Taylor Brown: Pride of Eden

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Author Taylor Brown’s new novel, PRIDE OF EDEN, is indie bookseller Two Sisters Bookery’s April book club pick. Join Taylor and Christine Greer of Two Sisters via FB live at 6 PM on April 16th for a fabulous discussion about all things PRIDE!

Welcome to the FreshLit blog, Taylor! Before we talk about PRIDE OF EDEN, your newest release, let’s acknowledge the elephant (or the tiger?) in the room. What’s it like publishing a novel in the midst of a pandemic? How has your experience changed … for better or worse? How have you continued to connect with readers?

As you might imagine, it’s been quite a tiger to stare down, but in all honestly, I can say I’m grateful for the experience.  The hardest part was leading up to the publication date in mid-March, when the situation was changing on a daily basis, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen.  Ultimately, we decided to cancel the entire book tour, and then the CDC advised no gatherings of 50 or more — so we knew we’d done the right thing.  Obviously, there’s a personal disappointment in working for several years on a book, only for it to be largely swallowed in the tide of pandemic news and crisis.  That said, I’m just grateful that most of my loved ones are safe and healthy.  What’s more, the coming together of readers, writers, and bookstores during this time has been so heartening — we’ve found mutual support in one another, and it’s just that kind of community that helps people survive such a crisis.  I’m truly grateful for that.

Tell us about PRIDE OF EDEN. What’s the book about, and what inspired you to write it?

PRIDE OF EDEN is set on a fictional exotic wildlife sanctuary called Little Eden, located south of Savannah.  The main character, Malaya, is a female army veteran and former anti-poaching ranger who comes home from Africa to work at the sanctuary, which is run by this eccentric former jockey, Anse Caulfield.  Soon, she begins to realize that many of the animals, particularly the big cats — lions, tigers, etc — may not have come to Little Eden by legal means.  In fact, Anse may be taking the concept of wildlife “rescue” quite literally…

I really had two main inspirations, I think.  First were various groups of US veterans working for anti-poaching organizations in Africa, helping to save the elephant and rhino. One of the defining characteristics of our time is extinction, and here are men and women working on the front lines of that battle.  That, to me, was a story screaming (roaring?) to be told.  I was also inspired by the plight of big cats in America.  Did you know there are more captive tigers in the United States than left in the wild in the rest of the world?  That’s a figure that many people have recently learned from Netflix’s Tiger King, but I learned it half a decade ago — and I couldn’t resist the idea of these massive predators lurking in our backyards, and what could happen if they got out…

What kind of research did you have to do to write PRIDE?

Oh, it was massive.  First, there was the obvious book research — the “homework” of reading books about all kinds of wildlife featured in the novel:  lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, wolves, wolf hybrids, and more.  But what was invaluable, and most interesting, was visiting various sanctuaries and speaking with park rangers, animal keepers, game reserve owners, and more.  There are big cat sanctuaries all over the country, which take in animals from bankrupt private zoos, negligent owners, police seizures, and more.  I visited several of them, including Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro (NC), Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville (FL), and Tiger World in Charlotte.  I visited the largest private exotic wildlife reserve in the country, White Oak, where one of the education specialists became a good friend and “technical advisor” on the book, and I even visited Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, the controversial mascot of a truck stop outside Baton Rouge — an inspiration for later chapters of the story.

Then, in 2018, I flew to South Africa, rented a tiny VW hatchback, and drove across the country with a friend who used to live there and is conversational in one of the native languages, Xhosa.  We visited Kruger National Park, where we had several close encounters with elephants, rhinos, and lions in a wild environment, and also spent time at Thula Thula, a game reserve in Zululand founded by one of my heroes, the late Lawrence Anthony — a South African conservationist and author.  His widow, Francoise Malby-Anthony, took over the reins after his passing in 2012, and I highly recommend her own memoir, An Elephant in My Kitchen, which came out in 2018.  They have their own anti-poaching team at Thula Thula, which gave me a lot of insight into the technical side of things, and we got to spend time with people deeply involved in the battle against poaching.

So, as you can see, the research for this book was an adventure in and of itself!

You’re a fan of ‘old motorcycles, thunderstorms, and dogs with beards.’ Tell us about these enthusiasms—are they connected? And what makes you passionate about each of them?

Well, I reckon they all make their own brand of thunder, ha!  Seriously though, I got into vintage motorcycles through my late father, who was a lifelong motorcyclist.  We built up my main motorcycle, “Blitzen,” a 1989 Harley-Davidson XLH1200 Sportster that’s been with me through a lot of adventures, and before his death, my father was the senior correspondent of BikeBound.com, the online motorcycle community I founded — now the largest of its kind in the USA.

I think my passion for thunderstorms stems from growing up on the Georgia coast, where the only reprieve from the summer heat was the daily afternoon thunderstorm — such a welcome chaos.  There’s just something about the sky taking on that violet electricity, the sudden drop in pressure and temperature, those moments counting off the seconds between lightning and thunder — it just speaks to me.

And dogs.  Well, I just love them.  We current have three — all rescues — who are my number one writing partners and research assistants.  In fact, they’re with me right now!

Can you share your journey as a writer? How did you get your start, and what’s helped you the most along the way?

I really began writing fiction in earnest in my final semester of college.  I started my first novel that summer, then sold my car and moved to Argentina, hoping to give myself a little more time to write.  That novel was no good, nor was the next one I wrote, but I just kept after it.  I worked some very high-stress office jobs in California in my early to mid-twenties, but I just kept writing in the margins of life — before work, during lunch, after work, on the weekends.

I’m one of those seemingly rare novelists who doesn’t have an MFA, but in some ways, I found my own course of study.  For instance, I discovered an online repository of radio interviews, Wired for Books, which spanned some three decades, and I would listen to those while I worked at my office job, just trying to absorb as much as I could.  While there was a lot of craft talk in those interviews, there was also a lot of discussion about the early years of every writer, and so I learned early and well what a challenge I had ahead of me.  I think that prepared me well for the path ahead.

It took me probably 3-4 years of intensive writing and submissions before I even got my first short story published.  Perhaps five years after that, my short story collection, In the Season of Blood & Gold, came out from Press 53 of Winston-Salem, NC, which helped me find an agent for my first novel, Fallen Land, which St. Martin’s published in 2016.

Probably the biggest help for me has been turning my writing into a daily discipline.  I took to heart the words of writers like Harry Crews, who said the most important thing was simply to “get in the chair.”  Then there was Faulkner, who said, “I only write when inspiration strikes.  Fortunately, it strikes at nine sharp every morning.”  For most of my adult life, I’ve made sure to carve out a specific time and space for my writing, no matter where I lived, worked, or what I was going through.  If you show up day in and day out, a lot of the work takes care of itself.

What’s motivating you in these challenging times? Any tips for fellow creative folks to stay inspired?

We are living through a very strange (and scary) time in modern history, and I’d encourage creative folks to stay attuned to how the world operates during this enforced quietude — there’s probably a lot to be learned about ourselves, our culture, and the our world, both natural and manmade.  Sometimes, it’s these forced breaks in the “Everydayness,” as Walker Percy termed it, which spark our greatest epiphanies and creative work.

You can purchase PRIDE OF EDEN here. Bookshop.org was created to battle Amazon, and they give 10% of their sales to indie bookstores!

Taylor Brown is the author of In the Season of Blood and Gold (Press 53, 2014), Fallen Land (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), The River of Kings (2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (2018), and Pride of Eden (2020). You can find his work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Garden & Gun, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction and the founder of BikeBound.com. He lives in Savannah, GA.

www.taylorbrownfiction.com

taybrown@gmail.com

Author Taylor Brown’s new novel, PRIDE OF EDEN, is indie bookseller Two Sisters Bookery’s April book club pick. Join Taylor and Christine Greer of Two Sisters via FB live at 6 PM on April 16th for a fabulous discussion about all things PRIDE!

Welcome to the FreshLit blog, Taylor! Before we talk about PRIDE OF EDEN, your newest release, let’s acknowledge the elephant (or the tiger?) in the room. What’s it like publishing a novel in the midst of a pandemic? How has your experience changed … for better or worse? How have you continued to connect with readers?

As you might imagine, it’s been quite a tiger to stare down, but in all honestly, I can say I’m grateful for the experience.  The hardest part was leading up to the publication date in mid-March, when the situation was changing on a daily basis, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen.  Ultimately, we decided to cancel the entire book tour, and then the CDC advised no gatherings of 50 or more — so we knew we’d done the right thing.  Obviously, there’s a personal disappointment in working for several years on a book, only for it to be largely swallowed in the tide of pandemic news and crisis.  That said, I’m just grateful that most of my loved ones are safe and healthy.  What’s more, the coming together of readers, writers, and bookstores during this time has been so heartening — we’ve found mutual support in one another, and it’s just that kind of community that helps people survive such a crisis.  I’m truly grateful for that.

Tell us about PRIDE OF EDEN. What’s the book about, and what inspired you to write it?

PRIDE OF EDEN is set on a fictional exotic wildlife sanctuary called Little Eden, located south of Savannah.  The main character, Malaya, is a female army veteran and former anti-poaching ranger who comes home from Africa to work at the sanctuary, which is run by this eccentric former jockey, Anse Caulfield.  Soon, she begins to realize that many of the animals, particularly the big cats — lions, tigers, etc — may not have come to Little Eden by legal means.  In fact, Anse may be taking the concept of wildlife “rescue” quite literally…

I really had two main inspirations, I think.  First were various groups of US veterans working for anti-poaching organizations in Africa, helping to save the elephant and rhino. One of the defining characteristics of our time is extinction, and here are men and women working on the front lines of that battle.  That, to me, was a story screaming (roaring?) to be told.  I was also inspired by the plight of big cats in America.  Did you know there are more captive tigers in the United States than left in the wild in the rest of the world?  That’s a figure that many people have recently learned from Netflix’s Tiger King, but I learned it half a decade ago — and I couldn’t resist the idea of these massive predators lurking in our backyards, and what could happen if they got out…

What kind of research did you have to do to write PRIDE?

Oh, it was massive.  First, there was the obvious book research — the “homework” of reading books about all kinds of wildlife featured in the novel:  lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, wolves, wolf hybrids, and more.  But what was invaluable, and most interesting, was visiting various sanctuaries and speaking with park rangers, animal keepers, game reserve owners, and more.  There are big cat sanctuaries all over the country, which take in animals from bankrupt private zoos, negligent owners, police seizures, and more.  I visited several of them, including Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro (NC), Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville (FL), and Tiger World in Charlotte.  I visited the largest private exotic wildlife reserve in the country, White Oak, where one of the education specialists became a good friend and “technical advisor” on the book, and I even visited Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, the controversial mascot of a truck stop outside Baton Rouge — an inspiration for later chapters of the story.

Then, in 2018, I flew to South Africa, rented a tiny VW hatchback, and drove across the country with a friend who used to live there and is conversational in one of the native languages, Xhosa.  We visited Kruger National Park, where we had several close encounters with elephants, rhinos, and lions in a wild environment, and also spent time at Thula Thula, a game reserve in Zululand founded by one of my heroes, the late Lawrence Anthony — a South African conservationist and author.  His widow, Francoise Malby-Anthony, took over the reins after his passing in 2012, and I highly recommend her own memoir, An Elephant in My Kitchen, which came out in 2018.  They have their own anti-poaching team at Thula Thula, which gave me a lot of insight into the technical side of things, and we got to spend time with people deeply involved in the battle against poaching.

So, as you can see, the research for this book was an adventure in and of itself!

You’re a fan of ‘old motorcycles, thunderstorms, and dogs with beards.’ Tell us about these enthusiasms—are they connected? And what makes you passionate about each of them?

Well, I reckon they all make their own brand of thunder, ha!  Seriously though, I got into vintage motorcycles through my late father, who was a lifelong motorcyclist.  We built up my main motorcycle, “Blitzen,” a 1989 Harley-Davidson XLH1200 Sportster that’s been with me through a lot of adventures, and before his death, my father was the senior correspondent of BikeBound.com, the online motorcycle community I founded — now the largest of its kind in the USA.

I think my passion for thunderstorms stems from growing up on the Georgia coast, where the only reprieve from the summer heat was the daily afternoon thunderstorm — such a welcome chaos.  There’s just something about the sky taking on that violet electricity, the sudden drop in pressure and temperature, those moments counting off the seconds between lightning and thunder — it just speaks to me.

And dogs.  Well, I just love them.  We current have three — all rescues — who are my number one writing partners and research assistants.  In fact, they’re with me right now!

Can you share your journey as a writer? How did you get your start, and what’s helped you the most along the way?

I really began writing fiction in earnest in my final semester of college.  I started my first novel that summer, then sold my car and moved to Argentina, hoping to give myself a little more time to write.  That novel was no good, nor was the next one I wrote, but I just kept after it.  I worked some very high-stress office jobs in California in my early to mid-twenties, but I just kept writing in the margins of life — before work, during lunch, after work, on the weekends.

I’m one of those seemingly rare novelists who doesn’t have an MFA, but in some ways, I found my own course of study.  For instance, I discovered an online repository of radio interviews, Wired for Books, which spanned some three decades, and I would listen to those while I worked at my office job, just trying to absorb as much as I could.  While there was a lot of craft talk in those interviews, there was also a lot of discussion about the early years of every writer, and so I learned early and well what a challenge I had ahead of me.  I think that prepared me well for the path ahead.

It took me probably 3-4 years of intensive writing and submissions before I even got my first short story published.  Perhaps five years after that, my short story collection, In the Season of Blood & Gold, came out from Press 53 of Winston-Salem, NC, which helped me find an agent for my first novel, Fallen Land, which St. Martin’s published in 2016.

Probably the biggest help for me has been turning my writing into a daily discipline.  I took to heart the words of writers like Harry Crews, who said the most important thing was simply to “get in the chair.”  Then there was Faulkner, who said, “I only write when inspiration strikes.  Fortunately, it strikes at nine sharp every morning.”  For most of my adult life, I’ve made sure to carve out a specific time and space for my writing, no matter where I lived, worked, or what I was going through.  If you show up day in and day out, a lot of the work takes care of itself.

What’s motivating you in these challenging times? Any tips for fellow creative folks to stay inspired?

We are living through a very strange (and scary) time in modern history, and I’d encourage creative folks to stay attuned to how the world operates during this enforced quietude — there’s probably a lot to be learned about ourselves, our culture, and the our world, both natural and manmade.  Sometimes, it’s these forced breaks in the “Everydayness,” as Walker Percy termed it, which spark our greatest epiphanies and creative work.

You can purchase Pride of Eden here. Bookshop.org was created to battle Amazon, and they give 10% of their sales to indie bookstores!

Taylor Brown is the author of In the Season of Blood and Gold (Press 53, 2014), Fallen Land (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), The River of Kings (2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (2018), and Pride of Eden (2020). You can find his work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Garden & Gun, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction and the founder of BikeBound.com. He lives in Savannah, GA.

www.taylorbrownfiction.com

taybrown@gmail.com

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