Lopez author’s orca novel wins national award

“Beyond the Human Realm,” Lopez resident Gene Helfman’s novel about a captive killer whale released into the wild, has won the 2022 National Indie Excellence Award for Animal Fiction.

The story chronicles the life of Makai, a male orca captured in the North Atlantic and held in a marine park until he becomes a liability. Makai is slated for euthanasia but is rescued and rehabilitated by a whale biologist and others, including a runaway Indigenous teenager with Orca Clan roots. Together, they work to unite Makai with J Pod of the Southern Resident killer whales.

The novel draws on concepts developed in movies such as Free Willy, The Cove, and Blackfish, as well as J35/Tahlequa’s 17-day tour of grief carrying her dead calf. The novel has achieved Finalist status in three other literary fiction contests.

The National Indie Excellence® Awards, in their 16th year, recognize self-publishers and independent presses “who produce the highest quality books on the basis of superior written content coupled with excellent presentation in each and every facet of the final published product … [representing] the best and brightest talents … in contemporary indie publishing and self-published authors today.”

“Beyond the Human Realm” is available at local bookstores and via major online services. Profits from sales are donated to orca conservation.