There are so many things I love about Amanda Abler’s essay below, but I think my favorite part has to do with an insight she had about nonfiction (I won’t spoil the surprise). I often think our stories choose us and Amanda’s experience with her debut picture book, The Spirit of Springer: The Real Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca, illustrated by Levi Hastings (Little Bigfoot of Sasquatch Books) is another example of that. This inspiring story seems the perfect addition to our bookshelves in this tumultuous time.
I find it hard to pinpoint exactly when my book The Spirit of Springer (Little Bigfoot of Sasquatch Books) began. I automatically think about all the dominoes that had to fall, the jobs, the moves, the births of children, and the friends that eventually led me to find Springer’s story and along with it my love of writing nonfiction.
However, I like to think that my book started on a cold, rainy midnight in January. I had set my alarm for 11:55 pm so I could book a campsite, a coveted one on San Juan island that orcas often swim past. Pacific Northwesters take their camping seriously and as a transplant, I was quickly learning to follow along. This was my third midnight attempt and fortunately my last.
Six months and a short ferry ride later, we pulled into our campsite overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We were ready for fun and to see orcas! But even before we had unpacked the car, my nine-year-old came running to me, crying and bleeding. She had cut her thumb with her new pocketknife. As I contemplated whether she needed stitches, my husband picked up the knife to inspect it, and promptly cut his finger as well. I put the knife away. Perhaps I was about to spend more time inspecting wounds than cetaceans.
We spent the next couple days hiking, throwing a Frisbee, roasting marshmallows, and… not seeing orcas. On our third and final morning, we woke to find the other campers chatting together. They all wanted to know: had we also seen the orcas swim by in the moonlight the night before? The sound of the spray from the orcas’ blow holes had woken many campers.
Alas, we had not. Camping with three kids for three days? We had all collapsed dead asleep even before the sun had set.
We packed up our dusty selves and headed to the ferry— happy and tired, if not a little disappointed.
We just missed the 9:00 am ferry as we pulled into Friday Harbor, so with two hours to kill before the next departure, we decided to visit the Whale Museum. Inside, a documentary was playing about an orphaned orca named Springer that had been found swimming alone in the Puget Sound. I was immediately intrigued. My family wandered through the museum, but I had to stay and find out what happened to this little orca. Surely everything would work out, I hoped. No one would make a heartstring-tugging documentary with an unhappy ending, would they? Fortunately, I was right.
Springer’s story was so sweet and unbelievable that I knew right away I wanted to share it with the world. A quick check on Amazon for other books about Springer told me I would have the chance to write my own version.
As I embarked on writing Springer’s story, I was surprised to realize how much I enjoyed writing nonfiction. I had always viewed nonfiction as well, a little bit boring. But suddenly I found myself delving into research and loving it. I called up strangers on the phone and they talked to me about their work. The whole process was fascinating. If I had written a fictional story that ended so perfectly, it would have seemed contrived. What people say about nonfiction is true, you can’t make this stuff up.
Besides discovering a heartwarming, true story, I had also found a genre I loved. What a joy it was to sit at home, read as much as I wanted about a fascinating topic, and then figure out how to fit all the pieces of the story together to create a compelling narrative. I had always loved science and writing, and now I had figured out how to do both at once.
Several years have now passed since the ups and downs of our camping trip led me to find Springer’s story and writing nonfiction. And as the dominoes in my life continue to fall, as each rainy midnight passes, I can’t help but wonder toward what new story am I stumbling next?
Amanda Abler grew up in New Hampshire where she developed a love of snow, being on the water, and maple syrup. She studied biology in college and continues to love all things related to science. She enjoys writing nonfiction because of the many interesting things she gets to learn and the new people she gets to meet. Amanda lives in Seattle with her family and their small, ferocious dog, Bear. The Spirit of Springer is her first book. To learn more find her on Instagram lbfbooks, sasquatchbooks, amandaablerbooks or Twitter @SasquatchBooks, @LBFbooks, @AblerAmanda.