While at the University of Minnesota, I worked as a temporary with a book manuscript about global warming. That was in 1982 so I was incredulous as I read and typed. I know it sounded like scientific gobbledygook to a few friends when I told about it.
In 1983, when I began to write longer fiction, environment as a human concern began to creep into the plot. Living in a city made me nostalgic for the agricultural prairie landscape where I grew up and for the Minnesota forest and lake region where my grandparents lived. Nature issues became part of my plots, perhaps because I felt deprived of landscape when I was writing. But they were issues.
My first children’s novel, which I have not published, was set in a Northern Minnesota town where a paper company was the main industry. It was a mystery. Paper was a big concern then. How often did we hear how many trees were cut down for a ream of paper! Environment was a sideline in the book but when I wrote it, no one really anticipated how the computer industry would solve the paper problem. A successful environmental story has happened since the 1980’s and without societal agony.
Josiah's Apple Orchard was first drafted as a fantasy, though it was based on a real pick-your-own apple orchard. I re-wrote it with more reality during the farming crisis in the Midwest. The specialty apple orchard I’d visited as a child was sold with the fate of many farms in the 1980’s. Of course its apples were the best I’d had, and the farm was organic as farms used to be. Since the 1980's, the organic farm movement has grown and succeeded, specialty apples included. When a reviewer wrote that my book had a “surrealistic feel”, I was pleased that I had accomplished for that reader the parallel realities I wanted to evoke in a children's novel.
I grew up hearing loon calls in the Northern Minnesota summer, and also watching lake activities expanding. Maintaining the environment for loons, children wanting to protect a loon family in particular, was the theme of The Wide Awake Loons. In the second edition of the book, I added vignette illustrations of Northern Minnesota wildlife and lake scenes.
Claude: A Dog of the Sixties is about how a standard poodle really must be trained, because of that breed's curiosity and independent spirit. Although Claude didn’t have an environment theme, it dealt with the keeping of a pet in an environment appropriate for its well-being.
I wasn't through with the bird protection theme. When my brother worked in Anchorage and then in Ketchikan, I thought for a time of moving to South Alaska. While reading about this region, I came across information about the swan endangerment there that affected the entire North American continent's swan population. This was a successful environmental story, the protection laws for swans increasing their numbers after they had decreased dramatically. The Swan Bonnet is a historical novel about poaching and protecting swans.
Although I grew up in a meat packing town, I wasn't much of a meat eater and later, bought mostly chicken. In the early 1990's, I saw for the first time the new poultry farming, a farm factory that is, on a PBS documentary. Afterward I went to the supermarket, looked at the chicken, then realized the price of eggs, and refused to buy those products again unless they were marked at a Co-op. That was the power of a photograph. So when I drafted Tug of the Wishbone, this environmental issue developed once my protagonist became a photographer.
Even though novels with environmental themes weren't handled much by the eastern publishers, having to do with demand, I'm sure, such as their difficulty in publishing real animal fiction for children as they did in the past, I hope you'll join me in those concerns for our planet, the home of every creature we know.