Celebrated primatologist Jane Goodall once said, “The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.” This statement holds true for novelist and environmental advocate John Morano, who has successfully given a voice to the voiceless through his work.
John Morano is an extraordinary author who has written a series of novels in order to raise awareness on a number of complex environmental issues. The John Morano Eco-Adventure Series currently consists of four books, (A Wing And A Prayer, Makoona, Out There, Somewhere, and Flocks Of One), which bring attention to various endangered species, and give them the recognition they so deserve. Each story is filled with an array of colorful characters and told from the point of view of the animal. This supplies the reader with a better understanding of that species, the conflicts it encounters, and how he or she is feeling in a moment of victory or peril. His style of writing is both informative and inspirational, making it perfect for any reader of any age. His work has been endorsed by World Wildlife Fund, Oceana, ASPCA, The Nature Conservancy, and The Ocean Conservancy, just to name a few.
Excited to discover more about Morano and his series, BELLA connected with the author….
What inspired you to make the switch from film critic to novel writer?
Being a film critic for a national publication is truly a dream job, and it’s an important job, to interpret what’s happening on screen. But that said, there were two ideas that I couldn’t stop thinking about after several years of writing criticism. One, am I going to spend my life writing about other people’s films, plays, books, or am I ever going to do something that others will write about? I’m not saying other people should think this way, but at that time I began to.
Secondly, when it was all said and done, I had written about a movie, a play, or perhaps a book. It seemed to me, as a journalist, that there were more substantial things to cover. Sure, films and literature often touch on important topics, but they also often don’t.
While on Spring Break in Florida when I was a grad student at Penn State, I saw a televised news report that opened the door to my future.
A reporter was standing in front of a small cage. She explained that inside it was an obscure hamster, an exotic species. It was a male. The reporter pointed out that it was the last of its kind, that there was no female, and that when it died, as it surely would one day, the planet would never see this creature again. That’s when I knew what I would do. I would write about extinction. It was real. It was happening. And, what could be more dramatic? Along the way, I realized that you could not write about extinction without also covering habitat depletion. These would be my characters and my settings.
So instead of spending Spring Break on a surfboard, I went to the local library and searched for endangered species, imperiled habitats and environmental story lines. Eventually, I found the Guadalupe Island petrel, and the Eco-Adventure Book Series was born.
One aspect which makes your style of writing so noteworthy is your ability to discuss complicated themes while still keeping the mood light and uplifting. Was it difficult to find that balance?
It doesn’t seem like stories of extinction could have humor or be uplifting. But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are wonderful success stories. Individuals can and do make a difference. So, while I do spend lots of time examining issues, I also make sure to celebrate victories and heroism, and there’s no shortage of laughter. Really, the first thing most readers say to me after finishing one of the books is, “Disney.” These are really Disney stories for the 21st Century.
Do you feel that writing your novels from the perspective of the animals makes the overall message more powerful?
I think it does. I think it’s vital. I remember standing on the beach with my wife. Humpback whales had come in to feed. We were watching a pod off shore. A man stood next to me with a thick cigar in his mouth. He removed it for a moment, looked at me and grumbled, “Well, I guess it’s their ocean, too.” I just looked at him and said, “Too?”
It seems to me it’s much more the whale’s ocean than ours. So it’s that mentality of the man with the cigar that makes me want to write from the animals’ point of view. In many ways it’s about giving a voice to the voiceless, a foundational journalistic ethic. Who is more in need of a voice than an endangered species or an imperiled habitat? Neither will ever speak for itself, but both might disappear if their stories are not told.
When we see an oil spill, we look at it and we know what it is. We know what has happened. But how does a dolphin, an octopus, a petrel process an event like that? What is their perception of a shrinking habitat, a climate changing, being unable to find a potential mate? How do those directly affected understand these situations? It seems like great fodder for books. I believe it is.
Do you have a favorite character out of the series?
A favorite character? It’s almost like asking a parent, “Who is your favorite child?” I tend to have deep affection for all my characters, even the evil ones. They’re fun to write. In the new book, Flocks of One, I had a great time writing Bardus, a barred owl who speaks nothing but words written by the Bard, Shakespeare. In Makoona, the character Molo is an octopus who speaks nothing but Grateful Dead lyrics, with permission from the band, of course. He was a joy to write.
Writing about characters like an octopus, for example, is a blast. If you really understand the octopus, you have to see it as a superhero. It has super-abilities: Three hearts, blue blood, a poisonous bite, 200 suckers on eight arms, no bones, jet propulsion, the ability to regenerate a limb, can change virtually any color instantly, can release a cloud of ink to mask its escape, and more. That sounds like a superhero to me. And what’s really cool about these characters is that they actually exist. So many of them, the hummingbird and the pigeon for instance, are extraordinary. It makes for great reading.
What are your plans for the future as an author?
I think I’m going to spend my life writing books about endangered species and imperiled habitats. Sadly, it seems that there is no shortage of stories to tell. At the moment, I’m looking at endangered wolves, among other characters, for the next novel. I have a pretty good idea what that book is going to be about and I’m excited to write it. It’s the first time that I’m really moving away from the ocean, but I think it’s important to do that, to show that these environmental issues are essentially everywhere.
What advice would you give to someone looking to write their first novel?
I don’t like to tell people how they should write. I know what works for me. I pick one project and write it start to finish. I’ve met many people with three or four partially written novels. In my experience, most publishers are not interested in publishing halfway written books. So, I don’t begin anything else until I’m done with the book that I’ve already started.
More importantly, try to be an original, not a copy. Tell the story in your voice. Understand what that is, who you are on the page.
A good book should take the reader to places they haven’t been, show them things they haven’t seen. What I find exciting about the stories I’m writing is that these places, these characters are real. I’m often showing readers something they haven’t seen that truly exists in the world. Sometimes it’s showing them something that might be right in their backyard, that they just haven’t seen yet. One of the cornerstones of eco-literature is that old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction. The real world is wilder than anything you could make up.”
I want people to have fun with these books, and I think they do. The characters are inspiring. Their behaviors are fascinating. They live in habitats that engage and amaze. And, underneath it all, they are faced with enormous challenges. What is man’s role in all of this? What can we do? What should we do? Can the animals save themselves? These are the stories of our times. And I would love to share them with your readers.
In addition to his work as a novelist, John Morano is a Professor of Journalism at Monmouth University, and has authored a textbook for striving film critics titled: Don’t Tell Me the Ending! Other major accomplishments include his time as the founding Editor-in-Chief of ROCKbeat Magazine, managing editor of Modern Screen Magazine, and senior editor of Inside Books Magazine. Visit www.johnmorano.com for more information.
By Kelly Rose Bellucci
Featured Image photo credit with copyright: Mark Ludak