Category: On writing


An interview with Among Animals contributor J. Bowers

By Midge Raymond,

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor J. Bowers (“Shooting a Mule”) 

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: An old college friend knows I like both horses and strange 19th-century ephemera, so she sent me an article about the exploding mule through social media. I think it may have been Scientific American‘s own blog. Everything about the idea haunted me, especially the 19th-century version of the magazine’s cold, clinical tone when discussing the event, like the photography experiment was the part that mattered, not the animal’s life. I needed to write that mule a friend.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: This is the rare story that was drafted in one sitting. As soon as I read the original articles about the incident (using C19: The Nineteenth Century Index, a historical fiction writer’s best friend), I was off to the races. The narrator’s voice came really easily because I’d been reading a lot of period novels for my grad school exams. I liked the idea of a bystander feeling this tension between military authority and empathy for a fellow creature.

Q: Which writers inspire you the most?

A: I love women who write weird short fiction about animals: Lydia Millet, Karen Russell, and Hannah Tinti are all heroes in constant rotation. John Haskell and Steven Millhauser are also fascinating to me in terms of form and spectacle, and how to write about the past without losing sight of plot. I also read a lot of cultural histories about the 19th century — the more obscure and bizarre, the better.

Q: Your story is set in the late nineteenth century. How has our treatment of animals evolved since then?

A: Readers of Scientific American in the late 19th century viewed this event as a curiosity, the product of industrial ingenuity. The mule’s life meant nothing, because a mule was by definition a tool, a thing to be used, not a sentient being, as we might view it now. By contrast, in the 21st-century blog about the photograph that I initially read, the tragic nature of the event was front and center. With the public megaphone of the Internet, I find it hard to imagine that the kind of “animal testing” that occurs in “Shooting A Mule” would go unprotested if it happened today. Now when an animal is hurt in a high-profile way, as this mule was, the story goes viral. Still, despite greater awareness of abuse, real legal protections for animals (especially domestic ones) in the United States have a long, long way to go.

Q: How does photography affect our view of animals? When you think of graphic photos like the one in your story, do you think it leads to greater empathy, or desensitization?

A: Human ideas about other animals are wholly informed by representation. Photos, films, and cartoons do so much to influence our thoughts about what animals are or should be. When it comes to graphic portrayals of violence against animals, seeing a barrage of images of animal abuse can be desensitizing. I think about how my composition students always laugh uncomfortably at the ASPCA’s Sarah McLachlan-soundtracked PSAs when I show them as an example of pathos in advertising. They do feel empathy watching the commercials. They care that animals are suffering. But there’s something about seeing those images so many times that has dulled the commercials’ impact, and turned it into this nervous joke. Save The Children ads have the same problem. I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to include such a shocking image in “Shooting A Mule,” but felt readers needed to see what these men were aiming for in the name of science: what the mule’s life amounted to in the end. Its power is in its singularity. It’s not something you see every day.

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

A: When people think about animals suffering for human inventions, they think of medical applications, mostly, wonder drugs and the like. I hope this story reminds them just how capricious humans can be about animal lives when science (any science) is used as an excuse. The victim being a mule just adds to that; it’s a creature that wouldn’t exist without human intervention.

Q: Is the mule based on anyone?

A: Yes, Wylie, a mare mule who was a beloved herd fixture at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center in Columbia, MO, where I worked as barn manager for eight years. I borrowed a lot of her mannerisms and behavior, trying to do the animal justice through observation instead of relying on stereotypes. Miss Wylie taught me that mules get a bum rap.

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Art & poetry at Ashland’s Enoteca

By Midge Raymond,

For all of you in Southern Oregon (or visiting!), be sure to stop by the wine tasting room Enoteca this month to see the wonderful collaboration of artists Dana Feagin and Kat von Cupcake.

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This exhibit, “Animal Ruminations: A Collaboration in Poetry and Paint,” a show of Dana’a paintings paired with Kat’s poetry, will be at Enoteca until November 30. The opening reception will be on First Friday, November 4, from 5 to 8 p.m, featuring music, wine, and appetizers.

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Original art, cards, and prints of Dana’s fantastic animal paintings and Kat’s delicious baked goodies will be available for purchase during the reception. This two-month show is a fundaiser for Sanctuary One. All proceeds benefit the Sanctuary.

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Here is a glimpse of the art/poetry pairings you’ll find … and when you visit you’ll see (and read about) animals from cats and dogs to pigs, ducks, and roosters.

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Enoteca is located in the Plaza in downtown Ashland; click here for hours and other details.

An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor Rachel King

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks to Among Animals 2 contributor Rachel King for answering our questions about her story, “A Normal Rabbit.” And save the date: Rachel will be appearing with Catherine Evleshin at Annie Bloom’s in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, October 13, at 7 p.m. for a reading from Among Animals 2. 

Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: My friend works with special needs kids, and I showed rabbits in 4-H when I was a kid. Both areas of knowledge inspired this story.

Q: What was your writing/research process?
A: I challenged myself to write a story that happened in one day, and this story flowed from there.

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Q:  How does using animals in 4-H clubs (putting them in shows, raising them as food) affect the children in your story? How do you think such clubs affect children in general?
A: When her pet rabbit kills its offspring, Allie becomes scared of rabbits, their violence and foreignness. She opens back up to them while showing her rabbit at the fair. Drew has a connection with the rabbit Camper that he doesn’t yet have with human beings. Children in general can have similar reactions to animals in 4-H: They can think them strange before they accept them and/or their interactions with animals can bring out aspects of their personalities–gentleness, maybe, or caring–that they don’t show as much among their human friends.

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Q: Which writers inspire you the most?
A: Carson McCullers, Jim Shepard, Mary Gaitskill, Robert Hass

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
A: I want readers to enjoy following Allie around for the day; seeing the fair, her brother, and the 4-H event through her eyes.

Q: Why did you pick a child narrator?
A: Allie’s point of view allows the reader to work through the story’s situations slowly, without the immediate assumptions adults often bring. She perceives facts before she makes judgments, something younger children do more often than adults.

An interview with Among Animals contributor Catherine Evleshin

By Midge Raymond,

We’re pleased to share this interview with Among Animals contributor Catherine Evleshin (“A Sterile Place”). And for all of you in the Pacific Northwest, save the date: Catherine will be reading from her story, along with AA2 contributor Rachel King, on Thursday, October 13, at 7 p.m. at Annie Bloom’s. 

 

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: My parents, who ran a farming operation in Northern California during World War II, read Rachel Carson and worried. I witnessed repeated “Silent Springs” when the spray planes dumped DDT on their crops.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: I read environmental science, ecolit, and future fiction … and remember my childhood on a green farm carved from river delta soils and wild spaces.

Q: Past and present time often cross paths for Bob in this story; at what point do you feel the lines blur, and why?

A: Still alive in 2041, the centegenarian protagonist, confined to an institution because of cognitive issues, remembers his name as the more professorial Robert. His great grandson helps him reconstruct his childhood that reaches back to World War II.

Q: What species would you miss the most if it were to disappear?

A: My brain tells me that all species have a place in the ecosystem. But to be honest, it rips out my heart to learn the plight of warm-blooded creatures, and, yes, frogs. Mosquitos and flies, not so much.

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

A: The urgency of stopping practices that destroy the natural world now, not when it becomes economically practical.

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An interview with Among Animals 2 contributor JoeAnn Hart

By Midge Raymond,

Many thanks to JoeAnn Hart for sharing her insights on the writing of “It Won’t Be Long Now,” included in Among Animals 2

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Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I was driving along a highway and saw a black plastic trash bag in the middle of the road that must have blown out of a truck. Before I realized it was just more trash in the wrong place, my first thought was, What is a seal doing so far from shore? So the story that came out of this moment was “It Won’t Be Long Now,” where a seal is washed onshore in an estuary, far from where it should be.

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: I started with the image of the washed up seal, and a woman seeing it from a window in her house, thinking at first it was a black plastic bag. While originally I thought I might write the story as magical realism, where the seal was found hundreds of miles from water, it evolved into a piece of realism. I wanted the reader to understand the problems that real-life sea mammals have with plastic debris in the oceans, since the seal is where it is because it is all wrapped up in fishing line, dying. At that point, I had to do a little research on harbor seals. Even though it is fiction, you can’t play fast and loose with science. To seem real on the page, it has to be real with the facts.

Q: Which writers inspire you?

A: For non-fiction, I’d like to write as beautifully as Annie Dillard and as smart as Rebecca Solnit, both of whom do a better job with the natural world than almost anybody else. For fictional inspiration I return to Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Q: The story involves a sick child who must limit her access to the outdoors. How does this need to distance herself from nature affect her?

A: We are all so distanced from nature these days, to our detriment if not our lives. Children, especially, need to have hands-on experience with the outdoors or they won’t know what there is to lose. The child in the story yearns for animals, but she knows them only through stuffed toys. When the seal arrives in her backyard her mom won’t even let her stay to observe it for fear of an asthma attack. She is literally allergic to the outdoors. She’s sent to the mall with her grandparents, but that comes with its own health risks. There’s no escaping what we do to the environment.

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

A: I want people to think before they throw anything away, since it all goes downstream and into the oceans, where even something as thin as filament becomes a lethal weapon to sea mammals. Any damage to the ocean is damage to us.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I’ve been working on a full-length play about hoarding with strong environmental themes.

Q: How familiar are you with harbor seals?

A: In the winter, all sorts of seals hang out in Gloucester’s harbor (they summer in Maine). I see them on my walk and call to them as they sun themselves on the rocks. They always look. They probably think I’m crazy.

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