Q&A with WRITING FOR ANIMALS contributor Hunter Liguore

Hunter Ligoure’s essay “Writing Animals Where You Are” appears in Writing for Animals.

Q: In what ways has your writing changed as your knowledge and awareness of animals has evolved?

A: Compassion. With knowledge comes the awareness that there is no separation between animals and humans, nor is there a hierarchy of animals that are more important, or are more deserving of our love and compassion. (E.g., many are saddened by the loss of a pet, but not the loss of a squirrel or housefly). If we’re still long enough, we can recognize our sameness — the need for food, water, shelter, love, play, rest, and harmony, rather than suffering. Animals and humans want these things equally, and through awareness, not only in my writing, but in my way of life, I’m creating a world that realizes these actions as integral opportunities, available to be carried in every moment, everywhere. There isn’t a separate time for animals; our relationship is a seamless day.

 

Q: What is the most important thing you feel writers should keep in mind as they write about animals?

A: Change the image of “watching” animals to “participating with” animals. When we watch, we’re actively creating a separation. We’re partners, living and wanting those same necessities I mentioned above. When we participate, we will go from being a false, stagnant observer, to a constant participant that is nurturing the world to ensure safety, love, compassion, food/water, play, shelter, for all animals. It will carry into the writing — it will foster a generation of environmental/nature writing aimed at solutions and actions, as opposed to despair, because the writer is now active and participating, too.

I would encourage writers to relearning perceptions and old mindsets created by the mass-mind … we all have them, a teaching or experience we cling to that causes a habitual reaction rather than a conscious action. I’ve had close encounters with bears and skunks — close, as in a handful of feet — where the very initial reaction is one of purity and presentness, not fear. The moment is often confounded with the mass-mind, the experiences of others. So while I’m not advocating petting a bear, I’m suggesting to acknowledge and consider how much one’s perception is based on habit, reaction/response, rather than being in the moment. Nature/animals allow us to be “here” and “present,” to fully experience life with them, not apart from them. It’s the same when you’re outside and feel a mosquito digging into your skin — the mass-response is to kill and swat, rather than gently disengage. Ticks, too. Houseflies … Who taught you to kill as the first response? My family taught me to eat animals, and I unlearned it. How could I spend years as an “animal advocate” and eat animals? But the mass-mind said that it was okay because some animals need preservation; others don’t. I unlearn the old responses every day by being open to the animals here and now and loving them equally — if fear arises, I ask why. There is nothing more beautiful than the pink nose of a skunk, who will not spray if you’re attentive and compassionate enough to allow it.

Focus on where you are writing right now. The office plant, the spider in the bathroom at the restaurant, the windowsill bird feeder, the parks that can use all your love to keep the litter at bay, to promote habitats. Cemeteries are open to visit and have a plethora of wildlife; walk your neighborhoods and cultivate a reciprocal relationship right now with whatever animal is there — the spider, gnat, birds, rabbits … when you do, the whole world opens and harmony floods in.

 

Q: Which authors/books do you feel do a good job of realistically and compassionately portraying the lives of animals?

A: It’s very important where our mind rests all day. If it rests on a terrible, hopeless future, then collectively, we’re creating that day tomorrow. When we send out books, social media posts, videos that show despair, terror, violence, and so on, done to animals and the environment, then we’re triggering helplessness in the viewer, and restricting the possibility of the future that we do want to share together. How, as authors, can we offer a conversation that allows participation, not terror?

Books that offer a view out the window of harmony, which is here right now for us, are the ones I’m most interested in. Show us that our small effort matters; show us what change is occurring, so that we will be inspired to believe in ourselves and in creating a harmonious world. Two that come to mind are:

1. A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion by Matthieu Ricard

Ricard shows us that the world is changing for animal, and he rallies us to get on board. In his book we see meat factories closing; he calls us to be responsible for our daily actions, and we want to join in, since we’re given permission to be accountable, and let go of our old habits.

2. Ecotopia 2121: A Vision for Our Future Green Utopia in 100 Cities by Alan Marshall

A book, mostly in pictures, that offers a view of the future that is harmonious, hopeful, and green; Marshall shows us that we can be active today to create these cities now. Like the concept behind the butterfly affect — that one housefly you catch and release can make a difference; or the mosquitoes you deter with garlic, over an electric zapper; or that night garden you cultivate for moths — all those things matter and add up to a harmonious world.

Q: Your essay points out that all animals, not only exotic ones, deserve our attention. What “ordinary” animal is most important to you?

A: My day begins with animals and ends with them, and no “one” animal could be separated as being more important. They come seasonally, so at times, I become aware that certain animals will show themselves more than others. For instance, fireflies have appeared at night, and with that comes a sense of awareness that “the whole” has extended another ripple of harmony to allow this to happen. Blackberries have finally come freely, allowed to be welcomed, and now create natural food for wildlife. A mother deer came with two spotted fawns — again, it says there is support for her to do so. Three hundred grackles have descended, with their fledglings, having felt the ripple to come and be part of the harmony. I live in an urban area, sandwiched within supermarkets, houses, and busy roads, and yet it is absolute paradise here for thousands of birds and animals, right down to the smallest of small. We’re in a constant, seamless interaction, and the most “important” thing is supporting harmony, and the opportunities to heighten our reciprocal relationship with the whole. When that happens, the discord that others believe in cannot exist — those busy roads and the paved, hard cities become part of the whole and harmony, no longer the enemy but part of the cohesion.

 

Hunter Liguore’s life motto is “respect for differences.” Her writing seeks to create a dialogue that promotes understanding our shared humanity as an alternative to discrimination and hate. She holds degrees in history and writing, and she teaches writing in New England. An award-winning writer, her work has appeared in over a hundred publications internationally, including Spirituality & Health, Orion, Great Plains Quarterly, and Anthropology & Humanism. She has several screenplays optioned, including Everylife, which is currently in pre-production. Her eco-fiction teen novel, Silent Winter, is forthcoming and already being compared to The Handmaid’s Tale. www.hunterliguore.org

Announcing the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize!

We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: Katy Yocom, for her novel THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR.

Judge JoeAnn Hart writes, “THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR begins with a focused lens on the endangered Bengal tiger then expands its reach with every page to reveal the interconnectedness of the natural world and fragility of all life. Weaving together the worn threads of ecological balance, this ambitious and moving novel addresses scarcity, climate change, family dynamics, cultural conflict, human accountability, women’s economic autonomy, and most of all, love, in all its wondrous forms. This is a story not just about saving the tigers, but ourselves.”

Katy Yocom was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she has lived ever since. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism have appeared in Salon.com, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and Louisville Magazine, among other publications.

In conducting research for her novel, THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, she traveled to India, funded by a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. She has also been awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Crosshatch Hill House, and Hopscotch House. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poetry has been translated into Bulgarian. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University.

She lives with her husband in Louisville, Kentucky, where she helps direct Spalding’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Learn more about Katy on her website and via Facebook.

As the Siskiyou Prize winner, Katy will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA and a $1,000 cash prize.

It was a very competitive contest this year, and we would also like to congratulate the finalists and semifinalists:

 

FINALISTS

Small Small Redemption: Essays by Sangamithra Iyer

The Heart of the Sound: A memoir by Marybeth Holleman (published by Bison Books)

Song of the Ghost Dog: A YA novel by Sharon Piuser

SEMIFINALISTS

Karstland: A novel by Caroline Manring

Rumors of Wolves: A novel by C.K. Adams

The Harp-Maker of Exmoor: A novel by Hazel Prior

 

Thanks to everyone who submitted and to everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. And please stay tuned for announcements for the next Siskiyou Prize!

 

Lizards in Love: A guest post by Jean Ryan

Today’s post is courtesy of Survival Skills author Jean Ryan, whose blog you can find on her website. Enjoy!

Lizards in Love

Many creatures mate for life. People, who often bungle this commitment, are shamed by such devotion in the wild. Watching a pair of swans glide across the surface of a still pond, we are stirred to admiration, even reverence, knowing how far they surpass us in manner and form.

Swans are inarguably beautiful, as are various other animals that lead devoted lives: turtle doves, wolves, French angelfish, golden eagles. For these glorious beasts, the discipline of monogamy seems a fitting attribute, a sort of noblesse oblige.

But what of the shingleback skink? Tiliqua rugose: a bob-tailed, slow moving, blue-tongued lizard. Found only in Australia, this lowly beast is one of earth’s most faithful inhabitants. Every autumn, for up to twenty years, it will seek out the same mate, the male inevitably finding the female by her scent trail. During their initial courtship and upon their annual reunion, the male will lick and softly prod the female. For two months they stay together, the male closely following the female as she makes her way across the outback. If one is killed, the other will stay with the body for several days, giving it a gentle nudge now and then as if to encourage animation.

Tiliqua rugose goes by several common names: Stump-tailed lizard, Sleepy lizard, Pinecone lizard, Two-Headed lizard (because the fat truncated tail mimics the head, minus the eyes and mouth). The skin of this reptile is dark brown, sometimes with yellow spots, and the protruding scales resemble armor. The eye are small and reddish-brown; the tongue is a brilliant blue. Reaching eighteen inches in length, the shingleback skink weighs in at a whopping two pounds. During the day it travels across open country foraging for flowers, berries and succulent leaves, as well as the occasional snail and beetle, which it handily crushes with its powerful jaws. At night it sleeps in leaf litter or under logs or rocks.

Six months after the male locates his mate, the female gives birth to two or three young. This process takes much out of her as the progeny can exceed eight inches in length and weigh nearly half a pound—compare a woman giving birth to a three-year-old child. As soon as they emerge, the young skinks dispatch the placenta, then promptly head out, en route to their own chosen life mates.

So how does unstinting loyalty benefit a two-headed lizard? Certainly any healthy female could produce viable young; variation might even strengthen the gene pool. But somehow this lowly lizard was bequeathed with devotion, the urge to seek its private treasure again and again, at any cost. Equally impressive are the researchers who brought us these facts, who braved the harsh Australian outback to study this odd creature day and night, year after year.

Love. Who can account for it?


Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 1.51.09 PM

An interview with Among Animals contributor Ray Keifetz

An interview with Among Animals contributor Ray Keifetz (“Miriam’s Lantern”)

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: “Miriam’s Lantern” began as a series of prose poems called “Last Things.” I spent a melancholy night enumerating extinctions—creatures, cultures, trees, languages …  “Where to begin?” was my epigram; it could have as easily been “There’s no end.” The poems that burned most brightly were a meditation on the last passenger pigeon, which died in captivity, and an encounter I’d had as a boy with a very old man who’d apprenticed as a blacksmith before horses had been replaced by cars. And almost immediately I sensed there was a story and that story was the connection, somehow, between that bird and that man. Both were on display. The habitats of both had been destroyed. The bird, however, had been hunted to extinction by men. A year later it came to me what if . . .? What if the man had killed the bird, one of the last? Instantly I had the bones of a story. The historic events were there in one lifetime—the introduction of the automobile, the chestnut blight, the killing of the last wild passenger pigeon in 1900, the death of the very last in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. All that remained, which took years, was for me to develop the two main characters—my almost-a-journeyman blacksmith and my small bluish bird with eyes the color of flame.

ray_keifetz_200

Q: What was your writing/research process?

A: Apart from verifying a few dates to see whether my time frame was plausible, I did no actual research; I never do—I would hate to let a fact get in the way of a good story. The subject matter, the details of “Miriam’s Lantern,” grew out of my reading, my interest in history, in animals, and my travels. My writing is a weaving of what I know with what I don’t know (which is where, I think, fiction begins), of what I remember with what I don’t remember (the place where poetry begins for me). For example, the town of Praywell in the story is based on the restored, early nineteenth century town of Hopewell, which I stumbled upon by accident. It was there that I met the blacksmith who told me how he forged by the colors of fire and held me like Coleridge’s mesmerized wedding guest for hours. The strange urgency, the need out of which he spoke has stayed with me ever since and shaped my story as much as the fire shaped his iron. If I was the wedding guest, the blacksmith was the mariner, and so I named the narrator of “Miriam’s Lantern” Marner. For me the concrete, the “actual” are the places I leave behind. I doubt if I could find Hopewell again, but the road to Praywell is marked by numerous well lit signs.

Q: By juxtaposing the extinction of a human profession with the extinction of an animal, you create a story feels both futuristic and historical at the same time—how did you work toward finding the right balance?

A: To achieve the balance you mention, the narrator’s voice was everything. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote “Miriam’s Lantern,” groping for just the right tone. While the events clearly occur in the past, it is Marner’s diction—formal, quaint, at times stilted, at times almost Biblical—that takes us into the future as if hearing a prophesy. Marner describes actual events, but he does so employing archetypes. His blighted forest could be our forest, the growing darkness as forge after forge flickers out our own growing darkness. But while the story is set in the past, the open-ended ending allows us, if we will, to follow Marner with his bagful of bright red berries into a future where those berries, against the odds, may yet be received.

Q: In “Miriam’s Lantern,” Marner is undergoing an apprenticeship—in what ways do you feel this reflects our relationship with animals and the natural world?

A: From the moment he kills the small, round bird, Marner’s apprenticeship assumes a wider, darker compass than what is normally required by blacksmithing. For much of the story he wanders through a dying world like a stranger, vainly trying to resume an apprenticeship no longer possible. Miriam offers him an alternative vision—a world where the pursuit of craft is still possible and points as evidence to the lives of animals, an association Marner resists. Ironically it is his estrangement from the natural world that lands him a job “among animals.” For the second time in his life he stares into the eyes of the bird that has both haunted him and informed his apprenticeship, but this time he sees another creature “unrelated but closely connected . . .” inhabiting “separate but closely related cages . . .”—the two of them prisoners, the existence of the bird as dependent on Marner as his existence is dependent on the bird. It is the small, solitary bird that in the end saves Marner, and it is now up to Marner as he returns to the natural world outside the zoo to repay the debt. That is his apprenticeship, and, I believe, ours as well.

amonganimals_250

An interview with Among Animals contributor Melodie Edwards

An interview with Among Animals contributor Melodie Edwards (“Bad Berry Season”)

Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: When I was working for the Forest Service, a bear started raiding some Dumpsters in the small mountain town where I was living, and I thought a lot about the employees who had to problem-solve that situation. I’m interested in the relationship between people and wilderness in such places, where the line between is blurred. I think there’s some part of us that wants back in to our wild selves.

melodie_edwards_200Q: The narrator in this story is struggling to solve two mysteries, one human and one animal—how do the two disappearances and her quest to resolve them reflect her worldview?

A: The narrator is a woman, like most of us, tending to the day to day, blind to what’s taking place inside her all the time. That alienation we all face, from each other, from the present moment, from the big picture. She can’t see that the two mysteries are one. She’s like me—I can’t look at those images where you let your eyes cross and the fuzz turns into a picture. In her mind, the two mysteries are compartmentalized. She would never get around to connecting them, never. It takes a sledgehammer to get her to see.

Q: The narrator’s job in “Bad Berry Season” is to keep humans and animals apart, and the story features a surprising twist on this. What do you hope readers come away with after reading your story?

A: I hope readers come away asking themselves what lengths they will go to in attempting to re-embody their animal selves. We all remember our long lineages in the fiber of our beings that trace us back to the beginning of creation. We remember what it feels like to live the short, manic lives of ants. Or to migrate the globe as terns. That’s information we can access. But how—that’s the question. This is the story of how one man chooses to do so.

 amonganimals_250