I’m proud and honored to have been chosen to present my book ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd at the “7 Coming-Up Author Showcase” at the recent PNBA Tradeshow held October 6-8 at the Red Lion on the River in Portland, OR.
The event–which rounded out the show, attracting booksellers, librarians, and publisher and sales rep exhibitors–featured seven authors from around the world, representing various genres, speaking for seven minutes on their books, which will appear from now through the Spring of 2020, after which book signings and giveaways took place. Joining me on stage were authors Gretchen Berg (The Operator), DJ Lee (Remote: A Love Story), Jody J. Little (Worse Than Weird), Daniel Mathews (Trees in Trouble), Abigail Hing Wen (Loveboat, Taipei), and Erin Yun (Pippa Park Raises Her Game).
(FYI, ELEPHANT SPEAK is due to be born on March 3, 2020, and will be available from Ooligan Press, as well as through your favorite independent bookseller and other online sites. Please support independent publishing and booksellers.)
(On left, with supportive Project Manager Julie Collins. On right, with Publisher Abbey Gaterud, who talked me off the ledge at least once)
Seven minutes isn’t a very long amount of time in which to convey something special about your book, something readers won’t learn by reading it. (On the other hand, seven minutes can seem like forever, as I’m sure you’ve all experienced.) I chose to focus on the evening I first met Roger Henneous. What follows is my talk, as given:
From 1968 to 1998, Roger Henneous cared for the largest captive herd of breeding elephants in North America and he did it right here, in Portland, at what was then called the Washington Park Zoo.
I met Roger in March 1997. He was the Senior Keeper of Elephants and I was a fledgling zoo volunteer drafted to assist in an around-the-clock medical watch on Belle, the herd matriarch. Surgeons from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine had recently excised infected bone and necrotic tissue from her left front foot, the result of pododermatitis, an affliction better known by the evocative name “foot rot,” a chronic disease to which captive elephants are prone. The operation had been risky given Belle’s age, size, anatomy, and other health concerns, but she’d tolerated the procedure surprisingly well and there was every hope for a full recovery.
When I arrived in the elephant barn that night, I found Roger standing with Belle behind the glass of the front exhibit room. Not a big man, he seemed even smaller beside the towering elephant, his bearded face shadowed by the brim of a battered campaign hat. Belle stood in an attitude of deep concentration, her foot wrapped in thick bandage secured with gray duct tape, gently rocking from side to side as she listened to him.
Let me tell you a little about Belle. She was only a few months old when she came to the United States in 1952. She was so tiny that her owner, an animal trainer named Morgan Berry, drove her around in the back of an old Cadillac, the rear seat removed so she could stand with her trunk hanging out the window, waving at people.
Ten years later, in April 1962, Belle made history when she delivered her son Packy. As the first successful elephant birth in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years, the event triggered a media circus. Belle and Packy became instant celebrities and, for the first time, the zoo’s annual attendance soared past the one million mark. Overnight, Portland was transformed from “The City of Roses” to the “The City of Elephants.”
But that was all in the past. What mattered most the night I met Roger, was getting Belle back to her old self.
When he eventually appeared on my side of the exhibit room glass, Roger brusquely introduced himself and offered me one of two metal folding chairs. I settled onto it and he took the other, elbows on knees, hands clasped, his eyes on Belle. He fretted over every elephant in his care, but she was indisputably his favorite, and had been ever since she’d held at bay another elephant determined to kill him.
Time passed. Belle’s constant rocking unnerved me. There were moments when she leaned so far to the right that it seemed she might fall. It was too easy to imagine her great body losing its balance and crashing sideways. Once, in panic, I blurted, “She’s going over!” because it seemed impossible that she could recover from so steep a cant.
“No, she isn’t.” Roger’s voice was gentle despite the grate of smoker’s gravel. My cheeks went hot, embarrassed by my outburst … by my fear that something bad would happen on my watch, or that I’d say or do something ridiculous and make a fool of myself—which, of course, I’d just done. Roger didn’t hold it against me. My obvious concern for Belle’s welfare granted me all manner of forgiveness.
Mid-way through my four-hour shift, Roger excused himself and returned to the exhibit room, lugging a large plastic garbage can with bright green fronds of bamboo sprouting from the top. Belle took what he offered and dropped it on the floor, clearly disinterested. Roger dug deeper into the can, produced an apple, and held it to her mouth. She lipped the fruit, but didn’t eat. He offered a banana, and this she accepted, grinding it into pulp between her immense molars. She refused anything further, so Roger put the can aside, brought out a hose, and allowed her to drink her fill.
Later, he returned to sit by me again. “She’s got no appetite,” he said grimly.
“She ate a little, though,” I pointed out, “because you asked her to.”
He shrugged, reluctant to take credit for anything. Cocking back the brim of his hat, Roger folded his arms across his chest. “Belle and me, we’re like an old married couple,” he said. For the first time that evening, a tiny smile curved the edge of his lips in an expression made up in equal parts of tenderness and exasperation. “We’ve known each other a long time and we respect each other, but neither of us is terribly impressed anymore.”
Some great love affairs never die. So it is with Roger and the elephants. More than twenty years since that night, he remains as enamored as he ever was and, I hope, quietly pleased by the mark he’s left on the field of elephant care. In an era when the standard procedure for dealing with such immense and intelligent animals might involve confinement, abuse, isolation, and starvation, Roger labored to create a compassionate and rewards-based environment grounded in mutual respect. He cared little for the accolades gathered along the way, including the Marlin Perkins Certificate of Excellence. The only thing that mattered was the elephants.
“Abuse is the lazy man’s solution to a problem,” he told me. “Maintaining control is an exercise in intellect. More can be achieved with kindness than with brutality.”
When Roger first arrived at the zoo in 1968, he was just looking for a job working with animals. He’d no particular interest in elephants, and no idea they would soon take over his life, affecting every part of it, ultimately influencing his notions of dedication, determination, empathy, compassion, and family. During his 30 years at the zoo, he inspired both loyalty and consternation among his coworkers, and never stopped moving from the moment his boots hit the ground in the morning until he took them off at night. Along the way, he dispensed common sense, sentimentality, and sarcastic wit. Once asked by supervisors to describe his job, he replied, “Days, weeks, and months of back-breaking labor punctuated by moments of abject terror.” Those who met him, however briefly, walked away with the experience indelibly stamped on their lives.
“I never met a keeper that cared more for his animals than Roger,” said a former coworker. “He was crusty and cantankerous on the outside, but a big soft jelly doughnut on the inside when it came to the elephants. He didn’t romanticize or anthropomorphize, but he loved them for what they were.”
Initially, Roger was reluctant to share his story, uncertain whether he wanted to relive those years, some of which had been indescribably painful. In the end, he chose to proceed not for his own benefit, but for the sake of the animals he loved.
“I don’t much care if anyone remembers me once I’m gone,” he said. “But I’d like it if they remembered the elephants.”
Thank you to my “author wrangling” team at Ooligan; to everyone at PNBA; to all the independent booksellers and publishers, librarians and sales reps who work long hours to promote books that might not otherwise come readily to a reader’s hand; and to my fellow writers wherever you are.
We earned this celebration! Denise Morales Soto (Design), Julie Collins (Project Manager), c’est moi, Faith Munoz (Social Media), and Melinda Crouchley (Managing Editor)
When I began the first tentative work on my book ELEPHANT SPEAK: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd (Ooligan Press, March 2020), I never anticipated the opportunities it would present over the course of almost five years.
Yup, you read that right; five years from my initial query letter to Roger Henneous asking if he would allow me to tell his story–through months of my then-agent offering the book to big name publishers around the globe–through the disappointment of rejection despite praise and encouragement from many editors–to my agent saying she’d done all she could and was parting ways with me–to my determination to not give up–to at last finding a home at Ooligan Press. Writing is not for the faint of heart, and anyone who thinks the work is easy, or publication guaranteed, is fooling themselves.
Despite the ups and downs, the nights when I tearfully wondered if I had it in me to write the book, let alone see it through to being an actual reality in my hands, I’ve had a wonderful time and gained so many precious experiences and memories. Chief among those is the friendship I’ve developed with Roger Henneous. He and his wife RoseMerrie and their extended family welcomed me into their home and their lives, generously throwing open not only numerous boxes of memorabilia of Roger’s years as Senior Elephant Keeper at the Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo), but also their hearts. Every author should feel so encouraged.
ELEPHANT SPEAK involved a great deal of research apart from my interviews with Roger. I hunted down his former colleagues where I could, and they kindly answered my questions. Present-day elephant people–those working in zoos and sanctuaries, those involved in research, and many others whose lives revolve around elephants–as well as people in such diverse areas as city governments, state police, and the Coast Guard, offered information and guidance, and I’ve attempted to acknowledge them all in the back of the book.
And then there’s Bob Lee and his crew of elephant keepers at the Oregon Zoo.
Bob made it possible for Roger to return not just to the zoo, but to the new elephant facility; to get a glimpse behind the scenes and reacquaint himself with his old friends, Sung Surin (aka Shine) and Rose-Tu. (You can read about it here.) During that visit, I half-jokingly inquired whether I might someday job-shadow a keeper. “Sure,” Bob said without missing a beat. “I think we can do that.”
It was something I couldn’t dare arrange until the book was done, the final edit complete, the manuscript in the capable hands of the folks at Ooligan. Only then did I feel my time was again my own and I could give myself a small vacation. I’d promised Bob I meant to work for my opportunity–I can shovel manure with the best of them and my vegetable-cutting skills are excellent–but if this is work (and I know it is), it’s no wonder the keepers each told me, independent of one another, how much they look forward to coming to work every day.
So, thank you Bob Lee and Pam Starkey, Tarah Bedrossian and Joe Sebastiani and Matt Miles. Thank you, Shine and Rose-Tu. Thank you, Samson and Rosko (aka Samudra) who, in my busyness, I didn’t get pictures of, and Chendra who accepted my offering of a cantaloupe with such delight. Words can’t do my visit justice, so here are the pictures:
Remember 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.
Morning, all. The following articles came across my desk from the Authors Guild Members Community, and we’ve been encouraged to spread them far and wide. It’s a situation that anyone who loves books — authors as well as readers — should be mindful of, and vigilant against. Please take the time to read and, if necessary, act. Thanks.
What’s gone before: Cora Coleman resides in a New England village with her family — six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and husband, Brendan, away to sea aboard a whaling ship. Cora is a good wife — loyal, true — and a goodwife, trained in the use of herbs to address everything from headaches to love sickness; a skill passed along the line of women that stretches back to her ancestors in Ireland.
Trusted by her neighbors, she’s unprepared when the spurned advances of a young buck results in her being accused of witchcraft. Suddenly, it seems that the entire village has turned against her. And now, witch hunter Orias King, has arrived …
Rebecca comes in as he’s descending the ladder. Her eyes are red and swollen, her cheeks blotchy with tears. She pauses just inside the door, struck dumb by the presence of strangers, then runs to the security of my lap and buries her face against me.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I whisper, but she remains silent.
King introduces himself to John and they shake hands. He looks at me. “This is your daughter?”
I nod. “This is Rebecca,” I say proudly, keeping my voice light. She’ll take her cues from me, and I don’t want her to fear this man or any other. I set her on her feet, wipe her face with the edge of my apron, straighten her cap, and turn her to face him.
The witch hunter’s steps are startlingly quiet on the wooden floor, like the cushioned footfalls of a cat. He squats in order to look her straight in the eye. “Hello, Rebecca,” he says cordially. “My name is Mr. King.”
She makes a quick curtsy. Then, overcome with shyness, she looks at her feet.
“You’ve been weeping,” he observes.
She peeks at him. After a moment, she nods.
He takes a white handkerchief from his pocket and holds it out to her. “Here. Wipe your eyes.”
I want to fiercely point out to him that her eyes have already been wiped–that I have wiped them and I will take care of her because I’m her mother and he is nothing–but my voice lies in my chest like a dead thing.
She takes it from him and does as she’s told. When she goes to hand it back, the witch hunter shakes his head. “No, you keep it.” He smiles. “Consider it a little gift from me to you.”
Her own smile is brilliant, like the sun. I despise him for it. I wish Brendan were here to fling him into the street. Then again, none of this would be happening if Brendan were here.
“Did you fall and hurt yourself?” King asks. “Is that why you cried?”
Rebecca shakes her head. She glances at me, weighing my reaction to this man. I swallow my dislike for her sake. “What happened, love? What made you cry?”
“Mistress Sharp won’t let Fanny play with me.” Tears shiver across the surface of her eyes again, but do not fall. “She said,”–her breath hitches in her chest–“she said that Fanny isn’t allowed to play with witches.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “Are we witches, Mam?”
I could cheerfully slap Constance Sharp across her mean-spirited mouth. “No.” I meet King’s gaze over the top of her head. “No, we’re not witches.”
He shifts to sit cross-legged, like a tailor, like a child. “That wasn’t a very nice thing for her to say, Rebecca.” His voice is warm, inviting her confidence. I’d like nothing so much as to strike him. “Maybe you and I can play together instead.”
Fear grips my heart. I don’t want him anywhere near her, yet already she’s on the floor, mimicking his posture, a pair of old friends. The other adults in the room are silent, mesmerized, watching him charm my daughter.
“What’s your favorite game?” King asks. “Is it shuttlecock?”
She shakes her head.
“Knucklebones?” he says teasingly.
No, not that.
“Rolling the hoop?”
King throws his hands up and lets them fall. “I’m out of guesses. You’ll have to tell me.”
She grins openly, triumphant at having stumped him. “Dollies.”
His eyes brighten with delight. “Dollies!” he crows, as if he should have guessed it all along. “That’s a wonderful game! Could you show me your dolly?”
Rebecca scrambles to her feet and hurries over to her pallet. She returns with a rag doll half her size and offers it to King. He’s already seen it, having inspected her bed along with everything else in the house, but he takes the time to exclaim over its perfection before handing it back.
Delighted to have met someone who appreciates the toy as much as she does, Rebecca cuddles the doll to her chest and swings back and forth, every bit the mother soothing her fussy baby.
The witch hunter watches her sway, his eyes drawn to the bell-like motion of her apron. “What have you got in your pockets?”
One hand dips readily and brings out a large clam shell bleached white by the sun.
King nods. “That’s lovely. What else?”
She puts the shell on the floor and produces another, a razor clam, long and narrow, mottled white and brown.
Fletcher Ellison makes a noise of annoyance. “We’ve better things to do than–”
A flick of the witch hunter’s obsidian eyes is all it takes to silence him. “What else?”
Next is a damp gull feather with a broken shaft. After that, a periwinkle, followed by a piece of oddly shaped driftwood. King barely glances at any of it. “What else?” he repeats, his gaze never leaving my daughter’s pockets.
Rebecca shakes her head, suddenly shy again.
He smiles. “Come now,” he chides in a teasing tone. “I thought we were friends. I can see there’s more in there. What else have you got?”
She looks at me. Her expression is one with which every parent is familiar, but in this context it takes me by surprise. What could she possibly have to feel guilty about? “Mam will be mad,” she murmurs.
Something in King’s expression shifts, like the shimmer of oil on water. His eyes lift to meet mine. “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” he croons.
My throat is unaccountably dry. “Of course not,” I say, unable to quell the tremor in my guts. “Show us what you have.”
Rebecca’s hand disappears deep into her pocket. What she brings out stops the heart in my chest.
To find out what happens next, you can purchase a copy of THREE ON A MATCH: The Terror Project, Volume 2 on Amazon or order a signed copy from me via email. THREE ON A MATCH, a production of Books and Boos Press also includes stories by g. Elmer Munson and Kristi Petersen Schoonover.
I am so very pleased to announce that my book, THE MAN WHO LOVES ELEPHANTS, has at long last found a home with the wonderful folks at Ooligan Press, an award-winning, small-but-mighty teaching press at Portland State University.
There is still a lot of work to accomplish to make the manuscript ready, but the tentative publication date is March 2020.
How lucky am I?
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:
Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season however you celebrate (or even if you don’t). Now, let’s get writing!
I‘ve been away for some time due to my husband’s surgery and, well, a need to step back and look at the work I do as a writer and my involvement in social media. I’m not one to jump on every new social media site and, in fact, find many of them difficult at best or wholly unsatisfactory at worst. I’m endeavoring to discover what works for me, which sites I enjoy (which will encourage me to post to them regularly), and seeking out what I have to say that might be of worth to others.
Have you experienced something similar? What have you found works for you … and doesn’t work for you? How do you manage the time-sink of updating sites regularly without cutting drastically into your writing time or interrupting it altogether?
I’m also looking into marketing tools that I’m comfortable using and will impact my writing in a positive way. This is a one-woman operation here–like many of you, I have no “staff,” so it’s all up to me (and perhaps a few willing friends) to pass along word of my work. I’m seeking that fine balancing point where I am doing enough of the business of being a writer without having the work suffer.
The battle continues.
I’m very proud to announce that my story “Last Call” was finalist in the F(r)iction Summer 2018 Contest. This has particular poignancy for me, as the story was written in response to my mother’s battle with dementia and a particular question she once posed to me.
Congratulations to fellow finalist George Michelsen, and winner Kyra Simone!