of the Tide. 

I’m so glad you mentioned your daughters. I’m the mom of three teen and young adult women and I have become a different sort of feminist than I might have been without them. The world is not always a kind place for ambitious girls. I’ve long wanted to write about a girl with a big dream for herself that her nearest and dearest don’t share. My own girls have chosen goals that make me nervous. Not that I don’t wish them to succeed or that I don’t think they’re up to the challenge—far from it! But I see obstacles they don’t and know all too well how one choice opens up some avenues and closes the door to others. I want them to achieve their goals AND be perfectly safe; two completely incompatible things. And how do I share my concerns with my daughters without extinguishing their hopes? It’s tricky and thankfully I’m not doing this all alone. Each of my girls has found mentors in their lives who’ve inspired them and often in quite small ways opened up worlds for them I never could. I’m SO grateful.

Which is why when I met Captain Deborah Dempsey years ago and heard her speak about being the first woman to pilot the Columbia Bar, I knew I had the beginnings of story gold. Captain Dempsey is a great role model, a woman who tackled one challenge after another. She became the first woman to graduate from a merchant marine academy, the first to captain the largest ocean-going vessels, and the first female master mariner. Following in her footsteps is a great goal for my character Jet, a goal she’s so hungry for, but one she also struggles to feel worthy of.  I want my readers, girls and boys alike, to know that it’s okay to have a big dream, a message they hear pretty often. I also want them to know that it’s natural to doubt your abilities, and to feel unworthy of your ambitions, and it’s even okay to make mistakes along the way. Sometimes it’s your very mistakes that lead you to an unseen opportunity. 
My mom used to say, “Perfection is a poor teacher.” It’s true. I don’t love my mistakes but I learn from them.
All of which is tangential to your question. 

Yes, I’ve had many supporters over the years; one of them is my cousin Bob Delaney. He started college in Illinois when I was in 5th or 6th grade and for a while we were pen pals. Now that I have a son in college I find it pretty incredible that an 18 or 19 year old would be interested in corresponding with his little cousin in Oregon. Bob was a journalism major. Back in the day he looked like a red-headed version of Christopher Reeve who played Superman. I was thrilled every time Bob sent me clippings from his student newspaper and updates on his college life. I don’t remember what I wrote to him about. I’m guessing it was the very mundane details of my middle school orchestra and gymnastics team.  I do know that Bob is the very first person who made me feel like I had something worthwhile to say on the page. 

I’m a really bad speller and had always found writing very discouraging in school. Because I’m an otherwise good student, my teachers always accused me of being a lazy writer. It was particularly frustrating, because I worked really hard to get everything right and I still misspelled dozens of words in every assignment.  But Bob cared about what I had to say in writing and that made more difference than either of us would have guessed. He went on the become an attorney and spent more than a decade mentoring young lawyers at the district attorney’s office in Chicago. My first book, Heart of a Shepherd, came out while he was there and he was so proud of me, I think he bought a copy of my book for every DA in the county. It was so sweet!

Kai of course is nothing like my cousin Bob. But I do love his faithfulness to his cousin Jet. Not that he doesn’t find her exasperating a lot of the time. But he knows that come race day, it’s his faith in her that makes her a better captain. 

FEH: I've always been very grateful to my parents for their complete faith that I could succeed at whatever goals I chose prayerfully. They were happy (no, joyful--though I know I stressed them out sometimes) to let me follow whatever I felt I was called to, even if it wasn't what they had in mind for me. Now I have a high standard to live up to, and I'll need it. At the moment, my three oldest want to be: 1) a writer and a robotics engineer, 2) an artist and an orphanage founder, and 3) a fashion designer. :)

Spelling is an invention of the modern world and has nothing to do with the ancient art of storytelling. I'm so glad you learned to ignore the pessimism of your teachers. Jane Austen and Agatha Christie were poor spellers, too, and as Mark Twain said, "Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination."

Since The Turn of the Tide literally centers around the sea, I can't resist the chance to ask a sailing question! I'm only a passenger sailor, but I was really impressed by how accurately and technically you were able to use sailing terms (as your character would) without ever disorienting or boring the reader. Do you have a lot of sailing experience? Any fun sailing stories?

RP: Hey, my nephew took his college robotics team to the national competition last summer. I bet he’d answer your girl’s robotics questions if she felt like asking any. He lives just down the street. 

Thanks for telling me about other spelling-challenged authors. I hadn’t heard that about either Austen or Christie. And I think I’m going to put the Twain quote up in my studio. Here’s another Twain quote I bet you’d appreciate: “A man with a large family stands a broader mark for sorrow, but he stands a broader mark for joy as well.”  

I’m so glad you found the sailing passages clear. They were fun to write but also tremendously challenging because avid sailors like Jet and Kai would use the nautical terms, but I bet 90% of my readers have never yet set foot in a sailboat and maybe not any kind of boat. Big thanks to my editors Michelle Nagler and Jenna Lettice over at Random House for making room in the back for a glossary. They’ve always been terrific about author’s notes. And thanks to my critique group who I’ve met with every other week for more than a decade. They helped me get maximum clarity in minimum verbiage. Even more thanks to Captain Dempsey who looked over the manuscript with an eye to the sailing details to make sure everything described is possible. I believe in first hand research but, without giving anything away, let’s just say that there are things in the story that I did not try on my own!  

I do have a tiny sailboat. There is a picture of it here on my Turn of the Tide Pinterest page.

It’s the same as the boat described in the story. It’s old and needs little repairs now and then but my family loves it. There are so many beautiful lakes to sail on in Oregon. I could try a new one every summer and never run out. 

This isn’t a sailing story but it does touch on something in the book. My son and I took a canoe out on the Columbia to see what the islands in Treasure Island Race looked like up close. The islands are a wildlife refuge, so accessible only by boat. We were paddling back after a nice afternoon poking through the tall grasses and looking at trestle bridges and watching birds. Our return was down stream so we thought it would be easier than the the outward trip. But I hadn’t kept track of the time and the tide came in which meant that we really had to paddle hard to get downstream. And then the influx of the John Day pushed us away from the shore just when we were trying to land the canoe. I knew in my head that tide effects the currents of the Columbia but it was quite another thing to feel those effects when you are out in a small boat. Fortunately my son is a strong paddler and we made it to shore in the end. But thank goodness there’s a Coast Guard station in Astoria. Now I see why they are so busy.

FEH: I love that Twain quote! And your canoeing story is great. That must have been pretty frightening at the time!

Okay, here's a quick question: What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

RP: I’m lucky enough to live in Portland where outstanding writers are thick on the ground. I host author events at Annie Blooms and I’ve been privileged to hear quite a lot of great writing advice.
One of the things I hear most often and has really been the most helpful against the relentless din of social media is simply this: “Write the next book.” 
It’s so easy to think, once you have books in print, that if only you do the right thing in terms of promotion, your book will become a best seller. I wish it were true, but the longer I’m at this work the more I see that brilliant writing gets ignored all the time and sometimes mediocre writing captures popular opinion. Sometimes a groundbreaking book format can take off and sometimes a very predictable sure-thing of a plot with a huge promotional budget from a major publisher falls completely flat.  People who have been at this work far longer than me look at all that chaos and shrug and say, “All you can do is write another book. It’s the only way to grow as a writer.” 

So although I do try to do the book promotion stuff that I’m good at, mostly school visits, I really try to put expectation aside and work on the next thing as soon as my current project heads off to copy editing. 

In terms of developmental editing, some of the most helpful feedback I ever got was from Jim Thomas, the editor of Heart of a Shepherd. Instead of telling me the dozens of places where the voice in my story wasn’t strong enough, he highlighted a few places where the main characters voice rang particularly true and authentic to his age and class and circumstances. Then he asked me to go through the entire book and drive all the dialog and narration in the direction of those highlighted sections. It was a very empowering approach to revision. It got me thinking of revision, not in terms of isolating problem areas and fixing them, but rather clarifying my thinking about a character and then reworking every sentence of the entire book with that vision in mind. Exhausting. But empowering. 

FEH: Yes, what is it about the air in the Northwest U.S.? You've got some great writers up there. And that is excellent advice.

One of my (maybe every writer's?) greatest weaknesses is procrastination...but it's always kind of fun to find out what form this takes for others. (When I'm putting off writing, my house gets very organized.) What's your procrastination of choice? And how do you overcome its temptation?

RP: I’m sorry to report that house cleaning has never ever been a temptation. :-) Where I get off track is not so much not working at all, but deciding what to focus on in my work. Email is going to bury us all but it’s a part of the work I can’t simply ignore. Social media is another important piece of the overall picture but it can suck up every spare minute if you let it. I love research, sometimes I love it a little too much. Like most writers I have more than one story I’m working on. Actually at the moment I’m working on four different books. Plus with the new book out I’m doing a bunch of school visits. So choosing which thing to focus on is really the tricky part. 

The benefit to being an entire continent away from my publishing house is that if they have something to communicate with me about it’s always in my inbox by 9am my time. So my usual goal is to get the email read and dealt with by 9 or 9:30 in the morning. I catch the news on the radio in the morning, and once the kids are off to school I’ll do a 10 minute attack on the kitchen and laundry. But once those are done I like to turn off the airport and get a good chunk of writing done without interruption. Because I didn’t start writing until my 3rd child was a week old (a timing I recommend to nobody) I’ve always had a limited window of opportunity to write, For me the temptation is not so much to get sidetracked by Facebook but rather to never turn my internet connection on again and also stop feeding my family entirely. Now that my children are older and happy to have me not hovering over them constantly, there are days when I sit down to write and seemly minutes later it’s dark, I’m ravenous, and there are 80 emails in my inbox.  This doesn’t happen every day. I work at Annie Blooms Bookstore 2 afternoons a week, I also teach children’s literature in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University. The school visits I love to do take a big chunk of my writing time too.  But I do treasure those days when I can really sink into the story. 

FEH: I am so impressed by all your projects. I could never juggle so much! (Though if I wasn't currently homeschooling my children full time, I'd jump at the chance to work at a bookstore.)

You've been so generous with your time and thoughtful in all your answers, so I'll attempt to wrap this up with a final two, which I am sort of contractually obligated (at the demand of my little sister) to ask in every interview: 1) Do you have a life motto? and 2) What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? I'll leave it to you to decide which says more about you. ;)

RP: I would never have been able to juggle this many things when my kids were younger. I just started at PSU this year, and I only started at the bookstore after my third child was off to college.  I do think working at a bookstore is a terrific experience for a writer. It really gives you an unvarnished look at what people come to a bookstore for. Often it has little to do with the actual books and a lot to do with just chatting up the bookseller or petting the store cat. 

A life motto, that’s a tricky one. I’m not sure that there is one saying I try to live by. 
For a very long time I’ve had the words Humility, Fortitude, and Joy on my wall just above my writing desk. They are three things I try to be mindful of as I work—more a touchstone than a motto.  
I took a trip to Ireland with my son a few years back and we looked at the Book of Kells, among many other things. In learning about how books were made 100s of years ago, I was astonished by the primitive conditions and tools used in unheated stone cells by nameless monks who labored away at their art. I was intrigued to learn that some had written upon their walls a blessing for blank pages. The blank page is a daunting thing for any artist, I can’t imagine how intimidating it would be to work in ink on vellum using such rudimentary tools and yet coming away with brilliant illuminations which still fascinate readers all these ages later. So it was interesting that the blessing was not for the monk or his work—an invocation against spilled ink, or a petition for a steady hand—the blessings were all for the future readers of the page however distant they may be. 
I think that gets at what I love the most about writing. It is an opportunity to thoughtfully order words on a page in such a way that they might move or inspire or console a person in unimaginably distant places or times. That’s pretty cool! Hence the humility, fortitude and joy.
Ice cream is a much easier topic. Favorite flavor? Hard to pick just one, especially in Portland where there is an artisanal scoop shop every other block. I swear I am not making these flavors up. You can get Basil-Pineapple Sorbet, Kulfi (pistachio, cardamom, & rosewater), Earl Gray Blueberry, Lemon with Black Pepper Marionberry Jam, Brown Butter Bourbon Cherry, and Pear Blue Cheese. It’s crazy. Of those choices I have to say that the Kulfi is absolutely divine and the Pear Blue Cheese is not as icky as you’d think. I’m just recovering from getting my wisdom teeth out, so I’ve had a lot of ice cream this week. So far my favorite combo is chocolate with a dab of raspberry sorbet on the side. Yummy!

Thanks so much, Faith, for inviting me to your virtual kitchen table. I hope if you are ever in Portland you’ll drop by my actual kitchen and have a cup of tea with me. It’s been delightful.

FEH: Okay, my emotions were so all over reading that response. I went from real shivers down my spine reading about your trip to Ireland to bona fide mouth watering reading about the ice cream. The Kulfi one sounds like Turkish Delight! I promise that if I ever visit Portland I will let you know; at the very least, you can point me in the direction of one of those ice cream shops. :)

You're truly welcome anytime, Rosanne, to my kitchen table--virtual or real. This chat was so much fun and incredibly inspiring. Many, many thanks!

You can visit Rosanne on her website, blog, Facebook, or Twitter--and/or leave her a comment here to thank her for this amazing interview!

And check out her books:

(This post contains affiliate links, so if you purchase any items after clicking through the links, I will receive a tiny percentage of the sale. Better yet, support your local bookstore!)


  1. What a fun interview! Thank you both. Loved this entire exchange. A blessing for blank pages is a wonderful idea. And I can't wait to read Roseanne's new book. We had a very small sailboat when I was growing up and I have fond memories of sailing on it with my father.

  2. That was a marvelous interview! Thank you both for taking the time to do so and sharing so unstintingly. And I love that your girls are following their dreams -- it's good they see their mamas doing the same. That kulfi is making me hungry!

  3. Wow. That is quite an interview. I look forward to reading this new book by Roseanne. Thanks for the post.


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