Happy World Penguin Day

By Midge Raymond,

Today is World Penguin Day!

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Not that we need an excuse to celebrate these magnificent birds … but it’s still fun to see them getting a little extra attention.

After all, they need the exposure: penguins are facing threats from multiple fronts, from climate change to overfishing. I love this post from One Green Planet, which offers five ways you can help penguins.

To discover the very latest in what’s new with Magellanic and Galapagos penguins, visit the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels. And if you follow Penguin Sentinels on Facebook, you’ll be treated to wonderful penguin videos.

And to learn about the researchers who count penguins at the bottom of the world, check out The Penguin Counters, a documentary about these dedicated researchers and the species they study in Antarctica.

And, finally … stay tuned for My Last Continent, coming on June 21 from Scribner! In this novel, you’ll meet four species of penguins: three Antarctic species, and the Magellanic penguins of Patagonia. Check out the book club kit for a little more info, and join my mailing list for news and updates on the book.

Happy World Penguin Day!

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Cat Editors: Lucy Jane Bledsoe and Scrunch & Parker

By Midge Raymond,

Author Lucy Jane Bledsoe has had several feline assistants during her writing years, all of whom, she says, “fulfilled their duties faithfully and diligently.” Her current two assistants, Scrunch and Parker, have proven to be a bit more challenging.

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Scrunch, now retired now at 19 years old, relished her job as security guard, keeping the premises free of intruders and investigating each whisper of a sound. So well has the latter performed her duties that she’s become know as Scrunch the Magnificent.

Parker

So you can imagine my dismay at the behavior of my newest hire, Parker. She doesn’t bathe much, she attacks the elderly Scrunch regularly, and bites me – hard, breaking skin – when I annoy her. She’s also a drain on the full-service healthcare I provide: she’s been treated for a lengthy bout of ringworm, needs regular dental work already at age one, and has litter box habits that suggest digestive tract issues.

You might have guessed by now that her time on the job is less than productive. She tears up manuscripts, bats erasers into places where they can’t be retrieved, and, worst of all, chews the wires of all electronic equipment.

Sending her back to the wilds from whence she came, because of course she’s feral, has been discussed frequently in our household. Scrunch is all for it. However, we, the two human adults in residence, have fallen in love with her. Yes, we realize it’s become an abusive relationship. We do her bidding, and she torments us. Meanwhile, tending to her whims takes up about 50 percent of my day. I’m getting far too little writing done.

Advice is welcome. But we’ll probably ignore it.

Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s new novel, A Thin Bright Line, will be published at the end of the year. She’s the author of four other novels, a collection of short fiction, and one of narrative nonfiction, as well as several children’s books. Her recent short story, “Wolf,” won the Saturday Evening Post Fiction Prize. She’s also won a California Arts Council Award and two National Science Foundation Artists Fellowships, which have taken her to Antarctica three times.

 

If you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and you’d like to share the joy, send me a note.



Ann Pancake’s Eye-Opening and Poetic Environmental Novel

By Midge Raymond,

I am thrilled to see this review of Ann Pancake’s wonderful novel Strange As This Weather Has Been on Off the Shelf today.

As a writer who is passionate about the environment (and often impatient about the lack of progress when it comes to tackling climate change), I know all too well how challenging it is to write about environmental issues without sacrificing story. And Ann Pancake is one of those authors who does it brilliantly, not only by creating unforgettable characters but by evoking a sense of place so beautifully that readers will come away wanting to protect it as much as her characters do.

Check out the review here, and find the book at Counterpoint, IndieBound, Amazon, or B&N.

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Climate change warnings grow more alarming

By Midge Raymond,

It’s more mind-boggling than ever that climate change isn’t being taken more seriously, or discussed more often, especially with scientists’ warnings becoming ever more alarming. In the latest study released this week, research suggests that should the West Antarctic ice sheet melt as currently projected (and with ice melting in other parts of the world as well), sea levels could rise by as much as six feet by 2100. The long-term effects, concludes the New York Times, “would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities.”

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That may sound far away right now, but if you have small children, they could be among the millions displaced by rising oceans: Among the cities that will be disastrously affected are New York, Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Sydney, Australia.

Millions of people in the U.S. alone will be affected, as this New York Times article outlines, and in fact, “most projections vastly underestimate the number of people at risk because they do not account for population growth.”

While the climate deal negotiated in Paris last year was widely celebrated, many scientists warn that this agreement would not reduce emissions enough to limit global warming and the subsequent rise in sea level.

The good news is that it’s an election year, and how we vote will determine the fate of the planet and its inhabitants. There’s also a lot we can do as individuals — from adjusting our daily routines to eating more sustainably.

A few resources to inspire you:



Can birds love?

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this article about pigeons, in which author Brandon Keim writes about an avian romance blooming in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This excellent essay reminded me of a pair of pigeons that attempted to roost and raise babies in the eaves of my own back porch a few years ago (which inspired a short story, “Nesting”). My husband and I loved watching them build their nest, and we shooed away the neighborhood cats who kept harassing them, hoping the birds would stay —yet their attempt to start a family was unsuccessful, and they left us.

It never occurred to us not to see these two pigeons as a pair in love—but then, we’re strange that way, at least according to some people. This is among the reasons I so enjoyed Keim’s essay, in which he writes, “Perhaps love is not what defines us as human but is something we happen to share with other species, including the humble pigeon.”

I’m a writer, not a scientist, so it’s not unpardonable for me to anthropomorphize in my fiction—but what’s remarkable is how many scientists are now talking and writing about animal consciousness in such books as Animal Wise, How Animals Grieve, and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

As both a writer and small-press publisher, I love hearing from animals in well-written fiction, too. Among our Ashland Creek Press titles is Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Love and Ordinary Creatures; steeped in extensive research, this novel tells the haunting story of a parrot who, stuck in captivity without a mate, bonds with his human caregiver—a beautiful and heart-rending story of unrequited love.

Sometimes, as Keim’s article points out, “love’s ultimate measure is the presence of its converse, grief.” Keim offers several examples from the world of birds, and many of us have likely seen it ourselves among other animals—for example, when one of our pets loses a sibling. I felt as though I witnessed penguin love firsthand, while in Patagonia for a Magellanic penguin census, when I saw paired-up birds lying together in the sun or huddled together in their burrows.

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It’s easy to say that we humans are simply projecting, that our own capacity for love makes us believe we’re seeing this in other creatures. But even if this is true, is it such a bad thing? Keim writes, “Ubiquitous and unappreciated, typically ignored or regarded as dirty, annoying pests, pigeons mean something else to me now…Each one is a reminder that love is all around us.”

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And the more of us who can see love in the creatures around us, the better we’ll all become at protecting them and the habitats they live in.

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Cat Editors: Mollie Hunt and Tinkerbelle, Little, and Big Red

By Midge Raymond,

Mollie Hunt has three cat editors, all of whom have very distinctive roles in her writing life. Here are their stories, with their photos below:

Tinkerbelle, the 14-year-old lady, who up until recently worked as a therapy cat, is my prime editor. From her bed behind my monitor, she guides me with her vast kitty wisdom. Her eyes track inspiration, or is it a bird flitting by outside the window?

Tinkerbelle, Prime Editor

Little, 9, is more of an hands-on editor. If I become complacent, she brushes her velvet fur across my touchscreen, causing digital havoc. She insists herself into my lap where she purrs encouragement, no matter what I type.

Little Hands-on Editor

Then there is Big Red. He does not help one bit with the writing, instead drawing me away from my work with sly cat distraction. “Wouldn’t you rather sit with me on the couch?” he mrrows. “Or better yet, fix a little snack for us?” Looking up at me with huge gold-green eyes, I am too easily tempted.

Red, the Distractor

Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. She has published two of her Crazy Cat Lady mysteries, Cats’ Eyes and Copy Cats, and the third, Cat’s Paw,  will be out in early 2016. She has also written a non-cat mystery, Placid River Runs Deep, which delves into the challenge of Hepatitis C before the “cure. Mollie lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like her character, Lynley Cannon, she is a grateful shelter volunteer. Click here to learn more on Mollie’s blog.

 

If you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and you’d like to share the joy, send me a note.

 





Cat Editors: Diane Lefer and Desi, Junie & Mildred

By Midge Raymond,

Diane Lefer has had many cat editors to collaborate with.

Desi and books

Desi, pictured above, was Diane’s muse from a very early age:

Desi was abandoned way too young, only 3 weeks old, and she thought I was her mother. Or maybe the other way around: Like a mother, she was constantly reminding me to get serious and send my work out. When a manuscript came out of the printer, she’d wait for the last page to emerge and then she’d tap the paper for luck.

Later, after Desi passed away at 16 years of age, Diane fostered Junie.

Junie

The photos I took of Junie unfortunately also reveal a sloppy work space, something she never held against me. Instead, clutter and books that didn’t stand upright amused her. She was old school, reminding me that sometimes a pen works better than a computer.

Now Diane lives and writes with Mildred.

Mildred on computer

She’s very literate. Loves books and fortunately doesn’t literally devour them but she did chew up last year’s tax return. She doesn’t so much edit as perch on the computer and supervise.

Diane Lefer is the author of several books, and her work includes fiction, plays, poetry, and essays. Visit Diane’s website to learn more.

If you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and you’d like to share the joy, send me a note.

 

 

 



Chasing Penguins

By Midge Raymond,

As soon as I met my first penguins (chinstraps, Adélies, and gentoos) in Antarctica more than twelve years ago, I fell in love with these incredible animals. Two years later, when I had the opportunity to help the University of Washington’s Dee Boersma with a Magellanic penguin census in Patagonia two years later, I (along with my husband) pounced on the opportunity — not only to help with the amazing research Dee is doing but to learn about, and spend time with, another species of penguin; Dee has been studying the Magellanic penguins since 1982.

And when, a decade after our Patagonia penguin adventure, we learned that Dee would be a naturalist on board an expedition to the Galápagos Islands — home of the rare and endangered Galápagos penguin —  we jumped again at the chance to meet yet another species with the world’s leading penguin expert.

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Even Darwin didn’t see penguins on his visit to the Galápagos Islands, and to this day no one knows how many penguins now exist there (the estimate is between 1,500 and 4,700 — about half the numbers that existed when Dee began studying these birds in the 1970s).

When we arrived in the Galápagos, Dee advised us that we would have one chance to see Galápagos penguins on this journey, around the waters of Floreana Island. At first we were discouraged by the crystal clear (albeit gorgeous) waters, which are not ideal for the penguins’ fishing. We didn’t see a single penguin during an hour-long panga ride — but then, as we swam and snorkeled off Post Office Bay, a penguin popped its head above water to take a breath before diving back under to continue hunting.

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At first, as I was snorkeling, I saw only one penguin, diving for fish, swimming under and all around me (while they are comically slow and awkward on land, penguins are utterly graceful underwater), and then I saw another, about twenty feet below me, trying to snatch food from the other’s beak. Every time a school of fish changed direction and sped away, one of these two penguins was in close pursuit.

A short time later, back in our panga, we saw several more penguins, this time fishing in a group of four. Galápagos penguins look similar to Magellanic penguins, with the dark band around their white chests, but they are much smaller (though their beaks are roughly the same size, making this species look a bit big-nosed).

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As we watched the penguins, they began to fish with blue-footed boobies. In the photo below, you’ll see the boobies in the background; they dive for fish from high in the air, while the penguins work underwater.

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We observed this animated feeding frenzy for about forty-five minutes before the birds began to disperse, looking quite well fed. While we’d have been thrilled to get merely a glimpse of the Galápagos penguins, it was an extraordinary experience to see so many of them (about five or six, the naturalists believe, in all) swimming and porpoising and diving all around us.

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Our expedition group left Dee in Ecuador, where she was next headed to Isabela and Fernandina Islands to check on the nests she and other researchers have built to help the penguins’ breeding efforts.

And, shortly after we returned home, the University of Washington, where Dee holds the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science, announced that Dee is one of six finalists for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation — the highest honor for animal conservationists, which has been awarded every other year since 2006. The winner will be announced in the spring of this year; click here to learn more about the work that has earned Dee this honor.

I’m looking forward to news from Dee’s time on the other Galápagos islands. To learn more about Dee’s work, visit Penguin Sentinels — and to see more of the elusive Galápagos penguins, visit www.iGalápagos.org.

 

 



Cat Editors: Jean Ryan and Tango

By Midge Raymond,

Author Jean Ryan writes with Tango, who obviously does a great job of keeping her author in the chair.

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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.

Jean Ryan is the author of Survival Skills: Stories (Ashland Creek Press, 2013) and a novel, Lost Sister. Visit Jean’s website to learn more, and check out her newest stories: “Lovers and Loners” appears in Four Ties Lit Review, and “Odds and Ends” appears in Crack the Spine.

If you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and you’d like to share the joy, send me a note.



Cat Editors: Suzanne Kamata and Sumi

By Midge Raymond,

Suzanne Kamata writes with her cat Sumi (which means “ink” in Japanese).

Sumi

Sumi is pictured above with the first draft of Suzanne’s novel-in-progress, a sequel to Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible.

Sumi usually sleeps in a chair next to mine as I work at the computer. Here he is, I think, expressing that mix of exhaustion, relief, and joy that comes from reaching the end of a manuscript.

Suzanne Kamata’s short stories, essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications, including Real Simple; Brain, Child; Cicada; and The Japan Times. Her poem “He’s More of a Dog Person” appears in Purrfect Poetry, an international anthology of  poems that explore the quirkiness of our relationship with cats. Visit Suzanne’s website to learn more.



Penguin Awareness Day

By Midge Raymond,

January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day. Why celebrate a day of penguin awareness, you may be wondering — and how?

Penguin Awareness Day

There are 17 species of penguins throughout the world, and penguin awareness is important because these incredible birds face increasing threats every day, worldwide, from pollution to overfishing to climate change. Click here to learn about the most pressing threats to penguins and how you can help.

Another way to help penguins is through citizen science — visit Penguin Watch, and you can take part in ongoing Antarctic penguin research. You can help researchers by annotating images, without ever leaving your desk (though these amazing photos will make you feel as though you’ve traveled around the world).

Check out the Penguin Sentinels organization, a collaboration between the University of Washington, Global Penguin Society, Province of Chubut, and the La Regina family of Punta Tombo, Argentina, and is dedicated to research, conservation, and education. In addition to working at the Punta Tombo colony for more than 30 years, this group also does great work in the Galápagos Islands.

Learn about another penguin program at The Penguin Counters, which follows researchers on their Antarctic penguin-counting journeys.

And, if you’re crazy about penguins, check out the book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, which offers an in-depth look at all 17 species of penguins and the challenges they face…and help ensure they’re around for generations to come.

And, a million thanks to Scribner for this delightful image of an Adelie penguin with MY LAST CONTINENT (which is about two penguin researchers working in Antarctica).

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Cat Editors: Lori Ostlund and Prakash & Oscar

By Midge Raymond,

Lori Ostlund‘s two feline boys are watchful and helpful editors.

The boys came to us from the Goathouse Refuge, a cat shelter located in the forest outside of Chapel Hill, NC, where we were living for two years while I was the visiting writer at UNC. Prakash, the white boy with pink ears, has kept a careful distance when we work. In the photo below, he can be seen doing what he does: observing as I type. He isn’t supposed to be on the table, but he cuts a fine figure perched there on the corner nonetheless.

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Oscar, the black-and-white boy, is far more assertive. He walks back and forth across the keys until I pick him up and cuddle him (exhibit 2). He has an amazing ability to step on the keys in such a way that a computer function that I previously had no knowledge of is suddenly revealed to me. Perhaps his greatest contribution occurred as I was reading through the first-pass edits for my novel, which were in PDF. Not knowing that I could make notes on the PDF, I was writing on a pad of paper when Oscar, rushing to attack the pen, stepped on the keyboard in such a way that a PDF Post-it popped onto the screen, thus cutting my editing time in half.

 

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Lori Ostlund is the author of the story collection The Bigness of the World (to be reissued by Scribner in 2016), which won the 2008 Flannery O’Connor Award, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the 2009 California Book Award for First Fiction. Her novel, After the Parade, was released by Scribner in September of 2015 and is on the shortlist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and is a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick.

 

 

 



Cat Editors: Melissa Clark and Percy

By Midge Raymond,

Melissa Clark writes with her fourteen-year-old rescue cat, Percy.

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Percy (Persephone) has been with me through three and a half novels, and even inspired novel number two, Imperfect, about a girl who purrs like a cat. She likes to get her paws all over my manuscripts, as you can see. She is a Siamese mix and always has a lot to say, as if my inner-critic isn’t loud enough.

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Melissa Clark is an author, television writer, and college instructor whose novels include Bear Witness, Swimming Upstream, Slowly, and Imperfect. She is the creator of the animated television series Braceface, starring the voice of Alicia Silverstone, and has written scripts for Rolie Polie Olie, Totally Spies, Sweet Valley High, and others. Learn more by visiting Melissa’s website.

If you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and you’d like to share the joy, send me a note.