A parrot, a dove and a snake hitched a ride in Ginny Rorby’s RV for a cross-country move from Miami, Fla., to Fort Bragg, Calif. A kitten joined along the way too.
For 23 years, the Winter Park native had been a flight attendant for National Airlines in Miami, which later became Pan American World Airways. She had split her time between cooking meals and setting up teacarts on flights to London every weekend, and studying at the University of Miami and later at Florida International University during the week.
Before the move, Rorby graduated from UM with a dual major in biology and creative writing, and a master’s degree in creative writing from FIU.
It was September 1991 when Rorby packed her bags for northern California. Her mission: “To never be hot again as long as I live.”
Flashback to 1985, Rorby was on a layover in Santa Domingo when a jolt of inspiration changed the path of her life forever.
“The plot for [my first novel] hit me in a flash and I started writing and researching the minute I got home.”
In that initial moment of inspiration, while getting dressed for her next flight, Rorby had been listening to the soundtrack from “The Electric Horseman” — a movie about a wild horse that’s forced to perform in a Las Vegas show.
Her first book, “Dolphin Sky,” and following works would go on to reflect similar themes of captive animals being mistreated for the amusement of people. Additionally, Rorby’s books would feature protagonists who are misunderstood or treated differently, broaching subjects of racism, and physical and mental disability.
In the lower galley of the DC10 airliner, between doing homework and gazing out the window above her jump seat, “Dolphin Sky” emerged. After eight rejections, the book finally sold in 1996. Rorby was 52.
The thought of being an author hadn’t occurred to Rorby in her younger years. In fact, the Winter Park High School graduate of 1962 says she hardly passed her classes.
Now 70-years-old, Rorby is the author of five books and the winner of the 2013 Sunshine State Reading Award. On Jan. 26, Rorby was honored as one of 26 total inductees of Winter Park High School’s Alumni Circle of Distinction.
“The work she has done as a novelist along with her extensive local community involvement clearly displays the care she has for people, animals and the environment,” said Winter Park High School principal Timothy Smith.
This honor came as a surprise to Rorby.
“When the principal called me to tell me, I asked him if he checked my transcripts,” Rorby said with a laugh.
“I barely got out of high school… Oddly, I flunked English and had to take it when I went to junior college,” she said.
Although Rorby says she has a bad track record as a student, she now gets invited to visit schools around the country to talk to students about her books, some of which have been assigned reading in middle school classrooms.
Through her presentations, she hopes to inspire students to think critically about the lives of wild animals in captivity.
Rorby’s most recent book, “How To Speak Dolphin,” is set to release this summer. In the story, which was commissioned through Scholastic Corporation, a heroine navigates difficult situations with her brother, who is on the autism spectrum, as well as ethical issues surrounding the life of a captive dolphin.
For students who are interested in learning more about wildlife outside of captivity, the new book offers an educational component.
A young dolphin was discovered by researchers from the 10,000 Island Dolphin Project near the Marco River area in Florida, and was named after the dolphin in Rorby’s book — Nori.
The founder and director of the project, Chris Desmond says that students will be able to track Nori’s behavior from the database at dolphinstudy.com
“What I want is for when they go to someplace like Sea World or the aquarium… or when they’re seeing movies with live animals, I want them to stop and think about the lives that [the animals] have,” Rorby said, “…Maybe then they’ll think about not going, and if they don’t go, there’s no show.”