When you read a book you love, don’t you want to know more about the author who created it? I do! That’s why I started this author interview series, so we all can learn more about the talented and hard-working writers bringing these stories to life. This week you’ll get to know a bit about Rosanne McHenry, author of the entertaining memoir Trip Tales: From Family Camping to Life as a Ranger. I’ve read this book, and it’s not only funny, but also heart-warming and educational. Enjoy the interview!
About the Author
Rosanne S. McHenry is from Auburn, California. She has worked as a national park ranger and a California state park ranger in many different places over the years, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mt. Rainier National Park, Auburn State Recreation Area, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, The California State Railroad Museum, Sutter’s Fort, the California State Indian Museum, Hearst Castle, and Death Valley National Park, among others.
Her time spent on family camping trips as a child gave her a tremendous love for the outdoors, as well as a deep understanding of how important it is to protect our natural resources. Trip Tales: From Family Camping to Life as a Ranger talks about how these experiences shaped her decision to become a park ranger, and about her first assignments working for the U.S. National Park Service in California and Washington.
Rose, thank you so much for being part of my author interview series. Your first book, Trip Tales: From Family Camping to Life as a Ranger was published last year. Congratulations! Who or what inspires you to write?
I write because I want to record my life experiences as a park ranger. These are stories I’ve wanted to write all my life. I also wrote the stories as a legacy for my family. Finally, I wrote these stories to inspire others to experience our natural world and to share in the stewardship of this beautiful planet, our Earth.
I found it so interesting to learn what it’s like being a park ranger. I had never considered how tough it is to train for and perform park ranger duties. What a wonderful legacy for your family, and an inspiration to your readers. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?
People who’ve read the stories tell me they feel like they are transported right into the stories, sharing in the moment and participating in the experiences. This is my goal: to bring the joy and adventure of being outdoors to others.
I think one of the best things that ever happened, though, was when I received a letter from a little boy. I had given an evening program the night before, and the next day I found a note pinned to the community bulletin board. It was from someone named “Danny,” asking me to write to him. This was long before the dawn of cell phones and email, when letters were handwritten and mailed. I had no idea who Danny was, but I answered the note, telling him about my week and asking him about his. I soon received a letter with a picture of a little boy who had attended several of my ranger walks and talks. He asked if I would stay in touch with him over the summer season. I was so taken with this response that I wrote to him several times that summer. His mom told me in a separate letter that this meant the world to him, to have a park ranger as a pen pal. It also meant everything to me to realize that I had connected with our most precious natural resource: our little children. If we can capture a child’s interest in nature, we can save our future.
Children have a natural curiosity about many things, and I agree that getting them interested in nature is essential for saving our planet. After all, they will be the caretakers when we’re gone, which will be an increasingly difficult task with the challenges our planet faces. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?
I thought that creating the book was hard until I realized that the even bigger job was getting people to notice it existed. I naively assumed that once the book was out there online, people would naturally find it and buy it.
Wrong! Every author is competing with over seventy million other authors on Amazon. Bookstores carry thousands of titles and space is very competitive. There is no “easy sell.” So, now I’m busy trying to get people to notice that my book exists and that it is worth reading. Once people discover the book, they love it. It consistently gets great reviews because it is a truly unique and engaging story. But the problem is getting readers to “see” my book among the backdrop of millions of other titles.
Most of the authors I’ve talked to agree that getting our books noticed is the most difficult part of the process. Was there anything you didn’t do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?
I wish I had joined more writers groups, blogs, discussion forums, and attended writers’ conferences to get a better sense of the challenges I would face as a self-published author. I wish I’d learned more about how to build a following. I’ve written stories and articles and done a lot of public speaking over many years. I’ve traveled the world doing speaking presentations to very receptive audiences. But this was as a recognized park ranger promoting park events, not as an indie author, promoting my own book.
I had no idea that the journey would be such a challenge. Self-publishing is a great option, especially for first-time book authors. Not having to depend upon a traditional publishing house is very liberating.
But what most people don’t realize is the cost of the journey. It’s why traditional publishing is such a win if you are lucky enough to find a good agent and a respected publisher.
Self-publishing, while rewarding, is not an easy road. Sure, anyone can self-publish and put up a slapdash, poorly-designed book online. People do this all the time, and forums like Amazon don’t discriminate, although perhaps they should. Any self-respecting author who wants to create something worthwhile can expect to spend serious time and money publishing and promoting their book.
Besides the time investment, there are definitely financial costs associated with indie publishing. To produce a professional product we need to hire editors, cover designers, formatters, and sometimes other professionals such as publishers, publicists, or website designers. Some indie authors are hybrid authors, which means they hire a publishing company to help get their books published. Which route did you take?
I’m a hybrid, self-published author who hired a publishing company to help me create my book.
I’m looking for an agent for my next book. This new book will be different, about the adventures of a patrol ranger and the crazy, strange, unusual, thrilling, scary, exciting, and sometimes life-threatening experiences I faced. I might decide to make it a fictional, third person account, more like a novel. I’m still deciding as I write. Either way, it is guaranteed to be entertaining. I’ve already begun to publish chapters of the new book in local media and it has received front-page coverage.
That’s so awesome that you’re already getting media coverage for your new book. It sounds like a page-turner! Do you outline your books before you write them?
I laughed out loud at this question because this is what most writers do, and I am so different than most writers. The answer is a resounding NO. I realize outlining is the most logical approach and the way I’ve been taught, but I’ve never felt the need to do this. I simply pull from my own experiences and let the stories come. I have hundreds of real-life adventure stories to tell. Each story can stand on its own, but each story also flows into a cohesive story line when I develop a book.
Once I’ve written a collection of short stories I organize these into a thread and pull it all together. I just let the stories fall into place for themselves. It’s unconventional, but it works for me. To do things differently would invite writer’s block for me.
So you are also a “pantser,” someone who writes from the seat of their pants, rather than a “plotter,” someone who outlines their books. Every writer has to find the process that works best for them, and both methods are successful. How do you define success as a writer?
By hearing my readers tell me they loved the book. By receiving invitations to participate in podcasts, speaker symposiums, conferences, the news media, and other venues. By seeing my stories published in newspapers and magazines. By seeing my book for sale in many different bookstores. By having my readers ask me when the next book is coming out. By getting excellent reviews. By seeing the looks of wonder and joy on the faces of readers, especially young readers, when recounting the stories to their family members.
Hearing from readers who loved our books is the best affirmation for many authors, and makes all the hard work worthwhile. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
I wouldn’t want to have lunch with a favorite author, because I would probably drop my food right into my lap! I’d be too much in awe of them. But I’d enjoy briefly meeting and maybe sharing coffee with Jane Goodall, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Noah Yuval Harris, Michio Kaku, or Alexander McCall Smith. They would probably laugh at me and ask who the heck do I think I am; asking to meet with them? And I’d have to laugh and answer: “No one, really, just a park ranger.”
I’m sure they would love to meet you and hear about your park ranger escapades. You’ve had some amazing adventures. Tell us about a great one you’ve had.
Going to Namibia, Africa, and meeting people in a remote bush village, and traveling on cross-country national wildlife park safaris through Botswana and Zimbabwe. Being invited to Lapland, Finland, and traveling by boat deep into the Lemmenjoki Wilderness. Going to the spectacularly-beautiful Austrian Alps and participating in the World Gold Panning Championships. Staying with my Italian cousins in a villa in Tuscany, Italy. Traveling across interior Alaska on a road trip to Dawson City, Yukon on the banks of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. Traveling on a canal boat in Wales and visiting Welsh abbey ruins. Cruising in a riverboat down the Rhone River in France and seeing storybook villages and castles along the shore. Traveling through the Yorkshire Dales (James Herriot country) in the UK. Staying in an over-the-water bungalow in Tahiti and swimming in the lagoon at Bora Bora, and hundreds more amazing life adventures too numerous to recount.
But traveling to Tankaväära Gold Village in Lapland, Finland was my first overseas adventure trip. I was invited to speak at the World Gold Symposium on the 1848 California Gold Discovery. I fell in love with Finland, its people, and the beauty of the landscape there. When people go to Lapland they often get bitten by Lapin Lumo, or Lapland Fever, which makes you never want to leave. I felt this way, under the spell of that amazing place, in a wilderness region 150 miles above the Arctic Circle. I was mesmerized, enchanted, and completely captivated. No other wilderness has ever pulled on my soul like that place in time and space. There was something truly spellbinding about it.
Wow, you’ve done some incredible travel. Rose, thank you so much for sharing some of your writing and publishing process. We’ll be watching for your next book to come out.
Readers, you can find out more about Rose and her book on her website, www.triptalesbook.com, and from the description, below.
What’s the wildest thing that ever happened to you during an outdoor adventure?
Did you accidentally set your boots on fire? Get attacked by hungry raccoons or investigated by a curious bear?
What’s it like to be a park ranger? What happens when you get bucked off a horse, dangled from a cliff, bitten by bloodthirsty horseflies, or fall smack flat onto your butt while leading a group of scouts down a trail?
These hilarious and eye-popping adventures will capture your imagination and carry you right into the experience of visiting our beautiful parklands; for all to enjoy! A fun beach read, or great stories for families to share.
Readers, how do you like to experience nature? Let us know in the comments!