WRITING THE BOOK, Post #3
I can write all I want about tigers, but without the input from serious and credible sources, my text will never ring true. Nor, perhaps, BE true. But in the past few weeks my A-list sources have appeared.
I was getting a little antsy because I hadn’t heard back from John Seidensticker, who’s one of the foremost big cat experts in the world AND who lives in Washington, D.C. AND who writes great books on cats— tigers in particular. He’s the Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonians’s National Zoological Park (the Zoo, where I sometimes go to write. It helps to look at animals.). He also spent years studying tigers in Nepal, which resulted in a ground-breaking report on tiger behavior. I had written Dr. Seidensticker asking for the most up-to-date sources on tiger behavior, conservation and research. He’d been out of the country and apologized for not being more prompt.
Apologized? I was honored. And now he’s given me some serious reading to do. This is in addition to all the books and web materials I’ve amassed on my own. The pile is getting pretty high. But that’s not all.
THEN he agreed to be on our board of advisers. And the good news kept on flowing.
Belinda Wright, the Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India in New Delhi also agreed to be one of the advisers on the book! A former photographer and filmmaker, she transformed her passion for conservation into this nonprofit that tackles India’s wildlife crisis. She reminded me (because apparently she keeps immaculate records) that we had a couple conversations in the past about small cat-related pieces I worked on at National Geographic. Extremely knowledgeable as well as pleasant and engaging, I’m thrilled to have her input. She also is good friends with Dr. Ullas Karanth, whose The Way Of the Tiger, is sitting beside me as I write. He’s one of India’s top tiger experts and I’m thrilled to have a connection to him. To write about tigers in India, I need to talk to people in India!
AND by some lucky stroke of fate, Fahreen at Dakini found a high school friend through Facebook who has worked with Ullas Karanth, has been studying tigers for the past 18 years, who knows Pench, my tiger reserve, and will help me understand what its like to walk through that jungle!!!
I’ve been peppering these folks with questions ranging from “How much does a tiger weigh at 10 months?” to “Describe the sounds they make when their eating.” Belinda wrote a beautiful description of the sounds you hear in the jungle when a tiger is present–and what you hear when all is calm.
Why ask such things? I learn so much from books and academic papers, but to engage readers and make them feel as if they are standing right beside the tiger, I need to appeal to their senses. I need to find out what this particular jungle smells like, what it sounds like, what the air feels like. When you walk through one of the jungle paths, what sound does your feet make? Describe a tiger alert. Describe a tiger’s smell. With such a tight deadline there’s no way I can make it to Pench–besides, it’s rainy season–but I can learn from people who’ve taken the walks I’d like to someday.
The fact is no books, magazine articles or websites on any natural history subject would ever reach the public if not for the generous nature of biologists like these folks to share their expertise with writers like me. I’ve dealt with many scientists in my career and if I had my choice, I’d work with biologists for the rest of my life. By far, they are my favorite group. Perhaps it’s because they study life.