2 May 2017

The New Era: First Reading At Battenkill. “Only The Forgotten Are Truly Dead.’

The First Reading

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts." – Winston Churchill.

We had a quiet but lovely reading last night at Battenkill Books to kick off the publication of "Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us," out today wherever books are sold.

This is my hometown bookstore and Connie and I were expecting a substantial crowd to launch my discreet book tour,  but there were only eight people in the audience, including Maria (and Red and Fate.)

Of course I would write about it, I have no secrets, and thus am free. I am only embarrassed by lack of effort on my part.

I confess when I came in for my grand entrance with the dogs and saw Connie and her mother alone in the bookstore, I thought of that wonderful Tess Gerritsen line, "Only The Forgotten Are Truly Dead."

When I first began writing books, I entered a vast Borders Store in Virginia, and there was not one soul sitting in a single one of the 200 seats neatly set up for my talk. I thought I must have come on the wrong night, but the embarrassed manager assured me this was the right night. Eventually, one elderly woman came in out of the cold night and sat in the very rear of the big room and waited. She looked homeless to me, her sneakers had big holes.

I told myself that I would act the same way if every seat in the room was filled, and I gave one of the best talks and readings of my literary life. By the end, two or three employees – ringers, I think, because they took their ID cards off – came in and I got some polite applause.

It is true that failure is always more public than success, that was a good lesson for me.

That night, I resolved to be the same way when there  one as when there is an adoring full house.

Book readings are like that, some take off, some don't. But you can't short the people who show up.

Writers are complex, one I knew always quoted Mother Teresa when he came into an empty book store: "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."

I told my friend Mother Teresa was talking about the poor and the hungry, for God's sake, not dramatic and self-absorbed writers. She was all about perspective.

An empty bookstore is not a tragedy. It is part of the writer's life, fearing being forgotten. Any man or woman who dares to open his soul to the world will experience it, and more than once.

I define myself not by how I deal with great success, but how I deal with different kinds of failure and rejection. Everything I want is on the other side of fear.

This is also part of the way we live in America now, we are letting go of the material world for the realm of screens and images. Everyone sees it, we talk to one another but we no longer know one another.

This is my 25th book, and I have been to a lot of great readings and a lot of grim ones, but I know the era of readings is fading, and that is the true nature of life, even in my own hometown. It doesn't mean more than what it is.

I loved the crowd that came tonight, there were a number of true friends, people I loved, and I smiled every time I saw them. I remember too many times when there was no one for me to love, or to come to my readings, and I am fortunate to be alive and loved on the earth. This is my 25th book. I can die happy.

I'm not sure why the crowd was so small – the smallest ever for me in my hometown. It could have been the awful storm that hit yesterday, which caused a great deal of damage, or it could have been the rain or it could have been the angels having a bit of fun with me.

Or I could, of course, be over, the secret dread of every creative person. But honestly, I don't think I'm there yet.

The truth is, we'll never know. I've been on tours with 200 people one night and five the next day. Nobody ever knows why. Tomorrow, I'm coming into Battenkill to sign 200 more books to be shipped out. Anyone who complains about that is a fool.

The small crowd didn't stop us from having a great deal of fun, intimate gatherings are often the most meaningful. I can look into the eyes of people and know right a way how I'm doing. I liked what I said about the book. I will perfect it a bit more with each reading. But it went well.

In a few years I doubt there will be physical book readings at ll, only video conferences, book readings in the digital realm. I don't do nostalgia, I had my turn, it is somebody else's turn.

The material realm is giving way to the digital.

More and more, people go on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat to meet and socialize with people, not to physical gatherings in the physical world. Art least 100 people told me they were excited to be coming to the reading and couldn't wait. But I know that to be Hollywood agent talk, I know they mean to, but life often intercedes or distracts.

There are countless good reasons to stay home.

I am not into nostalgia, the days when I was driven around in limousines to four star hotels are long gone. It was common just a few years ago to  face huge and adoring crowds – 1,200 people came to see me in Forth Worth, Texas one night – but I can't say I miss the old days. This is my time. I am happier and more creative now, for sure. I have my blog, the center of my creative life.

I am content with where I am. And I am still at it, I have yet another book to finish, and more readings ahead of me. This is the fascinating part, more than four million people read my writing regularly, but it is an effort to get a dozen to come and hear me talk.  I have never been read by more people in different places.

This is America today, I think.

And then there are sales.

The reports about my book sales are good. Connie has taken more than 700 pre-orders, a record for her store. My publisher e-mailed me tonight to say they have had a good response from their accounts. Barnes & Noble has ordered 3,600 copies and Amazon took 2,200, independent book stores  have ordered 1,600 copies of the book.

Those are good numbers  these days so early on.

My editor said Simon and Schuster has printed 14,000 copies of the book, he thought a second printing was "imminent." I  hope so. Publishers have to fight for every single book. Mr. Trump is harming book sales by taking up much of the media that would have gone to culture and book coverage. In the media, it is pretty much all Trump all the time.  That is hurting a lot of young writers.  Maybe he will be quiet for a week or so. It does not seem likely.

Writers always say that you can tell who your friends are by who shows up at readings, but I do not feel that way about it. Failure is never fatal in itself, I think, but failure to change or accept change is deadly. One of my first writing students, the very gifted John Greenwood, a truck driver turned brilliant creative, drove two  hours to see me. I really appreciated that.

I don't take it personally. I am willful and determined, and when I was eight years old I decided to be a writer one day, and decades later, that is what I am. And that is what I will be when I die.

Readings are important to authors. We work on books for years, and first night readings are a big deal, a coming out, the first opportunity to talk about our books and gauge the response in the eyes and body language and yawns of the audience. At readings, the book comes to life and becomes real. That happened to me at Battenkill tonight.

The book is alive, warm and very real.

There was only one yawn tonight, and when I saw two, I wrapped it up, it meant 25 per cent of my audience was tired. Red was stellar as usual, politely greeting everyone. And young Fate, at her first reading, jumped up on every single person and then lay down at Maria's feet and went to sleep. A triumph.

I talked about the visualizations in the book, and the story of the New York Carriage Horses, and the urgent need to understand the real nature and needs of animals if they are to remain among us in our world. I talked about my efforts to communicate with animals, and to listen to them.

My editor said the book was full of "heart and wisdom," and that feels good to hear.

He said there was growing excitement about my next book "Lessons From Bedlam Farm," and that was wonderful to hear.

But the next few weeks belong to "Talking To Animals." I will keep pushing those numbers up, I hope. I want that second printing, and also a third one. I intend to be relevant and to write books to the last gasp, even when nobody comes out.

If you wish to order the book through Battenkill Books (it is no. 1 in "Hot New Releases"), you can do so here. I will sign and personalize every copy and Connie will give you a lovely tote bag for free.

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Tonight, A Book Reading At Battenkill. A Special Partnership

A Special Night

Tonight, a book reading at Battenkill Books, where I have a very special relationship with the store and my friend Connie Brooks, who has done the impossible and run a successful, well-stocked and much-loved bookstore in a tiny upstate New York town of 2,000. It is not supposed to be possible.

Today is pub date for "Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us." You can order the book right here, they take Paypal and major credit cards. You can order the book online or you can call the store at 518 677-2515. Amazon doesn't really need the business.

On the first day, the book is moving up Amazon, holding the no. 1 (hardcover), no.2 (Kindle) and no. 3 (audio) positions on the Animal Category. Pretty sweet for the first day.

Connie and I have always begun forging some new publishing history together. Writers have to change to survive, and so do bookstores, and we are. You are invited to come along for the ride.

I promote my book on my blog and social media and steer people to her store, and people buy it from here. Connie spends exhausting days taking orders, organizing the shipping, and talking to the Post Office.

In return, people support her store, my work and the idea of the book.

I sign and personalize each book ordered through Battenkill (some of those inscriptions are pretty wild) and she also sends each buyer a very classy custom designed tote-bag that says "Sit. Stay. Read" under an image of a beautiful border collie.

Last book, Connie sold 1,200 copies of "Saving Simon," that's a lot more than I sold on most book tours. This year, we topped 700 pre-orders and are streaking towards 1,000 and beyond.

Connie's store is very important to my existence as a writer, and my book sales are important to her bottom line in the bookstore. These kinds of partnerships will, I think, save book writing. So will people who buy books.

I'm excited to do my first reading from "Talking to Animals" tonight, and am going over the book now to get ready. You never know with books, and even though it's pretty much up to me and Connie, I think we're going to get somewhere.

Connie Brooks and I are great friends, we have an easy relationship, our marathon book signings are great fun.  She even hosted a talk for my e-book "The Story Of Rose," even though there were no paper books to sell.

We don't see one another much outside of the bookstore, I don't think either of us are big party people. But we are both working together to do something very exciting and I can't wait to kick off my book tour tonight. Thanks, Connie.

You can order the book right here, it will be sweet to think of orders piling up online even as I  talk about the book in public for the first time.

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Announcing The Story Contest At The Mansion

Story Contest At The Mansion. Red Joins A Ring Toss Today.

Red and I visited the Mansion today with Maria and we came across a ring-tossing exercise in the activity room. I have some exciting news to report. The Art Show at the Mansion was a smash last week, I suggested to Julie Smith that we sponsor a Story-Telling Contest for the Mansion residents in June. She loved the idea.

Memories are an important thing for the residents, memories tie them to the past and the present, they connect them to everything they know, remember and love. People at the Mansion sometimes forget things, but they never forget the essential stories of their lives, they are always eager to tell them and share them.

Their stories form the threads of their lives, it is essential to preserve them. They are their stories, especially now..

Memories are part of identity, so I think a Story Telling Contest would be of special meaning. They have some wonderful stories to tell. This contest will not cost anything, and will not require any outside support. I will teach a writing and story-telling workshop to the residents in June, and perhaps find a couple of other writers to come and talk about their work.

At the end of the month, we'll have a contest similar to the art show and the residents who participate will get to tell their stories. I know these stories will be wonderful and I'll be glad to offer some writing support. They have everything they need to do this.

We'll figure out some prices and categories.

One of the residents, a winner at the art show, came up to me in the hall today and squeezed my arm. "Did I win something last week?," she asked me. Yes, you did, I said, you won a category in the art show, and got some books and gift certificates.

"Oh, I'm so glad," she said. "I wanted to tell my daughter about it, but I thought it might be a dream. This is better."

I have a new and updated resident list for the Mansion, people who want to receive your letters. For privacy reasons, we are using first names only: Bruce W., Allan, Sylvie, Jean G., John Z., Tim, Ben, John R., Alanna, Peggie, Ellen, Joan, Brenda, Connie, Alice, Madeline, Mary, Barbara, William, Brother Peter, Helen, Jane, Dottie, Anita, Richard, Gerry, Charlotte, Arthur, George.

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A Birthday Scheme For the RISSE Soccer Team

The RISSE Birthday Plot

Ali and I were talking this week at RISSE, the immigrant and refugee support center in Albany, and he mentioned that he was planning a birthday party this weekend for Maung, a 12-year-old immigrant from Burma, and another member of the RISSE soccer team.

I asked Ali what he did at the parties and he said he got gifts for the birthday boys and some cake and cookies. He's planning a party this weekend for two of the team members attended by the entire soccer team. What will this cost, I asked? He said $150 for gifts and food, sometimes more. Who has been paying for this, I asked?

He looked at me oddly, and said, well, I have. That morning, I had received two checks at my post office box in Cambridge (P.O. Box 2015, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816) totalling about $150 and the senders said I should use them to support the RISSE refugee kids in any way I thought was appropriate.

I have a better idea, I said to Ali. How about if I give you this check for $150 and you can use it for the birthday party?

Ali looked at me as if I fell out of a spaceship and he said, thank you, I think you dropped from heaven, you and the people on your blog. The parties are important to the kids, he said, they don't get many gifts or have many celebrations. I handed him the check right there.

So we hatched this idea. There will be a number of other birthdays coming up in the soccer season – Ali isn't sure how many – but not more than three or four, he thought. So we launched the birthday scheme, we will raise as much money as we can on the blog and pay for as much of the cost of the parties as we can.

If you wish to contribute, you can do so either by sending checks to me at my Post Office Box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Payal to me through Friends And Family, [email protected] There are a lot of you out there in the Army of Good, so some small contributions ought to do it. I will make up the shortfall if there is one and get to one or two of the parties to take some photos.

I like the birthday scheme, it will mean a lot to Ali and the refugee kids. Ali and RISSE are setting up a special page for donations to the RISSE Soccer team on their website, but I'm happy to collect some donations for unique, quick and immediate and unexpected needs like this. Maung's birthday really can't wait.

Bureaucracies can move slowly, birthday's can't wait. If you do contribute, please mark the check or donations to RISSE soccer for bookkeeping purposes. Thanks.

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Anatomy Of “Talking To Animals:” Face To Face With The New Fake News

Fake News About Horses

Today is publication day for my new book "Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us.'  You can order the book through my local bookstore and (get a neat tote-bag for free) and I will sign and personalize it, or you can buy it on Amazon or anywhere book are sold. If you wish to talk to nice humans on the phone, you can call 518 677 2515.

I was thinking about the anatomy of this book, and I realize it was born in the drama of the New York Carriage Horses, which the mayor of New York and various animal rights groups in the city have spent years and millions of dollars trying unsuccessfully to ban or shut down.

I am told that I played a small but useful part in the victory of the horses over the hateful and profoundly dishonest campaign against them, an assault that continues to this day. And as a former journalist and investigative reporter, I realized something else, this attack on the carriage horses was my first close-up exposure to what we now like to call Fake News.

I worked for the Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone Magazine, and CBS News,  but none of this prepared me for what I found when I went to New York to visit a carriage horses stable three years ago to take a first hand look at the horses, who, it was claimed, were being savagely abused.

It was alleged that they were eating rotten, feces-infected food, living in stalls too small to lie down in, that they were overworked, in suffocatingly hot and freezing cold weather. They were sick and dying from breathing city fumes, driven and cared for by drunks and thugs. They were lonely and yearned for the wild.

They were a danger to New Yorkers.

The horse were unstable, uncontrollable.

Horses do not belong in cities, it was said, they died young and their wounds were not treated for injuries or illness.  Animal rights leaders said the big carriage horses were better off dead than pulling carriages in Central Park.

As a lifelong member of several animal rights organizations and a supporter of the rights of animals, I was fully expecting to be outraged. I had read nothing but these horror stories about the horses.

I was prepared to find animals that were abused, and it is easy enough to spot them if you know what to look for.

I was, in fact, shocked, but not in the way I expected. I found myself mired in a sea of lies, distortions, the rankest kind of elitism, harassment and even slander.

I did not realize that the carriage horse controversy was prescient, a harbinger of the politics that were to come, where facts and truth no longer mattered and the most inaccurate and dishonest statements would be endlessly repeated, and even accepted as truth.

I spent three years investigating the claims about the horses, and I found that barely a single one was true, provable, or even plausible. I talked to more than 200 people in my inquiry into the horse controversy. I spoke with equine vets, behaviorists, trainers, police officers, breeders, stable hands, riders.

I found out that vets visited the horses every week, they had the best and most expensive health care.

I talked with the animal rights demonstrators who try to spook the horses, attack the children who want to ride in the carriages, spit on the drivers, call them foul and profane names.

You may recognize some of the very familiar symptoms of Fake News.

They said it was cruel and abusive to use animals to entertain tourists and children and lovers in the park.

Science is not recognized, experts are not consulted. Ideology triumphs over reason, every time. The dogma is that the horses are abused, that they should not ever be made to work,  that veterinarians, police investigators, horse trainers and experienced behaviorists do not matter. That ideology trumps reason every time.

I found that there are  no facts, and no truth in this kind of modern social confrontation. Lies are acceptable,  even expected, the more often repeated the better. Eventually, someone will believe them.

I found that far from being a danger,  no human being had been killed by a carriage horse in the 150 years of the trade.

No horse had ever been found to have done or taken ill from breathing the air in New York City, the same air that children and residents breath every day.

And no reporter had ever visited a New York Carriage Horse stable to find out for him or her self what was happening. When Liam Neeson showed up in the stables to defend the drives, more than 200 reporters appeared to take a look at him.

I found that the draft horses ate the cleanest and freshest feed and hay, that they had ample room to lie down and turn around, that they had never lived in the wild and could not survive there, and that work for them was healthy and necessary, not cruel and abusive. There were no feces in their feed.

I found that the animal rights organizations and spokespeople involved in the campaign against the horses lied brazenly, and  a gullible and lazy media simply took the lies as one side of a controversial story, and repeated these lies over and over again.

I found that the mayor, who has never mentioned the carriage horses, owned a dog or cat, or ridden a horse in his life, decided the carriage trade was immoral and needed to be banned only after the leader of the main organization pursuing the carriage trade ban donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his mayoral campaign.

I found the animals rights groups seeking money to ban the horses routinely posted photos online of dead and "abused" horses that were not from the city, had never pulled carriages in New York. Most were horses who simply died or been involved in accidents.

I found that of more than three million carriage rides, only six horses had ever been involved in traffic collisions or accidents, three of them fatally. (Thousands of New Yorkers are killed in auto and pedestrian accidents in the city every year.)

I found that despite the claims by the animal rights pursuing the ban that the big horses did not belong in the city, Central Park was actually built for the horses, and was the safest and most comfortable place for them to be and work.

Researching this story was a trip through Wonderland, a maze of lies and partial truths and distortions. The animal rights groups did something that is now standard fare in national politics: they demonized and de-humanized the drivers so that they could appear to be less than human, and thus demonized and banned. And sought to take their animals away.

They called them brutes and drunks and greedy abusers, who care for nothing but money.  They harassed them repeatedly, calling them murderers and abusers in front of their customers, often in front of their children. Many drivers sold their medallions and left the work they loved.

The caricature present of the drivers was so extreme and offensive, it would have provoked outraged had it been directed at any other ethic, social or demographic group.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the animal rights groups and the mayor said that if the carriage trade was banned, a home was waiting for every one of the hoses in various animal preserves that had been contacted and had agreed to take them (It costs about $60,000 a year to feed and care for a working horse, including hay, medical care and feed) for life. This was an outrageous lie. No preserve had ever promised to take a single draft horse anywhere.

If banned, the horses would have been sold at auction or sent to slaughter.

Nor could I find a single case where the primary organization seeking to ban the horses – NYClass – had ever rescued a single animal in the New York City area. They did manage to fund raise every day by presenting themselves as  savior of animals.

This story brought me close to horses, and transformed me. I had come nose to nose with Fake News and was astonished by it.

So I decided to write a book about the need for a new and wiser understanding of animals. In the book, I recount the stories of the animals who most affected me in my life, and who taught me the most about communicating with animals and understanding them, because understanding them is an urgent need for animal lovers.

The animal rights groups in the city seemed to know nothing about horses. They did not understand anything about them.

They did not know that working horses need to work. That they have never lived in the wild, and even if they did, there is no wild left for them to go to. They did not know the worst thing for them is to be idle. It is not humane, it is the very definition of abuse.

They did not bother to see the love and care the horses are given every day. Nor would they read any of the dozens of studies and reports by equine veterinarians and their organizations, all unanimously finding that the horses were healthy and well cared for.

So that is the genesis of "Talking to Animals." The lesson for me was that the carriage horses did not need to be sent away, they are the luckiest horses in the world, understanding them means knowing what they really need. That means communicating with them  and other animals in a wiser and more mystical way.

Come along for the ride. You can order my book here.

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