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.

What’s new with ACP authors…

By Midge Raymond,

We are always thrilled to receive updates on what’s new with our brilliant and talented Ashland Creek Press authors, and we are long overdue in officially sharing some of the good news. (If you don’t already follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram, come find us there, where you can stay up-to-date on all the news.)

Among the fun news we have to share…

Mindy Mejia, author of the The Dragon Keeper, published Everything You Want Me to Be (Emily Bestler Books) last year to rave reviews (from a Booklist starred review to People magazine) and international acclaim (click here to see the international editions). Her new novel, Leave No Trace, is forthcoming in September.

Ray Keifetz, a contributor to the first edition of Among Animals, won the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Award for 2017 for his poetry collection Night Farming in Bosnia. To learn more about Ray and his new book, check out his interview with Literary North.

Jennifer Caloyeras, author of the YA novel Strays, is also the author of a critically acclaimed short story collection, Unruly Creatures, published last year by West Virginia University Press.

If you love the stories in Jean Ryan‘s collection Survival Skills as much as we do, don’t miss her new collection, Lovers and Loners, as well as her nature-infused essay collection, Strange Company.

JoeAnn Hart, author of the award-winning novel Float, has a new book forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in September of 2019: a non-fiction crime memoir, currently titled Old Scofieldtown Road, A 70’s Tale of Race, Death, Love, and Real Estate. Stay tuned!

We congratulate our wonderful authors on their successes and hope you’ll check out their new books (and their ACP books, if you haven’t already!). We look forward to bringing you more news on what’s new and forthcoming from the authors of the ACP books you love.

Meet the Fiordland-crested penguin

By Midge Raymond,

If you’ve read My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail you’ve met the Adélie, gentoo, chinstrap, emperor, and Magellanic penguins. Last year, we delighted to meet a new species: the Tawaki, or Fiordland-crested penguin. (Tawaki is the Māori name, meaning crested; these birds are found only on the South Island of New Zealand.)

The amazing Tawaki live in the rainforest, nesting under tree roots and bushes. They hike from the ocean across sandy beaches, over sharp rocks, and up steep banks to get to their nests. Sadly, there are only about 3,000 of these incredible penguins left on earth.

The Tawaki are endangered due to several factors, including predators on the island (non-native species such as stoats, possums, rats, and feral cats), climate change, and human disturbance (from tourists to the fishing industry). Tawaki are very shy, and it’s rare to see them — and when you do, you have to be very careful to keep your distance; if they come back to shore to feed their chicks and a human is near their path to the nest, they will get frightened and return to the ocean, leaving their chick to go hungry.

How can you help penguins like the Tawaki stay with us forever?

  • Consider giving up seafood, or even cutting back. You’ll save more fish for the birds, and you’ll help ensure that penguins and other creatures don’t get killed by fishing nets and longlines.
  • Be a respectful birdwatcher. Visit penguins with guides who know how to keep a safe distance, or learn about their habitat so that you can be sure to stay out of harm’s way.
  • Do all that you can to combat climate change (see the Climate Reality Project and Cowspiracy for some good tips).
  • Support conservation efforts like the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, which monitors penguins and works on the ground to ensure protections for them.

And keep learning! The more you know of these majestic creatures, the more inspired you’ll be to help save them. Join us in Patagonia in October to meet Magellanic penguins up close and personal at the largest colony in the world. This journey will be a small group of travelers who will meet with local researchers to learn more about their work with this colony, and with any luck, we’ll get to meet Turbo the Penguin as well (the inspiration for the Admiral Byrd character in My Last Continent and for Diesel in The Tourist Trail). Learn more here.

And thanks to John Yunker for these wonderful photographs.

On book returns & book tours

By Midge Raymond,

Most people outside of publishing don’t know anything about the concept of book returns, but for those of us in the industry, it’s a constant topic of conversation. Either we’re bemoaning the number of books that are returned (usually not in salable condition), or we’re wondering whether we’re missing opportunities by not allowing returns.

So, what does the term “returns” actually mean in publishing?

Thanks to a Depression-era tradition that encouraged booksellers to take books on credit and return any unsold copies, books can still be returned to publishers by booksellers, unlike nearly every other consumer product out there. Despite the fact that we’re no longer in the midst of the Great Depression, the tradition continues. For the booksellers, it means they can take a chance on books without having to sell them; if they don’t sell, they can simply return the books and not have to pay for them.

For publishers, particularly small presses, it’s a bit more complicated. While the Big Five publishers are better able to absorb the losses incurred by book returns, it’s not as easy for the little guys. Publishers are expected to cover the return shipping, and books often arrive in damaged, unsalable condition, which means not only a tremendous amount of waste but losses for both publisher and author. It’s especially difficult for small presses to stay in business with such losses, which is why so many small presses (like us) can’t afford to take returns.

Yet we’ve found ways to work with both authors and booksellers to make sure that our titles are visible and available to readers. Sometimes it means offering free shipping; sometimes it means asking authors to take extra copies because the bookseller prefers to under-order; sometimes it means selling our books to bookstores one book at a time. While most booksellers initially do balk at the idea of no returns, we’ve found that many are also happily willing to work within our parameters to support the authors in their communities.

As more authors publish with small presses (as well as self-publish), there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to bookstore events. After all, the goal for both author and bookseller is to sell out — so whether you’re with a small press, a Big Five publisher, or self-published, these are good tips for authors to keep in mind.

  • Work with indie bookstores to gauge the number of books you’ll need for an event. Ask the events manager to collect names for a free registration, and sent out e-invitations with RSVPs so that the bookseller can try to order just the right amount (studies have shown that one in four attendees buy books at author events). Always bring extras of your own in case.
  • Promote your event! Many authors are under the mistaken notion that it’s a bookstore’s job to bring in the crowds — yet many booksellers don’t do as much promotion as a new author may need (also, they can simply return any unsold stock without losing a penny). So if you want to avoid returns — and especially if you want to avoid facing an empty room — be sure to go the extra mile to promote the event: in addition to alerting friends and family and sharing it on all your social networks, send announcements to local media, get your event into community calendar listings, create a flyer that the bookstore can post — and most important, ask the bookstore how you can work with them to make the event as big and successful as possible.
  • Hold your events in cities in which you’re confident you can draw a crowd, either via friends, family, and colleagues or by the topic of your presentation.
  • If the bookseller over-orders your book, offer to sign them and ask if the store will hold onto those extra copies and work on selling them rather than packing them up and shipping them back the next day (which is often exactly what happens). If your publisher doesn’t take returns, you can buy back the books at the publisher’s discount and sell them at another event.

Managing returns is helpful for everyone involved — not only does it behoove authors and publishers, but it limits the vast amount of waste in publishing (the carbon footprint involved in shipping books back and forth, the destroying of unsalable copies) is good for the planet, and it’s worth everyone’s time in the long run.

Your Author Website: Build or Rent?

By John Yunker,

Your author website is your virtual home on the Internet.

Every author should have one, even if you also have homes on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

That’s because you need a home that is truly your own. A home that Google can index and make easily findable. A home that you control separate from platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

You might be thinking: “But Facebook makes it so easy to make yourself at home! Why bother with a website?”

It’s not an easy question to answer because so much depends on the author. The path you take is going to be largely determined by the following:

  • Your technical ability (or desire to learn)
  • Your budget
  • Your desire to go beyond website templates to create a completely customized author website

With these criteria in mind, I find that there are two general paths one can take regarding their website: Building vs. Renting.

Building a custom home (website)

When you build your home, you will probably need to hire an architect (web designer) to create the home according to your needs. The designer can often also host your website and manage it on an ongoing basis, charging an ongoing fee. This is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed, particularly if you have no technical ability and no desire to bother with web pages and HTML code. But you also need a budget — some web designers will charge $3,000 to $5,000 to create a website. And you’ll also need to pay an hourly rate for text changes down the road. If you want to have your own blog, for example, you will need to think about whether or not you want to pay someone to do this for you instead of you learning how to use WordPress and doing it yourself (it’s not as difficult as it may seem).

What does a custom website look like? Check out this one.

I should stress that even custom websites are often built on standard templates or design frameworks. So a web designer is still often using an underlying template, even though you may not notice it.

Renting a semi-customized home (website)

Now let’s say you don’t want to spend a lot of money. I first urge you to see what’s available for you to use cheaply. You would rely on a web hosting company that provides a template for you to use. You might want to check out:

SquareSpace
SquareSpace offers templates. Here is one that I think can work as an author website. You can start a free trail with no credit card.

Wix
You can create a free account on Wix as well — I’m not a huge fan of the templates.

My advice, whichever way you go:

  • Use photos selectively. Keep the focus on text; photos can add to download times.
  • Make sure the design is “responsive” — so it will adapt to mobile phone screens easily.
  • You’ll probably want a blog included, so you can easily add “news/events.” You could even have your news/event links simply go to the blog. This is a big question: How active do you want to update the site?
  • Finally, if you hire a designer, make sure it’s “work for hire.” You want to own that website so you’re able to update it, change it, etc. Designers sometimes will charge quite a lot for minimal updates or changes.