A Q&A with Strays author Jennifer Caloyeras

By Midge Raymond,

A Q&A with Strays author Jennifer Caloyeras

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book?

A: I had been working as the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger for about seven years. Over the course of my research, I wrote a column about K-9 connection, a program that pairs at-risk teens with shelter dogs. I absolutely loved this program and thought the premise would make a great young adult novel. I also had my own experience with a very challenging rescue pit bull. He was my inspiration for writing the character of Roman.

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Q: Tell us more about the dog who inspired Roman.

A: Roman was inspired by our own rescue pit bull, Willie. We didn’t know Willie was a pit bull when we adopted him—he was only eight weeks old, and we were told he was a “shepherd mix.” His strong personality began to come out in the following weeks. He went through almost a year of intensive training with over five Los Angeles-based trainers (including the famous Dog Whisperer.) Unlike with Roman, we weren’t able to redirect Willie’s behavior and, in a heartbreaking decision, we made a plan to relinquish the dog to Brandon Fouche, an amazing dog behavioralist in Los Angeles who rehabilitates homeless people’s dogs. Imagine my surprise a few years later when I was conducting research for my column when I came across a front page photo of Willie and an accompanying article describing how he is instrumental in helping to rehabilitate these dogs. He had a bigger calling in life, and I’m so glad he found it.

Q: Why did you choose Santa Cruz as the backdrop to this story?

A: I went to college at UC Santa Cruz, and I was so struck its dramatic cliffs, beaches, redwood forests, and gorgeous trees. There’s an inherently laid-back feel about this city that I thought would make a nice juxtaposition to all of the tension happening in Iris’s life. There’s a pervasive feeling of people striving for social justice in Santa Cruz, which supports Iris’s metamorphosis from self-centered teen to animal-rights activist.

Q: Tell us about Angela Carter and your choice to include her in the story. 

A: I first learned about British writer Angela Carter when I was in graduate school at Cal State Los Angeles, working towards my MA in literature. I struck by the ways in which she completely re-interpolated familiar fairy tales, rejecting gender stereotypes and adding a feminist edge to these stories that had been controlled by men for hundreds of years. The Bloody Chamber was published in 1979 and was just so ahead of its time.

Q: Did you have kind, supportive teachers like Iris’s teacher Perry in high school? 

A: Yes! I was very lucky to attend a progressive high school in Santa Monica. We called our teachers by their first names, and we always sat in a circle instead of in prescribed rows. The teachers there were amazing listeners, whether they were hearing our ideas about a particular concept or listening to us vent about our daily lives. I felt particularly connected with my English, theater, and music teachers, and the character of Perry is an amalgam of all of these wonderful people.

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Click here to learn more about Strays and to get your own copy. And visit Jennifer’s website for the latest news and events.

Animal rescue groups focusing on all animals

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this article in the Chicago Tribune, “Animal welfare groups may be losing their appetite for meat,” which is about rescue organizations that realize serving meat at events goes against their mission: protecting animals.

Many organizations already get it; some are still learning. Organizations that rescue farm animals, of course, don’t put pork on the menu — yet those that help pets like dogs and cats often don’t make the connection when it comes to the food at their fundraisers.

St. Hubert’s in New Jersey walks the walk, and the organization went meatless after its new CEO, Heather J. Cammisa, joined the organization. As she told the Tribune: ”Our mission involves the humane treatment of animals, building an environment where people respect all living creatures,” Cammisa says. “And this aligns with that.”

The article notes that a California survey found that 85 percent of those involved with shelters believe it’s ethically inconsistent for an organization that rescues animals to sell or serve animal products. Yet only 29 percent of organizations have adopted a vegetarian or vegan policy.

Most people simply don’t realize what animals suffer in order to get to their plates, and once they do, the change to a cruelty-free environment is welcome. As Cammisa told the Tribune, “Over 90 percent of animals raised for food are raised in factory farms. When that information is shared people don’t want to be part of that.”

For any organization to be a true advocate for animals, it must be meatless. And making this change may not turn supporters into vegans overnight, but it will help make the connection and show that all animals deserve protection.

A film every “environmentalist” should see

By Midge Raymond,

If you’re wondering why the word “environmentalist” is in quotes, then you should definitely see this film.

Cowspiracy (which is currently still available for its special Earth Day price of $1) covers the impact of animal agriculture on the planet — it’s the number-one contributor to human-induced climate change and affects everything from the rainforests to the oceans — and why some of the biggest environmental organizations never talk about it.

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Filmmaker Kip Andersen interviews representatives of governmental and “environmental” organizations, including the Sierra Club, Oceana, Surfrider (he tried to talk to Greenpeace, which wouldn’t agree to speak with him), and it’s fascinating to watch them stumble over their words when asked about animal agriculture’s impact on the planet.

And yet the facts speak for themselves. To produce just one quarter-pound burger takes 660 gallons of water (in other words, two months’ worth of showers). One gallon of dairy milk uses 1,000 gallons of water to produce, and for every one pound of fish caught, there are five pounds of bycatch (including dolphins, sharks, turtles, and penguins). To protect cattle-grazing lands in the United States West, ranchers kill coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, cougars — and wild horses and burrows are being rounded up and held so that cattle ranchers can use public lands for grazing.

Why won’t so many environmental groups talk about this? It’s not an easy topic, with agribusiness being so powerful. In Brazil, 1,100 activists have been killed for speaking out against animal agriculture. And of course, as Michael Pollan says in the film, asking people not to eat meat and dairy is a “political loser” for member-based organizations.

Yet there are both individuals and organizations who will speak the truth, and this is where the heart of the film is. A spokesperson for the Sea Shepherd Conservation society says there is “no such thing as sustainable fishing,” and quotes what founder Paul Watson often says: If the oceans die, we die. “That’s not a tagline,” she adds. “That’s the truth.”

Cowspiracy contains some difficult truths for omnivores, but it’s important viewing for anyone who’s concerned about the environment — and the last half hour is truly inspiring for those who are open to making a difference. (And in the last twenty minutes is one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen in a film…don’t miss it.)

“You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period,” says Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher and author of Mad Cowboy. “Kid yourself if you want…but don’t call yourself an environmentalist.”

Visit Cowspiracy to learn more. And even if you don’t watch the entire film, do check out the film trailer, read some of the facts, and find out how to take action.

 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Q&A with Earth Joy Writing author Cassie Premo Steele

By Midge Raymond,

A Q&A with Earth Joy Writing author Cassie Premo Steele

Q: What is Earth Joy Writing?

A: It is a way of interacting with the natural world that brings about empowerment, healing, and personal change. Nature has always been a source of comfort, inspiration, and wisdom for me. I wanted to be able to share that—teach that—to others.

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Q: How the book come into being?

A: I started writing Earth Joy Writing in 2008 while teaching classes in ecopoetry and ecofeminism at the University of South Carolina’s Green Quad for Sustainable Futures. I continued working on it over the next few years and presenting workshops with exercises from the book to various groups, including more than a year’s worth of monthly workshops at Saluda Shoals Park in South Carolina. The book is very much a balance of theory and practice, tested in university and community settings, and accessible to a wide audience.

One of the best experiences I had while writing the book was being in Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, and a saleswoman asked me how I liked living in South Carolina. I responded, “I like it a lot. We have nature there.” She looked around, thinking, and then said, “Oh, yes, we used to have that store here, but it closed.”

I think we are feeling an increasing anxiety about the natural world, and we’re not sure what to do about it. We listen to news reports, and we can feel helpless. I wrote this book to help with our fears. I truly believe that when we begin to see nature not as a “thing” that can be bought and sold but as a living being in relationship with us, we begin to heal not only the Earth, but ourselves.

Q: How would you describe the book to readers and aspiring writers? 

A: Earth Joy Writing is a new version of The Artist’s Way for the green generation. In the years since the hugely successful Artist’s Way hit the market, three important changes have occurred. First, our lives are much more interconnected on a daily basis through the Internet and social marketing networks. Second, we are highly aware of the grave dangers our environment faces. Third, we can sense a surge in a collective desire for community. This book addresses all these needs for readers—to live a harmonious and balanced life despite the vast changes happening around them, and to connect with others and the earth in meaningfully creative ways.

It is a hopeful book. It is practical. It has been tested. It leads to healing. It is not just for writers or naturalists. It is for the person who wants to live life more meaningfully.

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Fiction for Vegans

By John Yunker,

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If you’re a vegan (like us) you might find yourself frustrated at times with the current crop of “must read” novels.

Most contemporary novels make certain assumptions about contemporary life, such as what a “normal” family meal looks like, or how a “typical” vegan character should act.

For example, vegan characters are more often than not portrayed as combative, defensive, preachy or downright dangerous.

And I get it.

I’m well aware of this period of time I live in. If you want to write for the masses you’re correct in thinking that the masses are not vegetarians, let along vegans. And that normal for the masses is not normal for me.

I do get it.

But what books are vegans supposed to curl up with at night?

That’s where Ashland Creek Press fits in.

To be honest, we want books that appeal not just to vegans but to everyone. Books that are compelling, complex, and, at times, challenging.

Here’s what we offer so far, with more to come…

Among Animals: Among Animals is a collection of short stories by 15 different authors, each of which explores the human/animal relationship. This is an amazing and challenging collection.

The Green and the Red: This is quite simply a great romantic comedy. It’s a quick read that covers an expansive terrain of issues. And because it’s set in France, it’s a fascinating view of a culture that I know very little of.

The Dragon Keeper: This novel concerns a vegetarian zookeeper and the Komodo dragon in her charge. It’s both a romance and an insightful analysis of zoos and their roles as both exploiters and protectors of endangered species.

Out of BreathThe Ghost Runner, The Last Mile: Books 1, 2, and 3 of The Lithia Trilogy, this young adult series features a vegan protagonist who in search of a place to call home. And it features no other than “vegan” vampires. Yes, even vampires have the power to evolve.

Falling into Green: An eco-thriller featuring a vegan protagonist who just happens to have a crush on a carnivore TV news reporter.

The Tourist Trail: I’m plugging my own novel here, which features vegan characters who are both mainstream and heroic (and inspired by real-world animal rights activists).

I now know many people and families who live perfectly normal — and vegan — lives. What we need now are more writers to help redefine normal, or at the very least portray contemporary life as it really is.