Saturday, August 21, 2010

Author Interview: Melissa Walker


Today I shall interview Melissa Walker, the author of A Place for Delta. You can read the review of the book here

So without further or do, here is the interview

What inspired you to write "A Place for Delta"?

Way leads on to way for writers, and I have been concerned about preserving a healthy environment most of my adult life.  In the last two decades I have focused on dangers to wild lands, particularly designated wilderness in the United States.  That work took me to Alaska where I’ve learned about many threats to the pristine waters, air quality, wildlife, fisheries, forests, and the integrity of still intact ecosystems.  Oil spills, trophy hunting, mining, and clear-cutting threaten in one way or another all of the resources that make Alaska what it is.  More than half of the land protected under the Wilderness Act is in Alaska, and several times that acreage is still in a wild state there.

When I first went to Alaska, global warming was already a concern of climatologists, other scientists, and environmentalists, but in the last few years, it has become evident that global warming is not just a problem for the future, but it is already causing harm in many ways, especially in the Arctic, where the ice cover is rapidly receding. 

When I first visited the Arctic, I was already working on a story of an orphaned polar bear, and the more I learned about the threats to the habitat of arctic animals, the more I was inspired to tell the story in the context of climate change. 

 How did you develop the voice of Joseph, the main character, and his relationship to Delta, the polar bear? 

Writing fiction is very different from any writing that I’ve ever done, as the characters, both civilized humans and wild animals, must have unique personality traits and characteristics.  When I wrote dialogue, I imagined Joseph talking in a voice that was appropriate to his age and interests.  Once I knew who Joseph is, capturing his voice was easy.  The same was true of Ada—a smart, confident, and independent Eskimo girl.  She is from a very different place and her voice is uniquely her own.  Delta, on the other hand, has no voice in the way human characters do, but she does make sounds that communicate contentment, hunger, anger, and fear to Joseph.  Their relationship grows from his commitment to learn what she needs and to meet those needs as best he can. 

How important is it to educate children about the environment?

          In this age when many kids seem to be almost physically connected to cell phones, computers, and iPods, and middle grade fiction consists mainly of fantasies involving aliens, wizards, and vampires, I can’t think of anything more important. Education about the environment is reality-based and teaches children the value of closely observing what is actually happening instead of engaging in escapist fantasies.  In only 5 short years, many of today’s middle grade kids will be voting, helping to select government leaders from the President on down, and making important choices about further education, their life’s work, or possibly whether or not to serve in the military. Having an understanding of issues such as climate change, energy independence, threats to clean air and water and other important environmental concerns will serve them well when they have to make these important decisions, whereas learning more about computer games or Harry Potter may not.

Do you think the killing of polar bears is happening because of the existence of oil in their habitat?

      This question is never answered in the book, which after all, is a work of fiction.  When the story ends, we still don’t know who hired Sally, the sniper, or why.  For sure polar bears are dying because we humans have burned up so much fossil fuel that the climate has warmed and the polar ice cap that provides their habitat and hunting ground is literally melting away. Our search for ever more oil to burn has now sent oil companies to prospect in the Arctic where pollution from spills like the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico are a very real danger, not just to polar bears, but to the entire ecosystem.  Just how far oil companies would go in their search for oil if denning areas happened to be in the way is anybody’s guess. 

Why "A Place for Delta" was targeted for kids and not for teens or adults?
  See the answer for question # 3 for much of my thinking about why education of kids is so crucially important.  A Place for Delta began as oral stories told to my grandchildren and gradually evolved into the book in its’ present form.  I don’t think that I started with a story and then made a conscious decision about the best audience for that story.  In other words, children were involved from the very “birth” of this book and it never occurred to me to write the story for any audience other than children. As it turns out, the book has had a wide appeal to all age groups.

Tell us about the sequel to "A Place for Delta."
In the second of the Delta books, the action shifts between the North Georgia mountains and the Arctic.  Joseph discovers that his grandfather, long missing, has been working undercover for conservation organizations in the far north.  He and Ada join an effort to thwart a major poaching scheme while grappling with the demands of their older polar bear cub.

This was our interview. Thanks to Melissa Walker who took the time to answer the questions. 
Tata for now

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