Debut Author Snapshot: Midge Raymond

Posted by Goodreads on July 4, 2016

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Midge Raymond found her story at the end of the world. More than ten years ago the American writer traveled to Antarctica and fell in love with the entire continent. Surrounded by ice, with more companionship from penguins than people, she was swept up by the atmosphere and the isolation of that faraway place. Her debut novel, My Last Continent, channels her passion into a captivating tale of love, loss, and redemption. Here penguin researcher Deb Gardner witnesses Antarctica at its best…and at its most terrifying. For a few blissful weeks she basks in newfound solace and fleeting romance with fellow researcher Keller Sullivan; then tragedy strikes. The cruise liner Australis hits trouble in the ice-choked waters of the Southern Ocean—and Keller is on board. From researcher to rescuer, Deb embarks on a harrowing quest against the elements to prevent heartbreaking tragedy.

Raymond tells Goodreads about how Antarctica's isolation inspired her and why she hopes readers will fall for the continent at the bottom of the world, too.

A pair of Magellanic penguins in their nest at the Punta Tombo Colony, Chubut Province, Argentina.
Goodreads: What is it about the frigid majesty of Antarctica—the cleaving icebergs and the glacial mountains—that appeals to both your main character, Deb Gardner, and to yourself?

Midge Raymond: I'm fascinated with the idea of isolation, particularly in these days of constant connectivity. It's important for we humans to isolate ourselves occasionally—to have time to recharge, to be quiet and still. For me, being in nature is the most invigorating way to disengage. And Antarctica, being a place largely uninhabited by humans, is incredibly peaceful. For Deb, who never felt as though she fit in anywhere, Antarctica offers her this sense of peace she couldn't find anywhere else; with nothing but animals and ice, she is free to be herself in a way she doesn't feel is possible in the rest of the world.

GR: Was My Last Continent always going to have a love story at its center?

MR: Yes—and in fact, it was always going to have two love stories at its center. I wanted Richard and Kate to be a parallel couple in the story; as a married couple, they are more domestic and their lives are more settled than the lives of Kate and Keller, who travel to the bottom of the world and only see each other a few times a year. However, as she gets to know Kate, Deb finds similarities in the two relationships and begins to appreciate both the simplicities and complexities of love, no matter what the circumstances. And of course, for Deb and Keller, the continent itself is a big part of who they are as a couple. So in a way Antarctica is like a third party in their relationship, creating something of a love triangle.

Adélie penguins on an iceberg in Antarctica.

GR: Like Deb and Keller, you've studied the habits of penguins. Tell us about that experience and how it played into your novel.

MR: I learned a great deal about the Adélie, chinstrap, gentoo, and emperor penguins while I was in Antarctica, and two years after that trip, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a penguin census with Dee Boersma of the University of Washington at the Punta Tombo colony in Argentina, which Dee has been studying for 30 years. This experience gave me insights into a new species—the Magellanic penguin—as well as into the lives of scientists, which was very helpful in imagining and writing the novel. And most of all, I became even more passionate about these birds and their fate in a world that is changing around them so rapidly.

Being part of the penguin census at the Punta Tombo colony deepened my respect for working scientists. The scientists who have made penguin research their life's work spend years, even decades, doing what I did for only a couple of weeks—crawling around looking into penguin burrows from dawn until sunset, weighing and measuring birds, taking showers only once a week with trucked-in water, and so much more: crunching data, publishing results, raising funds to continue everything they do.

It was also interesting for me to see all this from my decidedly nonscientific background; the researchers I met care deeply about the penguins, but they are more emotionally detached than I am. They're used to seeing dead penguins, broken eggs, and other things that are par for the course in a day in the field but that I found unbearably sad. And this informed Deb's character quite a bit. She is unlike most scientists in that she cares for the birds on a level that probably isn't healthy; she anthropomorphizes them to an extent, and she is caught up in their fate not only scientifically but emotionally as well.

A gentoo penguin on the Antarctic peninsula.
GR: "As every Antarctic traveler knows, once you begin to fear the ice, the relationship changes forever" reads one haunting line in your book. Can you explain for non-Antarctic travelers?

MR: One of the things that is so appealing about Antarctica is its ice—the icebergs are absolutely majestic and unlike anything most of us from the north ever get to see. Yet while they look so lovely, they are dangerous—they can flip at any moment and cause havoc, especially if you're in a nearby Zodiac. Due to their unpredictability, they must be carefully navigated, as every Antarctic tour operator knows well. Yet despite this, I believe there is also a bit of hubris among many humans, the notion that we can control nature or overcome nature to some extent—and when you lose that feeling, the fear sets in, and you realize you are at the mercy of nature entirely.

GR: What do you want readers to take away from My Last Continent?

MR: I hope readers enjoy the journey—and of course, I also hope readers will grow to appreciate the continent and to see that, while Antarctica seems so far away, it's very closely connected to the rest of the planet—and everything we do here has consequences down south. My Last Continent is about rescuers, not only in terms of the shipwreck but because Deb and Keller's work aims to save the penguins from the challenges they face. And we all have a role to play in saving the planet and its many vulnerable species.

A Zodiac of Antarctic travelers is dwarfed by icebergs.

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Kat (new)

Kat Von This book is superb. The journey is pure bliss.

message 2: by Marilyn (new)

Marilyn Edwards A wonderful read that had me on the edge of my chair sometimes, and happily ensconced with the penguins at other times. Midge Raymond writes beautifully of love and longing: the love of place, the love between two people, and the longing--indeed the urgency for humans to live consciously on the earth, helping to protect the land and the many species whose very existence is currently threatened . I could not put this book down---and even now, weeks later I find myself returning to the vast mystery that is Antarctica.

message 3: by Tara (new)

Tara Midge is a wonderful writer, so this has to be great! Look forward to reading it.

message 4: by Lori (new)

Lori Micho Loved, loved this book!

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