Zoos, Butterflies and Books

I visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo here in Winnipeg last week. The coordinator at the Immigrant Centre where I volunteer had given us passes and I was curious . . . I’d not been there for quite a while. 

Our local zoo used to be quite affordable, but now it’s a rather expensive outing for a family. Of course, my kids are way past an age where going to the zoo would be considered fun, but I’m not sure who this renovated zoo actually caters to. Rich, entitled tourists? Definitely not young families with limited disposable income and definitely not the animals trapped inside.

We have to maneuver our conversation around the roar of ascending and descending planes . . . the zoo is under the airport flight path. How do the animals, with their sensitive hearing, manage? I think of the special events during the winter when even long winter nights get lit up for our entertainment. What a barrage of sensory pollution we force upon them. 

The polar bears provide us with entertainment in their pool of water. Orphans rescued from Churchill, they seem to have the largest area to roam. Seals dance underwater to unheard rhythms, while the grey wolf towers above us on his artificial rock ledge. Does he miss his pack?

Camels meditatively munch grass, while antelope and buffalo flip their fly-swatter tails back and forth. . . politely ignoring us. People point and gawk, lick cones and sip from water bottles. 

Most beautiful is the Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger).  Pacing, pacing, back and forth. I’m reminded of the book by John Vaillant, set in eastern Russia: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengence and Survival and I can’t help but feel sorry for this magnificent creature.

My mood improves immensely in the butterfly cage. Glorious colours. Wings and blossoms. Fluttering. Constant motion. I connect the butterflies with art and with life. So many stages to the butterfly. The egg, the caterpillar, the pupa or chrysalis, and finally the letting go and flying away. 

So it is with writing a book. You have the idea. You let that idea grow, gorging it with words and more words . . . let it grow big and fat. Then you let it sit. This is the pupa or chrysalis stage. Okay, maybe the comparison falls apart here. 

Every writer knows that there’s more whittling and shaping required before that butterfly emerges ready to take off. We don’t have quite the magic or privacy of the butterfly whose big changes happen hidden from view. But in the end our idea gets wings and takes off into the world’s big garden to live its short and fragile life . . . hopefully laying eggs along the way. 

Reducing, Re-using, Recycling: Creating a Story

Mom was into reducing, reusing and recycling long before it became trendy. Clothes were patched and re-patched. Nothing was thrown out. Dresses became skirts, pillow cases or if I was lucky, doll clothes. Eventually they became rags. Zippers and buttons found new uses. So it was with everything in our house when I was growing up. There was no waste. And now, I’m into recycling her life. Making it into something new. Unravelling it and re-knitting it

Katya is eighteen in Tainted Amber. She’s all grown up. She’s independent. She’s naïve and a bit insecure; tenacious and curious. I am my mother’s daughter and in the compost pile of my writer’s mind, our lives become one. While it’s her stories that I’m reducing, reusing and recycling, it's my imagination that feeds them.  The result? Tainted Amber. A love story created from the leftovers of my shared experiences with her.

About Reviews

I have a hard time reviewing books. I keep forgetting that reviews are about selling books not discussing subtle nuances or reading between the lines. It’s especially difficult when you know the author. I’ve come to the abrupt realization that it’s impossible to be anything but a cheerleader . . . especially in these days of social media. The internet's power must be treated with respect and utmost care.

Perhaps I spent too many years reading books and writing critical essays during my university years. Dead authors don’t care about my critiques and I  explored, with honest intentions, how the characters dealt with their relationships and how they interpreted the events in their novel world. I loved digging in between the lines of my favourites like Heinrich Böll, Robert Musil or the short stories of Gabriele Wohmann. But I digress.

Writing a book and getting it traditionally published, in today’s competitive world, is a miracle. It’s a success story, no matter what a niggly reviewer might say. 

If I ever come across too harshly in a review, I want to apologize in advance. Never take what I say too seriously . . . and never take it personally.  I like being the devil’s advocate. I like controversy. I like a conversation. I don’t like cheerleading. 

That said, Rah, Rah, Rah. Canadian writers amaze me with their fascinating stories. Never stop! We're a small community here in Canada and we need all the support we can get.

Like Thumper said in the Bambi movie: If you don't have somthin' nice to say, don't say nuthin' at all. 

Ah, so much for the energy of controversy. 

The New Arrival

It's here . . . my book, Tainted Amber. I walked into my local bookstore, McNally Robinson, and there it was. Years of research, hours of plotting, of imagining, of writing, of re-writing, of hunting down the right publisher, of being discouraged and then encouraged, of doubting and of believing. It's just a little book. About 250 pages. But only another author can know the backstory . . . the mindset that it takes to hold your book in hand. 

We're a tenacious, curious bunch, us fiction authors. We find power in words . . . mere marks on a page. Lives past, present or future. All from our imagination.  We've got to be crazy. God knows we can't help ourselves. 

We'd have it no other way. Thank you, Ronsdale!

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