Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (21 page)

This myth inspired me to get through Organic Chem in college and my orals in grad school. It even came to mind at different points of struggle in my personal life. But now, at 37 years of age, I no longer believe in Big Raven the way I once did. And so, the advice I now dispense to you, young man, is this: no one person alone can save anyone or anything.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: April 28, 2013 at 3:52 PM
Subject: RE: Advice

Dear Peter:

Thank you for the advice. That myth is pretty incredible, but I will try my best not to hero-worship Big Raven.

If you have a moment, I actually wanted to ask you about something whale-related that I've been thinking about for a long time. Last fall, when I was bored in the library during study hall at school, I plugged “whales” into a search engine for fun. And this old 2004
New York Times
article grabbed my attention. Apparently, a 52-hertz whale has been roaming the North Pacific since 1992, emitting a low
basso profundo
sound, which the article said is equivalent to a tuba's lowest note. Researchers know that the noise is coming from a whale, but it is not the voice of any KNOWN whale. Odder still, the creature is travelling alone—not in a pod—and its frequent vocalizations go completely unanswered. One researcher said, “The call, possibly a mating signal, suggests that the animal lives in total, and undesired, isolation.” The scientists have suggested that this whale may be malformed or perhaps a cross between a blue whale and some other species. What do you think? The group that put out this report is right up the road from you at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Has your team formed an opinion on their findings? Could the 52-hertz whale really be the only one of its kind in the whole world?

I await your response.


James Turner


A big thank you from Natalie to:

Rich, for reading bad first drafts and supporting my writing habit by cheering me through grad school, encouraging me to attend residencies and conferences, picking up the slack around the house when I was holed up on the computer, and pushing me to continue when I was ready to give up. Ten years to forever.

Patrick and Henry, remember James Turner and always be you.

Mom, for taking me on my first whale watch and teaching me pretty much everything I know. For traveling across the country to help me realize a dream. Love to you and Sal.

Dad, who will always live in my memories, and for our time by the sea.

Leslie, for being my reader.

J T-H, M T-H, J T-W, and S T-W, for listening.

Grandpatty and Grandad, for the countless hours of diaper changes, games of pony boy, and park hopping with H. Thanks for helping me to continue my career.

My University of Chicago Writers' Studio colleagues and teachers, for the workshops that honed my craft.

Jim Heynen, who helped me find my voice.

Adrianne Harun, for the keen insight and editorial advice on “Whale Boy.”

Suzanne Berne, who I look up to both as a mentor and person.

Debby Vetter, for publishing “Whale Boy,” and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for the honor.

Sara Crowe and Andrew Karre, for their enthusiasm, guidance, and wisdom. You guys rock!

Stan Rubin, Judith Kitchen, and the entire RWW community (including Kristina and Liz), for residencies that inspired.

Bill, who wrote me an email awhile back that said: “Tell me if you have any interest in this: We start a serial correspondence as characters.” LOL.


A big thank you from Bill to:

Mom and Dad, for everything, nothing less.

Mike, Sharon, Kathy, and David, for helping give me a childhood that bordered on idyllic, and plenty of advice since.

Manolo Celi and Peter Fontaine, for watering the seed.

Jenny Sanchez, for being my first collaborator.

Scott Nadelson and David Huddle, for their wonderful mentorship.

Matt Holloway, for being “in this thing” too.

Andrew Karre, for getting it.

Jay, for liking to read.

KL, for so much and so many kinds of support.

Stan Rubin, Judith Kitchen, and the entire RWW community, for fostering such a nurturing and challenging environment.

Natalie, for rolling with this strange idea, and for writing the first entry in our exchange.



Some great sources of information on the topic of whales consulted during the writing of this novel included: “
Song of the Sea
, a Capella and Unanswered” by Andrew C. Revkin of the
New York Times
The Secret World of Whales
by Charles Siebert,
The Birth of a Humpback Whale
by Robert Matero, and
The Whale: In Search of the Giants
of the Sea by Phillip Hoare.


Natalie Haney Tilghman
first published the short story “Whale Boy,” which inspired the character of James Turner, in
magazine. In 2010, she won first place for fiction in the
Atlantic Monthly
's Student Writing Contest. She has an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop. She lives in Glenview, Illinois, with her husband, two sons, and their Chihuahua. Visit her at

Bill Sommer
writes fiction and screenplays and plays the drums. His work has appeared in the
Whitefish Review
and in the New Libri Press
Coffee Shorts
series. He is the screenwriter of the film
Tony Tango
, winner of Best Feature Film at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. He has an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop and a Bachelor's degree in jazz performance from the University of Miami. He is the drummer for the band Book of Colors and for singer/songwriter Ed Hale. Born and raised in Saint Louis, he now lives in Atlanta. This is his first novel.

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