Posts Tagged With: chimpanzees

Hide-N-Seek

Photo By Gail Fisher, LA Tiimes

Ken Decroo and Moja, 1978

There are certain events in our lives that, at the time, we may or may not realize how important or how defining they are. One such event happened with my first meeting with a chimpanzee named Dar.

I was being interviewed as the linguistic research assistant on a very special project that was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and located at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). This project was known as the Washoe Project and focused on teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to chimpanzees to determine if they were intelligent enough to possess language. I have to say, that on the flight up to interview, I was skeptical but as I was in need a position, I was willing to give it a chance.

Upon arrival, the interview began as expected but only at the beginning. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was met at the airport and taken to the research compound south of town. The facility was a converted 1950 style dude ranch. It consisted of usual the array of research scientists, graduate students and student assistants scurrying around with clipboards in hand. But that was where the normalcy ended. I was ushered into a large, converted barn where researchers were exercising several chimpanzees of very ages and sizes. I say exercising but it looked more like wrestling and playing. The chimps were having a grand time swinging from ropes and tumbling in piles of hay. The place echoed with hoots and laughter.

After a while, I was escorted to large two-story ranch house that had been remodeled into the headquarters of the project. In a large reception area, I met the senior researchers, Drs. Alan and Beatrix Gardner. The interview went well and I was offered the job. I asked for a little time to decide which they understood and were agreeable to extend. This position would require me to relocate, leave my university to use my sociolinguistic skills in a very different and unusual context. I was encouraged to tour the compound on my own while I was deciding. In other words, they gave me free reign of the place.

I took a walk towards an apple orchard behind the main buildings. It was getting late as the interview had taken most of the day. There was a Fall chill in the air and all was quiet which was a marked contrast to all the bustling activity of the day.

As I made my way down a graveled lane between two buildings, the silence was broken by a series of hoots above me. To my surprise, I looked up to a chimp ambling down the roof towards me. The chimp swung effortlessly off the eves and dropped next to me. Startled, I stared into two deep, chestnut eyes. There was an intelligence in those eyes that was mesmerizing. Dar was a young adolescent with a broad white face accentuating two big floppy ears.

Before I could say or do anything, he signed, “Who You?”

Shocked, I gave my ASL name sign and asked, “Name?”

The chimp hooted and replied touching one of his big floppy ears. I later learned that was his name sign for “Dar”.

Dar panted and bounce up and down  hardly containing himself and signed, “You, me, play, hide-n-seek?”

I looked around unsure that this was really happening. I was actually communicating with a species other than my own. I did what any researcher would have done and signed, “Who, it?”

Dar loudly hooted making a classic chimp, open play-face, and answered, “You, chase—me hide.” He bounded back on the roof and disappeared over the ridge.

This interchange only lasted a few seconds but it defined the direction of my life to this very day. I was, for the next several years, to spend every waking hour in the company of chimpanzees. In my novel, Almost Human, I have attempted to capture what that world looks like.

The vehicle of American Sign Language, allowed me to perceive the world through the wise eyes of a different species and I grew to be a better person as a result.

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I’m Back!… Or the Two Brains of a Writer…Or Is It Just Me?

A year ago I was well along to finishing the sequel to Almost Human when I got a phone call.

Little did I know the winding path I would follow or how much I would learn about how the two parts of my brain work when it comes to writing. The Superintendent of a school district I had consulted for had an emergency and he wanted me to come back and help put things right. I agreed to come back for a few months. Those few months stretched to a year. It was then I realized that this school district didn’t hire consultants, it took hostages! I found myself beginning the second year.

I had been asked to take over a struggling school and reestablish leadership. This kind of work is administrative and political. It requires long hours and lots of paperwork interspersed with workplace and small town politics. Much of my time was spent in hard conversations with students, staff, parents and district administrators–politics.

From the start, my creative writing ceased replaced by dry reports and number crunching. The flow of my new novel, More Than Human, had disappeared. My characters had faded and had left me. I suspected that this was partly because my routine as a writer had been interrupted. But I soon realized on the days I could jump back into my routine, that I was dry and blocked from getting back into the world I had created. Something was going on in me as a writer that was more than just an interruption of my routine.

It seemed the more I immersed myself in the day-to-day work as a school administrator, the more distant and resistant my characters became. Their world faded from me. The flow I feel, as a writer, when my story is revealing itself was frozen. I was shut out, block.

Yet, I could write pages of reports about attendance, discipline, mission statements, grant proposals and the like. I could be absolutely creative and articulate in the art of expository persuasion but it seemed at the expense of my novel.

Like in a good story that requires conflict and climax, my life took a turn at the closing of that first year. I needed a surgery that would require several months of recovery away from work, a painful recovery. During that recovery, I found that removed from the politics and problem solving, my creative juices began to flow again. It was though I was able to switch back to another compartment of my brain where all of my characters and the world they lived in had been patiently waiting. The flow came back in spite of the physical therapy and pain that was my reality. I could write again. In fact, I had to write again. There was an unexplainable sense of urgency while I wrote.

As I healed from my surgery, I began slowly returning to the work of the school district and finally back my office. I was dry again. I realized that my novel would have to wait until I could tap into that other place in my brain that kept the world I had created safe and waiting. But what if I wasn’t there when I returned? What if I couldn’t find that place again? This was my mindset as I entered year two of this consulting gig.

My mom who had always supported my efforts as a writer advised me to quit the job and return to what was really important to me and made me happy. Writing. She cautioned me not to waste time in endeavors that did not truly satisfy me and move me forward in living life’s grand adventure. Life is fleeting and you don’t want to reach the end with any regrets. Mom loved hearing about my adventures and loved a good story.

I felt trapped and entered a very dark place. For the first time in my life I did not find joy in what I was doing. I found myself going through the motions at work and dreaded continuing. I needed out. I needed to find my voice again.

The climax to this little drama came when sadly my mom unexpectedly passed away. I took a leave from work to help care for my dad and the rest of our family. My mom must be smiling somewhere up there. In spite of the grief and pain, I found myself writing again. My characters all came back. It was than that I realized that I couldn’t take for granted that they would aways be there. I resigned, and as though to reward me, my characters and this story came back. In fact, it is so vivid that it is writing itself.

What I’ve learned from this little journey is that we can never take the creative process for granted. It can be fleeting and ethereal. I believe for me, there are two parts of my brain. One is were my writing patiently waits but I can never be sure for how long. This time, I was lucky. My characters were patient and kind to me. They waited.

I’m back writing and adventure traveling on my motorcycle. My office is now were my heart and moto take me. Im confident that More Than Human will be done soon as I am writing and traveling again; seeking life’s wild adventure as I write and think best on two wheels.

Thanks mom. I love you.

2012-11-03 11.37.51

Ready to head out for an adventure in Baja.

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Kev’s Great Indie Authors – Interview with Kenneth L. Decroo

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Front cover photo/graphics by Casey Whitesell

Thanks so much to Kev’s Great Indie Authors for an insight interview! 

Click here for the interview. 

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Lessons Learned From My First Book Signing

Book signing at Del Rio, Gold Hill, Oregon

Del Rio Vineyards and Winery, Gold Hill, Oregon

 I had no idea what to do at a book signing and stressed over my first one. As a writer, I’m embarrassed to say that I had never attended one in my life!

My first one was at a winery, Del Rio, in Gold Hill, Oregon. It was a beautiful setting. Fortunately, I was asked what inspired me to write the book. So I gave the backstory of the book. That went on for a while and then I opened it to Q/A. Questions ranged from details of the book to training wild animals in the movies to the craft of writing. We were there a good three hours. So this has become my formula now. Oh! I got a lot of free glasses of a very good Merlot as well! 

Book Signings are very important, not so much to sell books directly but to make a personal connection with readers and to build a buzz; word of mouth to capture new readers. Your readers bring friends and tell friends about your work. You know a signing is going well when people begin tweeting their friends to come join them.

I have two book signings coming up this weekend; Hot Shots Coffee House in Blue Jay, Ca. (SAT. 8/29, 4 PM to 6 PM) and The Tea and Coffee Exchange in Lake Arrowhead, Ca. (Sun. 8/30, 10 AM to noon).

Now, I actually look forward to these events as I get to meet readers and learn about their experience with my book.

Autograph copies of Almost Human may be ordered at the following link, http://bajamotoquest.com/2015/07/14/second-edition-is-available/

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Book Signing – Hot Shots Coffee House – Blue Jay, CA – SAT – Aug 29 – 4PM

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For more details of the event click on the image above!

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Second Edition is Now Available!

The Beauty and the Beast!

The Beauty and the Beast! Thanks to Kat Gallego for providing the beauty!

The second edition of Almost Human is now available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

I’ve cleaned up after the proofreaders of the first edition.

Autographed copies of Almost Human can be purchased directly.

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Shipping and handling listed in PayPal is for the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). International shipping will vary.  

For information on book readings, signings and sparkling discussions go the my Amazon Author Page.

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What the Hell is a Book Signing/reading?

My friend, Jason, sent the perfect photo of how I read! Pacifico is a great

My friend, Jason, sent the perfect photo of how I read! Pacifico is a great “learning aid.”

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 12, at 3pm, I will do my first book signing/reading at Del Rio Vineyards and Winery in Gold Hill, Oregon.

I honestly don’t have a clue of what you do at one of these things. My agent was not much help as she suggested I “just be myself and sell books.”

I have to say that all the marketing part of the publishing business is a real mystery to me. I didn’t realize how much time I would be pulled away from writing my sequel, More than Human, to fulfill obligations that were in the “small print.” While it will be exciting to meet people in person who have read my book,  Almost Human, I am really nervous about doing this as I am completely out of my element. It borders on embarassing to me.

I plan to give the backstory of what inspired me to write the novel and some of what is behind the characters. Maybe talk about the craft of writing and answer questions if there are any.

I would love advice and suggestions. My reading is at 3pm tomorrow. HELP! 

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First Edition of Almost Human has Sold Out!

Advanced copies of Almost Human have arrived!

13 first editon copies of Almost Human are left

The First Edition of Amost Human has sold out! I have 13 copies left over from a book signing that the publiher authorized me to sell rather than send back. 

The next edition will be available soon according to my publisher. I am working on the revisions to the galleys for the next editon presently. I’m cleaning up after the proofreaders!

Autographed copies of Almost Human can be purchased directly.

Buy Now Button

Shipping and handling listed in PayPal is for the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). International shipping will vary.  

For information on book readings, signings and sparkling discussions go the my Amazon Author Page.

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More Lessons From Writing My First Novel – Almost Human

Photo By Gail Fisher, LA Tiimes

Photo By Gail Fisher, LA Tiimes

It is really gratifying to be contacted by so many readers (many are fellow writers) requesting the background story on Almost Human. As a writer, it is a humbling experience to realize your work is reaching out beyond the private and often lonely effort of putting the words on the page.

Recently, I received an email from a reader in Russia (Russia!) who asked were I got the inspiration for Chapter 3, Lester and Girlie. That chapter is based on someone I knew years ago when I worked in the motion picture business who had a unique relationship with an aging chimp. He was an animal trainer in his late seventies or so. The old man and chimp, were a real odd couple, who I enjoyed visiting from time to time. The trainer was old Hollywood and claimed to have worked on many classic movies of the 30’s and 40’s. Also, he claimed that the chimp was Cheetah. Unfortunately, most of us in the animal world questioned the validity of that, but it made for a great story just the same.

Putting his claims aside, their actual relationship was touching. The chimp had the run of the trailer including her own room. Very often she even brought the old trainer coffee. The old man had the endearing habit of talking to her continuously. Their relationship was tender and loving. Clearly, they truly cared for each other in a way that blurred the line between what seemingly should separate them. He saw his chimp as a non-human being, but a being never-the-less.

I based Chapter 3 on this relationship. We, as writers, are hunters and gathers of experiences. We gather and store what we live, waiting for a time when we can re-work and insert those experiences into one of our stories. Simply, I believe a writer must live in a way that gives him material to gather, with the purpose of using it later. We always want to tell, “just one more story.”

Autographed copies of Almost Human can be purchased directly from the author.

Buy Now Button

Shipping and handling listed in PayPal is for the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). International shipping will vary.  

For information on book readings, signings and sparkling discussions go the my Amazon Author Page.

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Lessons Learned From Writing My First Novel – Almost Human

What happens when the line between ape and man is blurred?

The full cover of the book.

I was in Baja last week and met a reader who told me he was writing a book. He paused and continued by lamenting that he had been writing it for many years and it was not anywhere near completion. I’ve met many writers who are in this same predicament. They’re writing or “gathering” but not any closer to finishing their book–their dream. Believe me I sympathize, I was in the same situation from many years.

Here’s a few strategies I’ve learned from writing Almost Human. First, and foremost, write the ending. I had been writing this book for years and my novel just kept growing. My editor and teacher, Kathryn Lynn Davis, after reading several chapters asked me, “How does the novel end?” When I couldn’t tell her, she gave me the single most important piece of advice that helped me finish my book! “Don’t send me another chapter until you’ve written the ending.” It took me several chapters to accomplish this but once I did, I had a road map to line up my plot development and character arcs. So, after many years of writing on and off, I finished the novel in the next six months! While this may not work for every novelist, it worked for me.

I set myself a goal to write three pages a day no matter what. Very often, on a particularly productive day, those three pages flowed and grew to twenty or more. But most importantly,  I wrote every day because that’s what we do, writers-write!

Also, I did very little editing as I wrote. I didn’t try to get my narrative perfect at the expense of the flow. I wrote and filled it out later. Sometimes as a warm up before my three pages.

I was fortunate to be invited to join a writers’ group that included several published authors led by a creative and insightful leader/author. The feedback and advice on how to to improve as a writer and navigate the publishing world was priceless. Just make sure it is a good group that truely critiques your work–no matter how painful. The goal is to become a better writer not participate in a mutal admiration support group. These writers were honest and skilled. I am very grateful.

And finally, I work hard at trying to live a life worth writing about. This can be referred to as “gathering” or “research,” I call it just having fun living life’s adventure. I feel drawing from our experiences makes our work ring true and gives it credibility.

I know while this worked for me and certainly is not exhaustive, it may not work for every writer. I wrote this because of how often I’m asked by readers how I managed to finish my novel.

Oh, it helps to have a worldclass, New York Times Bestselling author as your editor.  Thank you Kathryn Lynn Davis!

Autographed copies of Almost Human can be purchased directly from the author.

Buy Now Button

Shipping and handling listed in PayPal is for the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). International shipping will vary.  

For information on book readings, signings and sparkling discussions go the my Amazon Author Page.

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