Category: Books


Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Alex Lockwood

By Midge Raymond,

Alex Lockwood’s article “With a Hope to Change Things: An Exploration of the Craft of Writing about Animals with the Founders of Zoomorphic Magazine” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: Most fundamentally, I have chosen (as far as a writer can) to only take on new projects that foreground the nonhuman and their relations with humans, as much as possible to work towards texts, narratives, and stories that help bring our relationships to light, and to contribute towards a more equal and just sharing of this world across species. Although sometimes as writers we don’t know quite what compels us to write the next story or book or poem, there are conscious decisions we can make responding to the state of the world, and the disastrous state of our hierarchical and dominant current relations with nonhumans. As I come to know more about animals and the nonhuman world, the more I recognize my spiritual and practical responsibilities to attempt to redress through my practice the worst forms of these exploitative relations and hopefully envision new and more equal, kind, and loving relationships.

In particular, I have spent a lot more time working in the second person, and writing works that give serious credence to the voices and agencies of nonhuman others, to the existing and complicated relations between beings across species (in cross-species encounter) and the truly relational nature of who we are, in that without these relations we do not know ourselves and, when you get down to the biota level, we wouldn’t even be alive.

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Compassion. Do not repeat or reinforce dominant speciesist practices in your writing. Question why it is okay to depict or represent particular animals in particular ways. Enrich your writing through learning in the three Es — ethology, ecofeminism, ecocriticism — to continue to forge new visions for ways of interrelating based on kinship and not dominance. Change your own name to that of an animal’s and see where that takes you. Don’t get bogged down by questions of whether or not animals can be fully represented in human language, because your audience is human, generally. But do nurture an understanding of nonrepresentational theories, politics, and practices that shift you and your ego out of the way. If you’re a white, Western male, as I am, do everything that you can to mobilize your white, Western, male privileges and give your writing over to the practice of centering the lives and leadership and needs of all previously marginalised groups, human and nonhuman.

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: Donna Haraway’s Camille stories are must-reads for how we are now thinking about our multi-species encounters. Cynan Jones has done plenty of good work around animals and viscerality. The animal poet Susan Richardson, whom I interviewed for my chapter, is an incredible writer, perhaps one of the leading animal poets of our day, following in and beyond the footsteps of Les Murray. Sara Baume, Melissa Harrison, Robin Lamont, pattrice jones, Barbara King, Carol J. Adams, Ceridwen Dovey, Lydia Millet are all women working in different genres and forms to respectfully and compassionately help us reach the lives of animals.

Q: Your Q&A with the editors of Zoomorphic magazine highlights the role of literature in a changing world. What other media do you recommend for those who care about animals and wish to write about them with authenticity and compassion?

A: Literature remains for me the art form that can transform our relationship with the world most fully, but of course many would suggest film is the same or better at doing so, and films such as Okja have had a recent huge impact on the ways in which people have changed their relations to animals. Short films and exposes such as Dominion and Land of Hope and Glory have recently, from the documentary perspective, really changed people’s visions of how to relate in cross-species encounters and spaces. I think children’s books are vitally important in beginning that journey of love and compassion, or exploitation and abuse, depending on the forms in which they are written and the ways in which parents and teachers communicate them, and of course how writers write them, so I cannot recommend people such as Ruby Roth enough.

Alex Lockwood is the author of The Pig in Thin Air (Lantern Books), an exploration of the place of the body in animal advocacy, as well as senior lecturer in journalism at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, Sunderland University, UK. He has published widely on human-animal relations and is currently working on a series of novels concerned with human-animal conflict.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Hunter Liguore

By Midge Raymond,

Hunter Ligoure’s essay “Writing Animals Where You Are” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: Compassion. With knowledge comes the awareness that there is no separation between animals and humans, nor is there a hierarchy of animals that are more important, or are more deserving of our love and compassion. (E.g., many are saddened by the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a squirrel or housefly). If we’re still long enough, we can recognize our sameness — the need for food, water, shelter, love, play, rest, and harmony, rather than suffering. Animals and humans want these things equally, and through awareness, not only in my writing, but in my way of life, I’m creating a world that realizes these actions as integral opportunities, available to be carried in every moment, everywhere. There isn’t a separate time for animals; our relationship is a seamless day.

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Change the image of “watching” animals to “participating with” animals. When we watch, we’re actively creating a separation. We’re partners, living and wanting those same necessities I mentioned above. When we participate, we will go from being a false, stagnant observer, to a constant participant that is nurturing the world to ensure safety, love, compassion, food/water, play, shelter, for all animals. It will carry into the writing — it will foster a generation of environmental/nature writing aimed at solutions and actions, as opposed to despair, because the writer is now active and participating, too.

I would encourage writers to relearning perceptions and old mindsets created by the mass-mind … we all have them, a teaching or experience we cling to that causes a habitual reaction rather than a conscious action. I’ve had close encounters with bears and skunks — close, as in a handful of feet — where the very initial reaction is one of purity and presentness, not fear. The moment is often confounded with the mass-mind, the experiences of others. So while I’m not advocating petting a bear, I’m suggesting to acknowledge and consider how much one’s perception is based on habit, reaction/response, rather than being in the moment. Nature/animals allow us to be “here” and “present,” to fully experience life with them, not apart from them. It’s the same when you’re outside and feel a mosquito digging into your skin — the mass-response is to kill and swat, rather than gently disengage. Ticks, too. Houseflies … Who taught you to kill as the first response? My family taught me to eat animals, and I unlearned it. How could I spend years as an “animal advocate” and eat animals? But the mass-mind said that it was okay because some animals need preservation; others don’t. I unlearn the old responses every day by being open to the animals here and now and loving them equally — if fear arises, I ask why. There is nothing more beautiful than the pink nose of a skunk, who will not spray if you’re attentive and compassionate enough to allow it.

Focus on where you are writing right now. The office plant, the spider in the bathroom at the restaurant, the windowsill bird feeder, the parks that can use all your love to keep the litter at bay, to promote habitats. Cemeteries are open to visit and have a plethora of wildlife; walk your neighborhoods and cultivate a reciprocal relationship right now with whatever animal is there — the spider, gnat, birds, rabbits … when you do, the whole world opens and harmony floods in.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: It’s very important where our mind rests all day. If it rests on a terrible, hopeless future, then collectively, we’re creating that day tomorrow. When we send out books, social media posts, videos that show despair, terror, violence, and so on, done to animals and the environment, then we’re triggering helplessness in the viewer, and restricting the possibility of the future that we do want to share together. How, as authors, can we offer a conversation that allows participation, not terror?

Books that offer a view out the window of harmony, which is here right now for us, are the ones I’m most interested in. Show us that our small effort matters; show us what change is occurring, so that we will be inspired to believe in ourselves and in creating a harmonious world. Two that come to mind are:

1. A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion by Matthieu Ricard

Ricard shows us that the world is changing for animal, and he rallies us to get on board. In his book we see meat factories closing; he calls us to be responsible for our daily actions, and we want to join in, since we’re given permission to be accountable, and let go of our old habits.

2. Ecotopia 2121: A Vision for Our Future Green Utopia in 100 Cities by Alan Marshall

A book, mostly in pictures, that offers a view of the future that is harmonious, hopeful, and green; Marshall shows us that we can be active today to create these cities now. Like the concept behind the butterfly affect — that one housefly you catch and release can make a difference; or the mosquitoes you deter with garlic, over an electric zapper; or that night garden you cultivate for moths — all those things matter and add up to a harmonious world.

Q: Your essay points out that all animals, not only exotic ones, deserve our attention. What “ordinary” animal is most important to you?

A: My day begins with animals and ends with them, and no “one” animal could be separated as being more important. They come seasonally, so at times, I become aware that certain animals will show themselves more than others. For instance, fireflies have appeared at night, and with that comes a sense of awareness that “the whole” has extended another ripple of harmony to allow this to happen. Blackberries have finally come freely, allowed to be welcomed, and now create natural food for wildlife. A mother deer came with two spotted fawns — again, it says there is support for her to do so. Three hundred grackles have descended, with their fledglings, having felt the ripple to come and be part of the harmony. I live in an urban area, sandwiched within supermarkets, houses, and busy roads, and yet it is absolute paradise here for thousands of birds and animals, right down to the smallest of small. We’re in a constant, seamless interaction, and the most “important” thing is supporting harmony, and the opportunities to heighten our reciprocal relationship with the whole. When that happens, the discord that others believe in cannot exist — those busy roads and the paved, hard cities become part of the whole and harmony, no longer the enemy but part of the cohesion.

 

Hunter Liguore’s life motto is “respect for differences.” Her writing seeks to create a dialogue that promotes understanding our shared humanity as an alternative to discrimination and hate. She holds degrees in history and writing, and she teaches writing in New England. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in over a hundred publications internationally, including Spirituality & Health, Orion, Great Plains Quarterly, and Anthropology & Humanism. She has several screenplays optioned, including Everylife, which is currently in pre-production. Her eco-fiction teen novel, Silent Winter, is forthcoming and already being compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. www.hunterliguore.org

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Beth Lyons

By Midge Raymond,

Beth Lyons’s essay “Real Advocacy within Fantasy Worlds” appears in Writing for Animals.

 

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: I am primarily a genre writer — fantasy and science fiction — and my early work was pre-vegan. I didn’t always include meat eating or animal use in those stories; I didn’t  really think about it one way or another. As my understanding of veganism and its impact grew, I was able to use that knowledge to shape stories, and now I find it difficult to include meat-eating, hunting, and animal usage in my writing.

Genre lends itself splendidly to exploring all aspects of veganism, from the impact on the environment and on the human slaughterhouse workers to the sentience of animals, the physical impact to the body from eating animals, and the unsustainability of raising animals for food. My fantasy writing tends to focus more on the physical and emotional damage to humans and animals, my science fiction on the damage to the environment and impracticality of the current meat-based food system.

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: “Tell a good story.” If you don’t write a compelling tale with memorable characters, no one will want to read it anyway, and your message and insights will be lost to the audience. This doesn’t mean that vegan values and information have to take a backseat, but the story and characters need room to become what they must. Character motivation, tension, and desire drive the story; all the vegan information you want to give your reader will come, and that illumination is the inevitable result of these characters and situations that you’ve created playing out in their own time and pace.

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: I was riveted by Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The narrator, Rosemary, is human but we feel the depth of her love and loss. In addition, I have to mention Richard Adams. His books Watership Down and The Plague Dogs touched me deeply. He was a master storyteller.

 

Q: Your essay addresses the very essential aspect of what fictional characters eat and how to portray this authentically. What authors/books do you most admire for their portrayals of vegan characters?

A: First, there are not enough vegan characters out there! Many novels have vegetarian characters — the Eargon series by Christopher Paolini is a popular example. I also love Ruth Ozeki’s work. But E.D.E Bell’s Spireseeker is a great example of fantasy novel with a true vegan character — main character, even! Beryl is an elf, and in Bell’s universe, elves are vegan. Animal agency and sentience are explored as the novel unfolds, and because veganism is a core part of the elven culture and identity, it comes up again and again as Beryl navigates the world around her.

Beth Lyons is a former English literature teacher, award-winning poet, and traveler who now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of three fantasy novels and three science fiction novellas, all available via Amazon Kindle. In addition, she is a fiction editor, teaches workshops on editing and creative writing, and currently moderates an online writing forum.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Hannah Sandoval

By Midge Raymond,

Hannah Sandoval’s essay “Rabies Bites: How Stephen King Made a Dog a Compelling Main Character” appears in Writing for Animals.

 

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: I feel my depictions of animals have become more realistic. In my first novel, the protagonist’s dog was highly involved in the plot, but he was a bit cartoonish. He fell into that stereotypical category of dogs that “practically speak English!” He barked at just the right moment, as if he was agreeing to plans. He understood complex commands with no training. That sort of thing. That’s cute, but it’s not really an accurate portrayal of dogs, and it does them a disservice in some ways. Dogs aren’t humans. They possess many traits that humans either don’t have or struggle hard to maintain, such as unconditional love and total appreciation of the present moment. They don’t speak like we do, but they do speak, and that is what I now try to capture when writing dogs or any animal into my stories.

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Writing them as they are, not as you need them to be to further a plot. Yes, as a writer you must always keep your plot in mind, but if an animal doesn’t fit naturally into it, don’t write it in. Shoehorning in an animal does nothing for the story and usually leads to an unbelievable and inaccurate portrayal.

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: It is extremely difficult to find books in which animals are both a main character and realistically and compassionately portrayed. Often, if animals are main characters, they are anthropomorphized. For instance, I loved Brian Jaques’ Redwall series and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows as a child, but though they are enthralling portrayals, they aren’t exactly realistic. King’s Cujo is unique, in my opinion, in its minimalistic, realistic portrayal of the workings of a dog’s mind. Cujo is certainly the main character; the readers feel great compassion for his plight, and he feels like a real dog. The only other book that I can think of that writes an animal in that same vein is Jack London’s Call of the Wild — another childhood favorite. London keeps the reader pretty much exclusively in Buck’s perspective, rather than showing him in an outside POV, like King does, which requires he stretch the boundaries of “realistic” a little bit. Still, I feel it, too, is a realistic, compassionate, and well-crafted portrayal of an animal character.

 

Q: In your essay, you write about Stephen King’s bestselling novel Cujo. In what ways to you think this popular novel both helps and hurts dogs and other animals?

A: As discussed in my essay, I think the actual novel is a very realistic, intuitive, and compelling portrayal of a dog in distress. The novel makes the reader feel for Cujo and see him as an individual undergoing an internal struggle as complex and difficult as that of any of the human characters. It portrays an animal not as a set piece but as a sentient being with feelings, desires, and fears. And it certainly helps raise awareness of the rabies virus and why it is so important to vaccinate your pets against deadly diseases.

However, King’s nuanced portrayal of a good dog battling a villain called rabies was lost in the film version of the novel. Cujo’s name has become synonymous with violence and terror for film lovers. In many people’s minds, he is a pop-culture monster. This is because there is a lot of violence portrayed in the novel, and Cujo ultimately meets a violent end. When stripped of the omniscient narration that is the strength of novels as a medium, one is left only with a dog who commits violence and has violence committed against him. While that violence fits in with King’s ultimate theme, and while Cujo is written with the same respect given to the human characters, thanks to the story being taken out of its original form, it has done damage in the minds of many people who haven’t actually read the book.

Hannah Sandoval is a full-time freelance manuscript editor and ghostwriter and the founder of PurpleInkPen. She has a BA in English and is a proud member of the International Association of Professional Book Editors. Her novel Arcamira is the Best Fantasy Series winner of the 2017 Channillo Awards. Her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Vanellope, embodies more sass than her owner could ever hope to.

Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Joanna Lilley

By Midge Raymond,

Joanna Lilley’s essay “Do We Have the Right to Write About Animals?” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: I think animals have always been part of my writing or perhaps nature more broadly. I remember when I was a child I would write poems about my worries about squirrels and trees being unappreciated or mistreated. I wasn’t especially aware of this tendency, though, until I was on an Arvon writing course when I still lived in the UK and the tutor, author Patrick Neate, pointed out that there were references to animals in every sample he saw of my work. Indeed, Patrick Neate himself of course writes from the point of view of pigeons in his novel, Pigeon Wars. At that time, I was working on a fiction project about wildlife crime and that’s when I started writing more consciously about animals, doing research in my very non-academic way, and more consciously exploring humanity’s relationship with other species.

I hope to return to that project one day but, in the meantime, five years ago I started working on poems about extinct animals. That project is making me think and write much more deliberately about our planet companions. I’m reading far more about animals than I ever have, trying to sense their own experiences, explore my anthropomorphism and craft something new from that learning. I hope that my writing is becoming more respectful of animals, more of a listening sort of writing than my own bellowing. I hope I can continue to learn and let the animals change my writing.

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: That humans are animals, too. We are not separate. We are a species just like everyone else. We share air, food, physiology. In Frans de Waal’s book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, he quotes Werner Heisenberg as saying, “what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Humans seem to have to start there before we can accept that animals are sentient, thinking creatures. It’s ridiculous, really, that it even has to be said. It’s as if sapien minds are dark, cramped rooms and we’re afraid of turning the light on for fear of seeing that not everyone looks the same as we do.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: I feel I’m not at all well-read and so the examples I’m going to give are very much based on my limitations. There are perhaps three categories for me. There are the novels I read as a child that helped me find and form the language that I still use for my relationships with animals, particularly Joyce Stranger’s wonderful books. She wrote accurately about animals without anthropomorphism, and I’m so glad I was introduced to her stories when I was young.

Then there are the non-fiction books I always mean to read more of but sometimes have trouble reading them because they can be so difficult emotionally and because I am not a very disciplined reader. For example, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, from the 1970s, and Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which was published just a few years ago.

And then there is the poetry. I so admire the many poets who are helping us articulate our existence in the anthropocene era and our complex relationships with nature and animals. For example, in Canada there’s Stephanie Bolster, Eric Cole, Basma Kavanagh, Alice Major, and Catherine Owen, and in Britain there’s Susan Richardson, Alice Oswald, and Helen Cole.

 

Q: You’ve studied endangered species for your work. How do you stay positive amid the depressing realities of disappearing wildlife?

A: I’m not sure I do stay positive, to be honest. That’s where the poetry helps me. I find that writing poetry helps me cope with life and am not sure what I’d do without it. In my writing, I’m trying to connect emotionally, spiritually, intellectually with the experiences of animals who are extinct, sometimes recently by human hand, sometimes long ago in one of the planet’s five mass extinctions. I’m trying to sense these animals and somehow, to me, that is a positive act, albeit minuscule in the context of the enormity of impacts on the planet. I also try to remember that extinction is natural. I mean that evolution is a constant shifting, not that I’m justifying human beings’ eradication of species such as the great auk, passenger pigeon, and western black rhinoceros. No species, including humans, will stay the same forever. Our own species will evolve, and our current forms will become extinct. It is possible that we’ll evolve in a way that will have a positive effect on the other species in this world. I don’t hold out a great deal of hope for that most of the time, but writing about extinct species as far back as trilobites and ammonites has helped me take a long-term view!

Joanna Lilley is the author of the poetry collections The Fleece Era (Brick Books), which was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry, and If There Were Roads (Turnstone Press), and the short story collection The Birthday Books (Hagios Press). Her debut novel, Worry Stones, will be published in fall 2018 by Ronsdale Press. Joanna emigrated from the UK to Yukon in Canada twelve years ago. Find her at www.joannalilley.com.