Category: News from Ashland Creek Press


An inspiring visit to Farm Sanctuary

By Midge Raymond,

I was so glad to be able to join Love Rhymes with Everything authors Dana Feagin (a Sanctuary One board member) and Kat von Cupcake (a Sanctuary One former board member and adopter) for a visit to Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, for the sanctuary’s Twilight Tour (followed by the best vegan happy hour ever).

It was a wonderful opportunity to visit with the sanctuary animals (who loved the additional affection from visitors) and to learn more about how their lives have turned around thanks to those who do the important work of rescue and providing a safe home.

It was a broiling-hot day in Orland, but all of the animals were cool and happy; the barns had misting fans, and staff and volunteers made sure to keep the animals comfortable…such a contrast to their former lives on factory farms. The Orland sanctuary is on 300 acres, with more than 300 rescued farm animals, including pigs, sheep, goats, cows, chickens, turkeys, chickens, and waterfowl.

Because this was a Twilight Tour, one of the topics was bedtime for the animals, most of whom are only able to sleep for the very first time once they arrive at the sanctuary. Due to the horrible conditions at factory farms, animals from pigs to chickens don’t ever get to fall sleep (to lower one’s guard even for a moment means getting trampled or suffocated), which means they live their entire short lives under unbearable stress.

National Shelter Director Susie Coston talked about how the animals’ lives change so much when they arrive at the sanctuary; they can finally sleep in peace, for the first time in their lives, in addition to being able to enjoy other natural behaviors, like snuggling with others and being able to stay with their families. The animals also tend to sleep very deeply; Susie says that the sanctuary staff often receive concerned calls and emails from people watching the Farm Sanctuary Live Cam: the animals sleep so soundly that viewers worry they may be sick or injured. (Visit explore.org to virtually visit the sheep and turkey barns, the pig and cow pastures, the cattle pond, and more. And don’t panic if the animals don’t move for a while! When we visited the pig barns in person, the pigs were so happy and relaxed they didn’t even look up; they enjoyed belly rubs and ear scritches with their eyes closed.)

During our visit we also got a chance to chat with President and Co-Founder Gene Baur, who gave an inspiring talk about reaching out with kindness to educate those who don’t realize how much these animals suffer, and how making compassionate choices leads to a better world for animals, humans, and the planet.

An interview with CROWS OF BEARA author Julie Christine Johnson

By Midge Raymond,

We are thrilled to announce the publication of Julie Christine Johnson’s novel The Crows of Beara, which was a finalist for the 2014 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. In this Q&A Julie talks about her inspiration for the novel, her first book, and what’s new in her writing life. 

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Crows of Beara?

A: I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday.

When I began sketching out characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road, which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women, and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? How did that lead to where you are today?

A: I read Louise Fitzhugh’s classic Harriet the Spy when I was six years old and that was it: I knew I’d be a writer someday. That someday took another thirty-five years to come around. I took my first writing workshop in October 2010 and the floodgates opened. After all the years of dreaming about writing, I finally found the courage to set my words free.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your plots and characters?  Are you inspired initially by the plot or do the characters come to you first?

A: I believe that story comes from character. Characters are why we read, why we are changed by what we read. Plot is a means to move them through their lives, to tell their story.

Each of my novels and short stories has a different genesis. In Another Life came from an image of Lia and Raoul that rose in my mind during a stay in Languedoc; researching the history of the region opened the door to their story.

I wanted to set my second novel, The Crows of Beara, in Ireland, but when I began sketching out characters, that’s all I knew. The characters led me to themes of addiction and the healing power of art. A chance encounter with a book of poetry gave me the exact location in Ireland, and that led me to construct a plot around copper mining and animal conservation, with a thread of magical realism woven through. Last summer I studied with that poet—Leanne O’Sullivan—in the very spot where my novel is set (Beara Peninsula). A dream come true!

Two characters led the way into my third novel, UPSIDE-DOWN GIRL: an American woman dealing with child loss and a little girl in New Zealand who is living on the edge of society. The plot is how those two souls come together.

Q: What is your writing process like? Do you write an outline and do you write every day?

A: When I began my first novel, In Another Life, I had a beginning, a handful of characters, but I had no middle or end; I wrote scenes out of order. About two-thirds into a first draft, I had 140,000 words and no sense of where I was going or how it would ever end. I stopped in my tracks, started from the beginning, cleaning up as I went along, putting things in order.

I’m still a pantser at heart. I don’t start with an outline, I don’t edit as I draft, I let it all pour out. But I began The Crows of Beara, as I do all my novels since the first, with character sketches. Characters bring me to my themes, my story and eventually, the plt.

Once I’ve got a solid first draft in hand, I use Michael Hague’s brilliant Six Stage Plot structure to discover and refine my character arcs. And I keep a process notebook for each novel, working out plot holes, asking myself questions, tracking key details. I draft in Scrivener, but I have to solve problems and plug plot holes in longhand.

I do write every day, but I have several projects going on at once. What I work on any given day is a matter of balancing writing with non-writing life, my energy level, scheduled commitments, and deadlines!

Q: Do you have a particular method or approach to research and writing?  Generally how long does the process take per book?

A: There’s usually an idea whispering away at me—an image, snippet of overheard conversation, something I read in the paper, a place I’ve visited. Holding that idea loosely in my mind, I begin to work on character sketches and follow where those lead. Whom am I writing about and how do they relate to the idea I can’t seem to let go of? I’ll research enough to get a sense of the place, issues, and time as it relates to the plot, but research for me is an ongoing process as the story develops. I try not to set things out too far in advance, preferring to layer in details as I discover where the story is taking me.

The amount of time has varied wildly. It took me eighteen months to finish a first draft of In Another Life; ten weeks for The Crows of Beara; nine months for UPSIDE-DOWN GIRL. I revised and edited the first two novels while writing the third!

Q: What is the hardest or the least favorite part of the writing process for you?

A: The hardest part is coming to the end of the first draft. It’s a very emotional experience for me. The characters and story are so raw, so open and beautiful in their natural state. Although I can’t wait to shape and mold the story in subsequent revisions, there is something pure and deeply personal about the first draft that I hate to let go.

Q: What are some of your favorite books or authors to read? Which books or authors have influenced your writing?

A: Hilary Mantel, Kate Mosse, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Mary Doria Russell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Lily King, Dani Shapiro, Tim Winton, Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Jess Walter. I tend to binge on authors. Last year it was Elena Ferrante and Francesca Marciano. This year I’ve joined an online group reading a Virginia Woolf work each month. I’m not a writer of historical fiction per se, so my influences cross a broad spectrum of styles. Many of my favorite historical novels are written by authors whose work spans categories and genres. Hilary Mantel blows my mind. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, set in 16th-century England, she opens up her world, sets a tone, and gets on with it. The “historical fiction” aspect of her work never dominates the characters and their stories. David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars showed me how creating a sense of place can be poetic, and how to connect readers viscerally with an era through the emotional power of character. Mary Doria Russell. Shoot. There’s nothing she can’t do. Ditto Margaret Atwood!

Reading is not only my escape, I consider it an essential part of my job description as a writer. I have at least two books going at any one time, a novel, a volume of poetry, and some sort of writing guide as inspiration and motivation.

Q: What one piece of advice would you share with aspiring authors?

A: It takes a village to publish a book. No matter which path to publishing you take, traditional or independent, you cannot do it alone. Find mentors—writers at different stages of their careers—and listen, watch, learn. Ask questions, be humble, and don’t wait—reach out now. Writers’ blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter chats are all great resources for connecting with writers and finding your tribe. Reach out in both directions—up and back. Always be willing to help someone right behind you.

And always, always be working on your next story. Don’t sit hitting refresh on your e-mail when you begin sending out queries or your novel is on submission with editors. The process can take months, a couple of years, even. Always be writing the next book. The first thing my now-agent asked me after reading and expressing enthusiasm for In Another Life was, “What else do you have?” I sent her a draft of my second novel and I had an offer of representation by the end of the week.

The Crows of Beara is “a captivating tale of our yearning to belong and the importance of following this ancient call” (award-winning author Kathryn Craft), and “like Ireland itself, The Crows of Beara pulls at something deep inside the reader and won’t let go” (USA Today bestselling author Kelli Estes).

Learn more about Julie and The Crows of Beara here

Sanctuary One wildfire evacuees are up for adoption!

By Midge Raymond,

It’s been a fiery, smoky summer in Southern Oregon, and last week Sanctuary One evacuated its 60 animals — including pigs, goats, sheep, alpacas, horses, duck, geese, dogs, cats, and rabbits — as nearby wildfires got closer. It was a tremendous community effort, which you can read about here on the sanctuary blog, and here in the Mail Tribune.

Brian, Operations Manager, watering down Sanctuary One’s 100-year-old barn

 

John and I went out to the farm on Thursday to pick up three of the sanctuary’s feline evacuees: Thor, Bear, and Harlan. We want to share a little bit about these cats because, like all of Sanctuary One’s animals, they are still up for adoption even while they are in temporary foster homes.

The first thing you should know about these three cats is that they are awesome. The second thing you should know is that all three kitties have Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). This means that Thor, Bear, and Harlan must be indoors-only and should live as only cats, or with other cats who also have FIV to prevent spreading the virus to non-FIV cats (the virus is mainly spread through bites). FIV-positive cats are otherwise very much like any other house cat; they can live long, healthy lives and don’t need any special medication. (Also, FIV cannot be transmitted to humans or other animals.) Learn more about FIV here.

Now, more about the cats! Let’s begin with Thor & Bear, a bonded pair who are best buddies and are looking for a home together.

Thor is a gorgeous tabby who’s had a tough life…he was found on the streets after a mighty battle, and he is not only FIV-positive but he’s missing one of his back legs. Yet this hasn’t slowed him down one bit … this tiny five-year-old can be shy and skittish as he learns to trust you, but he’s the feisty one of these three for sure and can definitely hold his own. (Just watch Bear try to take a bite of his food.) Most of all, he is a total lovebug; he loves chin scritches, sitting on your lap, and he can snuggle forever. He’s got an amazing purr and is insanely soft.

Thor’s best buddy, Bear, is a gentle giant at 14 pounds. (He’s not fat, just big-boned.)

Bear is also a snuggler — he loves laps (he and Thor have both climbed into my lap at once for snuggles) and he is incredibly mellow and sweet. He and Thor often head-butt and snuggle with each other, and they are a beautiful pair. It’s hilarious to watch Bear eye Thor’s food … if he gets too close, Thor will sometimes give him a little swat, but usually it takes no more than a stern look, and Bear will back away and wait patiently until Thor is finished, then go lick the bowl. Bear is 10 years old but incredibly playful, chasing toys around like a cat half his age. He’s also an Olympic-class napper and loves thick blankets and warm sunny spots.

And finally, there’s Harlan.

Those of you who know our late, beloved General Manager know that we have a soft spot for orange and white cats, and of course Harlan is no exception. Like so many orange cats, he’s got a big personality and is tons of fun. Harlan is five years old and as playful as a kitten; he loves playing with wand toys but often just finds random things to chase and attack. He is also extremely curious and has explored places we didn’t even know a cat could get to.

Somehow he does it all with so much grace, getting in and out of odd places without any harm to himself or the house.

Harlan does very well with his two roommates and is a very easygoing, mellow kitty — but he’s also independent and entertains himself. He loves people and will stretch out next to you; he also loves being held if he’s in the mood. We suspect one day he will be a lap cat … he’s 100% not there yet, but he’s very affectionate and adores attention.

We really can’t say enough about how much we love our temporary new housemates. We were thrilled to be in a position to take them in, and it’s a privilege to share our lives with them as they await their permanent homes.

If you are looking for a cat, or two, or all three — please visit the Sanctuary One website for more info on each of these kitties, and to get started, fill out the sanctuary adoption form here. You are also welcome to contact us if you have any questions about them before or during the adoption process. Please also feel free to share this with anyone in the Rogue Valley who may be looking for a feline companion (or two, or three).

And if you aren’t able to adopt one of these charming boys, a gift to Sanctuary One will help them care for these three and many more!

Our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe

By Midge Raymond,

We are thrilled to announce that our 2017 Siskiyou Prize judge is Jonathan Balcombe.

Jonathan’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, an extraordinary journey underwater that reveals the vast capabilities of fishes. He is also the author of the books The Exultant Ark, Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.

Jonathan has three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, and has published more than 50 scientific papers on animal behavior and animal protection. Formerly department chair for Animal Studies with the Humane Society University and senior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Jonathan is currently Director of Animal Sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy in Washington, DC. Learn more at jonathan-balcombe.com.

This year marks our fourth annual Siskiyou Prize, and we are delighted to be offering a $1,000 prize and a four-week writing residency thanks to the generosity of our amazing prize partner PLAYA. All manuscripts submitted for the prize will be considered for publication by Ashland Creek Press.

Please visit the Siskiyou Prize website for complete details about the prize — submissions open September 1, 2017. We look forward to reading your work!

The General Manager has left the building

By John Yunker,

As many of you know, Theo is our General Manager. But most of you do not know the story of how he became our GM.

In 1999, we were living in Boston in a fourth-floor walkup studio. My coworker had adopted a cat from a shelter south of Boston. At just nine months of age, this little cat was terrorizing her first cat, a cat twice his size. Near tears one morning, she told me she had to return him to the shelter.

We had wanted a cat for years but our lease wouldn’t allow it. But we were worried about this feisty cat’s fate and didn’t want to see him returned to the shelter, where he might not have had another chance at finding a home.

We couldn’t get official approval from our landlord, but he lived below us (with his dog) and gave us unofficial approval. And so we took my co-worker’s cat home.

 

Theo was his name and we never considered changing it.

He was a holy terror. He was missing two toes from his back leg. Had been hit by a car was the official story. But it was clear he had been starved as well. So young and so sadly obsessed with food. Got us up at all hours of the night. We tried free-feeding, but he nearly doubled his weight in month. So from then on he was on a controlled diet. I remember thinking at one point we should have just had a child as eventually they let you sleep the night through.

And then it occurred to me that we did have a child.

Ira, our friend who is now with Theo, once said, as he watched Theo walk into a room, “That cat oozes testosterone.” And did he ever.

From Boston to San Diego, Seattle and then Ashland, he traveled with us, wanted to be with us always.

Eighteen years.

We had our challenges along the way. We could never adopt other cats or dogs because he had such a hot temper; he barely tolerated us at times. And then there were the emergency room visits. A urinary blockage one year. Diabetes a few years later. A torn ligament in his knee that had to be replaced. In the end, it was a tumor in his jaw that he couldn’t overcome.

We started Ashland Creek Press on a whim. Not knowing where it would lead us. We adopted Theo on a whim as well. Funny how those things you do on a whim end up changing your lives for the better. We regret not a single day. We only regret that we did not have more of them.

He made us more patient, more flexible. He gave us so many wonderful memories. His stubbornness inspires our writing, our publishing, keeps us going in the face of rejection.

He was an indoor cat all his life, but boy did he love to go on walks.

So we will leave the position of GM open for now. We think it will take 3 or 4 felines at least to fill his shoes, or paws. And, after a time of mourning, we will try to fill them.

We had eighteen wonderful years with Theo. Right about the time many parents are sending their children off to college, we had to send ours off as well.

Such is life.

And such an empty nest.

Theo
1999-2017