During our recent New Zealand trip we went on a whale-watching trip in Kaikoura, a beautiful coastal town on the South Island. After jet-boating to different areas and much patience, we were finally able to see two sperm whales. I was tickled, since I’ve never seen sperm whales before. They dive deep for long periods of time, so they’re hard to spot.
If you like whales as much as I do, you’re going to love my interview with Nancy Rhodes. Nancy is the author of the eco-thriller novel Blue Song, which is based on her knowledge of blue whales and her experience living in Chile. Enjoy the interview!
About the Author
Nancy Rhodes grew up in Northern California but left at a young age to live in Santiago, Chile, where she stayed for nearly six years. After moving to the central Oregon coast in 2013, Nancy’s interest in whales led her to join the American Cetacean Society and volunteer with Whale Watching Spoken Here. She has been writing most of her life and is currently working on a sequel to her first published novel, Blue Song. Besides writing, Nancy spends her time reading, hiking, running, traveling (when possible), and—of course—whale watching.
Who or what inspires you to write?
What compels me to write is the joy found in creating characters and stories that seem to come to life through a connection between my brain and my fingers as they hit the keyboard. I’ve written in various genres including children’s stories, fantasy, general fiction, and even a lengthy biography. As ideas and interests change, so does the source of my inspiration. I’m often inspired by a talented writer. Lately, my inspiration has come from the many graduate students I’ve met in Oregon and Baja who are embarking on new careers in marine biology.
I imagine you get a lot of great information from marine biology graduate students that is useful for your books. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?
One of the best things is that writing led me to my interest in whales. I wasn’t a kid who loved exploring tide pools or going to the zoo. I just loved to write and create stories. Other than collecting tadpoles (and we know how that turned out), my animal interest was limited to dogs, cats, and one hearty goldfish who lived a ridiculously long life.
When I began writing Blue Song, I wanted my protagonist to go through a transformation. For that, she needed to care about something other than herself. I thought of the largest mammal on earth—the blue whale—and was horrified to learn that hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by whalers in the first half of the twentieth century. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to learn. Although mass whaling has stopped, whales and dolphins continue to be hunted, often illegally. In some situations, whales continue to be viewed as a commercial commodity. Espionage and dangerous cartels on the high seas are not limited to works of fiction.
I love that your writing led to your interest in whales. They are such interesting creatures and have such a tragic history. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?
Publishing my first novel was extremely frightening. But the most difficult thing for me now is finishing the sequel to Blue Song. Several readers who enjoyed my book have asked when it will be available. I wish I had an answer—but I don’t. Blue Song took more than four years to complete. I had hoped to publish the second book within a year of Blue Song’s release, but that didn’t happen. Writing and editing a sequel is difficult because I’m challenged to find the right balance between providing enough backstory for people who didn’t read the first book and avoiding excessive repetition for those who did.
Writing can be difficult, but through these challenges, I grow as a writer. I’m determined to finish this book and have already started thinking about the third.
Writing and publishing really is difficult, and producing a quality book takes a lot of time and effort. What didn’t you do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?
I didn’t stay connected with other writers. At one point, I was in a writing group but dropped it after I went back to work part-time. I have since re-retired, but I want to get the bones down on this second book before sharing it with anyone. After Blue Song was published, I joined a couple of writing organizations in the Pacific Northwest that are excellent resources for connecting with other writers.Connecting with other writers is so helpful and fun, and many authors say it’s one of the best things about being a writer. Do you have a publisher and/or agent, or are you an indie (self-published) or hybrid author?
I used a hybrid publisher. As you know, all options have their pros and cons. My publisher did a wonderful job with Blue Song, especially the cover. The downside is the cost. I’m reviewing options for the second book. Of course, it would be great to be picked up by an agent and have them sell it to a major publisher—but I understand the improbability of that happening. Seeking an agent can be a full-time job, and I’m not sure that’s the route I want to take.
Finding an agent and traditional publisher is very time-consuming and can takes years, with no guarantee that our books will be published after all of that time and effort. Some agents and publishers will only consider books in specific genres. Which genre(s) do you like to write in, and why?
When I wrote Blue Song my goal was to write a suspense novel—something people wouldn’t want to put down. But as my knowledge of whales grew and I learned about the many dangers they face, I wanted to include an ecological element to increase interest and awareness. Blue Song falls into a few genres, including eco-thriller, suspense, and contemporary fiction.
I think it’s fantastic that you want your books to increase interest and awareness of ecological issues. It’s so important to our planet and the survival of all species, humans included. Do you outline your books before you write them?
Outline before? Never. In some ways, I wish I did, but I love the creative flow without boundaries. However, after writing the first draft of the sequel, I started working on a reverse outline. I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting the scenes and the major characters of my story. This can be tedious, but I believe in the end the scenes, major plot points, and characters will be stronger because of it. I’m aware this will lead to a lot of rewriting, which isn’t my favorite part of the writing process.
I’ve done some reverse outlining and I think it’s really helpful, especially if you want to create a synopsis or book proposal to send to potential agents or publishers. Lately, I’ve wondered if outlining before sitting down to write the story would help me be more successful at writing faster. How do you define success as a writer?
I used to think that success meant becoming a bestselling author. That is one form of success (one I wouldn’t mind), but success doesn’t have to be tied to publishing. I think success is synonymous with feeling fulfilled. I believe that fulfillment can be the writers’ alone, especially if they just love the process and don’t intend to publish, or it can be an experience shared between writer and reader.
Personal fulfillment seems like the best definition of success that I’ve heard. I think that’s what most authors are seeking. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
If I could time-travel, it would be with either Pablo Neruda or John Steinbeck. In today’s world, I’d love to have lunch with Jodi Picoult. I admire how she creates mesmerizing stories while drawing attention to important concerns—relatable issues that make me stop and think or see something in a new way. For example, I didn’t want to read any books that used COVID as part of the plot, but after hearing Jodi speak on NPR (National Public Radio) about her novel, Wish You Were Here, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed. Jodi Picoult is a master at taking real-life events and weaving them into a deeply emotional story with believable, engaging characters. I’d like to know more about her process and ask how she balances her writing life with everything else.
Funny that you mention Wish You Were Here, I’m reading that book right now! I’m really enjoying it. What an interesting adventure. Tell us about a great adventure you’ve had.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a couple of great adventures in the past five years. Shortly before the pandemic, I traveled to Patagonia, Santiago, and different parts of Peru including Machu Picchu. I’ve had a fascination with Chile ever since I lived there (many years ago). These adventures provided inspiration and material for Blue Song and the book I’m writing now.
A few weeks ago, I went to Baja California (Mexico) where I was able to see and touch whales in San Ignacio Lagoon. I witnessed a lot of exciting activities, including breaching, mating, and spy-hopping. We had one whale stay with our boat for nearly twenty minutes, moving from one side of the boat to the other so we all had a chance to get in a little pet. We also saw a mother and calf (that we didn’t touch) and older whales with their years marked by hundreds of gold-encrusted barnacles. The experience of touching whales and looking one right in the eye is something I’ll never forget. I appreciated that boat traffic in the lagoon was regulated, and that the captains don’t approach whales directly. They let whales come to the boat if they want attention. In our case, they definitely did!
Your trips and whale watching sound like excellent adventures. Nancy, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us!
Readers, you can learn more details, see travel photos, or sign up for Nancy’s newsletter at her website, www.NancyRhodesAuthor.com. Find out more about her book below.
Allie Bennett, fed up with a boring advertising position at a dying newspaper and a life stifled by a traumatic relationship, purchases a one-way ticket to Chile. She plans to face that demon from her past, but plans and priorities change when a group of dangerous whale poachers suspect she’s a spy sent to terminate their selfish exploits. Blue Song is a novel with many twists and turns, suspense, and adventure, that combines the author’s experiences living in Chile, travels to Patagonia, and interest in whales and marine mammal protection. This book should appeal to readers who enjoy eco-thrillers, contemporary fiction, and suspense.
Blue Song may be purchased at bookstores along the Oregon Coast, at BarnesandNoble.com, or through Amazon.
6 thoughts on “Author Interview—Nancy Rhodes”
I’ve always loved the sea mammals too. Your interaction with them sounds fascinating as does your book. Best of luck to you.
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Thank you Michael. They are fascinating creatures aren’t they? I just finished three days of a whale watch volunteer program on our coast. A bit blustery, especially today, but always fun to talk to people about whales..
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Nancy, I think it’s great when a novel not only gives an entertaining story but also educates us at the same time.
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Thanks for the comment Daniel. And I couldn’t agree more!
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I enjoyed your interview with Nancy Rhodes. I have a background in marine mammal research and protection including whale research. Her eco-thriller book sounds very interesting to me to read. I will definitely check it out.
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Thanks, Julie. Nancy’s book sounds like it’s right up your alley.