Category: The writing life


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!

Cat editors: ACP authors Mindy Mejia & Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

After realizing how many authors seem to find inspiration (or, at least, avoid procrastination) thanks to the felines who keep them in the chair, I began a blog series called Cat Editors. The series began with my own cat editor, Theo, who is also General Manager of Ashland Creek Press and basically keeps us both in our chairs.

Several Ashland Creek Press authors have shared their cat editors’ stories with me, and I’m delighted to share two of them here, especially since we have brand-new reasons to celebrate these two authors: Mindy Mejia and Jean Ryan both have new books out in the world!

Mindy Mejia‘s novel, Everything You Want Me to Be, is a page-turning mystery that we guarantee you won’t be able to put down. If you’ve read The Dragon Keeper, you know what we mean — but don’t just take our word for it: Mindy’s new novel is also a People magazine Best New Books Pick, one of The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries, recipient of a starred Booklist review, and so much more! Visit Mindy’s website to learn more.

Author Mindy Mejia lives and writes with a cat named Dusty.

Mindy's cat

On working with Dusty, Mindy says:

Dusty’s main editorial talents lie in encouragement and prioritization. He usually lounges on the table or in my lap, purring his approval at whatever scene I’m working on, and if I start daydreaming he’ll jump directly on top of the computer or manuscript (see picture) as if to say, “Oh, you’ve got better things to do than write? I guess I’ll just make this my new bed.” It never fails to refocus my energy, which I’m sure is his intent.

 

 

Jean Ryan is the author of Survival Skills: Stories and a novel, Lost Sister. Those of you who are familiar with Jean’s gorgeous short stories will love her newest book, Strange Company, a collection of essays featuring the same exquisite prose and astute observations on nature and life. Strange Company is available from MadeMark Publishing in paperback and will be available as an audiobook on March 31. Visit Jean’s website to learn more.

Author Jean Ryan writes with Tango.

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Of working with Tango, Jean says:

Tango does not want me to get too comfortable with my writing. She urges me to stay on the edge, to persevere through difficulty, to remember that the deepest truths are found outside my comfort zone.

 

Thanks to Mindy and Jean for sharing their writing processes with us, and thanks to the cats for making it possible! We look forward to reading much more of Jean and Mindy’s work.

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Claire Ibarra

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Claire Ibarra about her story “Vivarium”

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I was living in South Florida at the time, and as common as cockroaches are there, I could never get used to them. I couldn’t help my reaction. I’d scream, dash across the room, climb onto furniture. The palmetto bug is especially hideous because it flies, and getting hit in the face by one is completely unnerving. In the spirit of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” I began to wonder about what humans might share in common with these bugs. In the story of Gregor Samsa, he wakes up a bug and becomes completely alienated, whereas Eva begins to connect with others and gain confidence through her solidarity with Chico.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: Once an idea for a story comes to me, I tend to dive in and try to get as much as I can down on paper, but of course, I get stuck with lots of questions. I didn’t know anything about cockroaches, and since Wikipedia was such a helpful, quick source, I decided to incorporate it into the story. Eva needed to do her own research, as well. That doesn’t mean that I normally recommend Wikipedia for research. Luckily it’s easy nowadays to access information – Google is such a gift to writers.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?

A: That’s always a hard question to answer. There are so many inspirational works and authors. As I mentioned, Kafka inspired this story. But I just read My Antonia by Willa Cather for the first time, and I immediately wanted to visit Nebraska. I never thought I’d be inspired to visit Nebraska! Now it seems like to most magical and interesting place in the world.

Q: Why did you choose a cockroach as the animal that allows Eva to step beyond her fears?

A: I guess I was thinking about the most ugly creature imaginable, especially for a person struggling like Eva, juxtaposed with empowerment and transformation. I think I may have encountered a cockroach in my house that day, and it got me thinking about our human struggles, from the most profound to the mundane. What might be the outcome when we face our fears up close, and so intimately?

Q: Where do you see Eva in the weeks and years past the story’s ending?

A: I see Eva in a position to help people. She is on her way to becoming a clinical counselor or therapist. Her family’s dysfunction was her first classroom. She just needs to gain confidence, and maybe she’ll always struggle with OCD, but she’ll make a great therapist. I imagine that she’ll start having more fun!

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

A: I am continually struck by the intelligence of animals, and their ability to display compassion. Interspecies friendship – the actual affection and love between animals – is one of the most beautiful things to witness. I would like readers to consider the possibility that all living creatures are capable of such affection. Also, we must nurture that kind of compassion and caring within ourselves to make the world more tolerable.

 Q: What do you imagine will be Chico’s fate?

A: I think once Eva decides she doesn’t need his companionship anymore, she finds a creative way to set him free into the wilderness of the Miami streets, where more adventures are in store for him.

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An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Carmen Marcus

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Carmen Marcus about her story “Bight, Tomcat, and the Moon”

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: The story was inspired by a prompt by a British writers’ organization called “Word Factory.” They’d asked Neil Gaiman for a story starter for a modern fable that went, “Long ago, in the days when there were still fish in the oceans and cars on the road, there lived a woman who was not afraid of governments…” So I treated the starter as a puzzle – what if the oceans were gone and the roads were the only place left for the fish, and what kind of woman could survive there? Never underestimate the power of a good story starter to invite you beyond your comfort zone.

Q: This story, set in a future world, contains language and settings that are exotic in their novelty. What was your writing process like?

A: This story involved a wondrous research phase, my favorite part of story creation. First, I researched the form and scope of fable to understand the conventions I was about to play with. Fables often involve animals as characters, and this opened up opportunities for me to create the Purrman and creatures with personality. The language for Bight and her world came from free-writing exercises which were prompted by questions about her world and her desires. For me, detail is everything, so I researched sailing and nautical language, Bight didn’t have a name until I was researching knot making – then I discovered the word bight. It means the loop before the knot is made – it is pure potential, just like her. Finding the right name informed her character, her trajectory, and her world.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?

A: So many, but for this piece I read and re-read Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles. Wood took Cornish myths and made them into contemporary stories, perfect for modelling modern fables. I read Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – Russell effortlessly weaves the real and fantastical, disorientating her readers. Orkney by Amy Sackville is an intense story set in the wilds of Orkney, a brilliantly and darkly narrated tale of obsession. Finally, I turned back to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to understand more about nascent identities and sumptuous sentences. Each of these writers consciously creates a voice within their stories for the environment to speak; it’s that luscious breathing world that draws me.

Q: What relationship do you envision in the future among humans and animals?

A: As a fisherman’s daughter, my relationship with animals has always been complex. The sea provided food, but the pursuit of that food became a sacred act in its own right, with rules which restricted excesses and exploitation. My father told me a story when I was a child – that my great grandfather pulled up a sea god in his nets and, realizing what it was, cut the net and lost the catch to set it free. From that moment our family was protected at sea – so the story goes. This relationship of mutual protection is founded upon wonder at something unknown, and because it was unknown it was possible for a deeper form of communication than spoken language to emerge – a sacred connection. We seem to live in a world that abounds with “knowledge” about animals, but little wonder. The more knowledge we have of animals, the more potential for exploitation. But wonder is the foundation of respect and that sacred connection which invites compassion. It is my hope that we allow for a greater sense of wonder about those we share the planet with and that we learn that knowledge isn’t the boundary at which true understanding lies.

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Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
A: I would like readers to experience how hard it is to protect what is precious to us, even when it seems futile and without hope but to still want to endeavour to do so.

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Laura Maylene Walter

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Laura Maylene Walter (“Lost Pets”)

Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: Several years ago, my husband was in the habit of photographing “Lost Pet” posters. Whenever he saw one of these posters while out walking or driving, he stopped whatever he was doing to photograph it. In the end, he amassed a fairly sizable digital collection of lost pets. I found these images touching but also distressing — I couldn’t shake how many people were out there seeking lost pets, not to mention the animals themselves. What had become of them? I could never know the fate of those pets, but I could create my own by writing a story. And thus “Lost Pets” was born.

Q: What was your writing/research process?
A:  I viewed my husband’s photographs of the posters and, in a few cases, tried to incorporate some of their language into my fictional posters. The lost pet posters my husband found in the wild exhibited a wide range of syntax, level of detail/description, grammar, and design. I tried to reflect some of that variation in the story, but ultimately, I had to let go of the real-life posters and allow my fictional pets to take on a life of their own. As far as the writing process is concerned, I wrote “Lost Pets” as I write most of my stories: by starting with a character and a premise and then just writing with few to no plans, allowing the story to take me where it may.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?
A:  I love Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Elena Ferrante, Angela Carter, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and Ann Patchett, to name a few.

Q: What does the dog Starlight represent to Vicky in this story?
A: The home and past life Vicky can never return to.

Q: Where, and with whom, do you see Vicky ending up in the future?
A: I see her as remaining alone for a time. Not forever, but for a time. I don’t think she’s ready yet for anything else. But I do believe she’ll eventually find her way and become happier, no matter what form that will take in her life.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
A: Not to steal dogs? Okay, I suppose the real answer is empathy for both animals and owners who have lost their way. (But seriously, don’t steal someone’s dog.)

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