Cry of the Sea
Whisper of the Woods
D. G. Driver grew up in Southern California, twenty minutes from the beach. She is now land-locked near Nashville, Tennessee, but she has come to love the country and the friendly people who live here. She has three books published with Fire and Ice Young Adult Books: Cry of the Sea, Whisper of the Woods, and her romance novella Passing Notes. Her first adult romance story is soon to appear in the anthology Second Chance for Love from Satin Romance Books. In addition to writing, she is a teacher and can often be found singing in a local community theater musical with her husband.
How to Hide an Issue in a Young Adult Novel
(Without it Becoming an “Issue Novel”)
By D. G. Driver
My Juniper Sawfeather books are about the teen daughter of environmental activists who discovers mythical creatures during her efforts to protect the natural world.
Boom! Right there in the explanation I’ve declared that these YA fantasy novels have an environmental theme. This is either going to make people go, “Ooh, that sounds like something that would be important to me,” or it makes their fingers swipe right on by to the next listing about gorgeous girls who magically turn into mermaids and seduce equally gorgeous guys. It might have been a crazy choice, writing a paranormal series that is so different from the norm and has a message strewn throughout it. However, I promise at the start of the whole thing, this wasn’t my aim.
I just thought it was an interesting premise.
I didn’t set out to make Cry of the Sea a message book about oil spills and ocean pollution – nor is it. That really is the backdrop to a bigger story. When the first gem of an idea for this book came about, I still lived in Southern California (I’m in Nashville now), and it was the 10-year anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. It was all over the news. You know how reporters love their anniversaries of disasters. Well, my over-active imagination thought, “What would happen if mermaids were found on a beach during an oil spill dying because they were covered with oil?” Thus, Cry of the Sea was born.
I had to learn about oil spills: how they happen, what damage they cause, how the oil is cleaned off marine animals, what the laws are regarding oil tankers, and so much more. To effectively write a book that opens with an oil spill, I needed to have this information as accurate as possible, even if the event was fictional. Ultimately, though, the novel is not about the oil spill. It is about Juniper trying to save these creatures that have been hurt. When one goes missing from the marine rescue center where they are being treated, Juniper then goes on a daring and bold mission to find her and save her.
In book two, Whisper of the Woods, the majority of the book takes place in the forest up in a 1,000+ year old Red Cedar tree that Juniper is protecting from the axe. I had to learn about Old Growth trees, forestry, timber companies on American Indian reservations, laws about logging, etc. But again, the protest against felling ancient trees is the backdrop. The real story is about Juniper who is trapped in this tree because it is possessed by an ancient tree spirit that will not let her go or allow anyone to save her.
When Cry of the Sea first came out, I really pushed the mermaid aspect in my publicity. I posted pictures of mermaids on my Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr pages daily (still do). Cry of the Sea has a very science-fiction take on the mermaids, though, and despite my best efforts, the mermaid fandom (yes, there is one and it’s huge) prefer their mermaids to be like Ariel. I then focused pretty heavily on the diversity aspect of the book. Juniper Sawfeather is half American Indian. This got the book involved in some great events and online groups, but the interest in that aspect of the book is limited. What seems to keep coming up is the environmental theme.
The reviews of my books often focus on the environmental issues. From the Dowie’s Place review: “I really enjoyed reading this book, not only does it bring our environment to the forefront, we see June deal with bullying, romance, family, authority as well as peer pressure.” Cry of the Sea also won an award from the 2015 Green Book Festival for environmental themed books, and Eco-Fiction is now featuring giant excerpts of it on their website. I think I’ve found where this book fits in the world of literature – finally.
And maybe it’s good that I didn’t know this at the start. I think if I’d set out to write books about ocean pollution and tree logging, they might have come out preachy or stilted. It’s okay to have an important issue or message in a book’s theme, but ultimately the book needs to be about engaging characters doing interesting things. I’m working on book 3 now. Yes, before I started plotting it I had to find the particular cause Juniper’s family is protesting in this novel, which is construction run-off and its effects on Killer Whales (and mermaids). I’ve done my research on that subject. Like the first two books, this one isn’t going to be about run-off, because that’s not very appealing to readers. It is instead about a quest that Juniper is on, which is set up at the end of book 2. Of the three books, it should be the most exciting by the time it’s done.
I’m hoping that when people discover Cry of the Sea they will become fans of Juniper Sawfeather and be curious about both what issue and what adventure she will have next. Also, if it makes fans a little more aware of their garbage when visiting the beach or going camping, that wouldn’t be bad either.