What in the world is an animal author anyway? We’re all animals, last I checked, and if you’re reading this, you are likely an author or someone who works closely with authors. But when you scan current book catalogs or walk into your local bookstore (that rare tactile moment of encounter with real bindings and pages), have you noticed how many books are about other-than-human animals?
Guest column by Laura Hobgood-Oster,
author of The Friends We Keep: Unleashing
Christianity’s Compassion for Animals
Academic, trade, fiction, nonfiction, children’s and, especially maybe, those lovely big image-laden coffee table books are all full of animal characters, pictures and tales. Of course, animals always figured as central actors in literature; still I think there’s a new wave (and a large rogue one at that) sweeping through publishing now and that’s good news for those of us who write about animals (and even better news for those of us who think animals are worthy of more serious consideration in our society’s discourse than they usually get).
The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals is an intellectual journey, a history and a labor of love. Combining all of those aspects and then finding a wonderful editor and publicist who share a passion for animals is essential to place your animal book somewhere noticeable in the hierarchy of the pack. They get the word out to so many people at just the right time and this is, in no small part, due to the shared commitment to animals.
Considering multiple audiences is also requisite (and thanking your editor for reminding you of that when you slip into the narrow-speak of the academy). The Friends We Keep tries to reach animal activists and volunteers, members of faith communities, students in college classrooms and any person who happens to love a dog or a cat (or both).
Different readers approach this book from such an amazing and interesting array of perspectives. The director of my city’s animal shelter told me that she loved it, though she skipped around to read, primarily, just the stories of animals. In the meantime, a member of a church in another state e-mailed me to let me know they had been using the resource guide and suggestions for action, even though they hadn’t quite finished reading the whole book yet. A colleague at another university is requiring students to read two chapters for her course. The Humane Society of the United States includes the book as part of their Faith-Based Outreach program’s resource guide.
Maintaining rigor and integrity while relating information from ancient, difficult-to-comprehend texts to contemporary accounts about dog-fighting and hunting can be a bit of a challenge. But the human-animal bond is so multifaceted and deep that this challenge can be overcome.
Finally, I think that real animals are important. That might seem obvious, but it isn’t always evident in books about animals (though in the best books and certainly in the top-selling books it is). Introducing the reader to fascinating accounts about the sacred bonds created between animals and Christians being tortured together in the Roman games can offer the reader powerful insights. Connecting those ancient religious stories to a picture of a dog dumped at the city animal shelter with scars all over her face, an eye missing and chunks of her ears torn off after being used as a bait dog in fighting rings is a whole other level of engagement. These are real animals in our world today – animals for whom we are responsible and whose lives we can change.
“Writing animals,” those beings always in our midst though so often hidden or silenced, and then making your way to the local shelter to clean up kennels and comfort a trembling, stray dog is a normal day in the life of this animal author.
Writing nonfiction? The 2011 Writer's Market
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