Category: Uncategorized


Writing for Animals

By Midge Raymond,

Ever since a trip to Antarctica twenty years ago — long before travel there was as popular as it is now — my writing shifted toward animals. Travel has always inspired my writing (see Forgetting English), but visiting the very end of the earth made me realize that, while the continent and its creatures are so very far away, we are all connected. And everything we do from other continents — from eating meat to fishing to driving — affects the rest of the world, including Antarctica.

My Last Continent focused on penguins — and my new novel, FLOREANA (coming in early 2025; stay tuned!) focuses on another species of penguin, as well as many other animals. And in the mystery novel I co-authored with John Yunker, Devils Island, the endangered Tasmanian devil plays an important role in the story.

Likewise, the boutique press John and I founded in 2011, Ashland Creek Press, has evolved: We still focus on environmental literature (which was hard to find in 2011), but now that mainstream publishing has embraced climate fiction, we’re focusing more on animals. For whatever reasons (and there are many), the close connection between animals and the environment still eludes most people — mostly the fact that eating so many of them is destroying our lands, rainforests, air, and oceans.

And because literature is such a powerful way to open hearts and minds (what’s better than a great story for learning something new?), John and I started teaching Writing for Animals, a four-week class based on the ACP anthology Writing for Animals. It’s available as a self-paced online class — and this March, we’re offering another live class via Zoom.

We were thrilled by the response of students and so happy to learn how many wonderful writers are interested in advocating for animals. Our aim with the class is to help writers convey animals with authenticity and empathy in their work … and we learn as much as we share along the way. We also talk about how to get your animal-themed work into the world. As with environmental fiction years ago, it could be hard to find a publisher to embrace the topic. But it’s possible — and so important to get this work out into the world.

Below is what a couple of our students are saying … see more writer reviews here. And for more on the class and to register, click here.

“John and Midge are knowledgeable, positive, and generous. Their class is one part support group, one part craft lesson, one part animal education, and one part industry talk.” — Heather Marie Spitzberg

“This class is fantastic. It changed my writing and I sold my novel afterwards!” — Sharon J. Wishnow, author of The Pelican Tide



Climate change’s impacts on the nonhuman world

By Midge Raymond,

When we read about global warming, we hear mostly about its effects on humans; I so appreciate this NYT article that takes a close look at scientists whose areas of research, from coral reefs to polar bears to penguins, are literally disappearing because the animals they study are dying in large numbers.

If you love penguins as much as I do, scroll down to the interview with Dee Boersma of the University of Washington’s Center for Ecosystem Sentinels. Dee is the scientist with whom I met my first Antarctic, Magellanic, and Galapagos penguins (and whose work inspired storylines in both My Last Continent and my forthcoming novel FLOREANA). As you’ll see in this article, penguins are in trouble — as are so many other animals.

Dee’s words in this piece are stark but also hopeful: “My view is that the penguins have a right to exist. I think we have too many people for the Earth’s resources. Overpopulation and overconsumption.”

The hopeful part of this, to me, is that if we choose to live carefully in the world, we can make room for these endangered animals. We can avoid taking up too much of their food, avoid making the world too warm for them, and avoid taking their much-needed habitat.

When I first volunteered counting penguins with Dee in 2006, the Magellanic colony at Punta Tombo was the largest Magellanic colony in the world. But its numbers have gone from 400,000 breeding pairs in the 1980s to about 150,000 in 2019.

We humans do have the ability to save the world before it’s too late. From small choices like eating mostly (or only) plants to driving less to voting in candidates who take our planet’s health seriously — it can be done.

The animals of the world already take care of the worlds they live in — we humans are the only species that does not. And now it is up to us humans to save not only ourselves but the animals as well.



Bird flu is arriving in the world’s most remote places

By Midge Raymond,

The deadly bird flu H5N1, which has already killed millions of birds around the world, is now threatening endangered birds in such isolated places as the Galápagos and Antarctica.

A red-footed booby on San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos

In Antarctica, penguin populations are especially vulnerable, according to this article. And not only will penguins, terns, and other seabirds be affected but also seals and other marine mammals.

In the Galápagos, where dozens of sick and dead birds have been discovered, three of five tested birds — two frigate birds and one red-footed booby — have died from the virus. As this article notes, visitor sites have been closed on Española Island, where scientists are particularly worried about an endemic and endangered breed of albatross.

Sadly, because of the isolation of these places, the birds in the Galápagos and Antarctica have little immunity to bird flu and other viruses. And in the Galápagos, scientists are concerned about the endemic species that are found nowhere else and whose numbers are already small.

Galápagos penguins on Floreana Island

Fortunately, the dangers of this virus are on the radar of tour companies. As the Telegraph points out, “tourists visiting Antarctica this season may not be able to disembark from cruise ships if the worst-case scenario arises.” Biosecurity measures are being stepped up as well; while for decades all visitors to Antarctica disinfected boots before and after setting foot on land, now even vacuums are being used, and tourists are being advised not to sit or even to crouch near the ground.

And while protecting the birds is priority enough, we humans should also keep in mind that bird flu can spread to humans as well. As the Guardian notes, “A warning has been issued calling on tourists … not to try to touch affected birds. Avian influenza can be transmitted to humans.” And there is some concern that bird flu could lead to our next pandemic.

With record-breaking numbers of visitors to both of these remote and isolated places, perhaps this latest news will give tourists pause — and give the animals a chance at avoiding this deadly flu.



The journey of The Cormorant

By Midge Raymond,

Antarctica is a gigantic continent — it’s about the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined, and nearly twice the size of Australia. While many think that visiting the continent means going to the South Pole, most travelers, in fact, visit the Antarctica peninsula, on the western edge of the continent — which actually quite far from the South Pole.

 

antarctica_map

For those of you who are wondering about the islands visited by the characters in My Last Continent, below is a detailed map of The Cormorant‘s journey. And check out MLC’s book club kit for more about the continent, as well as to meet the penguins!

 

Cormorant





How to create a sense of place from the other side of the world

By Midge Raymond,

As a writer, I’m big on creating a sense of place — using all the five senses, of course — and there is no better way to do that than to experience a place firsthand. Photos offer a great visual substitute if you can’t travel … but capturing the sounds of a place is far more challenging. So, if you can’t get to Stonehenge or Mexico or Arctic Norway, you just might be able to get a feel for the sounds of a place you’re writing about through Sound Transit.

soundtransit

On Sound Transit, you can search by sound and country (dozens are featured) to get a feel for what a Vietnamese market sounds like, or typhoon in Taipei, or a whale encounter in Greenland. It’s fascinating, addictive, and wonderful for capturing sounds that help evoke a sense of place. And even if you don’t have a place in mind, you might try hanging out on the site, listening to some of the soundtracks, and writing about what you hear — it’s a very cool experience to listen to the sounds of different parts of the world.





On awareness (or lack thereof)

By Midge Raymond,

One of the main tenets of Everyday Writing is to be aware of one’s surroundings, i.e., to be an Everyday Writer by paying closer attention to the world around you — to capture every detail, every snippet of dialogue, every little tidbit you can in order to enrich your creative life. It’s something I work on every day myself — and, I’ve just realized, something I may need to work on a little harder.

Now that the weather is lovely, I’ve been making a point to walk in the woods every day. This isn’t always possible, but I do my best. Exercise and fresh air aside, it’s a great way to rest one’s brain, to clear it of its clutter and make room for creativity. (All writers should go for walks, if they can — whether it’s in the woods, around a lake, or around a busy city block, getting out into the world is good for the senses and for awakening one’s sleeping inner writer.)

I usually walk solo, of course, but over the weekend I took a walk along the same trail with my husband, who noticed something I’d apparently passed by dozens of times without noticing. He took a photo of it with his phone:

As someone who thinks of herself as fairly observant (and as someone whose husband isn’t usually all that observant), I couldn’t believe I’d missed this lovely little statue, just to the right of the trail.

In my defense, the statue is about ten feet off the trail, not exactly noticeable unless you’re really looking around. And, as my husband kindly pointed out, when you’re alone on a trail (or walking first, as I was that day with him), you’re looking ahead and paying attention in other ways (we have bears and cougars in these hills, and one always has to be at least a little alert for these creatures). But still — how had I not noticed this (now very obvious) statue in the middle of the woods?

This is, for me, an excellent reminder that no matter how observant we think we are, we could always open our eyes a little wider. Not to mention our ears, our hearts, our minds. Ever since this discovery, I’ve make a point to look outward just a bit more than usual. I leave my cell phone at home when I run errands, preventing me from turning to it when I feel a moment of boredom. And just the other day, when I was at the hair salon, having purposely left my phone at home and taken nothing to read, I got a new idea for a story (or perhaps even a novel) while I was in the chair. (And those moments are a lot more fun and interesting than checking email for the eighth time in an hour.)

When you’re a writer, there’s no such thing as being bored — but there is such a thing as being overly distracted. So leave the distractions behind whenever you can, and open yourself up to a little “boredom.” You may not capture everything going on in the world around you, but what does draw your attention could be wonderful fodder for your work.