Writing the Book, Post #1
I’ve hit my version of nirvana: I’m going to write a book on one of my favorite subjects.
A few years, a whole other job and one child ago, a publishing company in London tracked me down. I had written an article for National Geographic magazine about a family of cheetahs that had survived for three generations in Kenya. (Very rare. Despite their speed, those cats are fragile). The company was in the process of securing rights to photographs of a similar tiger family in India that had been captured by a film crew in the process of shooting a BBC documentary. Would I be interested in writing the text?
Does a cat purr?
I know a fair amount about cats, both the jungle kind and housebroken variety. The obsession started in childhood with a lonely kitten a friend gave me for my birthday when I was about five and has been in full force ever since. Truthfully, watching any animal in the wild and contemplating its behavior and motivations can fascinate me for hours. But my first love is the cat. It never really leaves you.
Flash forward again. When I worked as a reporter for Reader’s Digest, I traveled to the plains of Colorado to profile a man who had spent decades and every dime he ever made building a 160-acre sanctuary for unwanted and abused wild animals. Along with lions, leopards, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and a sole emu, he had 75 Bengal tigers on this property. Let me say that again. SEVENTY FIVE Bengal tigers, in all their black and pumpkin-colored glory.
Do you realize you could never EVER see 75 tigers in their natural habitat? Or maybe any where else on earth? These animals had no where else to go. Bred or imported for circuses, roadside attractions or idiots who think they can raise—and feed—a 600-pound wild animal, these cats came to Pat Craig sick, injured, malnourished, fearful and angry. Pat and his crew nourish them back to health, serves them food specifically designed for their needs and, yes, hangs out with them. He can actually pet one.
Through a massive chain-linked fence, I touched one, too. That gorgeous coat bristles more than you’d think and these cats live in relative luxury, having their nutritional needs met, never hunting their own food. I looked into its golden flecked eyes at close range. I watched the muscles and sinews flex. They are truly awesome.
This story, plus the cheetah tale and various other bits I’d written, got me to thinking about the precarious plight of the big cats. It’s easy to love them. They’re beautiful, their cubs are freakin’ adorable, their coats look soft and cuddly (a myth, but we’ll chat about that later). But most of them–cheetahs, tigers, etc.–may not be around on their planet for much longer. I’m no pessimist, but with dwindling habitats where they can thrive, their survival is simply not a guarantee. Why this is so is no real mystery: Man.
My publishing friends in London tell me that India has taken the bold step of reducing tiger tours, a fairly lucrative revenue stream for them no doubt, to allow the big cats some privacy. Maybe this book can help, too. Most of the profits we make will go to big cat non-profits working to save their existence. (Read about Dakini Press’s super-human efforts to get this project off the ground.)
I’ll be blogging about the writing process, learning lots more about the cats and undoubtedly working out some of the kinks in the text as I go. All feedback welcomed. As long as it’s civil.