Me & My Big Mouth

Today_ Tomorrow_ Always_cover-v2-1.1Remember some time back when I mentioned how much I love editing? Yeah, that time. If I ever say it again, remind me that I need to keep my trap closed and not taunt the Powers That Be.

I’m only partly serious. I still love the E-word, but I’ve just come off the hands-down most  intense editing stint I’ve ever done (and that includes reworking an entire novel in seven days). I’m mentally flat-lined. I can even feel it in my muscles because, of course, you know all those hours in the chair, hunched over the keyboard, it takes a toll. We’re talking 8, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day in order to meet deadline (which I still had to extend by two weeks because I couldn’t seem to get off the launch pad for nearly 10 days not because I wasn’t working, but because I couldn’t find the center, the focus, from where to begin. It finally happened, thank God, but man …)

Best part of all this is that I’m pretty happy with what I produced. I can’t say “entirely happy” only because I’m so close to it by now, and so tired, that my ability to judge has gone a bit squiffy.

So, anyway, it’s in the hands of my editors and publishing team, and we’ll soon be talking cover, and title. (The working title remains “The Man Who Loves Elephants” but they’re talking about changing it, and I can only hope they laughed when I suggested “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Until I have further news on that front, I’d like to share this: That the anthology in which my story “Trinity” appears is now available here on Amazon for $6.99. As always, thank you for all your support.

Teaching Moments

packys-eyeI had a thing happen today.

I follow several elephant-related sites on Facebook (yeah, I know; big surprise), as well as a few zoos. Recently, one of those facilities posted a short video in which a snake swallows a pinkie mouse. For those unfamiliar with term, “pinkie mouse” describes a particular size and age of feeder mouse–those live or frozen mice fed to reptiles and amphibians. Although I’d never seen a snake eat a mouse, the video didn’t particularly shock or bother me. I’m one of those for whom the grittier side of Nature holds a certain allure. I was the kid fascinated by close-up photos in National Geographic of lions devouring antelope. I’m the adult who (when the vet expressed my dog’s anal glands and the pus flew into her hair) fell over laughing … along with the vet, who is one of the world’s totally cool human beings.

 

Anyway.

I was a little concerned that there was no comment attached to the video warning viewers of graphic images. As I said, I wasn’t bothered, but I’m sure there are those out there who would be, and they should have the option to pass on such things, or go forward knowing what to expect. Not everyone is into Nature. (More’s the pity.)

I got a response from another viewer basically telling me to shut up (her words), and chiding me for being so sensitive that I couldn’t deal with a little Nature. I responded with a “No need to be rude” and explained that wasn’t bothered, but that some people might be. And that’s as far as I’ll go. I won’t respond to anything else, but it got me to thinking.

We each have a right to react to things as we do. Someone may well be squeamish over the visceral side of Nature, or even traumatized by it. (Honestly, they may have very good reason. My mother grew up on a farm and routinely saw her step-father kill newborn kittens by throwing them against the wall.) But if someone is having difficulty with something, why not embrace that as a teaching moment, a way to introduce them to another facet of the fascinating world we are so lucky to live in? Instead of castigating someone for being overly-sensitive, why not take them by the metaphorical hand and explain why things happen as they do? Opportunities are lost because it’s so much easier to offer up a ration of shit than it is to consider another’s position and go forward with compassion.

Who knows … somewhere down the line, you might actually turn them into a Nature lover. And wouldn’t that be wonderful? The more people who care about our world, the better our chances for saving it and the countless species that call it home.

 

 

 

A Holiday Fat in Elephants

How lucky am I?

img_2493

A lousy picture of this most wonder antique pin, which currently resides on my bulletin board because I don’t trust the clasp.

img_2494.jpg

A bell-laden parade of pachyderms

img_2495.jpg

A closeup of same

img_2496.jpg

Wee brass Ganesha

I also received a lovely elephant Christmas ornament, but neglected to photograph it before packing away the holiday things. (Sorry, Nina.)

Our house is a bit drafty in winter (whose isn’t?) and sometimes my hands get cold as I’m working at the computer. Friend, little brother, confidante, and fellow writer John Valeri found me the perfect solution:

img_2497.jpg

Peter Pan themed writing gloves!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season however you celebrate (or even if you don’t). Now, let’s get writing!

 

Tina (and an accompanying bit of news)

Tina and Judy

Tina on left, with her almost-twin Judy, 1970.

This daughter of Rosy and Thonglaw arrived in April 1970. “She was [gorgeous],” Roger recalls. “The spitting image of Rosy. The rationale for selling her rather tan saving her the breeding pool never made sense to me.”

At the age of two, Tina moved to the Vancouver Game Farm in British Columbia, where she lived alone for fourteen years. In 1986, at long last, she gained a companion–a young female African elephant named Tumpe. They remained a duo until 2002 when the farm’s new owners sent Tumpe to a zoo in the United States.

Tina had developed quite severe pododermatitis (foot rot) and degenerative osteoarthritis. Her keepers did what they could to ease her distress, but it became clear that she needed a more suitable place to live. In August 2003, she arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. She died there unexpectedly in July 2004. A necropsy revealed heart problems, possibly a genetic defect. Staff at the sanctuary reported that the herd stood vigil by her grave site for two days.

For more about Tina and the other elephants at the Sanctuary, please check here.

*************

My tidbit of news is that the latest rounds of proposed edits have been completed and submitted to the folks I hope will become my publishers. Stay tuned!

Article Published in JEMA

EMA-logo-plain-1

EMA Logo

I’m very pleased to announce that my article “Return of the Elephant Man,” appears in the most recent JEMA,  Journal of the Elephant Managers Association, Volume 29, Number 1. The article is based on a portion of my book The Man Who Loved Elephantswhich tells the story of Roger Henneous and his 30 years working with elephants at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo).

WTF?

confused-2681507_1920It’s the weirdest damn thing.

I have this blog, see, but I also have the “The Man Who Loved Elephants” site where I speak–or write, rather–more directly to that particular book, what brought it about, and offer stories about Roger and the elephants.

Great, right? Yeah, it is. And the response has been really encouraging and I thank all of you who have checked it out and chosen to follow it.

But what’s strange is the number of “likes” I get that, when I go to check them out–as I invariably do because I’d like to offer a personal thank you–turn out to be porn-related sites.

??!!??

Not sure where they’re coming from, unless they think “elephant” is a euphemism for … something. Or maybe these people just randomly “like” sites? Or maybe these sites are actually robots? To what point and purpose? I know there are those of you out there who are way, WAY more computer-savvy than I am. Isn’t life confusing enough?

Or maybe there’s some other connection?

I’m afraid to ask.

When A Writer Gives Up, Part 1

pexels-photo-269451In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the notion of story ideas drifting about in the ether, coming to rest with one writer or another. If given attention, the ideas stay and grow. If not, they eventually move on to a more receptive audience.

I believe this.

More than two years ago, I visited Gettysburg for the first time. If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and go. If you possess an ounce of sensitivity in your soul, you can’t help but be affected. There’s a quality to the space … the silence … the sense of energy, of presence, behind that silence. Anyone who thinks it’s a boring old bunch of empty fields dotted with memorials is missing the point. Because of that visit, I will never be the same. I’m grateful for that, and can’t wait to return.

At any rate, shortly after that visit, a line of narrative popped into my brain–a description of a minie ball blasting into the abdomen of a young soldier from Maine on the fields of Gettysburg–and I knew I had the idea for my next book.

But I also had an idea for a book of narrative nonfiction about this man I’d met 20 years earlier who spent 30 years lovingly caring for the largest breeding herd of elephants in captivity. My research into that book–my tentative forays to locate this gentleman–had suddenly borne fruit, and here I was juggling two ideas.

My first inclination was to go after the Civil War story. But the minute I decided that, I heard–literally heard–a voice in my head say, “If you do that, you will lose the elephant book forever.” And I just couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t risk it. Telling the story of Roger Henneous and his pachyderm family was more important to me. It felt vital. It felt necessary. And, in truth, it felt like a goal I’d been working my way toward my entire writing life.

So I set aside the Civil War story and threw myself into the elephant book. In six months, I had a first draft. A very rough first draft, but at least it had a beginning, middle, and end.  I’ve since lost count, but my guess is the manuscript went through something like six iterations before reaching a point where I could search for an literary agent–happily accomplished when I signed with Bonnie Solow–and begin the ongoing task of offering the book to publishers.

At long last I could turn my eyes toward the Civil War and all the research books I’d collected in anticipation! Except the power of the story had left me. The drive to write it had withered and vanished. I suspect the idea got tired of being ignored and wandered off to a more fertile field, one ready to accept it.

Every now and then I toy with going back to see if I can revive that sense of vigor and excitement, but I don’t know. I may have missed my chance this time. But that’s okay. Something else miraculous occurred.

Where To Go For Elephants

Hello, all! I wanted to let you know that I’ve started an adjunct site to this one, focused entirely on elephants and the stories behind my book The Man Who Loved Elephants: 30 Years at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo, which is being offered to publishers by my agent, Bonnie Solow.

Roger pontificating

Photo courtesy of Roger Henneous

Gruff, bow-legged, and whiskey-voiced, Roger Henneous admittedly “suffers fools lightly, and damn fools not at all,” but when it comes to elephants, he’s nothing but a big marshmallow. For nearly 30 years, he served as mother, mentor, teacher, and therapist to the largest breeding herd of elephants in captivity, among them the illustrious Belle–who made history in April 1962 by delivering the first calf born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years–and her equally famous son, Packy.

Belle became special to Roger for a different reason when she saved him from being killed by another elephant. From that moment, the two of them were bonded in a way UC Davis veterinarian Larry Galuppo later described as “incredible.”

At The Man Who Loved Elephants I’ll talk about these stories and more, and share photos from Roger’s days at the zoo. I hope you’ll join me there!