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Interview: Aimee Ferris

January 2nd, 2008 (05:22 pm)
accomplished

Current Mood: accomplished
Current Song: Spell by Marié Digby

Published as part of Penguin's Students across Seven Seas (S.A.S.S.) line, Girl Overboard by Aimee Ferris charts Marina's trip aboard a ship with kids from around the world. (Read my full review.) The well-traveled author dropped by, speaking at length about places I've never been, conservation efforts, and her love for dolphins and octopi.

Your book's main character, Marina, grew up in Vermont and plans to attend the University of Hawaii. What is your hometown, and where did you study?

Like Marina, I lived in Stowe -- which is a gorgeous little mountain village in the middle of Vermont. However, I grew up in Illinois just 15 minutes over the Mighty Miss. from St. Louis. Our house sat in a rural town smack dab between a corn field, a bean field, and a whole lot of cows -- not exactly where you'd expect someone who's done thousands of scuba dives to come from! I had planned to attend U of Hawaii and was actually accepted into the Marine Biology program, but my plans changed and I am now finishing the last of my degree in Philosophy from the University of Illinois. Just for the fun of it, I've been known to argue that dolphins should be considered persons in the occasional ethics class -- a little homage to my past life.

Your experiences as a divemaster and dolphin trainer lend real credence to the story. Do you still work with marine life?

Sadly, no -- and I'm probably the most annoying person in the world to take on an aquarium visit. I tend to forget where I am and fall into divemaster nature lecture mode! I haven't given in to the urge to slide into the tanks to play with the octopi though…yet. I'm now landlocked here in the mountains of New York State. Beautiful scenery, but I've traded the sight of breaching humpbacks from my lanai for lumbering black bears fromm my back deck.

It sounds as though dolphins are to you what otters are to me, except I've never had the opportunity to work with otters. Tell me a little known fact about dolphins.

I managed to sneak some cool tidbits into the book -- like the tiny bone still found in the hip area that some scientists believe suggests they might have developed from a prehistoric wolf-like creature who had to turn to the sea for sustenance and spent ever increasing length of time diving underwater for food and that they “sleep” with one brain hemisphere at a time, keeping the other in an alert mode to stay safe from predators. Now otters would be fun to scuba with!

How can landlocked readers help save the oceans? Or, if that sounds too heady, contribute to conservation programs?

This is such a massively huge area to cover that it makes this a difficult question to explain well. I guess the best way to answer that is that all rivers run to the sea, so besides (once old enough) being politically aware when bills come into play that effect the health of our oceans, being environmentally aware in everyday life - no matter how landlocked! – all will have a positive effect on marine life.

Marina's name fits her perfectly since she wants to become a marine biologist. When you were a teenager, what did you want to be?

I really wanted to be an artist. I had my heart set on attending the Art Institute of Chicago, but someone or other during my high school years convinced me that art was not a very practical field of education to pursue (insert sound of giant raspberry). Everything works out for a reason though, and I can't imagine doing anything differently than I did (which was somewhat along the lines of close my eyes tight and let the current take me where it chose). But I will admit to reliving that decision making time from my past in my next novel. One of the perks of writing fiction -- you can rewrite your script, names changed to protect the innocent of course, hehe.

You once were a volunteer EMT. Would you ever write a fiction or non-fiction book about that experience?

I also write for magazines and newspapers and have written some essays based on my experiences, but I'd like to work on a longer piece someday. It was such an amazing experience that I want to be sure to approach it the right way to really express what an incredible experience it was.

This is going to sound strange, coming from a girl who is barely five feet tall, but I liked that Marina was 5'11", and that the characters, who came from all over the world, looked and sounded quite different. Which character is the most like you?

They probably all had elements I could relate to, but a lot of the character's flavor came in varying degrees from real people I've traveled with.

Link is based on a real Aussie raft guide (and yes, he is totally gorgeous) who I lived with on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Marina reminded me of a very cool and beautiful girl (who was equally clueless as Marina to her outward amazing looks - in a good way) I worked on boats with in Maui. She was actually 6'1" which I remember so clearly because we were partners while getting our divemaster certification and one of the course exercises was to trade every last piece of our scuba gear while 30 feet under water, which was made that much more fun since we wore drastically different sizes.

Ryan and Jeanette were two baristas at the Canadian coffee house where I wrote most of GIRL OVERBOARD. I used their names in gratitude for supplying me with copious amounts of caffeine, a writer's best friend.

Si and Kris were very similar to some of my closest friends I lived with in the Caribbean (and whose wedding reception I attended last week!). In fact, the real Kristen (a Scuba instructor as well) and I have an outing planned to an aquarium. Between our extensive marine backgrounds and love of sea life, well, let's just say aquarium security better keep an extra close eye on the hatch to that octopi tank . . .

Visit Aimee's LiveJournal and her page at the Class of 2k7 website.