I do a lot of writing on my bicycle, what Winnie-the-Pooh would have referred to as a good, thinkin' spot. So when I sit down in front of a keyboard, it's more like I'm taking dictation. Other than that, it's all in one shot without revision, which probably shows. It's like Huck Finn said about the preacher: "He didn't charge nothin' for his sermons and they was worth it."
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You tell a good story. Not everyone can. How did you develop your particular style of personal confession and compelling narrative?
I've never minded sharing my shortcomings, primarily because I have been blessed with so many of them. And when you think about it, all humor has some element of failure at the root of it. Everything from French farce to political satire is about a failure of things to go as intended. The second half of the equation is observation. Storytelling isn't as much about telling as it is about watching. Pay attention and you'll see a thousand relatively hilarious things a day.
The book's writing mechanics are pretty solid. I saw virtually no grammatical errors or misspellings. That's not common in a lot of books by local authors. Did you work with an editor or just get lucky?
I had a great head start because these pieces came pre-edited, so to speak, by Herald-Mail editors. Plus, my wife Beth had just sold her publishing company and was starting up a business that specializes in producing self-published books that don't look self published. She gave me a pretty good discount, I thought.
Who reads your books? You must have some readers, because you refer to them in the plural, at least in the chapter about Chuckles.
It's complex. I get stopped on the street all the time by people who say they don't care about the political stuff I write, but they love the animal columns. They are about equal to the people who love the political columns, but hate all that stupid animal junk.
Is there a theme were you exploring with "Creature Features"? What do you hope readers come away with?
There is no term — no term — I hate more in the literary world than "personal journey." But this had that feel to it, at least in that Beth and I were exploring which animals we related to the most and watching how they interacted with each other. You wouldn't think a donkey and a 400-pound hog would have anything to talk about, for example, but the donkeys Becky and Nelson would hang out all afternoon with Magellan. So maybe you would say this is a "personal animal journey."
Did you learn anything about yourself while writing the book?
No. Well, I forget if it was "Family Circus" or what, but I remember the kid being asked what he learned in school and he says "the teacher's boiling point." I guess I learned a lot about my own boiling point.
This is your seventh book, at least. (You must be rolling in dough from selling inventory.) What's your next book project?
Yes, I have already had to interrupt this interview twice to tell the dump trucks where to off-load the cash. I'm not looking at the next book in terms of subject matter at the moment, but in terms of the book-publishing model. We're on the brink of a whole new era in publishing, and it's going to be real interesting how it all plays out. For example, I have a ton of notes from my travels around the world, and I'm considering a volume of them available only as an e-book.
Where can readers buy a copy of "Creature Features"? And do you have copies available for e-readers?
Books are available at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, Dogs R Us and River City Farm and Pet in Williamsport and Animal Health Clinic in Funkstown. It's also available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in both book and e-book formats, including Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo and Sony Reader, as well as from www.timrowlandbooks.com.
— Chris Copley, Lifestyle assistant editor