Please welcome guest blogger Diane Hammond to Book Club Girl! She is the author of Hannah's Dream, Seeing Stars, and most recently, Friday's Harbor, which is on sale today! Diane is here to talk about the extraordinary tale behind her newest book, in which she returns to the Max L. Biedelman Zoo to tell the story of Friday, a killer whale stranded in Colombia who desperately needs a new home.
If you were alive between 1996 and 1998, and especially if you spent any of those years in the Pacific Northwest, you may remember Keiko, the wild-caught killer whale star of the hit movie Free Willy. In failing health after eighteen years in a small, hot pool at an amusement park in Mexico City, Keiko was transported to a facility built exclusively for him at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. From the day he arrived to the day he left two years later, the international press reported almost daily on some achievement, antic, or controversy coming out of the project to rehabilitate and then release him back to the wild. He was a media sensation.
As Keiko’s full time press secretary I witnessed his amazing recovery at the hands of a small group of men and women who spent hours each day swimming with him in a pool so cold that hypothermia was always a danger. Day in and day out, in all kinds of weather—most of it bad—these dedicated people kept him company for up to eighteen hours a day, inventing regimens,games and toys to challenge his mind and body. By the time he left Oregon for Iceland, Keiko was a masterpiece of buff muscle and horny vitality. He also left as he had arrived, in a cloud of controversy over the morality of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.
As it turned out, Keiko would be my only killer whale, or at least my only real one—I hung up my PR shingle for good a few months after his departure. Exhausted from the pressure cooker of the previous two years, I tried to sort out the experience by doing what I always do—I wrote about it, creating scores of vignettes that collectively captured the project’s defining figures and moments, from Keiko himself—sly, silly, charismatic, winsome, affectionate and, most of all, resilient—to the hundreds of nameless people whose lives he deeply touched.
Fast forward to Summer 2010, after the release of my fourth book, SEEING STARS, a novel about child actors in Hollywood. My editor and agent proposed that I write a sequel to my third and most successful novel, HANNAH’S DREAM. Always one for a challenge, I cast around for a meaningful story that would take me back to Bladenham, Washington, the tiny Max L. Biedelman Zoo, and the characters I loved. I had only to look as far as those thirteen-year-old vignettes to realize their excellence their excellence as resources.
After lots of false starts (by which I mean eight months of writing and rewriting and rewriting again), I finally came up with a working strategy for FRIDAY’S HARBOR: I would appropriate for the fictional Max L. Biedelman Zoo and killer whale Viernes/Friday some of Keiko’s real-world characteristics and dilemmas and give them to my fictional characters to grapple with. The characters I’d come to know and love in HANNAH’S DREAM would be joined by brand-new characters who would do much of this book’s heavy lifting—Ivy Levy, Truman Levy’s aunt and eccentric heiress; Ivy’s passive-aggressive chihuahua Julio Iglesias; gentle little animal psychic Libertine Adagio; and whale and dolphin rehab veteran Gabriel Jump.
As I began writing (yet again), I felt for the first time that I was on solid ground—in fact, I was surprised at the ease with which I was able to move between the fictional and the actual. In my fictional world, as in the actual one, the morality of keeping whales and dolphins captive was polarizing; in my fictional world, as in the actual one, both sides believed absolutely in the rightness of their convictions and in the actions by which they expressed them. In the fictional world, as in the actual one, supremely dedicated people made every effort to enrich the life of an animal unable to do so on his own behalf.
I was aware of this duality of real and fictional throughout the nearly two years it took to complete FRIDAY’S HARBOR. But it was only after I’d finished the book that I realized what both worlds had in common; what, in fact, I’d really been writing about: love. The kind of fierce, imperfect love that, despite heroic efforts, isn’t enough for perfect solutions or tidy outcomes.