Ah, those good intentions about blogging regularly. How quickly they can evaporate!
In my defense, it’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster around here. Our dear old cat-boy, Tuna, is coming to the end of his road. Our dog, Holly, has developed seizures – a journey which has required two trips to Tufts’ Foster Hospital for Small Animals, first for a neurology consult and then for an MRI and spinal tap (…erg…) to rule out brain tumor, stroke, or infection as the culprit. Happily, all tests came back negative, but that leaves us with the rather ephemeral diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy. Holly’s eight, a bit old to have this just show up, but we always seem to have animals that bend the rules, as our dear veterinarian Dr. Jenny Gamble can attest. At any rate, as of last night she is on meds (Ka-CHING! these things are expensive!) and time will tell. Still, it’s disheartening to know that no good was going to come out of this no matter when the tests revealed.
In addition to all this, a friend’s mother is battling lung cancer; another friend’s brother is fighting colon cancer, and his mother is recovering from a stroke; a third friend just underwent an abdominal CT scan in a hunt for the cancer that may have returned to haunt her after ten years free of the monster and, well, you get the idea.
There is, however, a bit of rosy glow on the horizon, at least so far as I’m concerned. Today, I’ll be talking with my agent Bonnie Solow to decide when we will begin submitting the proposal and manuscript of The Man Who Loved Elephants to editors. This has been a long and exciting (and occasionally frustrating) road. I’m delighted … excited … terrified. Here goes my baby (our baby, I should say, for the book is as much Roger’s child as it is mine) into the world. I hope it receives a warm welcome.
It’s long been my dream to participate in a reading/signing at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT. THIS is what an independent bookstore is all about!
Well, last night my dream came true, in company with some of the finest writers I know. Many thanks to the vivacious Elissa Englund for treating us like royalty, and to the many folks who came out to listen, comment, and laugh. (Special thanks to my husband Ed for driving, and for lugging my books. Love you, honey.)
That question is obviously directed toward my fellow wordsmiths, but I suppose it could be modified to fit anyone in possession of an art or skill that periodically feels like a millstone around their neck.
When I was writing as an amateur–submitting stories to fanzines, sharing them with friends–life was so much easier. Back then, I diligently, even eagerly, strove to improve my skill with words, to hone the craft that had laid its hand on me from the time I was little. (I asked for that typewriter for Christmas, by the way. It was advertised in either the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog. It was made of cheap metal, painted pale tan, and I loved it dearly. And, no, I don’t have it anymore.)
See, I’ve ventured into unknown country now in taking on narrative nonfiction where before I’ve only written fiction. The writing isn’t what’s got me down–once I got my head turned around, progress came with … not relative ease, I can’t say that, but certainly easier than I expected. It was a challenge that I’m proud to say I overcame. The first draft was written in six months. It’s gone through probably five iterations since and is now with an agent. It’s the proposal that’s knocking my head against the wall, and the notion of promotion. (Which I didn’t mean to have rhyme, but I like it–it sounds ridiculous, but I could use a bit of ridiculous today–and so it stays.)
I don’t have a problem with getting up in front of people, reading from my work, even talking about my work or the creative process in general. But this is something more. Something I … can’t … quite … get … my … arms … around, and it’s driving me bonkers.
It’s moments like this, when I’m feeling stymied by what I know and can figure out, that I wish–for a fleeting moment or two–that Fate had not stamped WRITER on my forehead when I was born. The emotion doesn’t last long, for I love writing as I love little else, but when it’s present, it’s a drag.
Please join us for a “spooktacular” author event at the Bookclub Bookstore and More in Broadbrook, CT on October 29 from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm as “Tricks and Treats” authors Melissa Crandall, Stacey Longo, g. Elmer Munson, and John Valeri read and regale. Come in costume, if you like!
My fellow writers and I will be reading from our anthology “Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors” at the 100 North Main Street branch of the Manchester Library on Monday, October 24, from 6:30 to 8.
We are also appearing at 6:00 on Wednesday, October 26, at Bank Square Books in Mystic.
Hope you’ll be able to come out for some fun, some spooky tales, and to support your local authors.
See you there!
I’ve done a bit of traveling over the past year, mostly to the west coast of the U.S., and mostly to Oregon to visit Roger Henneous, who is my dear friend as well as the subject of my latest book, “The Man Who Loved Elephants.” This is him,
with his lovely wife RoseMerrie.
For almost 30 years, Roger worked–and worked, and worked, and worked–as Senior Elephant Keeper at the Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo). Those who’ve been mislead by romanticism may imagine that a zoo keeper’s life is one of bucolic interaction with the animals he cares for–and there can be some of that–but mostly it’s as Roger once wrote on a job description: “Days, weeks and months of back-breaking labor punctuated by moments of abject terror.”
The elephants were Roger’s friends, but they were also his children. Like children, it was up to him to teach them the rules of life in the barn so as to keep them safe and healthy: “thou shalt do as the keeper asks, thou shalt not knock the keeper down.”
Although the general media sometimes seems bent on having us believe that all zoo keepers are deplorable monsters who torture their animals, this is not the case and Roger is proof of that. “You can make an elephant do one of two things,” he’s fond of saying. “Run away or kill you. But you can get an elephant to do an amazing number of things.” He learned that “elephants are kind of subtle,” so he’d best keep his eyes moving all the time. He learned that they have a sense of humor, but a sound whack from an elephant’s trunk can severely injure a person, so that couldn’t be tolerated. He understood that he couldn’t out-weight them or out-reach them, so he needed to out-think them; to offer them a better deal when they thought mischief was the best course of action.
Although many of the elephants Roger knew have long since passed on, several remain.
One of these is Hanako, who resides at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wa. Hanako (which means “little flower child”) was a five-year-old youngster when Roger arrived at the Washington Park Zoo, the daughter of Tuy Hoa (pronounced tea-wha) and the bull Thonglaw (pronounced tung-law). It didn’t take him learn to realize that this was an elephant of a different stripe; an animal with a nervous and unpredictable personality. “She was not, thank God, particularly vicious,” Roger stresses, “but she was flighty. It took nothing to set her off and there were times when I never could figure out what had triggered her.” On one occasion, she attempted to kill Roger as he was inspecting her newborn calf.
Hanako’s tendency toward violence led to her being transferred to Point Defiance, where they had in place a “protected contact” system that allowed keepers to care for her without having to be in the enclosure with her. Under protected contact, elephants are trained to present their ears, feet, and trunk through a variety of openings so keepers can inspect them, file their nails, and treat any injuries. The bars of the enclosure are wide enough to accommodate an enormous bristled brush, and this is used to scrub down the elephants.
This summer, I was most fortunate to receive an invitation from John Houck, Deputy Director at Point Defiance (and a former co-worker of Roger’s from the Washington Park
Zoo days) to come visit “the next time you’re out this way.” Along with my husband Ed, Linda Reifschneider, President of Asian Elephant Support, and her associate Cynthia Christison, we received an unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. Best of all, thanks to the generosity of John Houck and elephant keeper Kate Burrone, we actually got to meet Hanako and her pal Suki! Not only that, but we got to feed her. The high-point for me, however, was standing beside her and being regarded by her beautiful eye as she took in my scent and figured out who the heck I was. She behaved beautifully and this will forever be one of the high points of my life. Thank you, John and Kate!
Thanks to everyone who joined us last night – October 18 – at Bentley Memorial Library in Bolton, CT for a reading of excerpts from TRICKS AND TREATS: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors.
We were fortunate to have appropriately spooky weather, plus–best of all–an engaging and interested audience who served up some extremely thought-provoking questions. And let’s not forget the cider and cookies!
(And, by the way, I love those three people with me. A lot.)
At long last, the new website is up and running. Kudos to the brilliant and beautiful Brittany Lester for taking on this project so I didn’t have to. Thanks to her, I had more time to write, and sport fewer gray hairs than I might. <Applause, applause>
Tonight – October 18, 2016 – I and several other writers will try to raise a few “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night” as we gear up for Halloween by reading from the anthology TRICKS AND TREATS: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors. The event takes place at the Bentley Memorial Library in Bolton, CT, and begins at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there. (TRICKS AND TREATS is published by Books and Boos Press, and available through Amazon.)
On the writing front, things are progressing with my book THE MAN WHO LOVED ELEPHANTS. The manuscript is complete and with my agent, Bonnie Solow, and we’re now hammering away (an apt word given my occasional desire to beat my head against a wall) on the proposal. One section to go, and we should be ready to take the manuscript out into the world.