Author Rosanne Parry has been a bit busy these last few months. After her latest book, A Wolf Called Wander (Greenwillow), was published in May, it landed on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 17 weeks. Thanks in part to the middle grade novel’s success, Parry has just signed a six-figure deal with Greenwillow for three more books. But despite having five acclaimed novels and a picture book under her belt, her journey over the past few years was anything but easy. In fact, Wander almost didn’t get published in the U.S. at all.
A Wolf Called Wander is a survival tale loosely based on a series of news articles that first captivated the Pacific Northwest in 2011. They told the saga of OR-7, a lone wolf that traveled more than 1,000 miles through three ecosystems over the course of three years, from the Wallowa Mountains in the northeastern corner of Oregon to the Siskiyou Wilderness in northwestern California, to start a new pack. Parry’s riveting narrative, illustrated by Mónica Armiño, is a fictionalized version of OR-7’s journey, told from a wolf’s-eye view. It includes some of the terrifying moments he might have endured and his triumph in eventually finding a mate in an area where no wolf had been seen in 90 years.
For Parry, who is a former teacher and current part-time bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland, Ore., conducting the research for the book was part of the fun. She interviewed a number of wolf conservationists, and in the summer of 2014, took an outpost workshop led by nature and science writer Gary Ferguson at the literary organization Fishtrap in eastern Oregon. “We went out onto the Zumwalt Prairie, which is where Wander first comes out of the mountains, and we camped there for a week,” Parry recalled. “We’d get up in the morning and we’d have two or three hours of workshop time. Gary would give a presentation and we’d do a couple of writing exercises, then go for a hike.”
Parry also did a fair amount of crawling around in the dirt to gain insight into a wolf’s perspective, both in some of the other regions where her book takes place and in Forest Park, a 5,200-acre park near her home in Portland. “Because so much of wolves’ brains are devoted to processing smell, I focused on that intensely,” she said. “I don’t have a very good sense of smell, but always asked myself, ‘What am I smelling here?’ ” If you kneel down, the dirt here does smell different than the dirt over there. It was really fun to try and sink as much as I could into that mindset.”
But despite the compelling connection to OR-7’s trek and Parry’s solid track record, including Oregon Book Award finalist Written in Stone (Random House, 2014), Fiona Kenshole, Parry’s agent, couldn’t garner any interest for A Wolf Called Wander. The manuscript was rejected by 41 editors before British publisher Andersen Press bought world rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 2017, and paired Parry’s manuscript with Spanish artist Armiño’s more than 120 illustrations.
“This was a labor of love for all of us,” Kenshole said. “It was the art of getting the right publisher for the book. It’s really interesting because [we had] a West Coast writer, an illustrator in Spain who had never seen a wolf, and a publisher in London, which has very few wolves, putting together this passion project. Rosanne insisted on including [extensive] backmatter because she does a lot of school visits. As a bookseller, she knows what people are looking for in a book that works for schools as well as just a good read. All of these things came together to make the book successful.”
A year later in 2018, Kenshole brought Wander to Bologna again, this time selling it to Greenwillow publisher Virginia Duncan in the U.S. The book was published nearly simultaneously in the U.K. and the U.S. this past spring. Upon publication, Greenwillow made a one-time donation to the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. “A Wolf Called Wander combines compelling themes of family, migration, and nature with a ‘heart in your throat’ animal survival story and beautiful writing,” Duncan said. “Plus, wolves! I would have fallen in love with this story at any age, and I certainly couldn’t resist it when I received it on submission.” It has since sold in 11 territories, including Russia, China, Germany, and Japan, and earned rave reviews in the U.S., including being shortlisted for the Texas Bluebonnet Award.
Parry says she is thrilled about the book’s ongoing attention. But despite her whirlwind summer, and promotion for Wander continuing on into December, Parry is already at work on future endeavors: one picture book, one middle grade novel, and one project that is still up in the air. The picture book, tentatively titled The Wolf Effect, will tackle wolves’ reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park. It will include sidebars and backmatter just as A Wolf Called Wander did. “It’s really about that science concept. You know, [humans] introduce the wolves, the wolves change the behavior of elk that change the behavior of the trees, which change the behavior of beavers. One thing leads to another,” Parry said. “I love that concept and also the ability of the earth to do some of that work of healing itself. Once the wolves came back, that set into motion this cascade of positive effects that was good for the environment overall.”
The middle grade novel, tentatively titled A Whale of the Wild and done in a similar story-plus-backmatter format as Wander, will be illustrated by Lindsay Moore, creator of Sea Bear: A Journey of Survival. Specific details are still under wraps, but Whale will loosely explore the plight of the orca in the Pacific Northwest that are teetering towards possible extinction. Upon the book’s publication, a one-time donation will be made to an orca protection organization.
As per usual, Parry has taken a deep dive into the research during her development and writing process. When she and Moore met for the first time this past summer, they took a marathon in-tandem kayaking trip out on the Salish Sea, a waterway that borders southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington, to get a sense of the orca’s habitat and see what it looks like from their point of view. She also interviewed a storyteller from the Lummi Nation, a Salish tribe that has been integral in orca conservation efforts.
“The Lummi say that in their time of need, the orca have sent salmon into their cove when they are starving. They have taken seals from the rocks and thrown them up on their beaches when they are in great need. For that reason, [the Lummi say], now they must help them. That’s why they have taken such a leading role in speaking for the orca,” Parry said. “This isn’t them being magnanimous, this is them doing right by their own family. There’s a deep sense of connection there.”
With an eye on making the world a better place for animals and humans, Parry hopes these upcoming projects will find their way to Wander lovers and a new generation of environmentally conscious readers. “It’s not really possible to write a book that will please everybody,” she said. “But if you can write a book that deeply pleases somebody in particular, it’s likely to find others, too."