Category: On animals

An interview with FLOAT author JoeAnn Hart

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Float author JoeAnn Hart

by Shelby Harris

Q: I love the multiplicity of the title, Float. Can you give a little background on how you developed the title? Did you decided on “float” as a title before, after, or somewhere in the middle of writing the novel?

A: No matter what I write, whether a short story or a novel, it seems the title comes to me before anything else. A few years ago a friend was going through a rough patch, and her therapist told her to imagine herself floating with her problems instead of fighting them so hard, or else she would exhaust herself and sink. Every time she got stressed out, she repeated the word “float” to herself and felt better. It seemed like good advice for anyone, so I created a Float document. For two years I added other meanings, such as to float through life without direction, or to float a loan. As a physical object, a float is used in fishing to keep the nets or line buoyant, and a float is part of a pier. I learned about plastics that float along in the oceans from Flotsametrics and the Floating World, by Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano, and plastic’s environmental impact on not just sea life, but all life. Then one day I came across the Alan Watts quote —  “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float” — and I was ready to start the novel.

Q: There were parts of the novel where I couldn’t help but laugh aloud to myself. I really enjoy how you’ve seamlessly woven together comedy and more serious topics such as pollution and environmental sustainability; it makes the novel very accessible. Was this your intention while writing Float, or did the humor naturally develop from the characters?

A: Humor is as fragile as a jellyfish; if you try to dissect it, it dissolves right into the sand. When I write I never think, oh, I’ve got to make this funny, because that would kill it. I just write about characters with contradictory aspects, the way people are in real life. Or at least in my life. The mother in Float obsesses about sailing, yet won’t go out on the water; Slocum is a chef who imagines himself on the cutting edge of cuisine, and can’t cook. As W. Somerset Maugham, a writer I slavishly admire, said, “A sense of humor leads you to take pleasure in the discrepancies of human nature.”

Q: There is such a variety in your characters, which is very refreshing to read. While there is no doubt that the characters are entertaining, they also have a complexity to them. For instance, even though Duncan’s mother is hilariously entertaining, I also found her to be wise and resilient. Her quote “you have to look for answers in the problem itself” struck me as very true, even poetic. How did you create such wonderful variety in your characters? Was there a lot of inspiration from people in your own personal life?

A: I’ve been told that I have a high tolerance for odd ducks. I don’t like to think about what that says about my upbringing and my core definition of “normal.” Be that as it may, when I write, I don’t think in terms of real people when creating characters, but real traits. I keep a document called Characters, which may or may not pertain to characters I’m working with, in which I record words and actions I find interesting. For me, characters evolve slowly as I play around with these aspects, but I try never to have identifiable traits or words that can lead back to a single person. I don’t want people to clam up around me because I’m a writer. I need the material! I’m not above stealing traits from fictional characters either. To that end, I like Updike, Cheever, and Flannery O’Connor, who were great students of the human experiment.


Q:  Has the ocean and the environmental issues surrounding it always been a passion for you? 

A: I remember chastising other kids in grade school for throwing candy wrappers in the street. I probably wasn’t very popular. I remember the first Earth Day in 1970, when I was entering high school, how exciting it was that people were finally paying attention. In those days it was still mostly about air and fresh water pollution, and we’ve made strides there, but plastics in the ocean weren’t in the conversation yet. The plastic soda bottle wasn’t even invented until 1977, so we had no idea how insidious it was, how it would never break down into its components but just become smaller and smaller until it was the size of sea plankton and join the food chain. Regardless, I was a stranger to the ocean when I was young. This, in spite of the fact that our planet shouldn’t even be called Earth, it should be called Ocean, because it is more water than land. But I grew up in the Bronx — which in theory is on the coast, but in actuality might as well be in Ohio — and then the northern suburbs, so the only body of water I knew was the municipal pool. Then in 1979 I moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is thoroughly integrated with the sea, in spirit and in trade. When my children were young, I was at the beach by demand, but it wasn’t love at first sight. It was hot, and sand got in their ears and diapers, and I thought waves would snatch their precious bodies from my arms. When they got older, I took up rowing, and that’s when I really learned to love the water. Unfortunately, along with tremendous beauty, to be on the water is to have a world of plastic in your face. Plastic bottles float around the harbor, lost fishing line tangles up in balls and traps seabirds, and giant sheets of ghostly shrink-wrap (used to winterize pleasure boats) bob along on the surface like manta rays, only more deadly. The ocean is so unfamiliar to most people that these problems are invisible, so we need raise awareness. What we need is Ocean Day.

Q: Can you speak a bit about the writing process for Float? How long did the novel take you to complete? Also, how long was Float an idea before you began to write it?

A: I am a disciplined writer and work almost every day, but I have to write in the morning or not at all. My habits came from years of going to school while my three kids were still at home, when I had to guard my writing time like a troll under a bridge. I bargained away everything to avoid doing morning carpool so I could work. Once I leave the house, something is lost for me, a dreaminess, that I can’t get back. Even going to the barn to do morning animal chores can break it, so my husband does them. I don’t take calls when I write, I don’t book appointments, and I tell my family to go away. Novels are such a big undertaking, you really have to be such a mean troll. Float was two years of writing, not including the two years of research that came before it and the months of editing with Ashland Creek that came after.




Q: Eco-fiction is still a relatively new genre. Do you think there will be a rise of eco-fiction the more educated the public becomes about environmental sustainability? 

A: I think there will be a rise in it because environment devastation will become such a predominant force in our lives. I didn’t start out to write eco-fiction, but the first chapter in Float takes place on a beach. My protagonist, Duncan, comes to the water to look at some words in the sand and finds a seagull caught in a plastic six-pack holder. Saving the bird jump-started the plot, then plastics took on a growing role throughout the book, and the next thing I know, every time I sat down to write, I’m thinking: Humans put the plastic there — they are going to have to remove it, or at the least, figure out a way from adding to the problem. For me, writing about the water meant writing about the plastics in it, because that’s the reality.

Q: Do you have any tips for your readers on how they can help keep our oceans (and in turn, ourselves) clean and healthy?

A: It is easy to feel overwhelmed and give up altogether. But I still pick up the plastic on the beach, and I try to restrict my use of plastic in the first place. That’s almost impossible these days. The computer I’m writing on right now is plastic, and I couldn’t get along without it. So I eliminate plastics for disposable products, like grocery bags, while tolerating it in durables, like my manure cart and garden hose, more items I can’t live without. I won’t buy coffee at places that use Styrofoam cups, and I buy milk in cardboard. That’s just palliative. The cure will be in finding natural plastic substitutes. We have to encourage private and public funding of these projects. We must learn to love science. In Float, the promise is in jellyfish, but in real life, scientists all over the world are working to develop natural polymers using all sorts of unlikely things, such as beetle shells, algae, and yes, even jellyfish, that can be broken down with enzymes and used again. Human creativity can save humanity, but the impetus and funding has got to be there.


Shelby Harris is a student at Southern Oregon University. She plans to graduate in the spring of 2013 with a B.S. in professional writing and a minor in business administration. After her undergraduate studies are complete, she hopes to attend graduate school in Oregon to further her knowledge of professional writing. With all her schooling complete, she eventually aspires to own and operate a publishing company that specializes in helping publish young authors. 

Ask a new author

By Midge Raymond,

We are delighted to announce that during the first six months of 2013, three Ashland Creek Press debut authors — Mindy Mejia, Olivia Chadha, and Jean Ryan — will be participating in the Book Divas‘ Ask a New Author column.




This means that for the next six months, Mindy, Olivia, and Jean will be answering questions from readers, writers, and other inquiring minds about their experiences of getting their first books out into the world. Send in your own questions by emailing them to

Here’s a little about these three debut authors…

Mindy Mejia “is simply a beautiful writer,” writes Mary Ann Grossmann of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Mindy’s novel, The Dragon Keeper, tells the story of the zookeeper of a Komodo dragon and a discovery that changes the scientific world forever, highlighting the perils of captivity and the astonishing ways in which animals evolve.

Olivia Chadha is the author of Balance of Fragile Things, an “absorbing” (Publishers Weekly) environmental novel about a multicultural American family that comes together just as the world around them begins to fall apart.

Jean Ryan‘s debut story collection, Survival Skills: Stories, is forthcoming in April. Jean writes of beauty and aging, and of love won and lost, with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom. “This book will bring you closer to the things that are important in life” (Lori Ostlund, author of The Bigness of the World).

Visit Ask a New Author for past columns and conversations with such authors as Ellen Meeropol, Scott Sparling, and Nichole Bernier (not to mention book reviews, book giveaways, Industry Tips from authors, and more).

And don’t forget to send in your questions!

The (equine) faces of Equamore Sanctuary

By Midge Raymond,

The more time I spend among the horses at Equamore Sanctuary, the more I adore them. And the more I appreciate all that the Equamore Foundation does to take care of these animals, most of whom had no place else to go when they were taken in by Equamore.

Here’s one of Equamore’s newest arrivals — Wishes, who is almost completely blind but is also among the most curious horses I’ve met, always popping her head out of her stall to see what’s going on. She is so sweet and affectionate, and she loves attention. (My photos are always a little blurry, thanks to these horses being so animated!)

Shane is another new arrival, rescued along with Wishes from a situation that is not uncommon: good intentions that, unfortunately, led to neglect. While Wishes had been trying to navigate a pasture being unable to see, Shane was in a pasture and unable to eat; he is missing a lot of teeth, and he wasn’t receiving the nutrients he needed because he couldn’t process his food. Here’s a photo of Shane now, so happy to be at the sanctuary (where he receives special food that he can digest) and so happy about having dinner that he can’t stop eating to look up at the camera. He is still very, very thin — but the way he’s been eating, he’ll be at a normal, healthy weight in no time.

Hazel is another new arrival — she, too, was rescued from owners who didn’t know enough about horse care. This beautiful Appaloosa mare was left alone to graze in a vineyard fenced with barbed wire, where the resident dog chased her and pulled her tail. When her rescuers noticed that she growing thinner and virtually tailless, they called the Rogue Valley Humane Society, who came out to the property and found Hazel cowering in a chicken coop. She’ll now receive lifetime care at Equamore — and as you can see in this photo, she’ll be the first to tell you how happy she is about that.

If you want to help, visit the Equamore website, where you can learn more and make a donation to support these lovely creatures. And, if you’ve fallen in love with any particular horse, you can visit his or her individual web page and make a donation that directly supports his or her care.

Watching the Raptors Watch Us

By John Yunker,

Based in San Diego Country, the Wildlife Research Institute is an amazing organization that works to protect wildlife and its habitat.

Every year they invite the public to the grasslands of Ramona (north of San Diego) for a Hawk Watch. WRI played a key role in keeping these grasslands free from development and, in doing so, has protected an area rich in wildlife — and a popular wintering ground for hawks and eagles.

We attended a hawk watch several years ago and it was a relatively small affair. We attended again last weekend and were impressed at how many people were there, including lots of families. In a region where it seems people care only about expanding highways, it’s nice to see that in fact that there are plenty of folks who want to see nature preserved.

WRI works with another organization, Project Wildlife, to rehabilitate injured animals. The staff brought along a few of their rescued birds for show and tell. These birds are unable to survive out on their own.

Here we have a Peregrine Falcon — the fastest bird on the planet.

Peregrine Falcon

And here’s a screech owl — this little guy is mostly blind and has bad hearing.

Screech Owl

And below is a red-shouldered hawk.

red-shouldered hawk

We also saw a ferruginous hawk and a red-tailed hawk … not to mention a golden eagle out in the grasslands.

We also saw a curious coyote in the distance, possibly wondering what all the commotion was about.

Coyote in Ramona

If you’re in the San Diego area, check out the Hawk Watch. These events happen every Saturday in January and February.

  Category: On animals, On nature
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The Animals Among Us

By John Yunker,


red fox on san juan island

When we announced last month that Ashland Creek Press was planning to publish an anthology devoted to short stories about how the lives of animals and humans intersect, we had no idea what kind of response we would get.

I’m happy to say that the response has been amazing. The quality and quantity of stories has not only kept us quite busy — it has inspired us.

To know that so many other writers out there are devoting their talents to these complex, powerful, and important issues is heartening.

We’re now more than a third of our way toward a completed anthology, titled Among AnimalsWe expect to be setting a final submission deadline and a target date for publication early in the new year. Subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date on deadlines.

If you’re a writer with a story to submit (previously published stories are okay), here’s how to submit.